Thanks to the collective mobilisation led by Black Lives Matter last summer, 2020 will likely go down in history as a landmark year for racial justice. But we believe 2021 will be as, if not more, crucial to the cause of dismantling white supremacy. As a sector our duty is to now keep up that momentum, follow through, and put meaningful changes in place – even without the same level of pressure to do so.
We made the decision that summer to find a meaningful way to recognise and address racism in our work. We consulted with organisations who have made the FAIR SHARE Commitment as well as experts on gender and racial justice, agreeing that cultural change in the sector would not be a linear process, and would require engaging both heads and hearts.
We came to one concrete change as a first, but not exhaustive, step: this year, for the first time, we are also collecting data on the number of Black, Brown, Indigenous women and women of colour for the FAIR SHARE Monitor. Below, you can learn more about why we took this step, the challenges we encountered, and the opportunities this process presents – for our team as well as the sector at large.
As Mouna Ben Garda and Safia Khan put it in their blog post, “in many ways, civil society mirrors society as a whole and perpetuate the same systems of oppression that it claims to want to dismantle.”
In our own sector, this summer we saw courageous individuals and groups on staff at feminist and human rights organisations holding their employers accountable for failing to meaningfully address racism.
This long-overdue reckoning showed that an assumption of shared values is clearly not enough to prevent racism and other forms of marginalisation from entering our workplaces – we must combat it actively, and data can be a useful tool in that process.
Of course, race is not the only aspect that enters the picture when we speak of taking a more intersectional approach. Sexuality, dis/ability, religion and class background (among other factors, depending on context) are also likely to play a role in who does or doesn’t get certain opportunities – and there are other organisations already doing great work from these angles.
In the years to come, we will continue to learn, from and with others, how we can make the Monitor more intersectional – but rather than reducing it to a box to be ticked, we embrace this process as an ongoing journey.
We don’t claim to have all the answers: only questions that motivate us to further explore and grow. And along the way, of course, will be some challenges.
One issue that immediately arose stemmed from the language we chose to use for this process. Terms like ‘Black,’ ‘Brown’ and ‘women of colour’ are not universal or fixed, but fluid and context-dependent. As Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie famously wrote about in her novel Americanah, she only started to see herself as Black when she moved to the United States. There, for the first time, the colour of her skin colour marked her as an ‘other’.
Acknowledging this, we asked participating staff to self-identify with these terms rather than impose our own definitions on them. But for the data to be meaningful, we did need to offer some overarching framework. Because the majority of social impact organisations have their headquarters in the Global North (due to histories and continuities of colonialism) this perspective was the most logical choice to define ‘BIWoC’.
However, this also means we find ourselves once more in that familiar power dynamic between the Global South and Global North, in which the Global North has more power to control resources and dictate norms. So what’s the ‘right’ way to do this? More on that below.
As we began receiving feedback on this step from our community, including organisations participating in the Monitor, we realised that this is precisely what we had hoped for: to spark a conversation on how we, as the social impact sector, can find a joint language and approach to address these issues without replicating the very structures we aim to dismantle.
Collecting data on women of colour in the FAIR SHARE Monitor is as much an end (a more accurate representation of gender equality in the sector) as a means (to continuing a much-needed conversation). Without claiming it is a perfect or complete product, we hope the Monitor can serve as one of many entry points for social impact organisations to continue grappling with racial justice in their own backyard.
White supremacy and colonialism won’t be toppled in a day – and we will surely make mistakes along the way. But we’re in it for the long haul, and we hope you will join us and many others in this collective effort. As our great consultant and member of the FAIR SHARE Action Circle Zakiya Carr Johnson says, “it is time to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.”