Tuesday Feb 25

EXCERPT FROM Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance (from Berrett-Koehler, 2018) — By Edgar Villaneuva: Freeing the Wealthy and Foundation House Slaves How Diversity Efforts Backfire and Reinforce Colonization

Tokens end up on tiptoe, on our best behavior. This is heightened by the sense that we still often have the feeling that we are representing our entire race, that everything we do will reflect on all other Latinos or Blacks or Asian Americans or Natives. Who’s going to speak truth to power when there could be negative consequences for everyone who looks like you, not just in this moment but into the foreseeable future?

A Black colleague from the South admitted: “By my fourth day, I had already begun to regret taking the job... The truth is, I’ve never felt quite like I could bring my full self to the job. I never felt like I could speak freely. I feel like I have to play a role. I myself have become more conservative in how I operate. Not in my thinking, but how I move through the world. It’s almost like an expectation that you yourself get in line. Not even an expectation—it’s required. You have to assimilate in order to be able to move anything inside of a foundation. You have to drink the Kool-Aid and operate like they do, move like they do.”

“I feel hyper self-consciousness when I enter very White spaces,” a Latina colleague says. “I am very aware of my hands moving, my accent. I am very aware of it. Even if I am proud of it, I’m still very aware of it.”

Another colleague told me: “I was scared shitless because I had just left an organization where I ‘played the race card too early’ and had shot myself in the foot as a result. So I basically kept my head down hard working for about a year before I did anything that revealed anything
about me personally. Looking back, I was trying to build unassailable credibility and just be really, really good at the work.”

“I’m always trying to play that game of chess of what are they expecting from me as an Asian-American woman, as somebody who’s kind of mid-level professional, and where do I push some of the assumptions versus where do I not rock the boat because I just make things harder for myself?” another colleague told me.

According to authors Rebecca Stone and Benjamin Butler, in Core Issues in Comprehensive Community-Building Initiatives: Exploring Power and Race and in Structural Racism and Community Building: “Foundations may unwittingly perpetuate a dominant worldview, one that is highly racialized and often dictated by white European culture. In an organizational environment governed by the dominant worldview, individuals are prone to making decisions from an ethnocentric vantage point.”

A common way the leadership in philanthropy conveys its doubt in our ability and credibility is to bring in independent consultants to research the very issues that we have intimate knowledge of from our time living in and/or working with communities on the ground. It was this very expertise for which we were often hired. As expressed by a Black colleague from the South:

We had to hire a consulting firm the last six months to do a full scan of [the field], just to bring it back to my boss and to his boss to say everything that I’ve been saying for the last year. Literally the report is verbatim all of the stuff that I had brought up, but no one heard it, or it wasn’t given the same weight without having some sort of outside external person who was paid a lot of money to say it and put it nice and neatly down on paper. That’s the game that we’re forced to play.

His experience was echoed by an investigation commissioned by the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE) that looked into a concerning trend: the inability of the philanthropic sector to hold onto Black employees. ABFE’s investigation culminated in a 2014 report called The Exit Interview, which found that many Black professionals left because they felt extra scrutinized and their expertise was not trusted.

An Asian American colleague talks about the frequent assumption or intimation that the (only) grantmaker of color from a given community has an unprofessional personal agenda. She’s been called “righteous” (“and not in a good way,” she quips) for defending her recommendation to fund people-of-color-led organizations. It’s a double-edged sword, she says: “When it’s convenient for a foundation, they’ll parade around the diversity and say, ‘Look, we reflect the wider community.’ But then our conundrum becomes: how do we advocate for our community without being accused of becoming too passionate, of playing favorites.”

I also felt I had to do acrobatics around staying “objective and professional,” not seeming to favor Native American grantseekers. Of course, this is exactly what championing equity involves, so it’s a ridiculous and strenuous expectation. I had to do a lot of extra explaining to give myself credibility, especially to our all White board and to the Old Boys network among our grantees, who at first seemed incredulous that a boyish brown man was holding the key to their treasure box.

When, upon getting a job in an ivory tower, you are made to feel like you won the lottery, part of what is communicated to you is that there are many, many others ready to take your place. You’re replaceable. And there are only so many “designated minority” positions to go around. That position can easily be reallocated to another “poor and needy” candidate to keep the quota filled. It’s a subtle way to keep you behaving well, assimilating to the culture, working like a dog. Whether or not it is deliberate, as the only one of our kind, we often hear how lucky we are to work in this esteemed and powerful field. Boy, you were given the chance of a lifetime!

Now, there is no doubt it a privilege to work in a field that controls and moves money, whether it’s banking or investing or philanthropy. It is. I don’t want to take away that it is. I just want to say that I feel like it’s a privilege for these fields to have me, too.

Foundations often seek out young “model minorities” like me who are the first to “make it” in our families. Yet here’s the thing about institutions—or any systems, really— that were created by and for a certain kind of person (White straight men, say) that then decide they want to “be inclusive” or “open their doors to diversity” or “commit to equity”—having a seat at the table is not the same as feeling free to speak in your own voice, to offer your own divergent ideas, to bring your full self to bear on the work.

To be clear, most of us are still “token” Others in an almost pure White world. The statistics are dismal regarding the number of White men vs. Others inside the ivory tower institutions controlling wealth. Three-fourths of foundations’ full-time staff are White. According to the D5 Coalition’s 2016 report State of the Work, fewer than a third of Program Officers (32.3%) and about 8 percent of foundation CEOs are people of color. Only 3% of philanthropic institutions are led by Black Chief Executives, with even more dismal representation for other races and ethnicities.

Board leadership is even more demographically starved. “Fully 85% of foundation board members are White, while just 7% are African American and only 4% are Hispanic,” says Gara LaMarche, the president of the Democracy Alliance. “Nearly three-quarters of foundations have no written policy on board diversity.” Since joining the board of the Andrus Family Fund in 2017, I am one of the only Native Americans on a national private foundation board.

Along the rest of the gifts-to-loans spectrum, the management of financial services is 81% White. African Americans account for just 2.7% of senior-level staff. When it comes to venture capital, the disparities are even starker: VCs are overwhelmingly White (88%) and male. Just 1% are Black—not really a surprise, when only four of the Fortune 500 companies have Black CEOS— and less than 1% are Latino. No one even mentions the numbers for Native Americans. Minority angel investors make up just 3.6% of total angel investors.

And then there’s humanitarian aid. In a 2008 article called “The New Colonialists” in Foreign Policy, the authors critique the “hodgepodge of international charities, aid agencies, philanthropists, and foreign advisers” who “are increasingly taking over key state functions, providing for the health, welfare, and safety of citizens” in many so-called “developing” nations. They continue: “In much the same way European empires once dictated policies across their colonial holdings, the new colonialists—among them international development groups such as Oxfam, humanitarian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like Doctors Without Borders and Mercy Corps, and megaphilanthropies like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—direct development strategies and craft government policies for their hosts. But though the new colonialists are  the glue holding society together in many weak states, their presence often deepens the dependency of these states on outsiders.”

“There’s certainly a thought that if you have a more diverse workforce and if you have a more diverse group of suppliers, that institutions very well could do a better job of understanding a more diverse marketplace and how to best serve it,” Mother Jones quoted the head of the diversity office at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as saying. Yes, and: While the numbers should be cause for alarm, a focus on just balancing out the numbers is not enough. Diversity statistics that get held up as a sole measure of progress are an insufficient measure, because we need to go beyond mere representation, to access to power and ownership.

Edgar Villaneuva is an enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, the Chair of the Board of Native Americans in Philanthropy and the Vice President of Programs and Advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Decolonizing Wealth is available from Berrett-Koehler Publishers at www.bkconnection.com

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