By Chris Talbot-Heindl, nonprofit laborer and born activist
While it’s not your fault that you were conditioned to act this way, it’s your responsibility to heal from it so we – the People of the Global Majority – can focus on transformational change.
Last month, I had the opportunity to virtually meet Regina Jackson during a Next 100 Colorado Conversation with Our Elders session. Regina is one-half of the team behind Race2Dinner, the documentary Deconstructing Karen, and the book White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better.
Before listening to Regina’s experiences, I would have classified myself in the category of a mixed-race, Indigenous person of color who doubted myself so much that I often held my tongue when experiencing harmful whiteness in the spaces I navigate, including – or more accurately, specifically – in Community-Centric Fundraising.
After meeting with her and hearing her talk about our power as People of the Global Majority and our responsibility to disrupt, I’ve been a bit more outspoken. “Don’t be afraid to have hard conversations,” she shared. “The worst thing that can happen is you get your feelings hurt, and fuck that.”
As I started to show up differently, I started to name things I saw happening and invite folks in to consider how they showed up.
This hasn’t been taken very well.
I know whiteness leads white folks to separate themselves from each other, declaring themselves “one of the good ones” when concrete examples aren’t provided, so I want to give recent examples of whiteness infiltrating the movement.
(I’m sharing this with the hope that white folks who do things akin to the examples I’m listing – and honestly, this essay could be a full-length book, so understand these incidents are stand-ins for thousands I’ve experienced or witnessed – truly examine them for similarities in their behavior. I ask white folks to really sit with these examples and meditate on how to change your impulses and behavior from whiteness in the future. While it’s not your fault that you were conditioned to act this way, it’s your responsibility to heal from it so we – the People of the Global Majority – can focus on transformational change. And the good news is you don’t have to heal separately; you can heal together, and that can be part of the healing!)
“Do something about her.”
We’ve all seen it happen in the forums for nonprofit work. A white person, especially a white woman, will goad, needle, or mock someone who’s clearly going through something and who has less emotional tolerance in the moment. They’ll pick at and diminish the person while staying on the “right” side of the listed “rules” of the space until the person they’re goading reacts.
Then, without fail, the white person will call for a moderator or another person of authority without consideration of the emotional load everyone carries. It’s basically a call for police without calling the actual police.
After all, they’re a white person who has experienced discomfort. It’s everyone’s responsibility to come to their rescue.
Other white people witnessing these things in real-time will usually either stay silent or pile on the person who reacted with terms like “unprofessional,” “inappropriate,” “violent” without consideration of the context of the encounter. They collectively pretend the white women provoking bears no responsibility. But they absolutely do.
Whiteness teaches white women since birth that this is their power – manipulate into bad behavior and then rally everyone to protect them.
When the People of the Global Majority have to spend time moderating and mitigating this white nonsense, they have less time and energy to build and move the movement forward. Who wants to stick around long-term when your transformative energies are being used to quell white nonsense? I don’t have endless energy for that.
This recent moment drained me in particular: A follower on CCF’s Instagram DMed me and asked if I would share her request for mutual aid for her and her children, who were trying to escape an abusive situation. I directed her to Slack and encouraged her to post in the “random” channel to see if she could get some help from our community. She initially DMed folks because she was unfamiliar with the platform, but once I explained it to her, it didn’t happen again.
Immediately, whiteness began to act as the de facto police to stop her – a Black woman trying to find much-needed help for her family. There were some gentle call-ins suggesting it might be an inappropriate ask, and then Emmy (not her real name), a white woman, tagged our entire moderator team to “do something” about her.
Let’s pretend that asking for mutual aid wasn’t directly within what we’re doing here. What harm is an ask for mutual aid doing in the random channel of our Slack? It’s sitting there innocuous AF. But Emmy tagged the women of color thought leaders who act as our moderators to “do something” about her.
I want folks to sit with the violence of that demand. “Do something” about a Black woman trying to escape abuse with her daughters, asking for mutual aid. Emmy was calling for the “police” (in a space that intentionally doesn’t have any).
Whiteness called a white woman mildly annoyed about a Black woman asking for mutual aid to demand other women of color police her.
As a mixed-race, nonbinary person of color who has been unhoused three times and had to escape an abusive situation once, this hit me at my core.
But this is not uncommon in whiteness. We see white people calling the actual and figurative police on Black people all the time. In our carceral system, Black people are disproportionately represented, and racial injustice is rampant. More than half of death row exonerees are Black, not just because Black people are blamed for crimes they didn’t commit (they are seven times more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than innocent white people) but also because they are overrepresented on death row.
Outside of our carceral system, we see kids of color, and especially Black kids, who are disproportionately disciplined in school, and Black kids are 3.5 times more likely than their white classmates to be suspended or expelled. Workers of color, even in the nonprofit sector, are under more scrutiny than their white counterparts, meaning their mistakes (that everyone makes) are quickly caught, they receive worse performance reviews, lower wages, and more punitive whiteness bearing down on them. It shows up in online forums like Nonprofit Happy Hour, and now it’s also showing up in Community-Centric Fundraising.
How does this type of whiteness harm white people?
Community can’t thrive with white supremacy and whiteness acting out. When we act out of whiteness and white supremacy, we act individually. When we lean into asking for the “police,” whichever form that may take – especially after goading someone into acting out – how are we going to form meaningful community that holds space for one another?
Most of the time, when I see the goading I previously mentioned, it’s white-on-white violence. Because you do this to each other mercilessly. That’s because whiteness calls on y’all to outdo each other. It pits you against each other. Rather than coming in community like a lot of People of the Global Majority do, you are in constant competition with each other.
What about demanding the “police” on BIPOC members of the community? Every Person of the Global Majority in that forum saw that too. And saw it for what it was.
I’ve been with my spouse, who is white, as he lamented the distrust he received from members of the BIPOC community before they knew him. “I get it, but it sucks,” he says. We’ve had the discussion about what Dr. Darlene Hall calls “healthy cultural paranoia,” – which is a response of mistrust towards white society and a defense against potential acts of racism and discrimination – so he truly does get it. But yes, it sucks. It sucks harder to have to be culturally paranoid of the white folks we navigate space with because we just never know when that shoe will drop.
This type of whiteness causes “healthy cultural paranoia” in BIPOC members of your community and keeps white folks isolated. It keeps us from making meaningful change together.
How to restore what whiteness has done
If you’re with me and you’re white, I’m going to need you to call in and bring your people along. But I’m going to need you to do this outside of the lens of whiteness.
Part of this was my fault for not anticipating how whiteness in the group would show up before encouraging this person to post. But I need white folks in the movement to investigate why they are here in the first place.
Are we here to make a difference in our sector and to support each other with care and compassion to envision and build transformational change? Or are we here merely to find resources to do our day jobs a little differently, making incremental and ultimately insignificant changes? Are we here to hold space for asks of all kinds and to hold each other as we all navigate the complex ills of the nonprofit industrial complex and capitalism in general? Or are we here to create hierarchies, bring whiteness to the forefront, compete with each other, and demand the “police” whenever someone does something we don’t like?
Because this is a movement, not an organization, we all must ask ourselves these questions. Hopefully, the collective answer is that we’re here to make transformational change. Hopefully, that means we will act in ways that embody that.
Once you’ve decided, check out the Community-Centric Fundraising Community Update, and in particular, the “Our values and how we embody them while interacting on Slack,” and truly commit to them.
If you’re with me and you’re white, I’m going to need you to call in and bring your people along.
But I’m going to need you to do this outside of the lens of whiteness. Whiteness doesn’t know how to be in true community and competes rather than supports. Bring people in with compassion and grace, not condescension, superiority, and power. There are no exceptional white people; y’all should be encouraging and helping each other through your unlearning. Start there.
Don’t hold back because you’re afraid of not saying something perfectly. As Regina shared during her talk, “When we’re talking about difficult subjects, there is no wrong thing to say.” Spend the time necessary to really guide your people along in a way that upholds community, not whiteness.
This is how we restore what was lost and begin to rebuild trust in the space.
Chris Talbot-Heindl (they/them) is a queer, trans nonbinary, triracial artist and nonprofit employee. When they aren’t working the day job, they spend their free time editing art and literature magazines, writing and illustrating educomics to help folks affirm their nonbinary pals, creating a graphic novel to describe what it’s like to be nonbinary in a gender binary world, cuddling their cat, and quad skating in the park. You can find Chris at talbot-heindl.com, on LinkedIn, and Twitter — and tip them on Venmo or PayPal or join as a patron on their Patreon.