The importance of BIPOC voices and the unique challenges BIPOC content creators face

[Image description: An orange cat, lying on the keyboard of a laptop, half their face pressed against the screen, looking exhausted. Image by IRCat on Pixabay.]

Hi everyone, before we get into today’s post, three quick reminders. First, this Thursday December 10th at 11am PT, there is a free webinar on Transformational Capacity Building; read this article I helped write about how #CapacityBuildingSoWhite and let’s work together to change that. Second, go to and write an anonymous review of a foundation, or remind your grantees to do so, if you haven’t done it in a while. Third, make sure you’re flossing; dental hygiene is still important.

Since its launch five months ago, the Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) movement has been growing. Get involved by joining the Facebook pageTwitter, Slack, and Instagram. Also check out all the amazing and mind-blowing content on the CCF Hub. I am grateful for all the folks putting time and energy into writing, podcasting, doing videos, and crafting poems challenging existing fundraising philosophies and practices, because #FundraisingSoWhite. (You can contribute to the Hub too; here are the editorial guidelines).

It’s not just fundraising and capacity building, but also #EvalSoWhite, #PhilanthropySoWhite, #GovernanceSoWhite, #HiringPracticesSoWhite, #CommunicationsSoWhite (and during the Before Times, OfficeSnacksSoWhite), etc. We need BIPOC folks to share their experiences and push to change these narratives.

However, many brilliant BIPOC folks are still really hesitant to contribute content and get their voices out there. This has been going on for as long as I can remember. Let’s examine this, because the perspectives of folks who are most affected by injustice are vital to our sector. This post is meant as encouragement and advice for BIPOC content creators, but I want white allies to pay attention to this issue, as you have a lot of gatekeeping power in this area.

“Writers from a minority, write as if you are the majority. Do not explain. Do not cater. Do not translate. Do not apologize. Assume everyone knows what you are talking about, as the majority does. Write with all the privileges of the majority, but with the humility of a minority.”

I love this above quote by Pulitzer-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen, who wrote “The Sympathizer.” It has stuck with me, and I aspire to follow it whenever possible. However, it is complex, as we are dealing with issues of inequity and injustice. I wish it were as simple as BIPOC folks just having more confidence. Here are other issues we must contend with:

Imposter syndrome: This is my 434th blog post, and yet every single time I write, I still freak out a little, doubting my own credibility and credentials to write about nonprofit and philanthropy. Imposter syndrome is really strong for BIPOC folks, and especially those at multiple intersecting marginalized identities like women of color and disabled BIPOCs. A lifetime of being told by society that we and our work are not good enough will do that. (For fun, there’s also meta-imposter-syndrome, where we doubt whether we are good enough to even qualify for imposter syndrome!).

Having to represent our communities: What a lot of allies may not understand is that society rarely lets BIPOC folks represent ourselves as individuals. In content creation, this often means that we feel the pressure to be perfect and not mess up, because it’ll reflect on our race, ethnicity, community, etc. There is not just the fear of reinforcing dominant society’s stereotypes, but also letting our racial/ethnic/other communities down. This pressure is constant and something white content creators do not face to the same degree.

Code-switching is exhausting: Because most people in nonprofit and philanthropy are white, BIPOC content creators have to constantly code-switch to get our messages across. After a while, this becomes tiresome, and sometimes we don’t feel like we’re being true to ourselves. It is particularly energy-consuming to code-switch for white moderates (and BIPOC moderates) who seem to support equity and justice, but who constantly ask for messages to be modified and diluted to be more appealing and digestible to the masses.

Dealing with white professional standards: In this essay by Yolanda Contreras, Can anybody hear me? How white nonprofit writing standards erase BIPOC voices — and why that is definitely not OK, she writes “Editing, in its scariest form, is gaslighting for already-weary BIPOCs. When BIPOC writers get a million edits that don’t make sense to us, we start to question ourselves, doubt our inherent worth and talent — then we start to mold ourselves to fit the white messaging of our organizations — we start internalizing the white supremacy and racism that we try so hard to avoid.” Apply this to every medium—videos, podcasts—and it can be demoralizing.

Fear of retribution: When I talk to BIPOC leaders to encourage them to speak up about their experiences in our sector to challenge the status quo, a common response is, “If I’m honest in sharing what I’m feeling, I’m sure I’ll get fired and maybe never hired again.” This is completely valid. We could lose jobs, promotions, funding, donors, relationships, etc. So there is that balance to manage, being able to authentically say things while protecting ourselves from consequences of people not liking what they hear or see, and it’s another form of code-switching.

Time and other resources: BIPOC content creators often just have less time and money to create stuff. I have learned from CCF Co-Chair Michelle Muri, who does the awesome The Ethical Rainmaker podcast, how much money goes into producing these episodes (You can support Michelle’s work through Patreon). Even if something is relatively low-cost, like writing, it can still take a lot of time, and we know time is not equitably distributed.

Family and cultural barriers: Some of us also have to contend with the fact that writing, art, poetry, etc., and just general forms of self-expression are often not supported by our families. A lot of BIPOC folks are told by our families (who often have suffered through poverty and other challenges) that making money is the responsible thing to do, and pursuing writing or painting or acting or whatever is selfish. So we have complicated relationships with creating content.

These, and other barriers, explain why it can be challenging for folks to write a blog post, book, create a podcast, contribute an article to a trade journal, make a video, show up at an open-mic poetry night, etc. This is why I am so thankful when it happens, because I know how much it takes to reach a point when you can contribute, and even when you do it, there is still so much doubt and fear about how your work will be received.

However, our sector needs BIPOC voices, or nothing changes. Here’s some advice I have for BIPOC folks and white colleagues. Please use what’s helpful and dismiss the rest:

Reflect on how the above has affected you: If you want to share your thoughts but are hesitant, take some time to examine why. It may be some combination of the above, or it could be other factors. Understanding these factors will help you to figure out how to mitigate them.

Use whatever medium is good for you: I love writing, but writing, especially academic writing, has become the default accepted mean of respectable communications. I do think everyone should work to develop this skill. However, we need to broaden what is considered respectable. Podcasts, videos, music, and other media should be taken just as seriously.  

Get over your imposter syndrome: I know that’s easier said than done. But seriously, we’ve had four years of the most incompetent, racist, and corrupt people running things. In our sector I still see a lot of crap written/created by privileged folks with half the talent of the brilliant BIPOC colleagues who are constantly doubting themselves. Let’s reverse things: Those with imposter syndrome, you’re awesome; those without imposter syndrome, uh…maybe you should try to experience some imposter syndrome.

Take actions and make mistakes: It’s ok to put stuff out there that’s not perfect. Perfectionism is a symptom and tool of white supremacy. We have to normalize doing stuff, making mistakes, and iterating. Your perspectives as people most affected by injustice are too important to wait until you have everything lined up to share it, because guess what, things never completely line up perfectly.

Don’t worry too much about originality: A brilliant and accomplished colleague said, “I’m very insecure about my writing that isn’t ‘work’ and each time I think I’ll write about something, I find that someone else has already written a thing.” That’s OK! We are not monolithic, and there are lots of aspects of the same issues to explore. And sometimes messages only get absorbed if multiple people say the same things. You think I’m the first person to rant about grant proposals, foundation payout rates, or the importance of the Oxford Comma?

Do not wait for inspiration to strike: I always tell folks who ask for advice on blogging that it’s a lot like going to the gym. It’s hard at first, but the more consistently you do it, even when you don’t feel like it, the easier it gets because you’ll develop your muscles and you can start to see the results. (At least, this is what I believe happens; I haven’t been to a gym for nearly 20 years). Same principle applies to other contents, like producing a podcast.

Be bold and not afraid to upset people: The content that resonates most is stuff that is authentic and assertive, and occasionally uncomfortable for folks to read. In fact, if you’re trying to challenge existing systems and you’re not upsetting a portion of the readers, listeners, or viewers, you may not be doing it right.

Be you: Society tells us all the time that we need to suppress our true selves in our content in order to be taken seriously. But that’s really oppressive, and worse, it’s boring! Your content does not need to be all stuffy and formal just because society says it needs to be. I use humor and pictures of baby animals in a lot of posts, and I don’t think anyone takes me less seriously (OK, there are a few people, but their loss).

For white allies, here are some things to do:

Create space for BIPOC voices: Sometimes it’s not that BIPOC folks don’t want to contribute our thoughts, it’s that white colleagues take up all the air, energy, or opportunities. Examine whether you are doing that, and point it out to other white folks when they’re doing that.

Be patient and encouraging: Now that you know some of the factors as to why a BIPOC colleague might be hesitant to write a blog post for your org’s website or go in with you as co-hosts on a podcast or op-ed, try to be understanding and supportive.

Check for white professional standards gatekeeping: Many of our conventions are archaic (like I end sentences with prepositions all the time; it’s not something any of us should be worried about). Are you using ancient white norms and formalities to gatekeep BIPOC voices? Are you forcing BIPOC folks to change their tones or styles to sound more “acceptable” to other white folks?

Provide compensation: If you’re asking anyone, to provide content, ensure there’s compensation. This goes double when you’re asking BIPOCs. Don’t be an askhole.  

OK, that was a long-ass article, and true to my advice, I’m just going to go ahead and publish this. I’ll worry about editing in the morning when I wake up. I hope it was helpful. If not, well, you know, at least you got a picture of a kinda cute, slightly grumpy cat out of it.

Donate now to elect Reverend Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the Senate run-off races in Georgia. Whoever controls the Senate will affect every single issue all of us are working on in this sector.