One month ago George Floyd was murdered in front of America. As a country, we launched into action fueled by the anger and despair of another Black life lost and by the urgency and desire to fix the system that could allow such tragedies to occur. The response to Floyd’s death, as well as Breonna Taylor’s and Ahmaud Arbery’s and so many others, has pushed our country to confront its racism directly, but it is painfully clear that we still lack a shared understanding of how to do this work.
As momentum around justice and equity for Black lives grow, the meaning of progressivism itself comes to the forefront. It is no longer enough to simply hold the values of racial justice, action MUST accompany those values. Black folks have been pointing to the decades of oppression and racism that led to this moment for years, pushing for bold reforms that could transform institutions, and putting their bodies on the line, once again, by showing up to protest day after day — week after week. White folks, and many non-Black people of color, are sharing pictures of themselves protesting on social media, calling the “Defund the Police” strategy too radical, and urging everyone to donate their money as the one simple thing they can do.
The calls to donate more, share more, speak up more — all of these are great and meaningful, but part of me is left wondering, why now? There seems to be an urgent desire for White progressives to “fix” systemic oppression as quickly as possible. But unraveling 400 years of racism will take time. It will take deep emotional investment. And it should feel unsettling.
Giving your money to movement-building organizations is not only right, it is essential to our goals as Progressives. I see so many wonderful donors investing financially in Black-led organizations, like re:power, but I question the emotional commitment to this cause. Will you continue to stand with us beyond the media’s attention span for this topic? Are you here for true transformation or will you be appeased by diluted solutions that do not address the heart of the issue?
Donating wealth is incredibly powerful and necessary to reach a future of liberation and equity for all of us. re:power would not be here without the incredible generosity of foundations, institutions, and individuals. My challenge to you, as you write your check or enter your credit card information, is to take a moment to examine your intentions. Are you giving this money to assuage your White guilt? Or do you view your donation as a transfer of your wealth and power?
If you are donating out of guilt — guilt for your ancestors’ actions, for your station in life, for the wealth your family has accumulated over time — it is likely you are donating in ways that do not actually shift power or create meaningful change. This might be because the causes you support are not pushing for these transformative outcomes, but it could also be because you’re more than likely not giving enough. Take for example that the non-white population of our country is averaging a much higher percentage of charitable giving as a share of median family wealth than the white population, despite a well-documented and persistent racial wealth gap. White families give only 2% of their medium family wealth, as opposed to the 11% that black families give. Even more, the lack of resources being directed to organizations led by and for women of color is abysmal; only 0.6 percent of foundation giving was targeted to women of color in 2016.
What would it take for White donors to view their giving as a form of reparations? When you are deciding how much to give, instead of starting with your financial analysis could you instead start with a desire to share your privilege through money? Is your giving actually disrupting the way in which you live your life and benefit from your privilege?
Disruptive White Giving is emotional and risky. Disruptive White Giving requires you to change your behavior and relationship with your wealth. It should make you feel uncomfortable and unsure because only then are you transferring an amount of wealth that is actually shifting your power.
And when that money is transferred into the hands of Black-led organizations and Black people, it is no longer yours. In viewing your giving as reparations instead of charity, you are trusting the leaders of these organizations to make the right decisions for their communities and their people. And in sharing your wealth, generously, often and with incredible trust, you are making an emotional commitment to unraveling the decades of racism on which you accumulated your wealth.
Guilt doesn’t serve Black people in the long run. Guilt drives self-serving actions that create the environment for short-term gains that do not lead to transformation. Disruptive White Giving is emotional, is difficult, and is in commitment to actually changing the material conditions of Black people, Indigenous People, and Other People of Color in this country.
Karundi Williams is the Executive Director of re:power, a national training and capacity building organization focused on racial justice. re:power trains primarily Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) leaders and organizers who are reclaiming their power for radical change.