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Anti-Racism Resource: Addressing the "All-White Club"

August 27, 2020
Courtney M. McSwain

Pt. 2 of Reintroducing the Western States Anti-Racist Organizational Development Tool  

Last month in our anti-racism resource section, we re-introduced the Western States Center’s anti-racist organizational development tool as a tangible place for NJJN members to begin their work towards adopting a truly anti-racist advocacy model.

Over the next few months, we want to help NJJN members and partners embrace the process of anti-racist organizational change by addressing the categories of organizational development.* These categories can be thought of as a ladder of evolution – we are all seeking to evolve our internal operations and practices to reflect the characteristics of an “Anti-racist Organization” – our top goal. But to get there, we have to acknowledge the beginning stages. And many organizations begin as an “All White Club.”

Organizations that fit into the “All White Club” are characterized as:

“…non-profits that, without trying, find themselves with an all-white organization. These are not groups that have intentionally excluded people of color. In fact, many times they have developed recruitment plans to get more people of color involved in their group. However, when people of color join the group, they are essentially asked to fit into the existing culture. Many leave after a frustrating period of trying to be heard. After years of trying, the Club cannot figure out why they do not have more people of color in their group; they begin to blame people of color for not being interested in the group’s important issue or work, or they just give up. They do not understand that without analyzing and changing the organizational culture, norms, and power relations, they will always be an all-white club. While they are good people, they have no analysis of racism or of power relations and no accountability to people or communities of color.”

- Western States Center Anti-Racist Organizational Development Resource Book

At this stage, it is important to evaluate how your organization centers its power, culture and norms. Key questions to ask include:

1. Who makes decisions in your organization?

-          Does decision-making rest with leaders who are solely or primarily white?

-          Are decisions made in private with little transparency or input from the full team?

 2. Who funds and controls the financial resources of the organization?

-          Are donors primarily white from elite or middle classes?

-          Are budget decisions made primarily by white individuals?

3. Who holds your organizational accountable?

-          Does accountability rest with donors or the community the organization serves?

4. How is power distributed?

-          Are the decision makers and most highly paid leaders white, with people of color holding mostly administrative or service positions with low pay and little power?

5. What cultural norms exist?  

-          Is conflict avoided at all costs?

-          Are those who bring up concerns deemed troublemakers?

6. What’s the programmatic approach?

-          Does your organization primarily serve those in “need” without building power or seeking input from communities of color?

Affirmative answers to these questions and others point to your organization effectively operating as an “All White Club.”

Why is an “All White Club” harmful to anti-racist youth justice advocacy?

One of the key characteristics of the “All White Club” is that power remains concentrated at the top and in the hands of mostly white decision makers. Little to no input is sought from communities of color and the organization is held accountable by funders, not the communities most impacted by its work. Such power dynamic describes the exact paradigm NJJN works to dismantle within youth justice systems.

To advocate for an anti-racist transformation of youth justice in the United States, our own advocacy organizations must model the power dynamics we seek to establish - a system created by and held accountable to people of color who are most impacted. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for an “All White Club” to advocate for the type of power realignment that upends white supremacy within youth justice systems, if the advocacy organization itself mimics the same racially unjust power dynamic.

Don’t despair if your organization reflects an “All White Club”; with commitment, it is possible to work towards a more anti-racist organizational dynamic. Indeed, that is precisely why we’ve set out on this journey together!

Start by reading the full Western States Center’s assessment tool for a full explanation of how to analyze and address your organization’s change needs. And come back next month as we delve into the next category “Token or Affirmative Action Organization.”

Further Reading:

* As stated in the Western States Center’s anti-racist organizational development tool, the assessment is designed for organizations that are either all white or include both white people and people of color.  

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