#CharitySoWhite: The sector has shied away from addressing institutional racism for too long. That must change

03 Sep 2019 Voices

The #CharitySoWhite organising team shares their thoughts about the next steps for the campaign to get the sector to face up to, and deal with, the problem of institutional racism. 

The #CharitySoWhite campaign has led to powerful testimonials from People of Colour (PoC) working in the impact sector. The experiences being shared lay bare deep seated racism in the social sector. For too long, charities have shied away from addressing institutional racism. #CharitySoWhite is here to hold the sector to account, and to ensure that they take the lead in rooting out racism from our society.

Hiding behind good intentions 

Samir Jeraj, from the Race Equality Foundation, tweeting on the campaign in a personal capacity noted: ‘On a cultural level, there is the pervasive assumption in charities that because you're 'nice people' doing 'good work' that you're exempt from structural discrimination or unconscious bias.’

The sector has long fallen behind others in the UK in tackling discrimination. The ACEVO 2019 Pay and Equalities report shows that only 6 per cent of charity CEOs are from BME backgrounds, compared to 14 per cent across the UK. We have seen it time and again as droves of PoC talent exits the sector, looking for better opportunities and working conditions elsewhere. 

We must ask ourselves, how do we move past this idea that good intentions is enough, how do we accept that our impact is limited unless we address it head on? How do we hold ourselves and each other to a higher standard?

Silence makes us complicit 

At #CharitySoWhite we have a vision for a charity sector that takes the lead to root out racism. The conversations that the campaign has started are a first step and a catalyst for change. Ultimately we are fighting for a change that goes beyond the optics of diversity and inclusion, and takes a root and branch approach which addresses institutional racism and sees a shift away from all power structures that don’t put users first.

We are fighting for systemic change. This will not be an effort of a single individual or organisation, but a movement of many coming together to fight the donor-centric approaches that elevate the idea of doing ‘good work’ over creating lasting change and tackling the root causes of social problems our society faces. 

Given the current power dynamics in the sector, the Charity Commission, funders, boards, and senior leadership teams, all have a critical role to play. It has been telling that we’ve seen little interaction in the campaign from these groups so far. Publicly acknowledging their role and responsibility in this area is an important first step in moving forward. We have to move past the knee-jerk defensiveness towards authentic engagement. The first step, as they say, is admitting you have a problem. 

Without intentional action, organisations will always reflect the status quo. Acknowledging institutional racism in your organisation, does not mean that you are solely responsible for it occurring. All it means is that you accept that you have responsibility in changing it. 

Martin Luther King said of silence of good people, “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it, he who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

What can we do next?

#CharitySoWhite will soon be launching dates of working groups. Working alongside other PoC in the sector, we will develop a set of strategic goals that we will be working towards.  

As a first step towards change, over the next month we ask every leadership team across the sector to: prioritise critical reflection and candid conversation on the following questions, seek accountability by making their reflections public and to share a statement acknowledging the failings of the past and commitment to actively tackle racism in their organisation.

  1. What is the makeup of our leadership team? What experiences are shaping our world views? How does this impact how well we are able to serve our users? Given this, what views are missing?
  2. Where does power and decision making lie in our organisation? How are people of colour represented in relation to this? How does this impact how well we are able to serve our users?
  3. How might external structures of inequality be manifesting themselves inside our organisation? How would tackling institutional racism mean we were better able to serve our users?
  4. How well does the culture at our organisation serve staff of colour? How do we actively invest in and support our staff of colour? Would people of colour at our organisation feel comfortable or able to share their experiences of racism?
  5. How have we worked with others in the sector in the past to make impact/tackle issues? What would enable us to do this more often / more meaningfully?
  6. How can we begin to share these reflections and conversations with our funders?

We know that unravelling the structures of institutional racism is not going to happen overnight. We do know that a sector that is trying to tackle the biggest social issues our society faces, shouldn’t be afraid of a challenge like this. In fact, they should be the ones at the front, leading the charge.

As those with power in the sector begin to reflect and discuss the questions we’ve shared above, we’re calling first on People of Colour to share their thoughts and ideas for what is next in turning conversation to action on the issue of institutional racism, and what that action should be. We’ll be continuing this discussion online and in person.

If you’d like to join the conversation, find us on twitter @charitysowhite, or email us at [email protected]. We want to hear from you.

Civil Society Media's Charity People & Culture Conference takes place in September and this year the overall theme is 'Wellbeing & inclusion in modernisation'. View the programme and book online here.


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