On Redemption – Excerpt from Decolonizing Wealth

In Decolonizing Wealth, my central argument is that what ails philanthropy at its core is colonialism. Almost without exception, funders reinforce the colonial division of Us vs Them, Haves vs Have Nots, and mostly white saviors and white experts vs poor, needy, urban, disadvantaged, marginalized, at-risk people (take your pick of euphemisms for people of color).

When it comes to getting or giving access to money, white men are usually in charge, and everyone else has to be twice as good (or more) to get half as much (or less). All the institutions along the loans-to-gifts spectrum—I’ll use the term “funders” to encompass them all—are “ivory towers,” by which I mean institutions of racism and division. All these funders exist to preserve the wealth and privilege of a few, to separate them from the rest of us.

Given the level of trauma caused by what I have coined as the “colonizer virus” and wealth consolidation, can funders actually support transformational change? This raises another question of the “master’s tools,” a reference to the poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde’s declaration: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” The master’s tools, as I view them are not money – the tools are anything corrupted to serve the aims of exploitation and domination. If money is an inherently neutral force, then it can also be used for good, as medicine.

I do believe in redemption. To paraphrase the late great Maya Angelou: Once we know better, we  must do better. When we reclaim our share of resources, when we recover our places at the table and the drawing board, we can design our healing. We can create new ways of seeking and granting access to money. We can return balance to the world by moving money to where the hurt is worst.


An enrolled member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, Edgar Villanueva is the chair of the board of Native Americans in Philanthropy, a trustee of the Andrus Family Fund, and the vice president of programs and advocacy at the Schott Foundation for Public Education. Follow @VillanuevaEdgar and @DecolonizWealth on Twitter.  Decolonizing Wealth is available to purchase at all major booksellers and many local bookstores. 

Edgar Villanueva