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Allyship Theatre

The problem with committing to equity, is that you might actually have to do the work!

“Allyship born of heroism- not altruism- will ultimately be performative and harmful.” ― Jamie Arpin-Ricci


Welcome to the Nonprofit Allyship Theater!

Today’s show includes:

  • A ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ work culture
  • Endless conversations sans actions
  • Microaggressions that go unchecked
  • Thoughts & Prayers
  • And of course, a great fundraising board

It’s not enough to make an effort, when you really want to make progress. We at rootid understand that the journey to equitable practice requires various tools and resources; thought partnership, a knowledgeable community of like-minded individuals, and strategic communication/messaging. As you reevaluate your commitments to equity; know that rootid is here to provide ideas on how to continue moving forward ….to progress.

2020 – the great awakening

March 13, 2020 started off like any other day… and then it became known as the day the world closed. 2020 was a tumultuous year to say the least. As a country, we witnessed a contentious election; systemic racism protests with people of all colors marching side by side; rainbow flags on full display; black squares; collective empathy, and promises of change. Finally, it was the America we always knew we could be. The America where liberty and justice was truly FOR ALL. Individuals were self-reflecting, and desired to change, what we knew then as ‘normal everyday life’.

At dinner tables, cubicles, and coffee bars, individuals engaged in conversations about humanity and the treatment of all of its citizens. For profit and nonprofit organizations were not immune to this wave and began to take a deeper look at their culture, values, and practices. As diversity and inclusion became the buzzwords of progress, DEI consultants began to see an uptick in requests for services inclusive of implicit bias training, cultural awareness and belonging.

All over, individuals were equipped with knowledge and provided with the tools and wording for how to show up for their marginalized peers. They were allowed to peek into the minds, trauma, and experiences of others in the hopes that they would not retraumatize and instead help. Certain members of the nonprofit community would proudly beat our chests believing that we are ahead of the game in regard to our commitment to equity – for we are the change we wish to see.

Our websites are awash with diverse faces. Our hiring practices were fair and balanced; our boards reflective of the communities we served (in both race and socioeconomic status). We brought in consultants to do a listening tour with the patrons of our organization; we are doing the work….but are we really?

“Choose your beliefs wisely, for they will become your reality.” ― Anthon St. Maarten 2021

the great stagnation

The nonprofit sector is one of the most vibrant and productive sectors. Often filling the gap left by tax cuts and reallocated funding. From out of school time programs to health and wellness initiatives; there are few who have not been touched by this sector and its workers – mobilized to do good work.

For all of its ‘good work’, certain members within the sector have perfected the art of talking about an issue without ever having to take action. Specifically, when it comes to equity and inclusion. Have things really changed or have we been fooled by the business of equity and inclusion?

What do I mean?

Think about the nonprofit where you currently serve; what’s it like? Think about your organization as a whole; the office culture, the staff, your values, org practices, the board, and volunteers. Are there still members of the team that remain silent during all-staff meetings?

Has the DEI committee made suggestions that have yet to be enacted; what’s the holdup? Are the values timely and reflective of the organization and the communities they serve? What kind of representation and inclusion do you have based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, and background/experience? (Rootid offers coaching and roundtable sessions to assist you with all of these areas).

Classic example: In the life of every nonprofit comms manager or development professional , you will have to create a campaign to raise awareness, supporters or capital. Know that as the designers of the message you have a big responsibility to respect the people you represent. What wording are you using when describing the demographics you serve? What stereotypes are your messages reinforcing? What style guide are you consulting?

These terms are often used to describe communities of color; at-risk, low-income; disadvantaged; under-served. Do these terms aptly describe the groups you are in service to – or are they the ‘go-to’ terms that make funders feel good about themselves? If your beliefs are inequitable – it’s going to show up in your approach, your interactions, and definitely in your messaging.

The reason why many of the inclusive efforts have stalled is because mindsets have yet to change. All of the workshops and company observances will be performative if in your mind, non-white persons are still seen as ‘less than’ or beneath you. And if you don’t believe this mindset still exists, let’s revisit a recent event.

On a lovely spring day in May of 2020, a black man was birdwatching and minding his business (which is what often happens in cases like these); when a white woman was also walking through Central Park while talking on her phone—accompanied by her dog, who was not on a leash. Per the Central Park Conservancy,

“all dog owners should maintain at least six feet of distance from other people and animals and keep their dogs on a leash.”

What happened next is the heart of what I want you to pay attention to. The birdwatcher went to gently remind the dogwalker about the leash law and what ensued was nothing short of a tragedy. The dogwalker proceeded to yell at the man and threatened to call the police and let them know that she was being attacked by a Black man in the park while trying to walk her dog.

Thanks to the cell phone video, we were able to witness her outrage and see that she was in fact not being attacked, nor was he close enough to her to inflict bodily harm. Her outrage was not at being reminded about the law; it was the fact that an individual who she believed was beneath her, had the audacity to remind her of what was posted and known throughout the park.

Historical reference – In the United States, during the humble beginnings of slavery cerca 1619, black people were not citizens, but property to be bought, named, and sold. The culture of the time dictated under no circumstances could a black person assume an air of equality with a white person. Then when those well-meaning white creators of the law needed to gain more votes they made a provision in the Constitution called the 3/5th compromise. In essence, it stated that black people were not considered whole persons and the parts that mattered could be used for political gain (thus setting a trend for how black people would be used in the political system). So you see, for an black person to address a white person or give directives would be considered the most disrespectful act one could commit; punishable by beatings and/or death.

Fast forward to May 25th…… Are you seeing a pattern?

Amy Cooper, for all we know, could have just attended her company’s DEI workshop the Friday prior to the incident. She might have recently made a donation to a BIPOC-led organization in time for Giving Tuesday. But for all her good work – when confronted with a person who was unlike her in real life, the reality of her unchanged mind was on display for all the world to see.

Sadly, there are plenty of ‘Amy Coopers’ serving on boards and on the frontlines of many of our nonprofit organizations feeling good about themselves because they are achieving outcomes with a ‘we do good work for those people’ savior mentality – without really having to change their mind. (Though this is now a well-known example, it is all too common. White supremacy shows up in our culture in many forms. See Tema Okun article)

2022 – the year of your great follow through

‘follow through’
phrasal verb of follow

  1. continue an action or task to its conclusion.
    “don’t promise a reward and then not follow through”

In sports, it’s the moment after the ball has been hit, encompassing form and power. In business, it’s the phone/call email after an agreement has been reached to ensure all terms have been satisfied; and in leadership, its management executing on its plans. In every aspect of life, the ‘follow through’ is the most effective tool to ensure completion.

Which makes you think, if this principle is so easily understood everywhere else- why is it so difficult to understand when it comes to fighting for equity? If we truly want to shift mindsets there has to be an openness and a willingness to see that what you currently believe is skewed. A commitment to equity and inclusion must be an ongoing practice – ‘one and done’ just won’t do.

ways rootid can help you get started in 2022 

  • Sign up for a one-to- one consultation with rootid experts to design equity-centered brand & communications strategies for organizations
  • Register for rootid’s community roundtable and actively engage in hands-on activities and small group discussions with other nonprofit professionals, service providers and funders.
  • Add your name to our mailing list and stay in the know about upcoming events, resources and tools

If you start conversations about making sure everyone is included, you will have to revisit the conversations until EVERYONE IS INCLUDED. If you conduct an internal audit to see what you can do better, you actually have to use the data to make some improvements. If you conduct a listening tour with your audiences and you hear their experiences are more transactional than relational (rootid hosts various sessions to assist with this- SIGN UP HERE) you might actually have to change your perceptions and how you interact with your audience.

Building a diverse and inclusive team of individuals across an expansive set of demographic factors, expanding from race and gender (age, sexual orientation, gender, disability, education and/or experience, and geographic background) can help organizations to increase the likelihood of succeeding while avoiding many of the pitfalls that can come from a group of like-minded individuals engaging in a vacuum (or groupthink). Side Note – I have experienced this sort of foolishness before. I had a senior manager who only wanted to hire people who looked like she could go to yoga with them, for management positions…SMH.

As this new year begins – I am still wondering if all of the social justice allies we picked up in 2020 are still with us. And if they are – then now is not the time to be silent or weary. 2022 has the potential to become the year of the great follow through. It’s time to let the curtain drop and turn the lights off on Allyship Theater.

It’s time for those of us who do this good work to finish what we started.

“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” -John Lewis