A post to Exponent Philanthropy's blog

Moving Towards Racial Equity in Philanthropy: Developing a Shared Language

Philanthropy relies on the amassed wealth of families and institutions that have benefited from systemic racism. As a result, the institution has a power imbalance in where funds go and what organizations and initiatives receive support.

Developing a deeper understanding of institutional racism in the United States can help lean funders dismantle the harmful practices and power disparities that perpetuate inequities in philanthropy today.

This three-part blog series can serve as a starting point for this work. Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore:

  1. Developing a shared language
  2. Understanding an anti-racist intersectional frame
  3. Actionable steps to make philanthropy more equitable

The racial wealth gap

Public policy in the US continues to build White wealth at the expense of, or on the backs of Black people.

In 2016, the average net worth of a White family was ten times greater than the average wealth of a Black family. And nearly 34% of Native American children live in poverty.

This data reflects the longstanding racial wealth gap in the United States from:

  • The country’s prolonged legacy of slavery
  • The colonization and genocide of Native and Indigenous people
  • The economic disenfranchisement of Black people through racist public policy and targeted exclusion of major social welfare legislation, like the GI Bill
  • Continued social inequities

Having a shared language

Miscommunications make advancing racial equity even more difficult, so establishing a shared language around key concepts and terms is crucial. The Center for the Study of Social Policy’s glossary for shared understanding defines Key Equity Terms & Concepts:

Racism: The systematic subjugation of members of targeted racial groups, who hold less socio-political power and/or are racialized as non-White, as means to uphold White supremacy.

An important note, racism differs from prejudice. Unlike prejudice, hatred or discrimination, racism requires one racial group to have systematic power over other racial groups. Racism is implicitly and explicitly maintained by institutional structures and policies, cultural norms and values, and individual behaviors.

White supremacy: An institutionally perpetuated and ever-evolving system of exploitation and domination that consolidates and maintains power and resources among White people.

White supremacy, through White dominance, continues to perpetuate anti-Black racism and anti-Native racism, specifically. Other racial and ethnic groups experience oppression through White supremacy, but not in the same ways; slavery and genocide are foundational to today’s social disparities. Thus, actively working towards anti-racist institutions and an anti-racist society is necessary.

Anti-racism: The active process of identifying and challenging racism by changing systems, organizational structures, policies and practices, and attitudes to redistribute power in an equitable manner.

Racism operates beyond the interpersonal level, so not being racist is not enough. But anti-racism is an ongoing process that actively challenges how systems and institutions perpetuate racism.

Funders can start to think about what it means to engage in philanthropy in a way that’s anti-racist by developing a shared language around White supremacy, racism and what it means to engage in anti-racism.

In part two of this series, we’ll discuss our anti-racist intersectional frame for advancing anti-racist policy and practice.


Maya Pendleton supports CSSP’s child welfare work to address racial equity and improve outcomes and increase well-being for children, youth, and families. As a member of CSSP’s Policy Team, she provides technical assistance to states and jurisdictions implementing the Family First Prevention Services Act, aiding states in the implementation of federally required quality improvement and evaluation measures for evidence-bases prevention services. Maya also supports CSSP’s Equity, Inclusion, and Justice team, which focuses on addressing racial equity and anti-racism both internally and externally. Maya completed her B.A. degree at Georgetown University in Government and African American Studies and completed her Master of Public Policy at the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Administration, focusing specifically on social policy at the intersection of race and gender.

Juanita Gallion is Deputy Director of Equity & Learning at CSSP. She helps lead the organization’s work to advance racial equity through facilitation, training, capacity building, leadership development, and coaching with a variety of national and local partners and philanthropic organizations. In addition, she supports the learning culture within the organization, and shapes the creation and dissemination of lessons learned across CSSP’s various bodies of work. She previously managed the technical assistance and training for several large-scale community initiatives, including the U.S Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods program, and the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Making Connections initiative to ensure families and communities had the resources they needed to achieve success.

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