The pursuit of racial justice: What we want to see change

This is the second in a series of blogs from Bond People of Colour in Development Group. You can read part one here.

With the slow progress, empty promises, persistent roadblocks and overall fatigue, it’s no surprise that many of us question whether we should stop pursuing racial justice.

Yet we remain pushing forward. We’ve come together to rage, heal, strategise and lead change, and the bonds we’ve created have helped us stay motivated.

Activists had been advocating for anti-racism in the development sector long before the ‘racial reckoning/awakening’ in 2020, following the abhorrent murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. However, 2020 was a pivotal moment for many reasons, as it created the opportunity and appetite for activists and allies to double down on efforts and exemplify what real solidarity looks like.

Networks have formed and collaborated at different levels, contributing to institutional, organisational and community change. Safe space and peer exchange platforms, like the POC [people of colour] in development working group, WIAN, Racial Equity Diversity and Inclusion (REDI) Collective and Healing Solidarity, are crucial to support the development and professional growth of people of colour. These spaces also sustain us. To transform the sector, collectives like The Racial Equity Index, Aid Re-imagined, The Equity Index, Charity So White offer alternative solutions to help dismantle discriminatory structures and rebuild a more racially equitable social impact sector. These approaches emphasise the need for a diversity of tactics to dismantle racism at all levels and offer support to meet different people’s needs and capabilities.

Funding fatigue

Many of the groups that are vital to bringing about the systemic changes that are needed operate either without funding or without consistent adequate funding. This lack of funding is a major contributing factor to the fatigue and stifled progress of the anti-racism efforts spearheaded by people of colour in the development sector, particularly women and non-gender-conforming people.

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The Black Feminist Fund, an organisation connecting Black women donors to grassroots Black feminist organisations, groups and collectives, released a report in March highlighting the insufficient financial support given to Black women-centred movements that focus on global change and challenging the status quo. Two sobering yet unsurprising findings contained in the report are that 53% of Black feminist organisations don’t have the funds to carry them through the next fiscal year and just under 60% have never received core funding.

So how have we kept things going as a community, despite the lack of funding? Networks and organisations have had to rely on the voluntary labour of community members while collaborating with other communities and networks.

We have carried on the conversations beyond the office, into our homes, social media threads and Whatsapp chats to connect with our peers outside of normal working hours and across time zones to demand change.

But not everyone has the time, skill set, risk profile, passion, energy or ability to take on this work. People of colour are not a monolith, and our experiences are not the same. It’s important to recognise and understand where we all sit on the spectrum of activism, whether as a person of colour or a white ally.

Sustaining Anti-Racist Initiatives: Voluntary Commitment and Diminished Capacity

In a testament to the resilience of those driving intersectional anti-racist initiatives, it is important to acknowledge that much of this crucial work is carried out voluntarily, often alongside their primary job responsibilities. Even within organisations equipped with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) teams or Localisation teams, the capacity to enact meaningful change is often compromised due to resource constraints. This paradox highlights the dedication and commitment of those who, despite the odds, champion intersectional anti-racist causes with unwavering resolve.

Furthermore, these voluntary efforts underscore the critical role of individuals who bear the torch of change beyond their formal roles. They infuse their energy, time, and expertise into initiatives that are central to dismantling systemic racism. While DEI teams may exist, their ability to enact substantive transformation is frequently hampered by cuts in resources and staffing, leading to an even heavier reliance on the voluntary commitment of passionate advocates.

These efforts, driven by those who wear multiple hats, both within and outside their organisations, exemplify the depth of commitment required to effect real change. They serve as a reminder that the pursuit of racial justice is not just a task for specific roles or designated teams—it is a collective responsibility that requires a multi-dimensional approach.

Motivating a mindset shift

The need for deep-rooted systemic change when tackling and dismantling racism in our sector has been well-documented. In the UK, racism is an insidious and often invisible system of oppression that cuts through all areas of an organisation, from its culture, practice and structures to its recruitment, communications and beyond.

Tackling racism should not be siloed to HR teams and CEOs. It must be broadened to include all areas of an organisation, meaning everyone can be involved. Bond’s anti-racism and decolonising framework is a great resource that explains why a holistic approach to anti-racism is needed, one that includes teams working on advocacy, communication, campaigning, fundraising, governance, programmes, research and more.

Since the murder of George Floyd and the evolution of the culture wars, we have seen some policymakers’ conversations on anti-racism stalled, criticised and diluted. For example, the meaningful conversation on reparations has largely been seen as a conversation non-starter by some and has stifled progress on creating an equitable sector that addresses racial justice. Similarly, the conversations around localisation have largely omitted the need for repairing or addressing racial inequity and power imbalances.

We need the political and governmental will to motivate a mindset shift and demonstrate a willingness to actively make change beyond words to create an equitable society and sector. Tackling racism, and the power imbalances it has and continues to create, should not be seen as a threat. This work creates richer discussions and builds partnerships between communities and beyond, in an equitable and inclusive way.

…[we] cannot thrive where power remains unchecked and justice is reserved for a select few. Ignoring these cries and failing to respond to this movement is simply not an option — for peace cannot exist where justice is not served.

John Lewis, civil rights activist