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#CharitySoWhite: Now is the time to tackle racial injustice in your charity's response to Covid-19

06 Apr 2020 Voices

#CharitySoWhite warns that if charities put racial justice work on the backseat during the coronavirus crisis they will make it harder for the sector to help people most affected by the pandemic.

Today, we (#CharitySoWhite) launched a live position paper, to communicate with the charity sector our grave concerns about how Covid-19 is going to severely impact Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in the immediate and long term. Now is the time to take an intersectional approach and put marginalised communities at the heart of our responses. 

Our sector, like many, is facing an uncertain future. We are saddened to have heard ourselves, and from allies, that some charities are planning to put work towards racial justice on the backseat for the time-being, as it is not felt to be a priority. The response to this unprecedented crisis should not be about choosing between tackling racial injustice vs. mitigating the impact of the coronavirus. Our report Racial Injustice in Covid-19 Response takes into account evidence and lived experience to demonstrate a case for that. 

We remind ourselves that the sector is here to support and advocate for those who are most at risk and who are overlooked by the state and policymakers, ultimately to stand for those who need it most. BAME communities are over-represented in a number of "vulnerable" (terminology from public health guidelines) groups and those with no recourse to public funds. The claim that these issues do not hold the same priorities during this national crisis is a false binary, rooted in a misguided and oversimplified understanding of racism. 

An effective response to the crisis

Racism is deeply embedded in our society. Beyond the sanitised sensitivity training and the often tokenistic diversity hiring, we must check the biases that lead to ineffective programme design and implementation. By taking race out of the equation, we would be denying the lived experience of racism in the communities that our sector is trying to reach. This issue is therefore central to an effective response to the crisis.

The report aims to drill into the intersectional impact that the pandemic is going to have on BAME communities around the UK, to demonstrate just how far reaching this will be; it has already started. We have identified a number of these key issue areas where our concerns lie, including health, education, emergency measures legislation, risk of destitution, protection and enforcement, along with recommendations for the sector. 

For a response to be impactful, it must take an intersectional approach, accounting for racial injustices in our society. We need to work together, openly acknowledging the power and racial imbalances that are inherent in the sector and seize the opportunity to set a new precedent for the future. To truly reach those most at-risk, not just today but looking ahead to the lifelong impact of this new normal, we hope that the sector can immediately commit to this intersectional approach to tackling the crisis. 

We call on leadership to recognise that BAME employees will be disproportionately affected by the pandemic. We know from the Resolution Foundation, that they are more likely to be in low-paid and junior positions. We urge senior leaders to take that into account as many employees face risk of staff cuts and hiring freezes.

We also urge organisations to account for the different lived experiences of marginalised communities and prioritise coordinated action that centres them. To best reach those most impacted by the crisis, we need to work with the organisations closest to them. We urge charities to avoid knee-jerk relief efforts, and actively acknowledge experience by bringing “at-risk” groups into the decision making. As well as taking into account the sectors past failings, ensuring to progress initiatives into mechanisms and working directly with community leaders. 

Understand power within the sector

In addition, we encourage larger charities to understand their own power and resources. We should be learning from past lessons both within the sector, from wider society and previous crises, such as the culturally insensitive response to Grenfell.

Many of the approximately 10,000 BAME charities and VCS groups in the UK have an average turnover of less than £10,000. They are seeing rising demand but many remain on the brink of closure. Those on the frontlines are risking their lives and livelihoods to lift us all up. We should learn from them and take risks too, utilising the power we have to impact and support communities. 

The report continues to be a live position paper which we will keep updating as we gather intelligence and understanding from peers. We stand on the shoulders of the many individuals, organisations and movements who have come before us and we work today in solidarity with a number of anti-racist groups across the UK and all those who fight oppression in our society. It is easy in a crisis to revert to familiar ways of working, but in doing so we risk not only reinforcing existing structures of racial inequality, but further imbedding them.

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