Martha Awojobi: It will take courage, ambition and sacrifice to dismantle white supremacy in the charity sector

Fundraisers operate in an arena intimately linked with violent colonial history, but many are oblivious to it

Last year I hosted the charity sector’s first BAME fundraising conference, now known as #BAMEOnline.

I could feel the hunger for change in the speakers and in the audience.

I felt like this was the moment, the year that the charity sector was going to rise to the great challenge we faced: institutional racism – both in our society and perpetuated by our own sector.

We had seen people take to the streets chanting “Black lives matter” as Covid-19 decimated our communities and nine out of 10 Black and brown-led organisations were set to close due to lack of funding investment.

In the past 12 months so much has changed; yet so much remains the same.

Some leaders of large organisations have put their values first: they have acknowledged the failures of the past and have done more to apply a racial justice lens to their work, such as Shelter.

Others have stood their ground in the face of vicious racist and transphobic attacks from the media, including the National Trust, RNLI and Stonewall.

New funds were created and distributed to organisations led by Black and racially minoritised people to address the systemic racism in funding, such as The Global Majority Fund.

But it is not enough.

For the most part, I have seen tokenistic gestures of "allyship" – a concept that makes me deeply uncomfortable as it reproduces the same racial power dynamics of victim and saviour that it claims to be addressing.

I have seen statements of solidarity from organisations while behind closed doors their staff are subjected to racist discrimination, bullying and gaslighting in their offices; from the NCVO report to Pride in London, Amnesty International, Girlguiding, and more recently Unicef UK and Solace Women’s Aid.

It makes me wonder, do leaders have any idea what it really takes to dismantle racism in their organisations?

This week, Runnymede Trust published a report that will be submitted to the United Nations' Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which concludes that the UK was in breach of important articles of the convention and that racial equity in England has worsened in the past five years.

This report comes days after three Black football players were racially abused online following England’s defeat in the European Championship final on Sunday.

It is clear as day that Black people’s citizenship in this country is conditional on our exceptionality and success – it can be revoked at any time.

Fundraisers operate in an arena so intimately linked with violent colonial history, but so many of us are completely oblivious to this and what it means for the efficacy of our programmes.

Recently the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Lloyds Bank Foundation acknowledged their involvement in the transatlantic slave trade. But these are just two funders. We have a long way to go and we need to get there faster.

Racism kills; I thought that Covid-19 had made that impossible to ignore. Maybe I was wrong.

Yet #BAMEOnline gives me hope.

So much of the liberatory work that happens in the charity sector goes unnoticed. These organisers, innovators and dreamers are not boasting their anti-racist credentials or offering tokenistic gestures.

Instead they are doing the work and they are doing it well. I have brought together people who inspire me, who are changing systems, and doing income generation their way for #BAMEOnline 2021.

This year, as well as sharing how to do incredible fundraising, I want us to connect the charity and philanthropic sector to its colonial roots.

I want us to sit with the uncomfortable truths of the system that we are complicit in and the harm that it perpetuates.

But more than that, I want us to talk about what it truly takes to dismantle white supremacy in the charity sector. We need to talk about the courage, the ambition and the sacrifices that it takes to build anti-racist practice.

Martha Awojobi is director of JMB Consulting and founder of the #BAMEOnline fundraising conference, which takes place on 28 July.

Tickets are pay what you can and profits will be split between the Black Trans Foundation, Money4YOU and an organisation that will be chosen on the day in a session called "Securing the Bag".

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