You work at a nonprofit right? Let me ask you a few questions.
Why do you feel like you have to change the world?
Why is the world resting on your shoulders?
Who made you in charge of the world’s problems?
Because in nonprofits, this is how we are set up.
Because of white supremacy, we seek Power OVER. Not Power WITH.
So this leads to white savior complex.
It leads to all white boards or all white leadership of a nonprofit.
It leads us to set up nonprofits to “help” brown people all over the world when often our imperialist policies created the problems they are having in the first place.
As Slavoj Zizek says, “When we are shown scenes of starving children in Africa, with a call for us to do something to help them, the underlying ideological message is something like: “Don’t think, don’t politicize, forget about the true causes of their poverty, just act, contribute money, so that you will not have to think!”
We are trained to put a bandaid on a problem, instead of looking at the deeper cause of the problem.
It’s easier to say, “Give today to fund a mosquito net for a child in Ecuador” instead of “Help us look at why our government has systemically been destabilizing Latin American countries for three decades.” Not as snappy. Doesn’t roll off the tongue.
Also because that would require us to question our foreign policy, question our system of government accountability, and question imperialist colonialist mindset.
Part of the problem is how we respond to the problem.
You see, we SAY we want equality. We SAY we want to treat everyone well at our organizations. But our actions go against our policies, and we need to look at that.
How can we get our actions to match our policies?
According to the Economist, in 2008 Norway required listed companies to reserve at least “40% of their board seats for women on pain of dissolution. In the following five years more than a dozen countries set similar quotas at 30% to 40%. In Belgium, France and Italy, too, firms that can be fined, dissolved or banned from paying their directors.”
Today 35.5% of Norway’s boards are women. Over 10 years later, has anything really changed for women at other levels of organizations? The Economist says no, not in any meaningful way.
In the US, 20% of corporate boards are women.
This is 2020. COME ON.
We could clearly do better here not just in gender, but in racial equity.
According to Naomi Schalit at The Conversation,
“Societal change is hard. If the change requires a significant change in culture over relatively short time, nudging and encouragement are not enough. (emphasis mine)
The Norwegian case shows that negative incentives create a sense of urgency and provide the necessary motivation to increase the number of women on boards.
Fairness is relative.
When the playing field is skewed with strong historical and cultural biases hindering change towards a more equitable use of the talent pool, incentives such as the quota law can establish new models and new, more effective standards.” She believes that the quota law needs to continue.
If Schalit is correct, could we take it farther? Could we require each nonprofit to have 50% women of color on the board, and 50% women of color on the leadership team?
And if we made new policies and rules like that, how would we enforce them?
I talk about how nonprofit women specifically have been thrown under the bus during the pandemic here in this interview with Veritus Group.
BOTTOM LINE: Our actions do not match our policies, and we do not get repercussions for that.
If Schalit is incorrect- then what?
A quick fix is not going to be what creates more equity in our sector.
Can we move beyond punitive systems and structures towards TRUE Equality?
If part of the problem is how we respond to the problem, how can we respond DIFFERENTLY this time?
Here’s the bad news. Your cause is never going away. How could it, if we never address the systemic racism and white supremacy we are built on?
What if we looked at inequity as a demon?
What do I mean by that?
When you ask some people from the dominant culture to look at the inequity in their own organizations, they react with robot-like phrases:
- “Are you calling me racist? HOW DARE YOU!”
- “I’m not racist!”
- “I have black friends and they said it was ok for me to use the N-word!”
Then they make emotion-backed demands and ad-hominem attacks, like, “Prove to me YOU’RE not racist!” “You act like your shit don’t stink!” etc etc.
According to Carolyn Elliott, what these reactions have in common is that “they are automatic, like autonomous sub-personalities that can temporarily possess us with nastiness, (like a demon).
They’re inherited from the wounds we received in childhood, which means they get passed contagiously from parent to child, like a virus (or a demon).”
If this demon of not wanting to look at inherent racism, sexism, classism, colonialism and white supremacy continues, we’ll just keep recreating it, over and over again, for another generation of white nonprofit workers.
So, what if we treated inequity like a game, a puzzle we had to solve?
What if we could see these reactions as pieces of a demon, and playfully allow ourselves to see the demon, and change the demon into an ally?
The demon is protecting something soft. What is it protecting?
What hurt do we need to heal, before this demon can be transformed?
Listen, watch or read my interview with the women who wrote Collecting Courage about how organizations can heal racial inequity in their structure.
(This post originally appeared on the Bloomerang Blog.)