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Honestly addressing America’s troubled racial history and finding reconciliation would yield benefits for everyone, the author of “How To Be an Antiracist” says.
In a world where people actively rejected racism and the oppression of marginalized groups, “the American people would not be afraid of Black people, of brown people,” Dr. Ibram X. Kendi said during Lumina Foundation’s Racial Justice and Equity series webinar earlier this month.
“We as a nation would really truly be able to see and appreciate the difference,” he added.
America would almost be like the human rainbow, and people would love that about this country, as opposed to the ways in which we are fearful or ignorant or imagine that difference is worse than what we are.”
Led by Dr. Danette Howard, Lumina senior vice president and chief policy officer, the conversation focused on Kendi’s New York Times bestselling book, in which he says there is no neutrality in the racism struggle.
“One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an antiracist. There is no in between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.”
Kendi distinguished between his perspective on racism — the systemic, structural and institutional racial disparities that are pervasive across society — and racist, the ideas, beliefs and behaviors carried out by individuals.
Lumina’s work addresses the systemic, structural racism that is lodged in the core of our society’s institutions (including colleges and universities), systems and policies. Our deep exploration of the pervasiveness of racial inequities within higher education, as well as our responsibility as a philanthropic entity, has driven Lumina to move forward with an Equity First stance. This means that all our work, from our mission-driven strategic investments to our operational contracts and vendor relationships, will be developed through the lens of racial equity. Scott Jenkins and Paola Santana discussed one compelling strategy in a recent post.
An important factor in putting equity first is reframing our perspectives. We should stop talking about achievement gaps as a way of describing pervasive differences in outcomes between student populations and begin talking about opportunity gaps.
“For us to call that an achievement gap places the burden on the students,” Kendi said.
“When we reframe it as the opportunity gap, then it becomes more of a societal issue… What if all along the problem was opportunities?”
While this perspective has started to shift, far too many people and policymakers lay blame for differences in outcomes at the feet of students and families who are suffering from differences in opportunities.
Lumina is focused on ensuring that higher-ed students who attend community colleges, MSIs and access-oriented four-year colleges have the opportunities they need to thrive, and on state and federal policy solutions that increase resources in support of these institutions and the students who attend them.
“[Those institutions] are severely underfunded,” Kendi said. “What we find is, just like in the K12 system generally, speaking, the students who have the least in their homes also tend to have the least in their schools.”
Each of us have the opportunity and the responsibility to resist racism within our society and systems. No one is off the hook, especially white people.
“Denial is the heartbeat of racism,” Kendi said. When we hear phrases like “I don’t have a racist bone in my body,” what we are hearing is denial, and an unwillingness to acknowledge mistakes, biases, and a desire to uphold the status quo.
“When we look out at our society, we see racial disparities all around us… These disparities, forms of degradation — that is the norm. In that, when someone says ‘I personally am not doing anything,’ what happens to that norm? It persists,” Kendi said.
Lumina is pleased to be working with of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research through our Racial Justice and Equity Fund. We are committed through our investments, our leadership, and influence, to proactively advancing racial equity. We take Kendi’s call to action seriously: “For each of us, the question is what do you have to give?”
Each of us can do something to support the movement for racial equity in our homes, our work, in our communities and by holding policymakers accountable. Through this action, we can realize the vision of a world where our systems and policies enforce justice, and all have opportunity to thrive.Back to News
Members of the Lumina Foundation staff are sharing our “equity narratives” – personal journeys around race in America. These are part of a collective effort to explore the country’s long history of structural racism and how these barriers affect the people we’re trying to help — and influence how and why we chose this work. Read more about the project.