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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 as organizations. White supremacy is a disease that mutates and spreads through systems, ideologies, and language. The racism and anti-Blackness it creates must be actively confronted and eradicated from the organization’s daily practices, culture, and policies. Leaders have a responsibility to align their organizations with anti-racist and social justice principles to avoid perpetuating systemic injustices internally and in the communities they are serving. 

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 patterns of institutional racism. It’s also important to identify where elements of White dominant culture might be showing up organizationally. White dominany behaviors often manifest in overvaluing productivity, avoiding open conflict, worshipping the written word, and upholding notions of professionalism. Racism is embedded 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? Specifically, look at the percentage of your budget that is investing in 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 issues you’re working on and the communities that you’re serving. Make a commitment to pay a living wage to all your staff, pay equitably across all teams, and explicitly commit to increasing your investments in Black-led organizations from year to year. Remember that your budget is a moral document. 



Additionally, all new team agreements and policies should be created collaboratively. Don’t expect Black staff members to lead the work on internal equity themselves as this puts an unfair burden on them. However, an organization should not make a strategic decision that is intended to impact Black people or communities without consulting with 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 LeadersUpto ensure that they are moving in the right direction. Creating equitable systems and policies requires organizations to follow Black leadership while avoiding placing the onus of explaining the impact of racism on people of color. 



It is critical to craft anti-retaliation policies so that employees feel comfortable and empowered to address the patterns of structural racism within an organization. It’s crucial to be clear 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. To challenge these barriers, people can train their ears to hear coded words differently, to hear them as Black people hear them. For example, when someone says “law-abiding citizen,” it implies “real Americans.” Who are the “real Americans?” Who is being intentionally excluded? Learning to unhear 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 terms like multiracial or communities of color are used, and Black people are left with the responsibility of elevating their own voices. Multiracial organizations need to create strategies that focus on collective experiences and that build power with all people of color. To provide guidance, Crossroads Ministry has created 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 wellness services to their staff. 

Organizations should offer time off to their Black staff members outside of their vacation or sick time. Managers should encourage employees to actually 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 to their communities. 




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