16 Apr 2009
by Colin Greer
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Diversity is Not a Dirty Word

The idea that charitable foundations should be required to hire more minority employees, was regrettably framed as a “threat” to philanthropy in an article in The Economist a few weeks ago.

Specifically, The Economist article deals with a recommendation from the Greenlining Institute and the Philanthropy Roundtablethat foundations should be sensitive to diversity in the hiring of their employees. These suggestions have apparently been making their way into legislature locally and nationally over the past two years.

To quote one person interviewed for the article, titled “Taking from the givers”:

“Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute thinks this “diversity police” will discourage personal giving by diverting charities from their true objectives and will transform foundations into job-creation schemes for minorities.”

Let’s begin by remembering Gandhi and his much used quote about “becoming the change we seek.”

Surely, foundations looking to create social change ought to exemplify the conditions they wish to achieve. That is part of the philosophy we ourselves follow at the New World Foundation, where the majority of our staff and Board Members are social justice activists themselves.

Here’s some data to consider:

While the total amount of money spent by philanthropic organizations is small relative to the GDP of the United States, the actual job production rate in the non-profit sector, which is largely sustained by philanthropy, amounts to 9.5% of total employment. That’s 12.5 million employees. To exempt such a large workforce from the standards we apply to the economy as a whole would be high-handed and maybe even myopic.

To hear a call for responsible attention to such matters equated with “the diversity police”, is like a nasty echo of the labeling of feminists as “feminazis”. Meanwhile, it is ironic that we tolerate high levels of legacy in college admissions, but don’t jump to call them “legacy looters” or “affirmative action guerillas”.

Or what about “tax pirates”? The nation’s top 400 tax payers pay income tax at the lowest rate. According to the Poverty & Race Research Action Council, the wealthiest 10% of households own 70% of the total wealth of the nation, and the combined net worth of the top 1% was larger than that of the bottom 90%. In fact, the top 1% took home more than 22% of total national income.

The fact that this doesn’t attract broad debate, let alone scorn like that leveled at efforts by foundations and non-profits to employ minorities that could diversify their organizations, is a strong statement of what are unquestionable (yet unfortunate) values in American society and what values (both moral and ethnical) still remain to be established.



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