Philanthropy’s Jeremiah Wright Problem

The Hudson Institute’s William A. Schambra (who is Director of the Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal) wrote an insightful op-ed, “Philanthropy’s Jeremiah Wright Problem,” that ran in the Chronicle of Philanthropy on June 3.

It begins:

Many Americans were startled to learn that the Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, whose campaign is built on an uplifting message of national unity and racial reconciliation, belongs to a church in Chicago where a very different view of America is preached by its longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Mr. Wright, who just retired after decades in the pulpit, has argued that the “United States of White America” is still sharply divided between an oppressive white power structure and oppressed African-Americans, that God should “damn America for treating our citizens as less than human,” and that the 2001 terrorist attacks signified that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

Americans might be further surprised to learn that grants from the nation’s largest foundations sustain a similarly harsh view of a nation riven by an unrelenting and deeply oppressive racial divide.

America, in this view, is steeped in “structural racism.” This “refers to a system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial-group inequity,” according to “Structural Racism and Community Building,” a 2004 report from the Aspen Institute’s Roundtable on Community Change (supported by the Annie E. Casey, Charles Stewart Mott, W.K. Kellogg, Rockefeller, and Ford foundations, among others).

Because of these deeply embedded and all-pervasive structural arrangements, “groups of color are continually ‘sorted’ and experience marginalization, isolation, exclusion, exploitation, and subordination relative to those who are whites. The link between whiteness and privilege and between color and disadvantage is maintained, even today, through these sorting processes.”

To protest that the decline of explicitly racist attitudes and behaviors suggests we are rapidly becoming a “colorblind” society only reflects and reinforces a deeper structural racism.

The full text is available here.

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