List #7: Six Reasons to Read DeColonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva

Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate a book club discussion on DeColonizing Wealth by Edgar Villanueva. The discussion was with alumni from ProInspire, an organization dedicated to developing social sector leaders and advancing equity in the field, so we benefitted from people working in a variety of contexts and with different lived experiences.  All of us had several impactful takeaways from the book.  Below are my reasons that you should dig into it.

  1. Villanueva challenges us to think differently about money. Money, he writes, can be used for healing.  This was particularly challenging (in a good way) for me, someone who had grown up feeling that money was something used to make people who had it feel superior and people who didn’t have it feel unworthy.
  2. It is a call to value and develop authentic connection.  Connection is one of my core values, and Villanueva insightfully wove this value throughout his core narrative.  He explains that colonizers tended to view “themselves as separate from the rest of the natural world.”  This combative mentality led to the exploitation of both natural resources and people.  The reverse of this is connection – something Villanueva highlights as an indigenous value – notably contrasting the separation worldview that in many ways led to trauma experienced by generations of people of color.
  3. Villanueva shares some eye-opening information.  In addition to referencing some statistics on white supremacy culture from White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, the book details some shocking data on the field of philanthropy.  Villanueva writes that “[in] 2014, only 7.4 percent of all philanthropy… was given for people of color,” and goes on to explain that according to U.S. tax law, foundations are only required to pay out 5% of their total assets, which means that they are sitting on the majority of their collective $800 billion.  Often, these assets are invested in the kind of companies that undo the work of the nonprofits that the same foundations fund.  In other words, as Jennifer and Peter Buffett write in their Foreword to the book, “these rooms full of wealthy and powerful white men… were searching for answers with their right hand to problems that they had created or contributed to with their left.”
  4. Villanueva elevates the voices of people of color who work in the field.  The stories in the narrative illustrate some of the more pressing – and sometimes, for someone who doesn’t work in the field, shocking – issues.  Villanueva’s interviewees illustrate problems with giving short-term grants to fund programs that are trying to alleviate centuries-long issues caused by still-present systems of inequity.  One interview highlights the irony of a common story: an organization hires a person of color in the name of diversity, only to not trust their insight on how to fix problems, hire external consultants to find solutions, and then adopt the solutions that the person of color recommended months (and dollars) ago.  And Villanueva’s own story is illustrative of the challenges that someone who is genuinely dedicated to making an impact faces when working with money that has been hoarded by people from the dominant culture who are hesitant to pursue real change.
  5. The book is full of mic drops.  I love when I read a book and experience a “mic drop” moment.  These are moments where you stop reading, look up, and go, “Whoa.”  This book is full of them.  Some of my favorites:
    “[Having] a seat at the table is not the same as feeling free to speak in your own voice, to offer your own divergent ideas, to bring your full self to bear on the work.”
    “Poverty is the product of public policy and theft, facilitated by white supremacy.”
    “The basis of traditional philanthropy is to preserve wealth and, all too often, that wealth is fundamentally money that’s been twice stolen, once through the colonial-style exploitation of natural resources and cheap labor, and the second time through tax evasion.”
  6. Villanueva offers hope of the Healing to come.  In Part Two of his book, Villanueva shares some steps to heal the ills that face philanthropy today.  He details a framework to allow people and organizations to grieve, apologize, listen, relate, represent, invest, and repair.  These steps left me excited for what’s to come from Villanueva and his groundbreaking work: to learn about how, five and ten years from now, funders and communities are collaborating to put these steps into action and truly use money to heal rather than hurt.

List #6: Eight Reasons to Read White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo

This morning, seconds after my son and I left our house, we were hit by a sudden downpour.  We laughed about it, walked as quickly as we could to his school, and arrived just as the hail started coming down.  We laughed as we got in; despite having umbrellas, we were both soaked up to our thighs.  The wind had blown the rain so hard in our direction that it was as though we had been wading through a stream.

I helped him into his classroom, changed his clothes, and ran back home to change my clothes and get him a different pair of shoes.  When I realized that if I wanted to stay dry, I’d need to drive, I drove the half block to his school. I waved at the security guard, brought in his other shoes, and then drove a few blocks to park closer to my favorite coffee shop.

This is what privilege looks like.

  1. When I walked in, no one gave us the side-eye, though we were both filthy and soaking.  No one judged my almost-sheer maternity leggings that I will #nevergiveup on.
  2. My son had a second pair of shoes that were right around the corner.
  3. When I returned to school to give him his shoes, the security guard didn’t ask any questions.
  4. And when I realized that I wanted to keep my second pair of maternity leggings dry, I drove to a spot that I didn’t have to pay for because I have the “right” parking pass, and then sat down to enjoy my $3.50 macchiato.

As a white woman, I walk in privilege every day.  I have all of my life.  However, I didn’t fully understand what this meant until I read the book White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.  This is one of those rare books that I listened to on Audible and then purchased the physical copy of.

If you are white, you should read this book.  Below are the reasons why.

  1. DiAngelo dispels unhelpful half-truths.  Specifically, one of the foundations of her book refutes the idea that because a person exhibits problematic racial behavior, the are inherently an evil person.  This is not to say that racism isn’t wrong; it is.  DiAngelo’s point is that an easy way for white people to dismiss racism as “not a problem I need to worry about” is to associate it solely with radicals and murderers.
  2. She challenges the idea that Western culture is the best culture.  This one is particularly helpful if you find yourself as a patriotic white citizen of the United States.  DiAngelo writes, “We make sense of our perceptions and experiences through our particular lens.  This lens is neither universal nor objective…”  While some may claim that the United States is the greatest country on earth (where everyone can make it if they only try!) and that we can be bias-free if we’d all just shut up and be friends, DiAngelo focuses on the error in these assumptions by naming them.  Individualism and objectivity are not universally accepted truths.  We are collectively influenced by the negative aspects of the dominant Western culture that is all around us from the day we are born; we are therefore not independent, rogue actors and cannot claim to be bias-free.  The sooner we acknowledge this, the sooner we can get to the work of solving some of society’s most pressing problems.
  3. She takes the time to clearly define core concepts.  DiAngelo makes crucial distinctions between terms such as prejudice, discrimination, and racism.  Most white people lump these into the part of their brains reserved for “things I don’t want to think about,” so it’s helpful to think about them and understand what they are – and what they are not.  She also takes time to explain why “reverse racism” is a nonsensical term… and I’ll let you read through that explanation on your own (page 20).
  4. She asserts that white folks cannot be immune to the influences of the system of racism… while acknowledging that “stating that racism privileges whites does not mean that individual white people do not struggle or face barriers.”  That’s worth repeating.  No one is saying that because you are white you do not suffer.  But this book isn’t about white suffering, so try to move on from that so that you can focus on her points.
  5. She states the oft-refuted obvious in ways that are very difficult to refute.  For white people who feel threatened by those who are different from you, DiAngelo reminds us that “Whites control all major institutions of society and set the policies and practices that others must live by.”  She then cites statistic after statistic proving white dominance.  As of her writing, the ten most wealthy Americans are white, the U.S. Congress is 90% white, all of the top military advisors are white, and many of the people who control the media we consume are white.  In a country as diverse as ours, this is a problem, and it also refutes the idea that we are a post-racial society.
  6. She asks you to embrace the spectrum of possibilities.  In a chapter that I found particularly helpful called “The Good / Bad Binary,” DiAngelo writes quotes that she often hears from white folks and then proceeds to explain why they are illogical or unhelpful.  Most of the statements are the result of white people using logical extremes (which any therapist will tell you is an unproductive way to live.)  For example, one of the quotes that DiAngelo hears the most is, “I marched in the sixties [therefore I can’t be racist.]”  Participating in a march 50 years ago does not make you error-free today; there are always more opportunities to learn and grow.
  7. She acknowledges that she is on her own learning journey.  DiAngelo accepts her own status as a learner. She writes, “Interrupting the forces of racism is ongoing, lifelong work because the forces conditioning us into racist frameworks are always at play; our learning will never be finished.”  She also relates stories that show that she is still learning, and calls for others to continue reading, talking, and trying to be better.
  8. She reminds us that guilt is not a useful emotion.  In a training I did with the Center for Equity and Inclusion, I learned about the Cycle of White Empowerment.  One of the earlier stages in this Cycle is Guilt.  If you’re like me, you’ve certainly felt guilty.  If you’re like me, you’ve also probably heard that guilt is not a useful emotion.  DiAngelo writes about white guilt toward the end of her book, stating, “When we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction.”

For me, this book was a call to action.  I hope you’ll join me in reading it, talking about it, and being open to learning more.

Quote from Robin DiAngelo's book on White Fragility.  "When we are mired in guilt, we are narcissistic and ineffective; guilt functions as an excuse for inaction."