Well, it didn’t take long for 2021 to remind us that the journey back from the edge of an abyss will not be a gentle one. Last Wednesday showed us we will need to advance racial equity to achieve a functioning democracy. And if democracy fails, we cannot sustain racial equity. The insurrection at the Capitol on January 6th undermines both.
Some of the nation’s highest elected officials reject this framework, working instead against the very people turning out in historic numbers on the streets and at the ballot box to help this country achieve its promise.
We need to understand what the world witnessed. Our modern democracy, laboring under its founding contradiction, its citadel laid siege by white nationalists. A sitting president strategizing to overturn an election he worked to sabotage, and using anti-Black animus to energize an assault on the Capitol. An absence of courage from major players in the body elected to uphold democracy. An insufficient, and, in some cases solicitous police response in the same city where only recently, dozens of agencies deployed militarized weaponry to suppress a peaceful uprising for Black and Indigenous lives. And a depleted domestic media with too many unwilling to call it for what it was: a white nationalist insurrection against democracy.
More than anything, the insurrection highlights the damage wrought by a culture of white supremacy. Its multi-generational concentration of wealth directed against the weakened and imperfect institutions of democracy is too costly. We have a responsibility to undo that.
While the duty of standing up for democracy is a frequently expressed American value, we have to acknowledge that not everyone has reaped the benefits of this responsibility equally. For most people of color, disappointment in the promise of democracy is a lifelong experience.
The systemic extraction of political and economic power from communities of color must be our focus. The remedy is, as it has always been, to build power, eliminate discrimination, and design against exclusion. This is where philanthropy can shine.
Anyone who may have been doubtful should now recognize the critical importance of investing in Black, Indigenous, people of color, and communities who warned about this level of aggression. They confront the unwillingness of our current system to protect those fighting for democracy and defend against those destroying it.
The potential is remarkable. The challenge, supreme. Even within our own institutions, we have work to do.
We must walk with love and anger. Only love for people, community, and this nation’s ideals will demonstrate the grace and courage needed to move forward. And we have to acknowledge the legitimacy of the anger experienced by countless millions who have waited generations for these issues to be confronted meaningfully. Frankly, if we’re not angry, we really haven’t been paying attention.
We welcome our community to join us in redoubling our efforts to support institutions that create a lasting, multiracial democracy. To do this, we must walk the path toward racial equity together. Wherever you are on this journey, now is the time to move forward. The rewards are great, and the stakes could not be higher.