Five Questions for Maribel Morey: Q&A with the Author of White Philanthropy

Happy tenth anniversary to University Press Week! This year’s Association of University Presses annual celebration, running from November 8-12, “welcomes all to ‘Keep UP’ with a decade of excellence and innovation.” 

For UP Week’s annual blog tour, today’s specific theme, Surprise!, presses describe who or what has most surprised them in the past decade.
We encourage you to visit these fellow UP press blogs today to read all about it: Texas A&M University PressUniversity of South Carolina Press, University of Virginia PressUniversity of Minnesota PressMIT Press

In celebration of today being the Book Birthday of Maribel Morey’s White Philanthropy: Carnegie Corporation’s An American Dilemma and the Making of a White World Order, we’re sharing a Q&A with the author. Since its publication in 1944, many Americans have described Gunnar Myrdal’s An American Dilemma as a defining text on U.S. race relations. Here, Maribel Morey confirms with historical evidence what many critics of the book have suspected: An American Dilemma was not commissioned, funded, or written with the goal of challenging white supremacy. Instead, Morey reveals it was commissioned by Carnegie Corporation president Frederick Keppel, and researched and written by Myrdal, with the intent of solidifying white rule over Black people in the United States.

Morey details the complex global origins of An American Dilemma, illustrating its links to Carnegie Corporation’s funding of social science research meant to help white policymakers in the Anglo-American world address perceived problems in their governance of Black people.

Happy Book Birthday to White Philanthropy: Carnegie Corporation’s An American Dilemma and the Making of a White World Order, officially on sale today!

An American Dilemma has been heralded as recently as the 1990s. What is the lasting impact of this book? 

An American Dilemma is a book that was written with the intention of making white Americans feel good about themselves on a topic that many call white Americans’ original sin: slavery and continued anti-Black violence and discrimination in the United States. This helps explain the book’s lasting impact, especially since white Americans—in their domination in various aspects of life—are still positioned to determine the relative impact of books and ideas. Also, Black Americans and other racialized groups in the U.S. have found the book useful as a tool for discussing racial equality with dominant white Americans, in terms that are pleasing to dominant white Americans. Within the academe, the book has long enjoyed a certain level of respect, not least because of its length, detail, and inclusion of mid-twentieth century research on white and Black Americans by Myrdal and his team of social scientists in the United States. 

You dedicate White Philanthropy to the memory of W.E.B. Du Bois. Why? 

In many ways, White Philanthropy is a historian’s love letter to Du Bois. It is a way of providing archival proof to Du Bois that he was right all along about these actors’ anxieties and fears about him: evidence of their efforts to reinforce a white Anglo-American world order through their grant-making practices. 

In your acknowledgments, you thank Carnegie Corporation’s Andrew Carnegie Fellowship Program for financial support. In what way did they support you? 

With Carnegie Corporation’s financial support, I enjoyed a two-year research sabbatical from teaching. In that period, I completed archival research on this first book and commenced research for the second book, which tracks elite foundations’ reasons for supporting the U.S. civil rights movement in the second half of the twentieth century. On a more personal level, former Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian—who passed away earlier this year—encouraged me to write with courage. He whispered encouraging words to me even as many in his staff were only interested in the “positive parts” of my description of An American Dilemma’s impact in the United States. He did this twice: Once when I was attending an event at the office and we crossed paths in the hallway (I wrote about the event) and later when I came to the office to give a presentation of my research. 

Today, at the dawn of the 21st Century, when you survey the global philanthropic landscape, what inspires hope for a more just and inclusive approach to philanthropy? 

In the last 3–5 years, communities around the world have engaged more critically with the role of “big philanthropy” or rather, “elite giving.” That gives me hope for a more just and inclusive approach to philanthropy. A first and important step is—as many people increasingly are doing now—to follow the example of W.E.B. Du Bois and remain thoughtful and engaged watchdogs of these sizable funders’ grant-making practices which, as Du Bois long-stressed, have the power to shape every corner of the world around us without our consent. 

You learned to speak Swedish during the decade of researching and writing this book. Why? 

Yes, I learned Swedish in order to access Gunnar Myrdal’s texts in his native language before he accepted Carnegie Corporation’s invitation to direct its study of Black Americans. 

 Maribel Morey is the founding Executive Director of The Miami Institute for the Social Sciences, which centers the work of Global Majority scholars in the social sciences and neighboring fields.