America hates us. That’s what the election results told me and millions of immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ and people of color, especially my black and brown brothers and sisters. It said we do not belong in America, and it said it loud and clear. Only two days after the elections 2,300 people from around the nation came together, still mourning, outraged, scared, upset, but to realize and affirm that folks fighting for racial justice - we are not alone. We came together in Atlanta, Georgia for Facing Race - a national conference presented by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation. A unique collaborative space for racial justice movement-making, Facing Race is the largest multiracial, inter-generational gathering for organizers, educators, creatives and other leaders.
I came with EPIP’s delegation, a group of 10 of us from various philanthropic organizations around the nation, and we walked into a space that sounded and looked far from philanthropy as I see it today. It’s as if you know you’re not in philanthropy when folks talk about white supremacy, racism, and when the clear majority in the room are people of color. But I’m reminded of what Alicia Garza, founder of #BlackLivesMatter, said in the opening plenary - how Black Lives Matter is “a network for black folks to have a political space to have a radical imagination.” And when Judith LeBlanc, director of Native Organizers Alliance, said after, that “you can’t have systems change if you don’t change the hearts and minds of people.” The institution of philanthropy can’t change unless we have a radical imagination, to imagine something different. And it can’t change unless the hearts and minds of people working in philanthropy truly believe that racial justice is necessary for a beloved community.
I recently encountered the metaphor of being an ambassador of love and am reminded of the power love has on upending hate. Love is that radical imagination and can transform hearts and minds. As the body has different functions to move as one, we too have unique roles to play in our multiracial, multigenerational movement for racial justice. But I also think within our unique roles, we are all called to be ambassadors of love. So what does that look like? I think part of it is to disturb and disrupt. Here are some examples from the conference:
If we are not all about racial justice, we are complicit in continuing systemic racism.
Ask “why” five times and the root cause may start to emerge.
If a grantee asked you, “what are you doing differently about addressing racial justice,” would you be able to answer them?
We need to remember that this is not philanthropy’s money, it’s the people’s money, built on the backs of immigrants and slaves.
How do commodities move more easily than people? How do our iPhones have more immigrant rights?
Data is often used to problematize people of color and to perpetuate the deficit narrative. Would we ever measure white supremacy?
For me, it’s often hard to imagine how we can transform the institution of philanthropy, embedded in the very fabrics of racism, white supremacy and capitalism. But I’m inspired by the leaders at this conference, the questions that they raised, the bold and courageous statements they made, that we can all and must be ambassadors of love for our system of oppression to change. I can’t change laws, nor can I change policies at my organization, but I can make my workspace and my home a sanctuary and be an ambassador of love and racial justice with the people I meet or the conversations I’m in; in the hate that I witness or the hurt that I hear.
As Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association, shared in the closing plenary, if you haven’t been on the frontlines of racial justice, now is the time to step up. To call philanthropy to step up is perhaps too mammoth of a request, but I call folks working in philanthropy to step up and be ambassadors of love.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote in his book Strength to Love, “Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzed life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it.” Love is transformative, but it’s no easy task to love. As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book The Four Loves, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” But how can I love the man who calls on racism, hate, homophobia, Islamophobia, misogyny? How can I love the people that literally wrote off millions from being part of this country, our country? How can I believe in the system of philanthropy that is controlled by privileged white people and that upholds many of these beliefs and actions? It’s easy for me to be paralyzed by bitterness, hate, fear and hopelessness. But I ask myself, and of you who work in philanthropy: How are you being an ambassador of love in the movement for racial justice, whether that is with your coworkers, grantees, or the communities you work with? What does that mean and what does that look like for you?
EPIP Seattle Chapter Leader