Reflections on the ‘Home Truths’ report on racism in the charity sector – part 1

Members of NCVO’s BAME network share their initial responses to the recent report from Voice4Change England and Acevo on racism in the charity sector. This does not replace a more formal response from NCVO to the specific recommendations but forms part of an ongoing conversation about what equity, diversity and inclusion mean for both NCVO and the charity sector.

We are deeply grateful to Voice4Change and ACEVO for publishing this report, and to all the contributors, especially fellow BAME charity sector workers, for their bravery and honesty in sharing their experiences.

None of the experiences in this report came as a surprise. Like many others in the charity sector, we have experienced, witnessed and heard about both overt and subtle racism directed at ourselves, other BAME individuals and organisations in the sector, and public figures. As reflected in the report, this racism has almost always come from white, senior colleagues, and grievance processes have not led to these individuals accepting that they have been racist or changing their behaviour. The prevalence of racism in the sector and the way that it is dealt with by senior leaders is proof of systemic and institutional racism in the sector. Leaders across the sector need to wake up to how their internal policies and their discretionary handling of racist incidents cause further harm to BAME staff.

The analysis of the root causes of racism in the sector also came as no surprise. At the root of the harm caused to BAME staff and communities is a paternalistic ‘white saviour’ model of charity, rooted in a colonial past. The sector’s link to colonialism may be uncomfortable to acknowledge, but we need to address this to effect change. This model positions BAME individuals and communities as passive recipients of help, never decision-makers in their own right. It keeps white, middle-class individuals and communities in positions of power, privilege and influence. This has to change, otherwise, the charity sector will continue to undermine not only BAME communities but its own aspirations for social change.

We were also struck by the recognition that, too often, charities seek to address racism ‘on the cheap’ using the free labour of BAME (often junior) staff on top of already demanding day jobs. We as BAME staff have done this for too long, in the face of the denial, silence or outright complicity of white leaders. We have faced considerable risks to our jobs, our careers and our physical and mental health in doing this. By relying on change coming from BAME staff, the sector is asking us to come up with a solution for a system that we did not create.  The onus should not be on us, but rather on white leaders to implement change in partnership with BAME staff. We want to be leaders of change in the sector, but we need to be resourced to do this – in terms of time, money, leadership buy-in, and power.

This report must be a wake-up call that kind words and good intentions are not enough here. For too long the sector has given lip service to the fact that racism exists and has talked at length about the lack of representation in the sector. But ultimately sector leaders have hidden behind a perception of the sector as righteous to justify the status quo and have not reckoned with the ways they are complicit in structures that exclude BAME people, and therefore unjustly privilege our white colleagues.

Finally, we would remind our white colleagues of Martin Luther King’s words to white moderates in ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail.’

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

The time for shallow understanding and lukewarm acceptance is long gone. We need deep reflection and meaningful action, before more of us, and our communities, are harmed by racism within the sector.


This sits alongside a blog from members of NCVO’s equity, diversity and inclusion working group: Reflections on the ‘Home Truths’ report on racism in the charity sector – part 2


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