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To Disrupt Discrimination, Focus on Changing Policies

Posted Feb 13, 2018 02:20 PM
Ibram X. Kendi – author of "Stamped from the Beginning" – has an important message for everyone: We need to move away from “not being a racist” toward being “antiracist."

Philanthropy Northwest, Raikes Foundation, Casey Family Programs and Elliott Bay Book Company are bringing Dr. Kendi to Seattle on March 9 for a session titled "How to be Anti-Racist & Why it Matters: An Evening with Dr. Ibram X. Kendi" Unfortunately this session is now sold out. However, we encourage you to visit Dr. Kendi's website and read this book.

Dr. Kendi’s book on the evolution of racism in the U.S. focuses on the lives of five people, including Thomas Jefferson and Angela Davis. Kendi points out that history does not support the view that ignorance/hate  >> leads to racist ideas >> which leads to discrimination. Actually, the reverse is true: Discriminatory policies >> are shored up by racist ideas >> which lead to ignorance/hate.

"Education, love and exemplary black people will not deliver America from racism, Kendi says. Racist ideas grow out of discriminatory policies, he argues, not the other way around. And if his new center can help identify and dismantle those policies in the U.S. and around the world, he believes we can start to eliminate racism."  @LonnaeONeal

From the day European explorers stepped onto the continent to today, those with privileged status have created policies to protect their status – and its economic benefits. You see this in Kendi’s book as he follows the pathway from slavery to Jim Crow to mass incarceration. Power is consolidated through policies, which are reinforced by ideologies and fake science; such as both positive and negative traits assigned to African Americans, women, and others. Racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and other hostile beliefs are intentionally promulgated in order to maintain privilege.

Of course, these beliefs do not die off easily. As an example, Kendi points to the idea of biological differences between identifiable races. These ideas persist despite President Clinton’s news conference on June 26, 2000 reporting out the findings of the Human Genome Project led by Craig Venter. Clinton announced, “In genetic terms all human beings, regardless of race, are more than 99.9 per cent the same.” Venter recounted that his geneticists were unable to determine the race of people based on their genetic makeup. While racism did not melt away with this announcement, extinguishing centuries of bogus theories about racial differences helps dislodge the window dressing used to justify racist policies.

Carrying Kendi’s message into the nonprofit sector, the lesson for our sector is the importance of focus on dismantling discriminatory policies. Changing policies and laws causes disparities and barriers impacting people's lives to weaken and crumble. Examples of this are historic legislation like the Fair Housing Act or Americans with Disabilities Act or, more recently, gay marriage or "Ban the Box" legislation. With the removal of discriminatory and racist policies, people have more agency in their lives and intolerance is dissipated.

Service provision, whether that is sheltering the homeless or cleaning up polluted streams, helps ameliorate the impact of destructive or unjust policies, but it does not solve the underlying problem. Organizations – and their boards – should join the movement to Stand for Your Mission and shift to being “antiracist” by focusing on changing policies that are oppressing people and communities they serve.  Imagine what the nonprofit sector can achieve if we realign our priorities and view public policy work as core to our mission.