[Update: After this post’s publication, colleagues pointed out that the term “Highlander Syndrome” is confusing and may negatively affect the work of the amazing Highlander Research and Education Center, so I am temporarily renaming it to “There Can Only Be One” Syndrome, OBO Syndrome for short. Apologies to the Highlander Center, but also it gave me a chance to hear about your incredible work!].
Hi everyone, a couple of announcements before we tackle this week’s topic. Please check out this critical SSIR article written by the team at RVC and me about Transformational Capacity Building. The way our sector has been doing capacity building has been grounded in white philosophies and practices. Thus it has not been working effectively for communities-of-color-led organizations. It is time for a new model and set of practices. The article is long, because we go into details and provide lots of examples, but check it out, because it’s awesome as hell.
Also, Community-Centric Fundraising (CCF) is now on Slack. We need a way for folks to begin connecting with one another to discuss how to make fundraising more equitable, form local CCF groups, and share successes and failures as we experiment and iterate. Slack was voted as the top preference at the CCF meeting last week. I honestly have little experience using it (*cough* I was rooting for Myspace, but was outnumbered by younger people). I’m going to learn. CCF is a movement; we’re going to learn stuff together! Anyway, join, it’ll be fun! (Slack does not preclude other platforms from being used in the future; it’s just a start)
After the kids went to sleep one day, my partner and I put up “Ugly Delicious,” a show where celebrity chef David Chang explores different types of food and talks to various chefs and restaurant owners. In one episode, he explores Viet-Cajun, the combination of Vietnamese and Cajun. It was great, until he interviewed a Vietnamese shrimp fisherman whose family came over decades ago, who worked hard, overcame racism (including the KKK attacking shrimping boats), and became successful. When Chef Chang asked his opinion on more recent immigrants and whether he could empathize with them, the dude said something along the lines of “Well, we worked hard, but a lot of immigrants these days just want handouts.”
Over the past few days, I have been thinking of George Floyd’s brutal murder by the police and of the protests happening in Minneapolis, nationwide, and globally, as I know many of you are. I am at a loss on what to do and how to support our Black friends and colleagues and family members who have constantly suffered under the pervasive violence of white supremacy and racism. I don’t know what to say. I don’t have any encouraging words for you at this moment. I am just angry and sad.
And to be honest, I am also frustrated by our sector. I love our field and the people in it. There is so much good that comes from our work. In the most challenging of times, we have often been a beacon of light. There are many amazing organizations and leaders organizing protests, working tirelessly to change unjust laws, lifting up people in need, providing food and shelter and hope. Thank you for all that you do, and for doing it in a time when there is so much community need even as your resources drastically dwindle.
But as I watch the news and hear of police running over protesters, white nationalists creating chaos and confusion so they can blame peaceful demonstrators, and our racist president stoking the fires of hatred and violence again and again—it makes we wonder if our sector is equipped to help bend the arc toward justice, or if we have collectively become the “white moderate” that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. calls the biggest barrier for equity and justice for Black people and thus for us all.
Hi everyone, before we get to today’s topic, I’m having a conversation with the brilliant Angie Kim, CEO of the Center for Cultural Innovation, on May 27th at 10am PST, about our sector. “Vu and Angie will have an informal, probably profanity-laden fireside chat, where we discuss what’s working and what’s not. Get ready to get provoked, maybe pissed off. There might be puppets.” It’s free. See details and register here.
Also, I may expand on this topic later, but here’s a petition calling for Congress to enact legislation to increase foundations’ and donor-advised funds’ payout rates for the next three years. Please sign it if you are so inclined. THIS IS THE RAINY DAY that funders and donors have been saving for, and it’s unconscionable that hundreds of billions are just sitting there while people die.
Lately, I’ve been getting more notices from colleagues distraught by their board or team saying things like “It’s a pandemic, we don’t have time to work on equity, diversity, and inclusion. Let’s get back to it when we get back to normal.” This view, that somehow equity work is like the parsley garnish to the risotto of “real work,” is pervasive. I wrote about it earlier here, mentioning a cancer organization that does not understand what race and equity have to do with cancer. This crisis has unfortunately further amplified this perspective for many people and organizations.
Hi everyone, before we get into this week’s topic, a quick shout out to colleagues at Momentum Nonprofit Partners in Memphis for taking a stand for equity on their job board by no longer accepting job postings for positions that pay less than $15, and also requiring all postings to disclose salary information. Y’all rock. You make me proud to have spent my high school years in Memphis (Central High! Go Warriors!). Other job boards should consider this.
Over the past six years, one of my greatest joys is being a father. I love it, even though I have little time to myself, and I have scars on my feet from stray LEGOS, and my diet is 85% leftover food that the kids refuse to eat. And the six-year-old thinks I’m going to die in the next ten years because “you are really old.” But it’s fun and rewarding. However, the kids fight constantly over things. When that happens, a quick resolution is to remove the contested item. Then neither of them has it, and the fight is over, and they hopefully have learned a valuable lesson about sharing and not bothering Daddy when he’s sitting fully clothed in the bathtub chanting “I love being a father, I love being a father.”
Unfortunately, I have been seeing these sort of dynamics happening in the sector, especially around funding. People and communities of color for some reason are expected to always get along, and when there is any sort of tension among us, folks with power and privilege freak out. A Black colleague told me “White people get terrified when two Black people argue in a room. I wonder what they think would happen.” It is especially alarming when funders are involved, because funding is often jeopardized under this paternalistic philosophy of “See, they can’t even get along; we’re not funding them.” Working with organizations led by and serving people of color, I’ve seen this multiple times with different funders who get upset or who roll their eyes and refuse to fund critical work because leaders of color have tension with one another.
Hi everyone, this post may be a little shorter than usual, due to a few few full-blown tantrums from my little ones over the course of the day. One involved a potty training accident that required a thorough hose-down in the bathtub. I am slightly frazzled and not very lucid.
A few months ago, I was talking at a conference about what race, equity, diversity, and inclusion look like in every day practices. “These concepts have been like coconut water,” I said, “everyone’s drinking them after hot yoga. But how are we actually changing our hiring, communications, board governance, evaluation, fundraising, and other areas?”
my presentation, a colleague raised her hand. “My organization does not focus
on social justice,” she said, “We address cancer, which does not discriminate;
it affects every one of all races. How are these concepts applicable to my
was glad she asked that question, because I am sure others feel the same way. Another
time, a different colleague wrote, “while measures of injustice, inequity[,]
and racial oppression might be appropriate outcomes for your nonprofit—ours is
reduction in hunger. Which might lead to all those other things but really—we
care about feeding kids.”