We interviewed Desiree Adaway on white supremacy, how it manifests inside our organizations, and what we can do about it.

We asked:  What are the 3 pillars of white supremacy?


Why should nonprofit folks care about white supremacy?

what is liberatory consciousness?

What are brave spaces versus safe spaces?

In your webinar you talk about why crafting an “appropriate” workplace identity is code for “dominant culture identity” – what could we do instead to shift this expectation?

 In a quote from your work, you ask,  “How do you have relationships that are transformational, not transactional?”

 For those white people in positions of power who see no problem with the current system- is there anything we can do if we can’t afford to lose our job/want to stay in the organization? 

What does it mean to be an anti-oppressive organization, and how will we put our mission/values into action?

When you are the only one at work:

Whether the only gay person, the only person of color, the only person of a different class than others- this is probably some of the stuff you think about. How can I get leaders to understand what they are doing is not supporting me?

When your leader says “I don’t see color” it’s insulting because people of color have to see color every day. The person who says this, they are saying. “I don’t see power dynamics.”

Why are you not being encouraged to bring your culture to work, or seen as a leader automatically?

According to the ProInspire report,  people of color are educated. And they are interested in nonprofit ED and CEO roles. So, why do we only see a 10% of people of color as a CEO or Board chair?

Well, it’s the system of white supremacy.  White supremacy doesn’t mean I am calling you a racist. It means we’re engaging in a systemic analysis of what is going on. 

This work is not optional. It is critical for your organization to stay relevant in the future- you need to have leaders that value equity-look boldly at race at work, having difficult conversations, building transformational not transactional relationships, and seeing the structures of white supremacy at work.

As Desiree Adaway says, we are afraid to call the thing the thing! Don’t be afraid to bring up race, class, gender at work! Planning and action come from Analysis, not just because you read a book! Make the next best decision from your analysis- not just trying something random to see what works. 

So, you want your org to exist in 25 years? You need to pay attention to this.

What’s the difference between diversity culture and equity culture?

Desiree Adaway says, “Diversity is when you invite me to your party, inclusion is when you let me bring my music, my food, my games to your party. Bring your whole self to work and everywhere you go.” 

This chart is from: Source: Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (2005) “Building a Multi-Ethnic, Inclusive & Antiracist Organization-Tools for Liberation Packet for Anti-Racist Activists, Allies, & Critical Thinkers”

How can you leverage your privilege to do something inside your organization? What are you willing to give up to create a more equitable and just organization?

Here’s the ProInspire report –How to Center Equity in Your Organization

The ProInspire report says, “Building a Race Equity Culture requires intention and effort, and sometimes stirs doubt and discomfort. Holding a vision of the future can sustain you in the challenging times. What does a true Race Equity Culture look like, and what benefits will accrue to your staff, systems, stakeholders, and community served? When your organization has fully committed itself to a Race Equity Culture, the associated values become part of the organization’s DNA. It moves beyond special initiatives, task force groups, and check-the-box approaches into full integration of race equity in every aspect of its operations and programs.

Here are some goals to shoot for inside your organization.

  • Leadership ranks hold a critical mass of people of color, whose perspectives are shifting how the organization fulfills its mission and reinforcing the organization’s commitment to race equity.
  • Internal change around race equity is embraced. Staff members are supported in managing and integrating the changes, and the organization demonstrates courage to advance external outcomes.
  • Staff, stakeholders, and leaders are confident and skilled at talking about race and racism and its implications for the organization and for society.
  • Cultural norms and practices exist that promote positive and culturally responsible interpersonal relationships among staff. Individuals are encouraged to share their perspectives and experiences.
  • Programs are culturally responsive and explicit about race, racism, and race equity.
  • External communications reflect the culture of the communities served.
  • Communities are treated not merely as recipients of the organization’s services, but rather as stakeholders, leaders, and assets to the work.
  • Expenditures on services, vendors, and consultants reflect organizational values and a commitment to race equity.
  • Continuous improvement in race equity work is prioritized by requesting feedback from staff and the community.
  • Evaluation efforts incorporate the disaggregation of data in order to surface and understand how every program, service, or benefit impacts every beneficiary

We have bold goals for this work. If enough race equity champions are willing and ready to engage their organizations in the transformational work of building a Race Equity Culture, we will reach the tipping point where this work shifts from an optional exercise or a short-term experiment without results, to a core, critical function of the social sector. By building a Race Equity Culture within organizations and across the social sector, we can begin to dismantle structural racism. Only then will we truly live up to our missions to serve the common good. We’re ready for this work; are you?

WOC in Orgs