White Supremacy and Social Sector Diversity

“often well-intentioned people make decisions for communities they do not come from, may not understand, rarely interact with, and almost never step foot into.”

During my tenure at a large community based organization in Seattle, I remember leaving a meeting with Program Officers from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation wondering if they had spent any time at all with immigrant and refugee communities. They had not. Within a year of that conversation, I had moved on to greener pastures, co-founding a food startup and subsequently moving to India.


Five years later, I’m back in Seattle and continue to be alarmed by the culture in philanthropy. It’s not a Seattle-specific problem. It’s a problem that plagues the entire sector, perhaps all sectors. So why Seattle? Because organizations locally have adopted all the right DEI language, they go through racial equity training. We are a city that prides ourselves on being progressive, but show little movement in the direction of hiring PoC talent to lead work in PoC communities.

Where does white supremacy fit into this?

For starters, let’s recognize that white supremacy isn’t just protestors in Charlottesville. It’s not only Trump supporters in rural America or the deep south. It’s not something or someone ugly, who screams at people of color, immigrants and refugee. It’s the idea that white culture and white values are superior, and should be replicated at the cost of asking communities of color to assimilate and dilute their culture.

Philanthropy by it’s very nature has existed as a way for wealthy, mostly white populations, to redistribute wealth and fill gaps that government doesn’t have the means to. The wealth they aim to redistribute is often built on the backs of communities of color. And the redistribution is less an effort to address root causes and more a bandage (think funding additional food banks, instead of addressing why in a first world country such as the United States, so many people go hungry). In fact, most philanthropy, continues to generate wealth for the wealthy, while disenfranchising the needy.

“Under the premise of social change, what many have come to rightfully recognize as the nonprofit industrial complex moves throughout the insides of genuine movements, commodifying, recycling, and taming anything too radical.” — Verso

In this moment civil society “must declare with moral certainty that notions of racial superiority are antithetical to our common humanity and our future”. The Nonprofit Quarterly calls for ending ending white supremacy in the social sector. Instead, the sector struggles with the basics — hiring and retaining PoC talent, participatory and progressive grant-making, equitable evaluations, and the basic idea that beneficiaries have a voice at the table.

In 2018 diverse voices in philanthropy are few and often quiet. $390 billion dollars are deployed each year by American philanthropic organizations, and yet they make little impact. We are also in a moment where the government is enacting policies to harm communities of color, siding with the ‘alt-right’ and tearing down the very fabric of American democracy.

Nonprofits should understand that this moment defines us on a deep level.

Just like we can’t solve the gun-violence epidemic with prayers, we can’t the sector’s white supremacist tendencies with good intentions alone. Dorian O. Burton & Brian C.B. Barnes offer some great questions for organizations to start doing the critical work of increasing diversity and creating conditions where PoC thrive!

Dreamer, Do-er, Dissent-er // All things women and girls, equity and innovation Co-Founder @futurefor_us & Moving Beyond

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