I am a work in progress.
This blog post itself is a work in progress. It is incredibly different than the draft I wrote three weeks ago, and I know if I sit down to write next week or the week after, it would certainly be different yet again. This is because I am slowly, slowly shedding away racist and harmful beliefs and behavior – and I still have a lot of learning and unlearning to do. This work is a lifelong journey.
The first iteration of this post was about me waking up to my white privilege and the shame I felt on that journey. I even listed out a handful of action steps I have started to take to “be a better ally”. Hours, days, weeks of reflection later, I realized that this was only centering my feelings and guilt. And for what purpose? Likely to stroke my own ego and reassure myself that doing something is better than doing nothing. Also, it is important to note that allyship is a process, not a destination to arrive at.
I have learned that while processing is important – and guilt is part of the processing journey – sitting in endless reflection of my feelings and listing out quick fixes is not a productive way to show up for my Black colleagues, friends, and community members. Another white, progressive woman working through her guilt is not necessarily helpful, and in fact, can continue to cause harm to those I seek to ally with. There are no quick fixes. This work did not start with me and will not end with me, and I sure as hell cannot take up unnecessary real estate in this generations-long fight for racial justice.
I have found myself dancing the dance of “I need to say and do something!” and “Are my words and actions truly meaningful?” I have caught myself feeling paralyzed by the fear of moving too quickly or not fast enough. I know that even this very dance is rooted in my own white fragility and I have started to examine that.
I have revisited this tweet by Akilah Hughes many times over the past several weeks, and especially as I wrote (and rewrote and rewrote) this post.
“If you want to play piano, but you’re bad at playing piano, you practice and get better. Don’t be the kind of white person who doesn’t post out of fear of f*ing up. If you want to support black people but you’re bad at supporting black people, practice and get better.”
I cannot set aside or escape my privilege, but I also cannot keep dwelling in white guilt and doing the bare minimum. I must use my privilege to move forward in meaningful reflection and action. Even if it means messing up.
Recognizing that this journey is uncomfortable and not about my feelings is only the first step. Pushing through discomfort and committing to dialogue (especially with other white people) is important. Reading, viewing, and lifting up material created and curated by people with lived experience; donating to organizations engaged in this space; supporting Black-owned businesses; committing to a facilitated discussion and action plan based on my intercultural competence assessment results; and joining memberships to The Conscious Kid and The Great Unlearn by Rachel Cargle for monthly resources are all still valuable things that I can and should do – and continue to do when they are no longer trending.
However, my work must go way beyond that. It must go beyond transactional. It must permeate every aspect of my life – from my consumption habits to my professional career.
“The right acknowledgment of black justice, humanity, freedom and happiness won’t be found in your book clubs, protest signs, chalk talks or organizational statements. It will be found in your earnest willingness to dismantle systems that stand in our way — be they at your job, in your social network, your neighborhood associations, your family or your home. It’s not just about amplifying our voices, it’s about investing in them and in our businesses, education, political representation, power, housing and art.”
– Tre Johnson, Washington Post op-ed
I am incredibly grateful and proud that the Foundation intentionally provides space to wrestle with and confront these issues. Our goal is to elevate nonprofit organizations through funding and capacity building, so examining where we sit within systems of power is crucial to making meaningful change to support all voices in our community.
My entire career has been in the nonprofit sector. I am thankful nonprofits exist to fill the gaps that government and the public sector cannot. I have worked in program development and fundraising, volunteered, and served on boards. Though I am proud of this work, I know there is a small part of me that has pointed to my work as a hall pass of sorts: “I am one of the good white people, making real change for people who need it.” Yikes. Not only is that the ultimate virtue signaling on my part, but it perpetuates the “white savior” racist mentality that is all too common within the sector. Also, it is important to recognize that the nonprofit industry itself is flawed and inherently white-centric. White nonprofit colleagues, partners, and funders – we must commit to a reallocation of power and resources, and while we’re at it, let’s ditch the white savior syndrome.
Accessibility to philanthropy is crucial for nonprofit survival. I believe in philanthropy, and I am beyond proud to work in this sector. However, philanthropy is another system that needs to be carefully examined. Not only is there a racial wealth gap, where white Americans control almost seven times as much wealth as black Americans do, but there is a racial philanthropy gap as well. We as a community foundation must continue to eliminate barriers to fund access and intentionally support nonprofits run by people of color that are supporting people of color. We must continue to prioritize thoughtful recruitment practices for not only staff and board members, but for community partners, vendors, and fundholders as well. We must continue to commit to our personal and organizational race equity journeys.
We aren’t perfect, that is clear. We must all embrace the tension that exists between privilege and action. We must practice humility in learning and become activists in our spheres of influence. We must all commit to being a work in progress.