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President's Blog: Interrogating Complacency

Tuesday, July 28, 2020
I would like to speak candidly about the harm of complacency in the fight for racial justice.

Complacency is defined as a “feeling of quiet pleasure or security, often while unaware of some potential danger.” It is easy to become complacent, especially for those of us who are White or non-Black, liberal, progressive, and working toward an equitable society.

At twelve years old, my very first job was to teach piano lessons. Since then, I have been working non-stop for over 45 years. I built a career as a woman in a male-dominated corporate world. I have gone through multiple racial equity trainings. I acknowledge my white privileges. It is tempting to pat myself on the back for having done my part in making the world a better place. These moments of self-satisfaction always demand an immediate reality check. 

The reality is that complacency works in service of white supremacy and oppression. While it is convenient for me to center my personal struggles and feel good about my accomplishments, I risk erasing the fact that I continue to benefit from being white. Complacency is a strong symptom of the racism pandemic and public health crisis. To build a healthier society, we must grapple with our human tendency to constantly seek external validation and self-satisfaction. 

When we feel content with the limited work that we’ve done to dismantle racism, we stop looking deeper and trying harder to address deep-rooted, systemic injustices. By not working to identify our complacent thinking and behaviors, we risk engaging in performative allyship, which leads to overconfidence and inertia in undoing our relationship with white supremacy and anti-Black racism. On the opposite spectrum of inaction, we also risk becoming defensive and blaming others for our own lack of actions. By learning and unlearning, we build the muscle to check our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without always relying on external feedback.

These past few weeks, I continue to be inspired by the SCG network and our sector’s active role in directing funding to Black-led organizations and seeking equity both internally and externally. Together, I know that we can do better to move from paralysis to action, share power, protect our democracy, and more. Let’s sustain accountability in our philanthropic community and interrogate our personal moments of complacency.

Christine Essel
President & CEO, Southern California Grantmakers


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