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Black Philanthropy – Past and Present: Interview with Penn’s Marybeth Gasman

February 13, 2013

We’re following up with another installment in our focus on Black Philanthropy during Black History Month. This week, we’re featuring a short Q&A interview with Marybeth Gasman, PhD, Professor of Higher Education at Penn Graduate School of Education, to shed some light on philanthropy and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Autumn Walden, program managerAW: In your paper “White corporate philanthropy and its support of private black colleges in the 1960s and 70s” you’ve noted that during the 1960s and 1970s, Black colleges had little contact with individual Black donors due to wage inequities and the belief that Black alumni would or could not donate. Can you talk about how that has changed since then?

Marybeth GasmanMG: Since the 1970s, Blacks have slowly gained access to more capital and have slowly acquired more income. Currently, Blacks have $1 trillion in buy power. That’s significant and if tapped into can transform Black colleges as well as Black organizations. The key is asking. By and large, Blacks are rarely asked to give because they are seen as receivers rather than givers.

W.E.B. Du Bois. Image source: Wikipedia

W.E.B. Du Bois

AW: In your paper “W. E. B. Du Bois and Charles S. Johnson: Opposing Views on Philanthropic Support for Black Higher Education” there is a quote by Du Bois that reads:

“Education is not and should not be a private philanthropy: it is a public service and whenever it becomes a gift of the rich it is in danger.”

Charles S. Johnson disagreed and worked with white philanthropists and foundations because of his belief that philanthropy created real opportunities for Blacks. Given the current economic, social, and political situations that surround the education system in the United States, are there still such polarizing views around public and private funding for education in the Black community?

Charles S. Johnson. Image source: Wikipedia

Charles S. Johnson

MG: There are concerns about White control of Black organizations. Although Blacks have more access to wealth, they do not have the same access as Whites, nor the power. Until they have more monetary power, they cannot have complete power over their organizations. That said, many philanthropists of various racial and ethnic backgrounds are more informed now and make contributions with input from the potential recipients for funds.

Image source: Forbes

Image source: Forbes

AW: You may have seen the news of the recent Giving Pledge billionaire and philanthropist, Patrice Motsepe? He is the first Black, South African to join. Can you comment on any similarities or differences between Black Caribbean and/or African philanthropy abroad and African-American philanthropy in the United States?

MG: Much of Black Caribbean and African philanthropy is informal as philanthropy in these areas has never been institutionalized with any racial and ethnic communities, including Whites.  We are starting to see some formality in places like South Africa but it is slow coming. Still much of the traditions of African-Americans stem back to traditions in various African countries. The idea of communalism is particularly important.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. February 15, 2013 5:39 pm

    My dissertation is one of the first to study Black Philanthropy. Blacks always have been asked and Blacks always have been philanthropic. Blacks, like other races, support causes that are important to them. Blacks give a higher percentage of their wealth than Whites; therefore are more philanthropic than Whites (if we must compare). The theory of economics of discrimination explains why it is unrealistic to match total dollars given by Whites to total dollars given by non-whites. After all, 1965 was not long ago. The model we should use is Americans pulling together their time, talents and treasures, as done by Blacks and Jews in the 60′s, to make America better vs. comparing total dollars across race. Therefore, total dollars given by White people to organizations that serve Black communities should not result in White people controlling Black organizations. I believe most funders and philanthropists are responsive and strategic in their philanthropy, and not seeking control. Starita Ansari

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