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Evaluating Your Internal Practices to Become an Anti-Racist Organization

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Injustice does not just live outside in the community — injustice lives within each of us as individuals and organizations. White supremacy is a disease that mutates and spreads through systems, ideologies, and language. We must actively confront the racism and anti-Blackness it creates and eradicate it from the organization’s daily practices, culture, and policies. Leaders are responsible for aligning their organizations with anti-racist and social justice principles to avoid perpetuating systemic injustices internally and in the communities they serve. 

To shed light on what it means to be an anti-racist, multicultural organization, SCG turned to Nike Irvin, Trustee of Riordan Foundation and SCG Board Vice-Chair, Rev. Sam Casey, Executive Director, Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE), San Bernardino, Christine Margiotta, Executive Director, Social Venture Partners LA, Kaci Patterson, Owner, Social Good Solutions and Chief Strategist, Black Equity Initiative, and Gloria Walton, President & CEO, Strategic Concepts in Organizing Policy & Education (SCOPE). These visionary leaders discussed how philanthropy has fallen short in confronting its anti-Blackness and how we can re-examine our role in ending institutional and systemic racism. Their generative conversation provided us with the following concrete actions organizations can take to evaluate their internal practices and adopt anti-racist principles. 



Put a stake in the ground and explicitly commit to the long and hard work of becoming an anti-racist organization. Organizations should conduct a full scope and scale assessment of their internal policies and practices to identify institutional racism patterns. It’s also essential to locate where elements of White dominant culture might be showing up organizationally. White dominant behaviors often manifest in overvaluing productivity, avoiding open conflict, worshipping the written word, and upholding notions of professionalism. Racism lives in every organization and system, including philanthropy. Becoming an anti-racist organization is a long-term effort that requires intention and commitment. 



Who’s in your spaces? What’s the representation of your staff, board, and the organizations that you fund? Look at the percentage of your budget designated for Black staff, Black-led organizations in the community, as well as Black-owned companies, consultants, and vendors. Pay attention to any disproportionalities in your internal representation and your budget. It is essential for organizations serving Los Angeles County to reflect the diversity of the communities and issues they’re serving. Commit to paying your staff a living wage, paying equitably across all teams, and increasing your investments in Black-led organizations from year to year. Remember that your budget is a moral document. 



Organizations should create all team agreements and policies collaboratively. Don’t expect Black staff members to lead the work on internal equity themselves, which inherently puts an unfair burden on them. However, an organization should not make a strategic decision regarding Black people or communities without consulting Black colleagues first. If organizations do not have Black staff, they need to turn to their peers, community members, hire Black consultants, or work with CBOs with DEI expertise, such as LeadersUp, to ensure that they move in the right direction. Creating equitable systems and policies requires organizations to follow Black leadership while avoiding placing the onus of explaining racism’s impact on people of color. 



It is critical to craft anti-retaliation policies that make employees feel protected and empowered to address structural racism within an organization. It’s crucial to be transparent with staff members— especially Black women and women of color— that there are no repercussions for speaking up or removing themselves from a conversation. However, this practice does not mean that it is the sole responsibility of people of color to address the racism in their organization. Instead, it provides institutional protection to ensure staff members can address internal inequities. 



The collective turn toward race-neutral and colorblind language has shifted from a desire to not offend to a refusal to see disproportionality and inequity. Allowing words and ideas to become coded and neutral reinforces white supremacist thinking. People can train their ears to listen to coded words differently and hear them as Black people experience them to challenge these barriers. For example, when someone says “law-abiding citizen,” it implies “real Americans.” Who are the “real Americans?” Who does this exclude? Learning to un-hear white supremacist language takes practice. White people committed to this work can enroll in SVP’s online course Anti-Racism for White People



Everyone’s liberation is bound up together. No one is free until everyone is free. Even multiracial organizations need to evaluate their internal practices for patterns of institutionalized racism. Black experiences are often collapsed or lost when organizations use terms like multiracial or communities of color. In these instances, Black people are left responsible for elevating their voices. Multiracial organizations need to create strategies that focus on collective experiences and build power with all people of color. To provide guidance, Crossroads Ministry has initiated a Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization



It’s tempting to reach out to Black team members to ask how they’re doing or how they’re processing this moment. However, this is often an excruciating request for colleagues already experiencing heightened emotional distress. Colleagues can support their Black staff by clarifying that they have no responsibility to explain or process their feelings, especially in work environments. Organizations can also provide mental health services to their Black staff members and allocate funds to their grantees to provide their staff with wellness services. 

Organizations should offer time off to their Black staff members outside of their vacation or sick time. Managers should encourage employees to take this time off and help remove items from their workloads. Employers can also allow their team members, especially their Black staff, to use their work time to participate in movement work, processing or healing, and self-care. Given the compounding emotional stress of COVID-19 and routine police brutality, companies should suspend expectations around “high productivity and output.” Employers can also be more sensitive to the subtleties of cultural norms around people's hair.  Even in progressive organizations, there can be implicit and explicit bias regarding Black hair and appearance, with pressure to conform to hair-straightening. Organizations should focus on collective reflection, supporting their team, and thinking of how teams can be of service to one another and their communities. 




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