Philanthropy’s new normal needs to include AAPI communities

Written by: Stephanie Peng

Date: July 16, 2020

If the past few months have shown us anything, it is that there is no going back to normal. Beyond the unimaginable thought of full subway trains and crowded restaurants and bars, our “normal” was horribly flawed.

Our “normal” meant accepting the hostility and racism against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community as COVID-19 spread, a disease that is disproportionately affecting Black communities, who are also the targets of state-sponsored violence.

It’s time for a new normal. A new normal that must address anti-Asian hostility and anti-Black racism head on, especially as organizations seek to diversify and deepen their work around racial equity.

To do that, we must acknowledge the historical roots of anti-Asian racism in this country and how it has served the myth of white supremacy.

Anti-Asian racism as a tool of white supremacy

The demonization of Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic is part of a long history of discrimination and social shaming in the U.S.

The Chinese Exclusionary Act of 1882, internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and labeling of Southeast Asians as terrorists post 9/11, are just a few reminders that anti-Asian hostility is long ingrained in America’s history.

We see the continuation of that rhetoric not just in the policies of the current presidential administration, but also with the model minority myth.

For many years, AAPI people, and East Asians in particular, have benefited from the model minority myth, created to further divide Asian Americans and Black people to benefit white people.

Asian Americans were considered hardworking and obedient, a stereotype that embraced anti-Black rhetoric and granted many AAPI people access to something almost like white privilege. This dynamic exists in philanthropy, too.

This myth has been harmful for the AAPI community, masking the complexity and unique identities of each community, while further worsening the perceptions towards Black people.

But it has also permitted and even encouraged more violence against Black people – by white people and people who aren’t white.

hard reset is needed

As conversations about racial equity have gained renewed traction, the reality is that anti-Blackness is still ingrained in the sector.

Philanthropic institutions have made bold statements and committed to action to condemn anti-Asian racism and anti-Blackness.

But we know from the data available that AAPI communities receive just 0.2% of all U.S. grantmaking, and Black communities received just 1% in 2017.

In Asian Americans/Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy’s open letter to philanthropy to cure “viral racism,” one of the calls to action is to “think of this moment as a ‘reset’ button to imagine a more holistic approach to philanthropy that gains new traction toward racial and gender equity.”

If we are serious about creating a new normal, we must imagine and create a more holistic philanthropic approach that includes AAPI voices that aren’t at the expense of Black ones. One place to start is by increasing AAPI representation, especially at the leadership level.

According to recent data from the Diversity Among Philanthropic Professionals (DAPP) survey, AAPI people make up 9% of the sector, and 14% of the millennials in philanthropy.

This statistic bodes well for the future, especially as it relates to the overall size of the applicant pool over the next decade. AAPI are the fastest growing minority population, and are younger than white people, reflecting the trend that young people are more diverse and more progressive.

Young, progressive and in primed position for leadership 

Millennial AAPI representation in philanthropy that reflects more progressive perspectives is critical to responding to and meeting the unique needs of the population, which includes people from over 20 countries and many more cultures, religions and languages.

And as millennials become the next philanthropic leaders – and as Gen Zers enter the work force – it is also critical to ensure that there is a leadership development pipeline to positions with decision-making power over foundation strategies.

Currently, within the already white-dominated sector, AAPI people are especially underrepresented at the board level, making up only 4% of boards, compared to 60% of white board representation.

If this continues, even with increased AAPI representation in other positions, funding inequities will still exist without AAPI voices leading on funding strategies that meet the needs of the community.

Diversity at the board level is a key driver to setting strategies and funding priorities that meet the needs of the communities the sector seeks to serve.

Representation from the AAPI community is even more important to make sure the complex needs and challenges of the community are not lost or misunderstood as a monolithic community.

But increasing AAPI representation must also come with increasing Black representation in the sector. While AAPI people make up 9% of philanthropy, Black people make up only 11% of the sector. DAPP data suggests that even with increased representation of people of color, they are not becoming more Black or even more inclusive of Black voices at decision-making tables. Even though people of color make up 38% of the sector, white people are still the majority in philanthropy, making up 60% of the sector.

That’s why it’s so important for Asian Americans to play an active role in confronting anti-Blackness in philanthropy’s equity work. Doing so helps our communities break free from the “wedge” narrative and helps erode another tool of white supremacy

new world is within our grasp

As a sector whose foundations are rooted in the profits born from racial inequality and exploitation, philanthropy has a responsibility to lead as the world looks to create new, more equitable normal.

This effort must be co-powered by AAPI voices and experiences without reinforcing harmful narratives that further divide AAPI and Black communities. Additional steps to confront racism and establish a new normal in philanthropy:

  • Use an anti-racist lens in grantmaking and fund strategies that address racism while meeting more urgent community needs.
  • Increase AAPI representation in decision-making positions, especially at the board level.
  • Examine how anti-Blackness exists in your organization: Are AAPI staff filling token diversity roles that perpetuate the model minority myth? Are you increasing Black representation as you increase diversity? How are AAPI voices represented in conversations about race and equity?

We must imagine change that does more than just look different. Our communities deserve — and our collective future depends on — an equitable world that is no longer powered by white supremacy but instead on solidarity and justice.

Stephanie Peng is NCRP’s senior associate for movement research. Follow @NCRP on Twitter.