We are witnessing a powerful historic moment in which the pain and violence of racial inequity are at the forefront of our minds and the front stoops of our homes. While the relentless physical violence against Black and Brown people was the focal breaking point for the current uprisings, this is an opportunity to interrogate and reimagine the nexus of injustices that make up structural racism in America.
I believe that addressing the role capital plays in upholding racism, and the role it can play in dismantling it is essential to moving forward as a national and global community.
Capital investment has a role in righting decades-old wrongs that continue to hinder the aspirations of communities of color, as well as the economy, and our societal wellbeing.
Beginning in the 1930s, the federal government sought to increase America’s housing stock and to racially segregate the market. In 1934 the Federal Housing Authority was established and began refusing to insure mortgages in Black communities. The racist belief, unfounded by research, was that if Black people bought houses in predominantly white neighborhoods, it would reduce property values. This practice became known as “redlining.”
Redlining prevented Black and Brown American families from buying homes, starting businesses, living in suburban neighborhoods, and acquiring insurance. The impact of redlining was compounded by the FHA subsidizing subdivisions specifically barring Black buyers. Racist policies by the federal and state governments propped up racist behavior in the business community, and Black and Brown entrepreneurs had to overcome legal and social barriers, as well as open and covert hostility, at every turn.Meg Rumsey-Lasersohn is Interim Research and Communications Director with Untours Foundation.
While redlining was finally outlawed in 1968, the effects on communities of color have been long-lasting and profound. Black and Brown home-seekers and entrepreneurs continue to face obstacles to acquiring capital, loans, mortgages, and insurance that white Americans do not. Investment institutions of all kinds are facing a seismic moment, economically and socially, which can be embraced as an opportunity for reparation, renovation, and redemption for the historically damaging effects of the profit-driven, racist, and environmentally disastrous field of investing.
One of the ways foundations can begin this work is through mission-aligned investing through a racial justice lens — determining the worth of a project not solely by its potential for profit, but it’s by its potential for achieving meaningful positive change and directly redressing injustice. Foundations can seek out radical innovators, changemakers, and visionaries whose work cultivates justice and peace and has been typically ignored or underfunded.
No one individual or organization will change the world alone, but foundations with the means to move capital are in a unique position of influence. If investors look for the people already transforming their communities, capital can play a vital role in fighting racial injustice. Investment can transcend its purpose for economic gain and help to build an economy that will truly — with compassion and courage — serve generations to come.
Meg Rumsey-Lasersohn is Interim Research and Communications Director with Untours Foundation. She is also an Associate Grant Writer with GreenSeeds Grants. Previously, she has worked as an educator in West Philadelphia. Meg is a Philadelphia native, where she is active in the local theater and social justice communities.
To counteract the generational effects of redlining, Grand Rapids-based Rende Progress Capital uses their Financing Approval through Racial Equity (FARE) tool to establish advantageous loan terms for entrepreneurs of color. RPC wants to recognize and account for the systemic barriers that these determined business owners have overcome. Pennsylvania-based nonprofit The Untours Foundation sees this approach as one of many steps toward a more just and actively anti-racist society and partners with RPC with program-related investment. RPC’s work accelerates our own mission of addressing the interlocking issues of poverty, inequality, and climate change. We are honored to support RPC’s vision of a better world, and the concrete actions we can take to build it.