WASHINGTON – The Kellogg Foundation has inaugurated an ambitious nationwide campaign to combat racial and ethnic inequality with a five-year, $75 million commitment to award grants to support organizations working to fight racism.
At their news conference in Washington, D.C., Kellogg officials on Tuesday challenged the tendency of Americans to identify post-racial progress with statistics that instead demonstrate the pervasive disparities between Whites and racial minorities in nearly every social and economic indicator.
“Far too many vulnerable children still grow up in profoundly limited opportunities to succeed because of the damaging effects of long-term racial and ethnic discrimination,” said Fred Keller, trustee of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “They face the effects of structural racism in every aspect of their lives.”
The “America Healing” initiative will target children in three critical areas, including education, nutrition and health, and family economic security. The initiative’s mission is to work with organizations to support efforts to redirect and channel productive social investment into disadvantaged communities.
“It’s poverty—its burdens and its crushing consequences—that is at the heart of vulnerability for children in this country,” said Sterling Speirn, president and CEO of the Kellogg Foundation. “To have a nation and a vision of that nation filled with communities that are propelling vulnerable children to success demands that we look at the obstacles that stand between us and that vision.”
Speirn identified those obstacles with alarming statistics about the poor employment prospects for Black youth, the documented income gaps between racial groups, and the lower life expectancy of minorities.
Kellogg’s “hope-filled” initiative is guided by its resolve to become an “anti-racist” organization, Speirn said. Nearly 1,000 proposals were submitted, but, in the first phase, 119 grants were awarded, totaling $14.6 million, according to Kellogg officials.
Harvard University sociologist Dr. David Harrison said research shows that institutional, individual, and internalized racism account for many of the negative outcomes for youth of color.
Though socioeconomic status is the single most reliable predictor for health disparities, Harrison said residential segregation contributes largely to the Black-White divide in a number of social areas.
“In America’s largest cities in the year 2000 the level of segregation is only slightly lower than legally mandated apartheid in South Africa,” Harrison said.
At the individual level, negative ethnic stereotypes undergird racist practices and discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. White men with criminal records have a better chance of being employed than do Latino and Black men with clean records though both groups had identical resumes, Harrison cited the results of one 2004 study.
A study in the Journal of Social Survey “found that 44 percent of Whites believed Blacks were lazy” and, in some cases, unintelligent, unmasking a hierarchy of racial preference that supports segregation.
Attending the Kellogg inauguration event, Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga., applauded the project, saying the Kellogg Foundation is helping to “heal America and create a more perfect union” by extending the work of the civil rights movement.
“People really believed there were four different races and ordered in a hierarchy based on physical characteristics,” said Dr. Gail Christopher, vice president for Programs, Food, Health & Well-Being for the Kellogg Foundation. “Every system that we have in this country was built on that set of fallacies of racial difference. This work is about us having the courage as a nation to acknowledge that was so stupid and it was so wrong. We have to admit that.”
The initiative will also support and partner with “anchor organizations”—such as the National Council de la Raza and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—that have historically battled against inequality and fund research about education, health and economic disparities.
Kellogg also hopes to create a national system of accountability to measure progress, advocate for policy changes, and work within the media to lessen negative racial images and beliefs.