Improving charity sector diversity as a white woman

In part one of a two part blog, Fiona Clarke, a Charity Fast-Track graduate, reflects on how we can address racism in the charity sector and improve diversity.

I walk into the yearly conference of one of the largest UK charities and see a room of white faces . It’s the first time I’ve seen everyone all together and it is shocking. “Wow, they were really on point with the #CharitySoWhite” I comment to some other white colleagues. They look surprised, swiftly changing the subject, as us white people are so adept at doing. I had thought that the charity sector would be more diverse than this. Now I realise I was assuming that because people wanted to ‘do good’ through their work, that this automatically made them ‘good people’ and therefore ‘not racist’. I started learning about anti-racism about 2 years ago and I still have so far to go.

My anti-racism journey so far

Clearly, I (a white, straight, middle class, able bodied, cis woman) am writing from a position of immense privilege. I have made many mistakes and this is a lifelong journey. I am definitely not here to paint myself as the font of all knowledge on this topic. (After reading this, I encourage you to read more from People of Colour writing about the charity sector and I’ve included some suggestions below.) But I do recognise that it is my responsibility to continue learning, to ensure that I no longer contribute to racial oppression and to be anti-racist in every way I can. I want to share what I have learnt on my anti-racism journey so far and hopefully you can learn something too.

A few disclaimers – I am not discussing discrimination based on gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, disability or religion. I fully recognise that these come with their own overlapping struggles but that is not within the scope of this post. I will be using the term People of Colour (POC) throughout. Though I understand that there are some issues with this term, I feel like it is suitable for this post. If you think another term would be better, please do get in touch. I welcome any feedback on each and every aspect of this post.

So the first thing we need to do is understand the problem of racism and after that we can take action. Let’s dive into some key areas that we need to understand in order to address racism in our charities.

Racism

The act of discriminating against someone because of their race. We usually think of racism as isolated incidents and don’t like to call it out unless it is very obvious. However, racism is more than actions you can point at. The majority of it is in our unconscious bias, structural racism and microaggressions.

Unconscious bias

From our family, friends, school system, upbringing, media and society as a whole, all of us have biases (racial and otherwise). Some of those we are conscious of and some we are unconscious of. These biases affect our actions and inevitably come out as discrimination in some form sooner or later. It would be impossible for any of us to grow up without any biases so the question we need to ask ourselves isn’t ‘do I have unconscious bias?’ but ‘what are my unconscious biases?’ After learning about anti-racism, you will be more able to call yourself out and check the snap assumptions you make about people.

Institutionalised/ structural racism

This occurs when groups of people with the same conscious and unconscious biases join together in an organisation and act according to their biases. It manifests in the unspoken agreement that work culture is white culture. Or the disregarding of a CV because of a foreign name. Or the glass ceiling that stops POC from reaching senior management level. In our charities it manifests in only 8% of trustees being POC; in our institutions, it manifests in black Britons being 8.4 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police to take just two examples.

White privilege

White privilege is the privilege of going through life not being judged by your race. When you are a white person you never have to experience racism and systematic racism. There are many ways in which your privilege manifests which you have likely never noticed before. You are seen as an individual rather than a representative of your group. This is not to say that you have not been discriminated against because of your gender/beliefs/class/sexual orientation. It means that you are privileged not to feel this specific form of discrimination and to not have to think about your race.

But white people can experience racism!

White people can experience individual acts of prejudice, discrimination and xenophobia. They cannot experience racism.

The myth of Good people = not racist, Bad people = racist binary

The idea that good people are not racist and racists are bad people is a very dangerous binary. It makes us think that racists are nazi-saluting, white supremacist, evil people. Of course, there are some racists like this but most racism is covert, not overt. The reality is that all people have prejudice and that this comes out in conscious and unconscious bias and discrimination. If you are a white person, then you will have thought or said something in the past that was racist.

(Little voice in your head: “What!? No! I have never ever done that! I’m not racist!” – Welcome to understanding white privilege – we often have the privilege of not thinking about race and can have no idea that we are doing it! Also this is your white fragility kicking in, we’d best cover that next!).

In the charity sector, I think we already feel that we are ‘good people’ by choosing this sector and therefore are less likely to consider the possibility that we have racial biases. There are no good white people, there are only anti-racist white people and racist white people. When we think we are good people and not racist, we do not do the necessary work to be anti-racist. As such we end up contributing to racial oppression. We need to think of ‘racist’ as an adjective, not a noun. What you said was racist and you need to improve that, but that does not mean that you are a racist who believes in white supremacy.

White fragility

Because of the above binary, when someone tries to give us feedback on our racist words or actions, we feel like they are accusing us of being a terrible person. We then reply with defensiveness, anger, upset and bursting into tears. This then means that the attention from the situation is brought back onto the accused white person. POC feel the need to comfort us and the racism is never addressed.

White solidarity

This is when white people protect other people from feeling uncomfortable and from triggering white fragility by not discussing race or calling each other out on their racial biases. We often prioritise not making someone feel awkward over correcting a racist stereotype or comment. I now realise that I was doing this until recently and am glad that I now have the confidence and knowledge to be able to address issues like this; our silence and inaction only allows the system of racism to continue.

Microaggressions

Small, covert acts of racism that POC have to deal with on a daily basis. ‘Where are you from… originally?’, ‘can I touch your hair?’, ‘wow, you have such good English’, ‘you’re so articulate’ are examples of microaggressions. As a single comment, they may seem annoying but not horrendous. But you can imagine how exhausting this is to deal with over and over on a daily basis. And yes they do happen. Often.

White saviourism

This is something that us white people have to be very mindful of and I have been guilty of this in the past. White saviourism is usually when white people go over to developing countries to ‘help’ and they feel like they are saving poor children of colour. Think white women cuddling random black babies they don’t know and posting it all over social media. But this can also be a part of anti-racism work. It is important that we check ourselves. Are we trying to get into anti-racism work for our own ego and to be the saviour for oppressed people? Or are we doing it because we know that it is right?

Performative ally-ship

This goes along with the above point and can be done by allies to any group. Performative ally-ship is when you behave like an ally when people are watching. Perhaps you change your email footer to encourage people to read the new inclusion policy. But performative allies would not be taking action when no one is watching. In an age where you see people giving food to someone on the street, taking a photo of it and uploading it to Facebook, this is something I know I definitely have to watch myself for.

Representation

Representation is so important. It tells people that they are welcome, valued and belong in an organisation. Imagine being in an organisation and seeing people only of the opposite sex being celebrated for their achievements, in all leadership positions and on adverts for your organisation. You would probably conclude ‘This place isn’t for me’ and try to find a new job. ‘No one who looks like me is successful in this place, how will I be?’. All groups need to be represented to attract more diverse talent into the organisation.

Intersectionality

The understanding that we do not face oppression or discrimination based on one part of our identity, but multiple, such as gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, ableism, or religion. As a woman, I may experience gender-based discrimination but a woman of colour faces gender-based discrimination as well as racism and so her experience is different to mine. Taking an intersectional approach to anti-racism is listening to the experiences of people with different identities to you and understanding that different approaches are needed to work together to eliminate all forms of oppression.

Continued learning: For further reading, check out: Why I am no longer talking to white people about race, The Clapback, and The Institute of Fundraising’s Manifesto for Change. Consider watching, listening, following Black Lives Matter, Stand Up to Racism, and #CharitySoWhite. Remember, it is not the job of POC to educate you on this topic, unless they have offered to do so. There is enough information out there on the wonder of the internet for us to educate ourselves. Confused about something? Google it like we do with everything else!

Next Step: Part 2 – Turning our attention more specifically to charity sector diversity

Cropped image via Creative Commons and The Blue Diamond Gallery