In October, the Open Society Foundations and the Foundation Center released a report, Where Do We Go From Here? Philanthropic Support for Black Men and Boys (40 pages, PDF), which found, among other things, that philanthropic support for African-American men and boys has risen steadily over the past decade, from $10 million in 2003 to $29 million in 2010. At a time when nearly every major indicator of economic, social, and physical well-being shows that African-American males do not have access to the opportunities they need to thrive, the philanthropic sector is working to address this critical need on two fronts: by supporting organizations in the "black male achievement field" and by spotlighting the fact that more needs to be done to tackle racial and economic inequality in America.
In the foreward to the report, Shawn Dove, manager of the OSF-based Campaign for Black Male Achievement, noted that former Open Society board member Lani Guinier has long argued that African-American males are not unlike "canaries in the coalmine," in that their socioeconomic plight foreshadows many negative trends that eventually will affect the broader society. That explains why, for many, the well-being of African-American men and boys is not a "black issue." It is, as Dove said when we spoke to him recently, "an American issue." Moreover, he added, "[g]rantmakers should not enter th[e] field with the expectation that they can parachute in and save the day....We need to look at what's working, and to spread the word about what success looks like."
After more than twenty years working in the fields of youth development, education, and community building, including stints as a director of a Beacon School in Harlem, as creative communities director for the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, and as vice president for MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership, Dove joined OSF in 2008. PND spoke with him in November, shortly after the release of the report.
Philanthropy News Digest: We've been told that America in 2012 is a post-racial society. Is it?
Shawn Dove: I guess that depends on one's definition and interpretation of "post-racial." If one's definition is a society in which there are no racial disparities when it comes to opportunity, access, and equity, I would say, "Not so much." In 2012, America aspires to be post-racial. But judging by the wealth gap, ethnic and racial disparities in access to high-quality education, and the number of people of color in the House and Senate, I'd say we still have some work to do.
PND: Countless studies and papers have outlined the many root causes of racial inequality in America. If the causes are clear, why do large portions of the African-American community continue to be adversely affected by disparities in education, health care, and employment?
SD: You know, that is the billion-dollar question. Two of our grantee partners, the American Values Institute and the Opportunity Agenda, have done extensive research on implicit bias in America, and what their research revealed was that far too many people hold unconscious racial prejudices that affect their decision making when interacting with races other than their own. So while retail sales managers, for example, will say they don't have racist attitudes or are not prejudiced, they'll also resist putting people of color, specifically African-American males, in roles that have direct contact with customers.
Americans of all ethnicities still have an exceedingly difficult time having honest conversations about race. There are a number of organizations and leaders who are organizing people to have discussions about racial disparities in our society, but a lot of work still needs to be done to change the behaviors that perpetuate inequality in this country.