In August 2019, the hashtag #CharitySoWhite sparked a conversation about institutional racism in the charity sector after the discovery of racist training materials from Citizens Advice called The Barriers to Working with BAME Communities.
This conflated diverse communities and, in doing so, reduced them to racist stereotypes. For example, the materials claimed that “they” (they being all black and minority ethnic communities) “don’t trust British authority” and “their [individuals practising a wide range of religious beliefs from numerous unspecified ethnic minority communities] lives revolve around early marriage and religion”.
The uncovering of these deeply offensive materials provided a space for those of us in the third sector who identify as ethnic minority to use our voices and create a platform for people to share their experiences of racism.
It is important to reiterate that these materials were by no means a one-off racist incident. The Citizens Advice resources were simply a tangible and public example of the racist assumptions that employees encounter day in, day out. This was further evidenced by the overwhelming response that #CharitySoWhite received. We were inundated with personal stories of racism in the charity sector, from managers to interns and even board members.
I once ran the digital and comms part of a programme for a charity for 4+ years. At an event, a senior rep assumed I was a waiter and asked me to bring her drinks – twice.
At criminal justice networking events, everyone of colour was asked when they left prison.
I once got told: ‘did you know research shows that black people were happier when they were in subordinate positions’.
#CharitySoWhite is when you can't even tweet about your horrific experience because of the fear of backlash and bullying.
We received more than 3,000 tweets on the first day.
Six months on, #CharitySoWhite has become a movement seeking to root out racism from the sector. We are building up the power of ethnic minorities in the sector to demand our seat at the table and work with leaders to have open, honest and transformational conversations about racism and what we can do to tackle it.
Six months, six of our favourite milestones
1 The importance of acknowledging that racism is on the agenda, and we plan to keep it there. We have met and been working with senior leadership at infrastructure bodies, and had our first public acknowledgement of structural racism at an organisation from the Institute of Fundraising.
2 We have grown to encompass an organising committee of 11 people working in or with the charity sector every day, and we are planning to grow further.
3 Senior leaders are coming together under #CharitySoWhite and recently publicly criticised an article by Craig Dearden-Phillips from the Social Club for being racist and divisive. We have come a long way since the deafening silence of the sector after the Citizens Advice scandal.
4 Our Twitter account now has 2,100 followers, made up of passionate ethnic minority colleagues and supportive allies.
5 We have spoken at nine events, including NPC Ignites, Civil Society Race to the Top and IFC 2019.
6 Last week, we again publicly asked Citizens Advice to finally acknowledge its materials were racist and evidence of institutional racism at the organisation. We have requested that it meets us soon to discuss why this recognition is so important.
#CharitySoWhite is built and led by ethnic minorities working in the charity sector who want to make it better. We are here to stay because we are proud of the sector and know that it seeks to change society for the better. That is why we are passionate about making it stronger and keeping its work rooted in social justice.
We have seen a continued normalisation of racist rhetoric in the UK over the past decade, evidenced most recently in the institutional racism that led to the Jamaica50 flight. We have seen racist language, stereotypes and tropes in our media, such as the ignorance of the London Evening Standard using an image of the Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy to illustrate a story about her colleague Marsha de Cordova. Years of anti-migrant policies and scaremongering have led to a steep rise in racist hate crime, with more than 78,000 cases of racially motivated hate crime recorded by police in England in 2018/19.
We believe that the charity sector could and should be leading the fightback. It is time to take a moment of honest reflection about institutional racism and the unequal power structures that affect our work and ultimately prevent us from tackling the roots causes of the social injustices we exist to break down. It starts from leaders having open, honest and vulnerable conversations about how racism operates within their organisations.
So, six months after we first began, we call again on charity leaders to:
- Have open and honest conversations about racism at board level, senior leadership level and across your organisations.
Publicly acknowledge that institutional racism exists within the sector and within your organisations.
Publicly commit to tackling institutional racism within your organisations and within the charity sector as a whole, and work with other leaders to do this.
We look forward to reassessing at our first anniversary. It’s never too late to acknowledge racism, so do it today.
#CharitySoWhite is a campaign group committed to rooting out racism in the charity sector. Follow @charitysowhite to join the movement