Open Letter to Seattle Non-profit Community: Here’s the truth

FB_IMG_1462012326544_1469186762980There is a ledge in Seattle. Not everyone is aware of it. Others are never not aware of it. The largest contingency of your communities prefer to deny or minimize its existence.

It’s the race ledge: racism, discussions about racism, trainings about racism, incidents of racism, the pervasive, covert nature of Pacific Northwest racism, and the unequivocal hypocrisy on race and racism, which black people deal with every single day, right here, in your backyard.

Nowhere is this more true than the realm of not-for-profits that serve Seattle and its surroundings. From arts, to sciences, to social services and the religious, you have some form of social justice or anti-racism language in your mission statement, and perhaps hold trainings throughout the year to further this mission.

This isn’t about the successes. It isn’t about your intentions. This is about your overarching impact in our lives and communities.

We work for and alongside you- black people: men and women, transgender, gender nonconformist, queer, straight, gay or otherwise. Some of us have put in a few years, some of us have put in decades. Many of our families have put in generations. We are black lives that matter.

I come to you now from that ledge, to address head-on a truth you don’t want to deal with: you are failing us.

We know, because we experience it firsthand as your board members, employees, your contractors and consultants, and your clients. You are still more concerned with upsetting your white peers than you are authentically reducing the negative impact of white privilege in our black lives. You still blame black oppression on systemic issues, external and unattached to you, as if you are not what perpetuate those very systems.

You secretly if not unconsciously wish, dream, or believe that things aren’t that bad for black people. Half of you still cling to colorblindness; a wave-the-wand fairytale. But even for those who have evolved past that, it’s still not enough. Not even close.

There are many things suppressing, and worse, exterminating the lives of black people in America, and yes, in Seattle. As your faithful employees and partners, you have always held control of what is and is not okay for us to do, say, discuss or express when it comes to blackness, issues of race, gendered racism, appropriation, revised history, erasure, and consequences of racism. If you feel uncomfortable, we are disempowered to restore your internalized scale of whiteness and power and detachment from active racism.

No matter how diplomatic, eloquent, insightful, gentle or wordy we are, no matter how many “I statements” we use to help you deal with OUR daily realities of racism, and therefore your harmful privilege, you can move the ledge anytime you please, if you don’t approve. We know this every time we walk through the door, and every time we speak on matters of race. Any solid footing we think we have can be revoked.

We are tired of coping and sacrificing for you, without the level of reciprocity we need to actually cope with living daily life in black skin in a city you control.

We have given you the best of ourselves. We’ve helped you grow, strengthened your infrastructures, helped you reach out, network and build relationships with individuals, professionals and communities you otherwise would not have, and last, but certainly not least? We make sure you stay funded.

In return we get the semi-security of a job with a well-intentioned, established organization…but a back that you have nevertheless forced us to bend in that passive, Seattle way that you have mastered, when it comes to the truth of our ongoing battle to survive systemic oppression. And if we make you too uncomfortable with our blackness and your whiteness, well then suddenly, due to termination, unforeseen budget priorities or restructuring- somebody is out of a job, and it’s never you.

We are tired of being tolerated and damn tired of being acceptable. We are absolutely over having the issues specific to anti-black racism, sexism, ableism, diluted in “people of color” rhetoric you believe to be inclusive, but is actually erasure.

We are not people of color, we are black, caste historically and actively as sub-human, unworthy, and absent the presumption of humanity, virtue, value and protection automatically generated by and for whiteness. And yet many of your ancestors fought and died in a war on this very ledge, for the unconditional liberation of black lives. There is no such thing as post-racial, and progress will never actually be enough.

We are tired of having the process of healing the trauma and wounds your society inflicts on us, be replaced with your privileged desire to reflect, learn, and grow. At some point in all of our non-profit careers, we as black people have been forced to act as defacto, uncompensated consultants on race and cultural competency in situations where we have been victimized and harmed. 

We are more utilitarian and skilled at making success out of little to nothing for you and your organizations, than the best pocket knife one could want in survival situations. We are tired of being undervalued, underpaid, or not paid at all because the budget is tight, and yet, you can afford to pay for the work of like-minded, White mindedness, annual parties, or team bonding lunches and happy hours- you pay for what you value. <- could put a full stop right there.

We are tired of you policing our private lives, associations, words and actions, as if it’s more important that people know we work for you, than expressing or addressing the countless ways we experience anti-black oppression and physical, psychological, and emotional racial violence. Hard question: how is that any different than what our enslaved ancestors faced every time they stepped off their master’s plantation to run an errand in town?

The rules then?

 

Be invisible. Do nothing to be noticed or disrupt the privilege of white comfort. Only speak when spoken to. Step off the sidewalk. Avert your eyes. Always hold the door for whiteness to enter or exit first. Represent how well mannered and safe we are.

We are tired of having to figure out how to breathe, exist, present, and express ourselves in terms you prefer. You know anti-racism is a verb, and never static, right? We can work for and with you and speak truth to power at the same time, and in fact, that’s the point of authentic allyship and empowerment of our agency as black people. If you don’t know how to address that with a funder, partner, or member who may be offended or uncomfortable, strike the anti-oppression language from your mission, vision, and strategic plans. Offense and discomfort are in no way adequate excuses, end of story.

We are tired of bringing our full, layered, complex selves to the table of anti-oppression work only to ultimately find ourselves compromised or working with you inside a methodology we know changes the sight, shape, color, taste and smell of anti-black racism, but not the actual wake of destruction racism and white privilege leave in our black lives.

It is things like the anti-oppression language you invoke at every convenience as agencies, organizations, and individuals that is presently causing us to collectively look around and ask, where are you? We are the ones always on the front lines, we have sacrificed blood, sweat and tears, health and sanity, family time and self care — where are you? Dog park? Netflix and chill? Consuming black art in white spaces? (run cold water over burn for 20 minutes, then wrap loosely with a clean bandage. You’re good to go, champ.)

I am inspired by Her Excellency C. Davida Ingram, to pose the following: show us your budget, because our receipts are applicable to several categories. They are color-coded, alphabetized, and in chronological order.

Significantly, they are also outstandingly overdue.

Enough of the static, worthless claims of solidarity. Enough with sitting in your comfort zone and only ever taking authentic action when it helps you justify your claims to allyship, or when funding for your service area is on the block.

Stop crouching behind the wall built on so-called organization relationships when in reality you can step over that wall or knock it down entirely if you so chose, and often do.

If you don’t start putting your money where your mouth is, opening your ears and eyes and taking entirely new steps to reduce the harm caused by racism, then we are never going to summit this peak, and we still have an entire mountain range beyond.

It’s time for you to raise hell, in the name of humanity and justice, for the people you know, the strangers on the streets, the stolen legacies of the dead you hashtag, and the millions of names you will never retain.

Take decisive, impactful action, as organizations and individuals. Give what we can never give to ourselves, because we will never be white, and we will never acquire the privilege necessary to be on equal ground. It is time for you to support and empower our agency, our truths and daily reality, in the fight for true and lasting racial justice and change.

Black Lives Matter is much more than just escaping the on-going, ever increasing body count created by white–minded fear. It’s economic justice, access and empowerment, environmental justice, its education instead of prison, and actual, not-as-defined-by-Vulcan, affordable housing. It’s socially responsible transportation that empowers the economically oppressed, rather than enforcing 21st century redlining, academic segregation, and gerrymandering.

Most of all, it’s about standing with us and for us, because we can’t stand alone, and in many of the spaces you take for granted and have access to, we can’t stand at all.

 

Where are you?  

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Sakara Remmu is a recovering nonprofitaholic and starving writer, speaker and anti-oppression trainer living in the greater Seattle area.Water her wilting garden with a show of economic appreciation and #supportblackwriterswithgreendollars  via Paypal.com using the email address raveneyedesign at gmail dot com.

Every dollar helps keep a roof overhead and the awesome kid she has blazing his trail towards college. For contributing outside PayPal, use the same email address for arrangements. Feedback, dabs, fist pounds, dissenting opinions can be sent to editor at bombmediacompany dot com.

 

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