Being the #1 charity won’t end systemic racism

On my drive home from the gym this morning, I spotted a proclamation from the roadside glowing marquee of a nonprofit organization:

“Ranked #1 charity in North Carolina” alongside the Guidestar logo

This organization provides vital services to people experiencing homelessness; who are facing food insecurity; who are under-or-unemployed; who lack access to mental or physical health services.

So, what’s the problem? Why should we not also celebrate the achievement of being recognized as the top charity across the Old North State?

As my friend Atrayus reminded us at the YNPN Triangle NC #NonprofitSTRONG Summit in 2016, on the whole, nonprofit organizations are not achieving their missions. Whether we work to end homelessness, increase access to the voting booth, or close the achievement gap, we’re working in systems that have been intentionally designed to lead to inequities. Therefore, until we address that we’re operating in a flawed framework, we will continue to fail, number one rankings or not.

Each time the conversation, especially in nonprofit circles, turns to tackling systemic issues, the typical positive, optimist outlooks morph into echo chambers of negativity.

“It’s too much.”

“It’s too hard.”

“No one will fund that type of work.”

“(Insert group impacted by nonprofit’s service) needs help now. They don’t have time to wait for us to construct a new infrastructure.”

Each of these pushbacks isn’t wrong, per say. A commitment to systemic change can be too much; it is neither easy work nor work considered sexy by typical funders. Yes, people/animals/communities/natural resources do need champions in the here and now.

When we hear of individuals in other fields — science, business, sports — overcoming seemingly impossible odds, we laud them with accolades. They are our new muses, our latest inspirations. These innovators have defied what we thought possible within our current systems of knowledge and understanding.

Why can’t the nonprofit sector do this too? Why do we let the trope of being undervalued and meek permeate into our assessment of our own capabilities to upend and re-imagine systems? We are committed, passionate individuals whose values extend beyond the individual and to the whole. But, if we refuse to shrug off the restraints we have placed on ourselves — not to mention the ones broader society wraps around our bodies, hearts, and minds — then we will never be able to fully live our values.

Systems are behemoths. They can exist without us even interacting with them. And we allow this cycle to continue, day in, day out. I believe this happens because we either aren’t able or aren’t willing to push pause, really take a close look our systems, and name them for what they are: racistTherefore, systems plus racism equals…

Systemic racism. The folks at Race Forward have fabulous resources on what systemic racism is and how it shows up across a myriad of ways: employment, incarceration rates, education, health outcomes. Here’s one video focused specifically on how systemic racism is connected to wealth.

It doesn’t matter if we’re good people committed to racial equity. It doesn’t matter if we work at a nonprofit with a fabulous mission. We need to continue to do both of this AND actively disrupt systemic racism.

How do we start?

  1. Learn the definitions. What is race? What is racism? Is it the same as prejudice or discrimination? Community-based organizations like Dismantling Racism offers answers and more free resources.
  2. Explore how systemic racism shows up in your life, work, and community. Tap into an existing organization or network to get started.
  3. Learn more about systemic racism. Check out Podcasts like “Pod Save The People” . Read books like “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, “Stamped From The Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi or any on lists provided by Internet-favorites Buzzfeed and Huffington Post. Attend a training or workshop. Talk with friends who have to a training or workshop.

Baby steps, yes. Every day, we have to take at least one step. What is your step today? What will be your step tomorrow?

Plod forward. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. But it’s way to truly achieve what we all believe in.

Instead of charity rankings, we’ll be able to close our doors. Nonprofits shouldn’t have to exist. We fill holes, gaps, flaws in our systems.

Let’s go to work.

Stop Telling Women to Smile

The costs of emotional labor

Emotional labor: something we give daily, often without much consideration. And, it is also something we demand daily from others. Again, this expectation often stems without much thought or deep analysis as to why we expect others to give their emotional labor freely and what the ramifications and costs are for that individual.

Let’s back up for a moment: what is emotional labor? Here are a few examples and perspectives:

“In a work context, emotional labor refers to the expectation that a worker should manipulate either her actual feelings or the appearance of her feelings in order to satisfy the perceived requirements of her job. Emotional labor also covers the requirement that a worker should modulate her feelings in order to influence the positive experience of a client or a colleague.” – Rose Hackman, The Guardian

“Emotional labor includes the management of negative emotions and the cultivation/performance of positive emotions as determined by the nursing role (Bolton, 2001). In addition to the specialized, technical labor required of today’s nurses, they are required to effectively manage their own and others’ (e.g., patients, physicians, aides, coworkers) emotions, so patients and their families retain a sense that calm, confident, and effective care is being provided. As others have shown, however, the expectations surrounding the performance of such emotional labor—or the management of one’s observed emotional displays for pay (Hochschild, 1983)—are not equally distributed across all occupational sectors or incumbents (Fixsen & Ridge, 2012Wingfield, 2010a). Beginning with Hochschild’s (1983) original study, for example, the performance of emotional labor has been framed as a gendered experience linked to sociocultural stereotypes of women as more emotionally competent and community-oriented (Ridgeway, 2008).” – “I Can Never Be Too Comfortable: Race, Gender, and Emotion at the Hospital Bedside”, Marci D. Cottingham,  Austin H. Johnson and Rebecca J. Erickson, National Institute of Health

““When they go low, we go high,” said Michelle Obama during that epic, make-you-want-to-cry speech on the first night of this year’s Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. For the next 15 minutes, Mrs. Obama moved a nation from the needle of fear and hate sharpened so dangerously by Donald Trump. FLOTUS spoke to the hearts of a country, dealt with the hate of an opponent, invoked a bloody history, and re-imagined “Make America Great Again” to “America is the greatest country on earth.” She lifted the DNC from confusion and controversy to optimism and committed engagement. Essentially, FLOTUS was doing the emotional labor so many Black women do in nation building, movement building and electoral politics. Black women’s emotional labor matters.” – Esther Armah, Ebony Magazine

Bottom line: there are expectations built within our culture that women, especially women of color, have to take on certain tasks and perform in certain ways. Why? Somewhere in our DNA, we were born with a skill set that makes us the best:

  • caregivers
  • event planners
  • notetakers
  • listeners
  • secretaries
  • assistants
  • customer service representatives
  • nurses
  • wait staff
  • flight attendants
  • doormats

Whatever we can do to make your experience the most pleasant, we will. Or, at least that’s the social value underpinning the concept of emotional labor. And that value does not require or even suggest that women should receive greater financial compensation for that work; equal access to power or decision-making; or even outward acknowledgement of their contributions.

Conversations around emotional labor are happening with greater frequency, which is great. Yet, how do we shift from deep discussions to real actions to address this social and economical inequity?

Reader! You can make an impact on this at your workplace, on boards you sit on, wherever you have the space to exercise privilege and power. And, you can most certainly take responsibility for shifting these norms within your own mind.

Don’t pigeonhole women to play key roles within a team/organization.

Y’all: I’m tired of the assumption that because of our “good handwriting”  or “innate skills” we will want to be the secretary/note-taker of the group. Those roles require the individual to divide their attention between participation and record-keeping, which means less opportunity to fully participate in the process. Women, especially women of color, have been shut out of these processes for eons. Step up and assume that role. Hold other men in the group accountable for doing the same.

Provide financial compensation for trainings, speaking engagements, and knowledge-sharing.

I work in the nonprofit sector, and I get it: we feel stretched when it comes to allocating funding for professional development and thought-leaders. Whether we’re planning a conference or hosting a forum, we request that experts donate their time and talent for our cause/purpose. Good for our bottom line = not equitable for said speaker.

We live in a world where we have access to vast amounts of information, and most of it comes without a price tag. At least, a visible one. But, we need to recognize that within that tweet (shout-out to Monét Noelle Marshall who educated me on this frequent type of informational co-option sans compensation) or workshop, someone is providing a service for you. They aren’t just “doing their job” but are actively participating in arming you with knowledge to make a difference, which will often result in a net positive for you/your organization. Pay them. If you don’t have the means to cut them a check, find other ways to compensate them in the exchange: a meal, in-kind marketing and promotion, etc. While those other options are fine, I would still argue that actual payment in cash is the ultimate goal. We can do a better job to allocate those funds within our budgets from the start. (Yes, we’re talking about being intentional.)

Let go of norms that people in certain jobs should act in a certain way.

There are certain jobs in our world that fall under the category of “performance”: dancers, musicians, actors, etc. The server at the restaurant is not one of those jobs. Neither is a receptionist. There are a myriad of examples where any gendered or non-gendered individual can hold a certain title, but we (consumers) expect different outputs depending on whether we perceive that person as female or not.

It behooves us to question our own emotions when we feel slighted in a service experience. Is our reaction based on our perception that the individual, because of their gender, should have acted in a certain way? What are the dangers of the assumption? Lost wages, lost jobs. The continuation of gendered norms that transfer to the next generation. The toll it takes on that individual (self-worth, self-acceptance).

As a white woman, I cannot and should not speak for women of color who are disproportionately burdened by emotional labor expectations. Here are voices speaking to this intersectional oppression and ways to dismantle such discriminatory norms:

A final takeaway from Adia Harvey Wingfield in a 2016 Atlantic piece on this fraught and frustrating topic:

“On the face of it, emotional labor can seem something normal and commonplace in an economy where service jobs are so ubiquitous. But as a lot of research shows, the pressure to produce and manufacture certain emotional states can be more draining for some employees than others. When thinking through various workplace inequalities, such as wage gaps and a lack of diversity in certain occupations, it’s just as critical to consider how important unseen labor is in shaping how work gets done, and who gets to do it.”

Featured image credit: Clyde Fitch Report: http://www.clydefitchreport.com/2016/02/black-women-misogynoir-communication/

Monet Noelle Marshall's face with the text "Buy My Soul and Call It Art"

What is a soul worth? Do I have to answer that?

Not a question I thought I would be contemplating on a Saturday afternoon in downtown Durham

But I was. And it was uncomfortable.

After nearly an hour of witnessing, absorbing, and engaging with the performers of Buy My Soul And Call It Art inside the Living Arts Collective, I found myself sitting across from Monét Noelle Marshall – the installation’s creator and director. With her hands gently folded on the table in front of her, she asked me a simple question: “What is my art worth to you today?”

Monet Noelle Marshall's face with the text "Buy My Soul and Call It Art"

I like to believe that I’ve developed a stronger ability to identify and name systems of oppression and racism. I’m grateful for thought-leaders like Monét to remind this privileged cisgender white woman (me) that, in fact, I’m far from being “woke.” Scene after scene throughout the show revealed the complex web of entertainment, art, media — even the nonprofit sector — and how the white dominant culture co-opts black artists, ideas, and identities. Sometimes covertly. And sometimes in plain sight.

In the opening portion, we witnessed a young Black man performing through dance in an enclosed space; the walls were see-through yet not penetrable. There were slots, like mail slots in doors, on walls adjacent to this box (containment, confinement). And we were each given paper money to spend during our time in the exhibit. So, one person walked forward and slipped some of their paper money into one of the slots. The goal: giving a tip to the performer. A few more folks walked up and put their paper money into one of the two slots — I ended up making the choice to do that too.

But, none of the paper money ended up in this performer’s space. He looked around for it then up at us, How could the dollar bills not be there? We were then led to the other side of the installment to see two white young nonprofit professionals in their own containers, the floors littered with paper money. Yet, they complained bitterly about how the lack of funds meant fewer resources for them to distribute to the “inner city kids” — programs would have to be cut. What could they do with a donation of just $35?

Gut-punch times a 1,000 for me at this moment.

I cannot do Monét’s work justice with my words; and I don’t want to overshare in hope that she will be able to bring this powerful work to more places in the Triangle and beyond.

20180203_143051_HDR

Grateful to all of these talented arists and performers who made this exhibit happen

It is too easy to go through this world and accept what is at face value, especially in regards to the elements of our culture. Art, music, theater, dance, film, writing. Who has the power, in these worlds, to be seen and heard? Who is rewarded? Who is praised and acknowledged? Last year’s #OscarsSoWhite was, in my recent memory, one of the first times many people started to pay attention to the, as Indy Week writer Kevin J. Rowsey II coins, the “problematic relationship between black art and the arts and entertainment industry.” 

It can’t stop with outrage at one awards show. This is an on-going battle to control and disseminate media and seek financial gain, fame, notoriety. But don’t think that there’s nothing we can do to change this. Absolutely we can. It requires us to be intentional and do the work to use our resources in ways that support diverse, equitable, and inclusive cultural outlets.

I am committing to seeking out and supporting spaces that not only promote the work of black artists but center black artistry. I am committed to actively reading more written works by people of color; spending my money to support black and brown musicians, painters, illustrators, songwriters, filmmakers — whatever medium I elect to consume. This show also re-ignited my flame to tackle the problematic elements of the nonprofit sector. Yes, that will most certainly be a future blog post.

Earlier this year, I shared my quest to become a more mindful consumer. This is another avenue for me and for you to walk. I certainly get to benefit from the talent, hardwork, and skills of black artists.

The question is: do they get to benefit from my consumption? Or does that funnel back to those in power, those who hold the purse strings?

Here is additional coverage of Monèt Noelle Marshall & Buy My Soul and Call It Art

How does #MeToo end?

I was out of the country and taking a digital break when the rise of the #MeToo movement made headlines in late 2017. Since then, the momentum around exposing stories of sexual violence, harassment, and assault feels like it is picking up steam, at least in some circles.

Countless numbers of friends, family members, and colleagues have offered their gut-wrenching experiences of sexual trauma. It cannot be said enough that telling one’s story is brave. And we feel like we must share our stories in order to tackle a problem that often feels so embedded in our culture that it’s difficult to even name at times. What are the boundaries between what’s appropriate and what’s not? Who gets to decide that? And when lines are crossed, what are the consequences?

In most situations, there are none. Yesterday, I became engrossed in ESPN’s Outside the Lines reporting on Michigan State University, the most-recent ground zero case of what institutional protectionism of the patriarchy looks like. It’s vile. It’s disgusting. And this is merely one needle in the haystack of schools, workplaces, and systems allowing perpetrators of sexual violence to remain unpunished.

I relayed to Aaron yesterday how I find it difficult to put into words what it feels like to be victimized. And it happens with such frequency that I often forget about those moments as soon as they happen.

Our experiences are not monolithic, even though those in power would like to treat them that way (if they choose to acknowledge and validate them at all). It’s so easy and comfortable for others to justify the actions of perpetrators as “misunderstandings” or distortions of reality. How does someone grow up and adopt this mindset?  Who taught them to distrust the word of a woman who speaks her truth?

Oh, right. Everything around us. From pop culture to religious texts to history, we’ve been left to wither on the social vine as hysterics, power-grabbers, and muted voices (and woe if you identify as a woman of color as the double whammy of racial and gender identity make it even easier to negate your life experiences).

And let’s not pretend, progressives, that we’ve got this figured out and it’s a problem on “the right.” IT IS A PROBLEM FOR EVERYONE. We’ve got to put in the work to bring solutions to the table. Shining a light on individual and collective experiences is how we start. Because if we don’t acknowledge and lift up these stories, then the oppressors win. We must create platforms and spaces for voices, especially those from marginalized and underrepresented groups, to be front and center in the discussion of how sexual violence remains a pervasive tool to maintain power.

Woman holding a megaphone with #MeToo coming out the end

Then, the conversation shifts to: what now? How do we re-imaging a society that values women and the minds and bodies that they inhabit? How can we shift the dominant narrative that takes men at their word while casting shame on women on who speak out? It’s frighteningly easy for people to turn on women and castigate them as liars and sluts; it’s part of our social conditioning to inherently believe those in power, and when that looks like a bunch of white dudes, well, we can’t expect better outcomes for anyone who doesn’t fall into that mold.

I know that I need to continue to hold people accountable when lines are crossed, when discomfort arises, when either myself or others around me feel threatened. Eradicating our culture of sexual violence and degradation requires all of us to play a part. For some, it starts with self-reflection: How do I reinforce stereotypes and gender hierarchy? How do I dis-empower women and those who identify as female with my words and actions? Do I qualify the actions of my female co-workers and staff? Have I stopped when a woman has said “no”?  Remember: everything that feeds back into the narrative — that woman are objects, are less-than — keeps the narrative intact.

Here are some of my suggestions and thoughts on what I/you/we can do to shift our culture so #MeToo doesn’t have to be the tagline for women everywhere:

  • Don’t assume that you can touch me or hug me. I do like to hug, but that’s an action that I want to have equal power in choosing when and with whom it happens.
  • Don’t tell me that any article of clothing I may choose to wear “looks good on my body.” I am more than a body.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what I might like, eat, drive, do because I’m a woman. Re-train your brain to be open and un-assuming.
  • Find opportunities to step back and be quiet. In meetings. In social settings. Your presence has great power. Be aware of the influence you have.
  • Listen to the stories women tell. Don’t immediately slip into “I need to fix this” mode. Listen wholly, without judgment. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions.
  • Read more works by female authors and journalists. Watch movies and television programs written by/produced/directed by women. Listen to women-led podcasts. Seek out female musical artists and producers.
  • Support female athletes: attend events. Learn their names. Celebrate their achievements as individuals and on teams.
  • End passive-aggressive suggestions in meetings, such as “Katie, you have such good handwriting. Can you take notes?” If needed, practice improving your own handwriting.
  • Nominate and support female leaders in elections, board rooms, and organizations.
  • Hold men accountable for their actions. Don’t be silent, whether in a locker room or in the office.
  • Don’t be scared of feminism or identify as a feminist. Understand what it means and what it doesn’t.
  • Woman are not breakable. Don’t treat us like that. Challenge policies and laws rooted in those same false “protectionism” values. Those policies and laws are about controlling women, plain and simple.
  • Eliminate harmful words from vocabularies: bitch, slut, whore. Other labels used to castigate women.
  • Be transparent about your workplace earnings. If inequities exist (and they likely do), take action to address them and/or to pressure those at the decision-making table.
  • Seek to understand, first and foremost. We’ll never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of others. But, if we move through this world with hearts of compassion and empathy, we can be allies for those wronged.

I know there are countless more suggestions to share, and I invite any and all to do just that. I don’t have all of the answers or solutions.  All I have is the determination and anger to be a part of finding tangible actions that can take place each and everyday so that the number of #MeToo stories whittle down to zero. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight. The time required for change to take place is on our collective shoulders, and, to be real, even more so on the shoulders of men.

Let’s imagine a world where the 12-year-old girl doesn’t get prodded in the breasts by her male classmates.

Let’s imagine a world where the 16-year-old doesn’t have to stand, frozen, at the sink while her assistant manager runs his fingers up her thigh as she tries to wash the dishes.

Let’s imagine a world where the 18-year-old doesn’t have to struggle against the weight of a youth pastor, pinning her down because he only “wants to feel her warmth.”

Let’s imagine a world where the 22-year-old first-year teacher is told by her assistant principal that when her 21-year-old student suggested that she give him oral sex in front of the class, it was a miscommunication.

Let’s imagine a world where the 29-year-old nonprofit professional doesn’t make $5,000 less than her counterpart for no apparent reason.

Let’s imagine a world where when a woman shares an idea, it remains her idea and doesn’t become co-opted by men in power.

Let’s imagine a world where women’s access to healthcare is unobstructed.

Let’s imagine a world where institutions refuse to protect predators for the sake of remaining competitive in the pursuit of funds from top donors.

Let’s imagine a world where those identify as female can walk down a street without a cat call, a comment, a stare.

Let’s imagine a world where the people drafting policy reflect their communities and constituents.

What will you do today to make our world more just and equitable? What will you do to support #MeToo and center the movement around women of color and working women?

More resources:

  1. “The #MeToo movement is not a witch hunt and it’s definitely not over.”
  2. The #MeToo movement looks different for women of color. Here are 10 stories.”
  3. When Black Women’s Stories Of Sexual Abuse Are Excluded From The National Narrative
  4. Women of color in low-wage jobs are being overlooked in the #MeToo moment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What would a world without racism look like?

Breathing is a radical act.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to be a part of an anti-racist yoga convergence, led by two social justice advocates, yogis, and powerful women:  Michelle Johnson and Patty Adams. The two hours began by each instructor sharing their Dharma talk with us – an emotional and moving grounding on why this work matters and how yoga provides a place to practice skills critical to movement building in the efforts to eradicate white supremacy.

Sharing from her experience as a person of color, Michelle’s words stirred within me feelings of shame, guilt, and fierce determination. She encouraged the white people in the room to be mindful on how we are waking up to being a part of the racial justice movement. She noted the tension between the budding excitement of white allies and agitators to the sheer exhaustion experienced by people of color as they have been waiting for us. It’s not as if this entrenched system of racism popped up overnight. Decades upon decades of systematic oppression, from the very founding of our nation, have fueled a society built on the backs of black and brown people. And as more folks, particularly white people, join this effort, it is imperative we recognize that while it’s great we’re here now, we cannot allow that to overshadow the everyday trauma experienced by people of color in our lives and in our communities.

The idea that ‘breathing is a radical act’ was new to me. Oppression succeeds only if people never reach their full potential – their space becomes smaller and smaller, essentially cutting off their ability to breathe and exist. Yoga is all about the breath. It allows us to practice discernment. It allows us to move closer towards full integration of our entire selves. We move in ways that re-negotiate our own boundaries, climbing towards that state of calm yet expanded and energized.

As Patty noted, yoga provides an opportunity to bring all of us in a place together. And we have to recognize the risk it takes for many people to be in that space. As a white person, I have to seek to understand what privilege to not have to think twice about participating in such a practice.

After the Dharma talks, we spent the next 45 minutes on our mats, moving from the floor to standing and then returning to our backs, maintaining the breath through each sequences. We sought balance and strength; quieted our minds; secured our intentions; and rooted ourselves in the power of healing and compassion. If we stopped showing up during that time together, we would let the rest of the people in the room down.

Finally, we ended by reflecting with a partner near us about what our next step would be to crate a world where racism didn’t exist. I talked about my need to let go of any inner fears of “rocking boats” when it comes to exchanging dialogue with people in my life, particularly white people, about racism in our culture, institutions, and within ourselves. I talked about the importance of asking my friends of color: “what do you need from me?” And I need to continue to grow and learn more about systemic racism and oppression; I need to listen – really listen – to what is being said and unsaid about injustices taking place in our world. And I need to always reflect on what impact my words and actions are having on dismantling racism. I cannot be a leader in this work if I am contributing to maintaining white supremacy.

I’m so grateful to Michelle and Patty for bringing us together in this anti-racist work. If you live in the Triangle area, there will be two additional opportunities in August and September to connect yoga with racial justice.

So, what would a world without racism look like? I’m continue to mull on this question. Some of my initial reactions include:

  • A place where no one fears being killed simply by existing;
  • A place where everyone receives the education to be successful, thriving contributors;
  • A world built on sharing and abundance, not on selfishness and scarcity;
  • Communities who care for each other, no matter what;
  • People, not systems or institutions, hold the most political power;
  • The idea of ‘silenced voices’ is inconceivable
  • Safety is a norm, not an exception.

I invite you, if you have not already, to envision what a wold without oppression, racism, and white supremacy would look like, sound like, feel like. If you are willing, I also invite you to share. Perhaps journal about it. Create a vision board. Our humanity is depending on us, and I refuse to let us down.