This isn’t an easy post to write, but I wanted to write it to own my racism, the role I’ve played in racist fundraising, and the work we need to do as a sector. If you like this blog, I hope you’ll join me at the Evolve Conference. This conference, run with one of the co-founders of Community-Centric Fundraising, looks at how we evolve past traditional, racist fundraising practices.
A couple of weeks ago, I went to a screening of ‘Deconstructing Karen’ – a radically honest documentary that inspires you to confront your own racism.
If you’re anything like me, the first time you read that sentence, you will brush it off. You’ll think you don’t have any racism to confront. After all, you work in the charity sector – and you’re working for the good of all people and all races.
That was definitely how I felt at the start of my anti-racism journey.
Deconstructing Karen did what the title implies, and really helped me deconstruct that view. As a white man living in a racist society, I have benefitted from racism my whole life. I have layers of privilege that I may never fully understand.
For example, where I consider myself to be ‘confident’, I willingly look past the fact that society has taught me it is my role as a white man to be confident. Women and people of colour are not taught that. They are taught to be helpful, to be grateful, and to stay out of the way.
And these roles we are taught to play are taught to us so that we don’t question, challenge, or change the system of white supremacy. Deconstructing Karen focuses on the role of white women, and how they are taught to be ‘nice’.
And of course, while this niceness applies to white women, it also applies heavily to all fundraisers.
Regina and Saira go onto show how ‘niceness’ leads to upholding a racist society. We’re nice, so we don’t speak out against what we see as ‘small’ issues. We’re nice, so we don’t consider the harm our actions could be having. We’re nice, so we reject the idea we could be racist ourselves – we take it as a personal attack of character, rather than seeing how much the system has benefitted us.
Because we see ourselves as nice, we prioritise our comfort and don’t engage with ideas that threaten our view of ourselves.
Many fundraising practices are rooted in pandering to wealthy, mostly white, donors. They foster a sense of an ‘us’ with power (the donors) and a ‘them’ that need help (the service user).
This means the very act of charity that should be uniting us is actually dividing us further.
I say this as a fundraiser who has been complicit in racism for years. I have… told stories from refugee camps without considering how I would feel if that were my story being shared for material gain. I’ve defended a degree being a ‘desirable’ criteria for a job without considering how that makes people who couldn’t access university feel. I’ve built partnerships with companies that are engaging in bad behaviour, justifying that it wasn’t relevant to that cause.
Deconstructing Karen held a mirror up and showed me something I’ve suspected for years – and gave me the language I needed to start making change.
So what does anti-racist fundraising look like?
I don’t know, but I do know the answer lies in prioritising community over individual. If you're a virtual conference fan, check out BAME online. Or if you're in-person conference fan, check out Evolve.