Decent work and challenging systems of white supremacy
Addressing issues of dominant culture, and dismantling systems of oppression within Canadian nonprofits is not about making white people feel bad. The goal is not to place blame or perpetuate guilt but rather to foster understanding, awareness, and collective action toward creating a more equitable, and inclusive society.
Recognizing and challenging dominant culture is an essential step toward building a more just, and inclusive nonprofit sector. It involves acknowledging historical, and systemic inequities that have shaped organizational practices, and structures. By understanding how dominant culture operates within nonprofits, all individuals, including those who identify as white, can actively contribute to positive change.
Shifting the focus from personal blame to systemic change allows for a more productive, and inclusive dialogue. It encourages white individuals to reflect on their privilege, biases, and blind spots without feeling attacked or defensive. This reflection can lead to a deeper understanding of the ways in which systems of oppression have benefited certain groups while marginalizing others.
Creating a more equitable nonprofit sector benefits everyone. It allows for the amplification of diverse voices and perspectives, enhances the effectiveness of an organizations’ work, and fosters a sense of belonging and inclusion for all individuals, including those who identify as white. It is an opportunity to build stronger relationships, promote collaboration, and create environments where all individuals can thrive.
White supremacy hurts everyone, regardless of their racial or ethnic background, because it perpetuates a system of inequality and injustice. As nonprofits that are seeking to advance equity, and committing to truth and reconciliation, we must reckon with the ways we are entangled in existing dominant cultures. These conversations, though difficult, are not intended to be polarizing, but rather revealing of truths about the unspoken conditions that contribute to indecent working conditions, and inequity within the nonprofit sector.
When organizations commit to truth and reconciliation (including acts of reciprocity with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis communities) and/or anti-Black racism, they must reckon with the systemic inequities caused by white supremacy, and colonization.
Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks experienced by workers are often driven by ideologies that seek to preserve a white-dominated society. The tenets of white supremacy provide the ideological underpinnings for such acts of violence, fostering an environment of fear, hostility, and hatred towards religious, and ethnic minorities. White supremacy, heteronormativity, and ableism are all rooted in power dynamics that marginalize, and oppress certain groups. They perpetuate hierarchies based on things like race, sexual orientation, and ability, positioning those in dominant groups as superior, and others as inferior. Challenging white supremacy involves challenging these power dynamics, and dismantling systems that perpetuate violence.
Cultures of white supremacy or dominant culture impact how decent work is accessed. In the report from Workers Action Centre: From the Frontlines: An urgent agenda for decent work, they explain the urgent agenda of advancing decent work while addressing racism, and status for all. And explore the connection between racism and migration, and how it impacts access to decent work because of dominant cultures of white supremacy.
Some ways in which white supremacy negatively impacts individuals and communities:
Divides and alienates
White supremacy creates divisions, and hierarchies based on race, leading to the marginalization, exclusion, and oppression of non-white individuals, and communities. This division undermines unity and social cohesion, preventing genuine connections and collaboration among people from different backgrounds.
Reinforces stereotypes and biases
White supremacy perpetuates harmful stereotypes and biases about non-white communities, contributing to prejudice, discrimination, and systemic racism. These stereotypes limit opportunities, reinforce negative narratives, and hinder the full potential of individuals and communities.
Suppresses voices and perspectives
White supremacy silences and devalues the experiences, knowledge, and contributions of non-white individuals and communities. It creates a power imbalance where the perspectives, histories, and cultural expressions of white people are deemed more important, further marginalizing and erasing racialized voices.
Impedes social progress
White supremacy inhibits social progress by maintaining systems, and structures that prioritize the needs and interests of the dominant white culture. This perpetuates systemic inequities in areas such as education, employment, housing, and healthcare, hindering equal opportunities, and collective advancement.
Limits cultural richness
White supremacy diminishes the cultural diversity and richness that exists within society. By centering white culture as the norm, it devalues and suppresses the diverse expressions, traditions, and contributions of non-white cultures. This limits the opportunities for learning, understanding, and embracing the full spectrum of human experiences.
Undermines collective wellbeing
White supremacy creates a society where power, resources, and opportunities are concentrated among a privileged few, resulting in widespread disparities, and social injustice. This imbalance not only harms historically underserved communities but also erodes the overall wellbeing and prosperity of society as a whole. Challenging white supremacy requires recognizing the interconnectedness of struggles, and promoting solidarity among equity seeking communities.
Resources for Learning and Unlearning
Learning and unlearning are complementary processes that involve acquiring new knowledge, perspectives, and behaviors while actively letting go of or challenging existing beliefs, biases, and behaviors that no longer serve us or perpetuate harm.
Remember that training is a starting point, not a destination – the tools below are meant to support learning. Real change comes from putting the learnings into practice.
- Dismantling White Supremacy in Nonprofits: a starting point.
- How White People Conquered the Nonprofit Industry – Non Profit News
- Building an Embodied Anti-Racist Practice — Embracing Equity
- Interrupting Bias- Calling In and Out with Care
- Embodiment Exercises: Unlocking the Genius of Your Body | Resmaa Menakem
- On Being Podcast Isabel Wilkerson — “We all know in our bones that things are harder than they have to be.” | The On Being Project
Reflections on dismantling white supremacy in Ontario’s nonprofit sector
By Rob Howarth and Danielle Benton from TNC’s Dismantling White Supremacy Community of Practice
“Love and Justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.” – Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams
In order to challenge white supremacy in the nonprofit sector, white folks must take action towards sustained change. Numerous tools, and capacity building sessions – guided by Black, Indigenous and/or racialized advocates, activists, scholars, and community members – have been developed to identify how to challenge oppression in workplaces, and beyond. The question is no longer whether racism or issues of equity exist but rather, what measures of accountability, and actions are needed on a structural, institutional, and personal level.
A community of practice is a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfill both individual and group goals. Communities of practice often focus on sharing best practices and creating new knowledge to advance a domain of professional practice. Interaction on an ongoing basis is an important part of this. Many communities of practice rely on face-to-face meetings as well as web-based collaborative environments to communicate, connect and conduct community activities. Resource: https://www.wenger-trayner.com/introduction-to-communities-of-practice/
white workers in the nonprofit sector engaged in honest, personal, reflective conversations about how to invite, motivate, engage, and incite action from white colleagues. From this process, we unearthed some core principles, and ways to action them into meaningful practice that can affect lasting change.
There is a need for greater championing (a calling in) that urges, and assists more white folks in our sector to place dismantling white supremacy at the core of their intentions, and day-to-day practice. This effort is a necessary ingredient for advancing any of the commitments, and passions to improving community wellbeing that inform our work (e.g. social justice; anti-ableism; truth and reconciliation; decolonization; tackling dimensions of oppression based on race, class, gender, sexual orientation; deepening democracy; economic inclusion; liberation and abolitionism; environmental health; to name a few).
The persistence of white supremacy, and its associated hierarchical structures, values and judgements (both conscious and unconscious) that assign value to whiteness by devaluing/dehumanizing “others”, undermines our relationships with ourselves, and with each other. Our hope to improve these relationships requires an ever-enlarging “we” that can be mobilized. As long as we remain insufficiently attentive to, and fractured by the persistent hierarchies, injustices, and violence generated by white supremacy, our efforts to advance community wellbeing will be thwarted.
Video on the process of convening the community of practice to challenge white supremacy, plus ways to use the core principles.
The community of practice discussed the following questions that led to the development of the principles for white people who are interested in challenging white supermacy:
What helps you stay in the practice of anti-racism and dismantling white supremacy?
How would you communicate these ideas to white people who might be resistant or challenged by the journey to implement decent work? (language, rituals, practices)
What does promoting decent work and dismantling white supremacy mean to you? And in the context of your work?
The goal of unpacking these questions was not solely rooted in finding clear cut solutions, but staying in the complexity of what it means to do the work from a place that acknowledges the impact of systems of white supremacy. The work was messy and at times extremely challenging – not because it’s not worth it, but simply because we are all swimming in the water of white supremacy. And so to actively champion decent work, equity, racial justice, and commit to truth and reconciliation there needs to be an intentional naming of systemic factors that contribute to further oppression.
These principles serve as a guide to address the challenges that surface in group dynamics, and support accountability. Through our discussions as a collective of 15 white folks in the nonprofit sector, from diverse organizations across Ontario, we generated these initial principles to guide actions, and processes that seek to ensure that the labour doesn’t fall on the shoulders of Black, Indigenous and/or racialized workers.