Philanthropy, Privilege, and Racial Justice

MacArthur Staff and President John Palfrey reflect on and share responses to racist events and the systems that uphold it.

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John Palfrey, President

This week, as many parts of the world began to open up from COVID-19 lockdowns, another plague made itself known yet again: our deeply engrained racism. I write to acknowledge the combination of the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the call to the police by Amy Cooper, a white woman in Central Park, that demonstrated, once again, that white supremacy and the practice of racial injustice remain parts of everyday life in America. These twin events, on top of the ongoing racialized harms of COVID-19, give rise to feelings of injustice, pain, and anger.

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Kathy Im, Director, Journalism and Media

These events remind me, once again, of the power of the camera and the importance of the point of view. I would rather not see these images and videos at all, but we all know that people of color have been trampled upon intentionally and insidiously for generations, without the visual evidence. And before everyone had the power of the smart phone in their hands, these stories were always recorded and told, if at all, from the point of view of those seeking to preserve their power and privilege.

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Liliane Loya, Deputy Director, Mexico Office

There is no more sense of indignation in me anymore. All that is left is pure and honest disbelief about the police-involved homicide of George Floyd. These are police, after all, who are supposedly trained and expected to adhere to standards and protocols; especially after so much disproportionate use of force against African-Americans has been documented and made visible. The only answer I can find is that police forces belong to a broader system that trains cops to do exactly what they did to Floyd: to target Black Americans and use disproportionate force. The “unconscious bias” that we often hear in discussions about systemic racism does not explain a knee to the neck/throat to a handcuffed man on the floor who is pleading “I can’t breathe.” Nothing the police commissioner can do or say can compensate for this, not even firing the police officers. These are not isolated events, but rather a product of a system in which racism is reproduced with deadly consequences.

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Geoffrey Banks, Program Officer, Chicago Commitment

We hear it again: “I Can’t Breathe!” The police-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis is only the most recent example. From Amadou Diallo in New York in 1999, to Michael Brown in Ferguson in 2014, to George Floyd this week, many people continue to express surprise at dramatic scenes of overtly racist behavior repeated in the headlines. Similarly, many expressed shock during the Chicago heat wave that disproportionately affected communities of color in 1995, the crisis in African-American communities following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the deadly impact of COVID-19 in African-American and Latinx communities today. Incident after incident, headline after headline, why are we surprised?

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Steve Casey, Associate Director, Grants Management

One of the benefits of COVID-19 in my household has been the extended conversations with my son about COVID-19 and its impact on not just the black community but communities across the world.

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Yvonne Darkwa-Poku, Senior Program Officer, On Nigeria

I was still processing and sorting through my emotions and thoughts on the murder of Breonna Taylor and the modern-day lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, when I watched with horror, the brutal, police-led murder of George Floyd. Earlier that day, I had learned of an attempted effort to inflict potential harm on Christian Cooper in Central Park due to Amy Cooper’s decision to exploit her white privilege. I have been numb for several days — still processing my thoughts, still sorting through my emotions, while squinting to see the proverbial light at the end of this very dark, very long, and very crowded tunnel of dead bodies of innocent black men and women. You see, what many people may not realize about the crippling effects of racism is that it is a forceful psychological trap; it has the potential to kidnap your attention, rob you of your joy, trigger your anger, and hold you captive — if you allow it. As an African immigrant whose direct ancestors did not fight for the “freedoms,” civil rights, and liberties I enjoy in this country as a result of the sacrifice and bloodshed of African-Americans, I feel an even greater sense of duty and responsibility to contribute beyond charitable donations, hashtags, and re-posting of compelling quotes and images. So, as I was pondering solutions and a way forward, I was reminded of the old proverb “charity begins at home.” We are in a critical moment in time at MacArthur, with an opportunity to contribute to dismantling the structures of systemic racism through the Just Imperative. If we consciously apply the principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in our Foundation culture, grantmaking, and in our relationships beyond the Foundation, our efforts would significantly contribute to the kind of world in which we all aspire to live.

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