Racism in the aid industry and international development-a curated collection
This post doesn't aim at duplicating these efforts and focuses specifically on op-eds and other more recent media/community responses related to racism and aid (work) in a narrower sense.
Secret aid worker: there is still racism within humanitarian work
My new curated collection on "Racism in the aid industry & #globaldev" brings together many of the recent excellent articles, op-eds & commentary on how to discuss, think about, become #AntiRacistInAid; I'm also including them as a threadhttps://t.co/Y2bVyZGDfJ— Tobias Denskus (@aidnography) June 18, 2020
Things have changed over the intervening years. Decades of humanitarian and development operations in Africa and Asia have seen national staff progress through organisations. Now it is far more common to meet NGO field office directors from Kenya and India. However, since most INGOs are based and fundraise in Europe or the US, it is perhaps inevitable that the bulk of senior managers originate from there. The aid industry is not even a century old and the coming decades may well see the power balance change.Secret Aid Worker (The Guardian, 18 August 2015).
Development in a Time of Xenophobia
Maybe we don’t want to give any recognition to racist arguments by engaging them directly. But even such a taboo would still require deciding which arguments are racist, so it doesn’t really avoid the issue. We also may be wary of entering a highly politicized world where you demonize opponents as racist, you enforce politically correct language, and you wind up suppressing free speech and academic freedom—as has indeed happened in some other settings confronting racism. But it would also be censorship to refuse to discuss some topics just because they are too politicized in some other settings.William Easterly (Journal of International Affairs, 15 March 2017).
I make the case for the opposite of censorship—there should be more frank discussion on all topics related to racism and xenophobia in development. We should avoid accusations of racism as much as possible and nobody should be self-righteous—including me and this essay, which could be mistaken, unrepresentative, or unfair to others’ work. I simply argue that development ideas (often more in the public intellectual sphere than in the academic sphere) have not been clear enough about what we mean when we talk about different outcomes for different nationalities or ethnic groups, mainly because we fail to articulate a clear theory of groups.
(I contemplated for a while whether to include Easterly's essay here & decided to do it, because it offers food for thought about some of the racialized notions that often underpin development thinking & planning).
Racism is evident when a new idea is only considered legitimate when the white guy in the room offers it. It is at play when local partners’ capacity is maligned. You see it when people of colour are assumed to be less qualified and have lower credentials than they do, and are passed over for jobs, promotions, or pay rises. Stories and images containing harmful stereotypes reinforce it.Rashida Petersen & Jennifer Lentfer (The Guardian, 4 August 2017).
Racism is also at play when only 1% of humanitarian relief funds reach national or local organisations responding to earthquakes in Haiti or in Nepal, or fighting Ebola in west Africa, and when only 2% of humanitarian assistance overall goes to those organisations (pdf) on a global scale.
In response we’ve put together a list of four ways to challenge the structural racism that impedes global development.
We need to talk about racism in the aid sector
No one is blatantly racist to your face. It isn’t overt. But the careless treatment of professional black aid workers by humanitarian aid organisations suggests a hierarchy of worth, with workers from the Global South, especially if they are black, valued the least.Tindyebwa Agaba (Open Democracy, 7 December 2018).
We came to this work naively thinking everyone would be treated equally regardless of race, gender or religious affiliation. It didn’t take us long to discover that equality is a charade in this sector.
Hazardous conditions — black workers more likely to be put in harm’s way.
Housing conditions — better for whites than for black colleagues.
Promotions — white workers promoted over more competent black colleagues with years more experience.
Complaints about these and other injustices — ignored and dismissed.
While the efforts put forth by DFID are important, there is the reality of who wields the real power, which has distorted how international organizations operate. Ignoring these realities while checking the boxes that require more stringent reporting and development of standards demonstrates the reluctance of the aid sector to pay more than lip service. And if the sector is serious about reform, then there must be a commitment to dig deeper and consider how to initiate and cultivate a “culture of care” for local/national staff and aid recipients in country offices that is first and foremost about protecting people before these incidents occur.Angela Bruce-Raeburn (DevEx, 12 October 2018).
A culture of care requires international organizations to open a space for voices that goes beyond the scope of the current country mission. A culture of care puts the development of protection standards into the hands of those who do not hold the power.
It is simply not enough for aid organizations to hire a director of safeguarding or a head of protection to prevent sexual misconduct. That is a fig leaf as it shields the organization from having to do the difficult work of deconstructing then dismantling the core structures of racism and sexism inherent in aid delivery systems.
Inherent in the very concept of aid is race and racism because only in this system can majority white societies with ample resources determine what poor black and brown people need, how much they need, set up the parameters for delivery of what they need, and of course create an elaborate mechanism for monitoring how well they have managed the donated funds to meet their needs.Angela Bruce-Raeburn (DevEx, 17 May 2019).
How many hours have we willingly offered to the mind-numbing monitoring and evaluation tools created in headquarters, without local input, to assuage donors that local aid organizations are diligent stewards of the generous taxpayer dollars of mostly white donors in the developed world?
How White People Conquered the Non-Profit Industry
Any white leader worth their weight in diversity grants can likely, albeit gingerly, provide that answer. They will tell you about their equity working group, or their beautifully worded mission statement, or the rainbow that is their “rockstar” staff. They may even be gracious enough to say that the problem exists in their workplace. However, they will never go further than that — words, quotes, statistics, empty pledges of allegiance to the cause. They will never actually fight the problem in radical, effective ways, for instance by removing themselves from the equation, as that would apparently mean career suicide.Anastasia Reesa Tomkin (Medium, 28 April).
To illustrate this point, take the response of certain non profits to the NYC Mayor’s call for more diversity within the sector. In an article published in Non Profit Quarterly, Steve Dubb begins with this quote: “While about two-thirds of New Yorkers are people of color, two-thirds of the people who run its cultural institutions are white”. He then paints a dismal picture of how that is indeed true, but follows it up with an optimism-tinged summary of the ways some institutions plan to tackle this problem.
On equity in the international development sector — we need more intravists
It is not enough to change our rhetoric and acronyms though: The way we design programs should change too. When you develop indexes and campaign graphics, be sure to reflect the poverty and inequities in America and Europe. Engage black experts in America and Europe, not just in Africa. And in Africa, don’t just make Africans the faces of your programs — pay them to be the brains that lead it.Blessing Omakwu (DevEx, 5 June).
The American context currently weighs heavy on my heart, and my vantage point will always be that of a Nigerian-American woman, but there are several other vantage points to be considered. Organizations like Charity So White are tackling institutional racism within the charity sector in the United Kingdom. Organizations like Population Works have developed courses on decolonizing development. They are two of many. Listen to them. Learn from them. Financially support them.
Is racism part of our reluctance to localise humanitarian action?
But we are clearly still not trying hard enough, and this suggests a deeper reason. We can’t quite bear to share the system with ’them‘. We don’t really trust ‘them’ to get it right. Our colonial ancestors had misgivings about political independence, and so do we. And we like what we do and the rewards and reputation that it brings. Quite simply, we don’t want to give all this away.
Difficult Conversations: Why International Practitioners Must Do More to Address Racism at Home
We have the power to affect change. It is not easy work, but to live up to the principles we espouse and to maintain credibility with our NGO, community, government, multilateral and corporate partners abroad, we must confront the challenge head on at home.Dost Bardouille (CDA Collaborative, June 2020).
Aid workers: It’s time to practise what you preach
The blatant disregard of that one black life is symbolic of deep-rooted injustices, prejudices, and plain racism that filters to many more sectors of our lives in this globalised world. We go to plenty of NGO and UN meetings and conferences where inclusion and equality are buzzwords. On a social level, we mingle at restaurants, offices, gyms, meetings, airports, where the barriers are sometimes genuinely or superficially broken down.Thandie Mwape Villadsen (The New Humanitarian, 8 June).
However, that systematic and institutionalised prejudice, the entitlement to undermine and disregard others because of their skin colour, and make them invisible, is not stuck just in Minneapolis.
White Privilege: Overcoming Denial, Silence and Shame
Don’t look to people of colour to educate you. Recognise the emotional labour involved in this sort of education. It is one thing educating people about human rights abuses when you are not yourself a victim; that has been my work for many years and has often been exhausting. But it is very different for those whose lives are at risk every day from oppression or violence to then go out and tell those from the dominant group in society what they need to do. Particularly when so often, even the nicest and supposedly most receptive audience is likely to take umbrage at the mere suggestion that they might have some responsibility in that system of oppression.Gemma Houldey (Medium, 8 June).
This tendency to look outside ourselves to the subject of oppression also reinforces a division and a narrative that suggests they are some ‘problem’ that needs analysis and examination. We, as white people, remain some dispassionate listener or observer who has nothing to do with their problem.
Power in the Pandemic-Featured voice: Robtel Neajai Pailey on racism in development
Dr Robtel Neajai Pailey is a Liberian academic, activist and author.In this conversation, Maria and Robtel talk about development as a racist construct. They discuss the academization of decolonization, the systems of power and decision-making that uphold racism, and Robtel asks us: how complicit are we all in upholding the notion that whiteness (often geographically equalled to 'northerness') is our only reference of progress?Robtel Neajai Pailey (Power in the Pandemic, 12 June (original recording from 2019).
Recorded last year at the Development Studies Association Conference, where Robtel gave her keynote Speech on Decentering the 'White Gaze' of Development. This discussion is as relevant as ever in the current climate of Black Lives Matter and the anti-racism protests seen all over the world. However, racism in development is not a new issue, so why has it been overlooked?
The hustle — white saviors and hashtag activism
Aid organizations can see need and desperation across the globe. But how many of them acknowledge need and desperation in North America and Europe, and are willing to call for a reimagining of a new system that will erode their power? Aid organizations consistently spout rhetoric about “working themselves out of a job,” and yet many of them have worked in some countries for over 50 years. Is that not failure? Ask the average Haitian citizen how development aid has helped their country 10 years after the devastating earthquake.
It is time to cede the power of rebuilding these vulnerable societies to the people whose lives will be impacted and changed — and you need black women to be front and center. International aid as a sector cannot shirk their responsibilities by pretending that they are unaware of what is at the core of this: anger, fueled by the murder of George Floyd.
"It is the Agency's responsibility to improve hiring outreach, fix our broken talent pipeline, and ensure that incoming and current nonwhite staff have equal opportunities and are paid and promoted equitably to their colleagues," it said.Dan De Luce & Abigail Williams (NBC News, 12 June).
The letter called on the agency leadership to consult with the Departments of State and Defense on how to address the legacy of racism and discrimination and warned that actions were needed and not just words.
"Our adversaries are eagerly exploiting perceived American hypocrisy and fractures in our society; we cannot message our way out of this," it said.
The aid sector must do more to tackle its white supremacy problem
We need a radical rethinking to tackle our own problem of institutionalised racism. It is precisely because we are advocates of human rights that we should expect far more from ourselves than others, seeking reform with a great deal of urgency. We have the tools, expertise and guiding principles that many other industries do not, and if we can acknowledge our blind spots, the opportunity for a great deal of positive change is at hand.Anonymous (The Guardian, 15 June).
Doing good and being racist
As women of colour, we quickly learn that there are two standards for behaviour. I found a culture that celebrated aggressiveness and authoritarian leadership in white males, while simultaneously punishing black females for having the same traits. And so I would constantly self-check and self-police my tone just to avoid becoming somebody’s stereotype on any given day. But that was exhausting, and it eventually took a toll on my mental health.Corinne Gray (The New Humanitarian, 15 June).
Eventually, I gave up.
This is not the moment to further silence the voices of people of colour. This is the moment to amplify them. As they begin to speak openly and freely, let’s resist the urge to tone-police or deny what is a largely shared experience.
Video: How to be Anti-Racist in Aid
The global development and humanitarian aid sector has its own share of issues on racism that remains to be addressed. We believe this is a critical moment to hold a discussion on racism within the aid community.Stephanie Kimou, Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, Naomi Tulay-Solanke & Arbie Baguios (Aid Re-Imagined, 17 June).
Beyond lip service: Tackling racism in your development organisation
Evaluate managers and senior leadership on their actions to address structural inequalities. Career advancement should require leaders to demonstrate their efforts to transform systemic inequities, not only assess their verbal commitment to diversity and inclusion. Do not make the mistake of setting diversity quotas or putting people of colour on the spot to educate their white colleagues or represent their communities. In our industry, we pride ourselves on being able to monitor and evaluate complex issues, so quantifying managers’ meaningful behaviours to support systemic changes should be no different.
Breaking the white gaze in international development involves questioning whose expertise we value, who we listen to, who holds the levers of power and who gets a vote. It involves interrogating the extent to which we appreciate the expertise of black people in our work, including how we work with and centre diaspora communities in development work to recognise these communities have the expertise we should start with.Lena Bheeroo, Leila Billing, Eliza-Helen Ampomah, Pontso Mafethe & Alan Lally-Francis (BOND, 17 June).
It also requires dismantling the ways we construct the communities we work in as “other”, i.e. places overseas with problems and needs, rather than places where solutions are generated and capabilities are in place. And most importantly, it involves transforming power structures so that those holding a seat of power start to look more like the communities where the work is taking place.
In the global health and human rights community, where I sit professionally, there’s been a lot of discussion in the last few years about decolonizing global health. What we don’t talk about explicitly enough, however, is how white supremacy operates in this sector. In many cases, we focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, mentorship, and funding strategies—which are all important. What we don’t talk about is how the structures and operations of our organizations are part of white supremacist culture. We don’t talk about how white people and those who center whiteness, including me, support policies and programs that perpetuate neo-colonialism. I say this even as a woman of color leading an organization with staff who speak multiple languages and come from different backgrounds. White supremacist culture is so powerful, and we are rewarded in so many ways for conforming to it, that we are sometimes blind to its influence.Anu Kumar (Think Global Health, 18 June)
We will test our supporter engagement programmes, looking at whether they build power in diaspora and Black communities and communities of colour, and whether our volunteering offer is inclusive.Save The Children UK (19 June 2019).
We will ensure our people and culture work dramatically improves our diversity and inclusion at all levels of the organisation but particularly at our Executive Director and Director levels, where decision-making power is concentrated. We will set and publicise our June diversity baseline and publish our diversity data every six months. We will break down our data so that we can interrogate the intersections between different characteristics in terms of who joins, stays in, is promoted in our organisation. We will publish on our website our BAME pay gap and commit to narrowing it by the end of the year. We will formalise acting up and stretch opportunities and ensure transparent competition for them. We will introduce a specific leadership programme for communities who are under-represented in Save the Children as a whole, and in particular at leadership level, including Black people and people of colour, working class people and people with disabilities. We will ensure all of our policies and practices, particularly those relating to line management, create the conditions for racism and microaggressions to be raised and resolved.
Is COVID-19 magnifying colonial attitudes in global health?
“I took advantage of those moments of tokenism and turned them into opportunities for a meaningful engagement. That’s kind of the way I describe my decolonizing global health journey,” Guinto said, speaking from Manila where he works on planetary health.Amruta Byatnal (DevEx, 19 June).
Yap Boum, an epidemiologist and the regional representative for Epicenter Africa, the research arm of Médecins sans Frontières in Cameroon, places the onus of ensuring equitable decision making on organizations working in LMICs.
“A lot of the time, organizations are unhappy that their money has been spent without having the results that they were expecting. That happens because they did not engage with the community and also the local government in whatever they want to do,” Boum said.
He also called for setting a narrative that focuses on the need for local knowledge and expertise. He recently wrote about it in the journal Jeune Afrique with 12 other African researchers.
“The idea was that it has to be in those journals, in those fora, so that the African stakeholders, shareholders and the philanthropists see it. If we all make noise and at the end of the day it’s Bill Gates who’s funding our research, it’s hard to say we want to decolonize global health,” he said.
Q&A: Degan Ali on the systemic racism impacting humanitarian responses
Localization is a result of the pushback on these systems — communities and local actors are saying enough is enough, and pushing back on the current system. But there are so many elements where the system is seeped in colonial and racist structures.
The thing is it is hard to have an honest conversation. Most people in the humanitarian world are good people who have good intentions — they see themselves as people who are saviors or have even sacrificed their lives to work in conflict countries and the comforts of their lives in the North to live in a tent. In the humanitarian and aid architecture — particularly those coming from Europe, Australia and New Zealand, this conversation becomes defensive and antagonistic.
People say “I’m a good person.” But that doesn’t mean they’re not racist. They still come into a country and situation with baggage. The KKK and Neo-Nazis are not the only racists, but that is where the conversation goes making it difficult to move forward — there is defensiveness and denial.
Médecins Sans Frontières has “failed people of colour, both staff and patients”, “failed to tackle institutional racism”, and is part of “white privileged culture”, according to a joint statement to staff from its president and an international board member obtained by The New Humanitarian.Ben Parker (The New Humanitarian, 24 June).
#BlackLivesMatter, COVID-19, and the fragility of democratic institutions in America and the West are converging to challenge our assumptions of how we define a crisis.The New Humanitarian (25 June).
The globalisation of vulnerability – made clear by the coronavirus pandemic and a global anti-racism movement – is putting into question traditional conceptions of humanitarian aid, too.
Will this historic moment force a rethink of international solidarity?
Should the current situation in the United States be considered a humanitarian crisis?
How does the language we use around different geographic crises reinforce assumptions about people in those countries?
Is the international nature of aid inherently problematic?
TNH Director Heba Aly posed these questions to panelists from across the aid sector.
If the theoretical work of Black activists is added to our collective knowledge in this area, development would no longer be characterised as a ‘Southern’ issue. It would be a global problem maintained by structural issues that include racism. The fight against poverty would be led by Southern development actors. As the people closest to the issues, they would also be at the forefront of how development is conceptualised and delivered.Natalie Lartey (International Institute for Environment & Development, 25 June).
A Blueprint for Black Lives Matter in the Development Sector
We commit to delivering anti-racist development programmesHannah Ryder (Global Dashboard, 29 June).
1. We will cut prejudice in our outlook by using the principle of universality to challenge perceptions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and paternalism in how our development programmes/projects are designed and delivered (ref: UN SDGs).
2. We will ensure our development programmes are based on diverse evidence from across the world – including from the country in which our headquarters is based and/or where funds are flowing from (ref: Development Reimagined).
3. We will introduce bespoke (i.e. development-related) anti-institutional racism training for all staff (ref: McKinsey).
4. We will aim to collate and use data on all countries in the world on all metrics – no longer using artificial divisions such as developed/developing in evidence and analysis, and/or using categories of Sub-Saharan Africa and MENA, which are not in use by those regions (ref: UN SDGs universality principle).
5. We will ensure a target percentage of business cases/programmes are designed, approved, and evaluated by POCs and report on this target in our annual report (ref: Channel 4 targets for commissioned programmes).
6. We will cancel any panel discussions, dialogues or consultations that do not have a target percentage POC representation on them (ref: Owen Barder’s pledge to no #manels – and #nomorewanels pledge ‘white-only panels’).
7. We will ensure our organisation, country programme/strategies and development programmes clearly outline a responsible and locally empowering exit strategy (ref: INTRAC).
From @hmryder on @GlobalDashboard - a blueprint for Black Lives Matter in the development sector.— David Steven (@davidsteven) June 30, 2020
2⃣ Being a diverse employer
3⃣ Delivering anti-racist programmes
4⃣ Building diverse supply chains https://t.co/kUWW9IGC0e pic.twitter.com/4q5dDMoK2v
(H)ave you ever felt that you’ve lost your motivation to continue to work on these issues or have you ever thought of walking away or doing something else?Angela: All the time. I think about it all the time because if you are a black person, a person of color in this kind of world of development, you must think about walking away all the time. If you don’t, you’re missing something, I think. Because you’re in service of, in my case, I feel that I’m in service of black people. Yeah. I’m in service of brown people in my work. And so if I want to be honest about sometimes some of the challenges of the work, I often think maybe I should do something else. And then I go to some kind of event and I meet a young black woman or I meet a young woman like you, and I go, huh, that’s okay. You know, that’s not so bad. And then I am motivated again to continue, right. So I get motivation all the time from people way younger than me, young women who write to me, but as a field, as a sector, international development is fraught with every kind of anxiety that you can imagine. So I think about it all the time.Safa Shahkhalili & Angela Bruce-Raeburn (Rethinking Development Podcast, 29 June).
The sector needs to unpack the confluence of racism, colonialism, socioeconomic inequality, gender bias, and patriarchy embedded in its power structure. It will do this by listening more, and doing better. Conversations that are happening across the sector now are a good start, as long as they don’t fade from view while sector leadership is pulled away to the next crisis. We need to maintain focus.Doing better means reimagining future states towards a rights-based future that provides opportunity for prosperity for all.Lina Srivastava (Medium, 30 June).
The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement Statement on building an environment free from racism and discrimination
That is why, on behalf of the ICRC and IFRC leadership, we wish to express our firm and unequivocal condemnation of racism in all its forms, and to commit to taking steps toward ensuring an environment free from all discrimination within our Movement. This includes:Jagan Chapagain & Robert Mardini (IFRC/ICRC, 1 July).
- At all levels, working to deliver the individual, structural and cultural change that will ensure no form of discrimination, intolerance or exclusion on racial or other grounds takes place within our organisations.
- Building a supportive, safe and inclusive environment to continue to foster honest conversations around racism and discrimination. This includes encouraging difficult questions to improve mutual trust, respect and acceptance of each other's diversity. It also entails strengthening understanding and support for better practices within the Movement, enabling all to have their voices heard and respected. Working to remove any culture of fear or impunity is an important aspect of this.
- Assisting victims of racism and racial discrimination and working actively with all stakeholders and partners at all levels to create the conditions to ensure the safety of all persons or communities affected by racism or discrimination on racial grounds.
- Ensuring that our institutional frameworks and statutory commitments prevent and strictly prohibit any forms of racial discrimination, and that racism and discrimination are expressly prohibited behaviours in our Codes of Conduct.
- Renewing our commitment to advancing the Fundamental Principles of our Movement, which aim for truly inclusive humanitarian action, and implementing activities that promote a spirit of racial tolerance.
After hosting the event, “How to be Anti-Racist in Aid,” a number of people told me they are re-thinking their career in the aid sector. This critical reflection on our individual place in the grand scheme of things is welcome. Although I would temper this with an acknowledgement that there are precious few professions in the world that do not contribute to perpetuating our current system one way or another. We are in a system after all; and systems are self-perpetuating. Our focus should not be on purifying our individual actions, but collectively demanding and building a better system for our world.Arbie Baguios (Aid Re-Imagined, 3 July).
More productively, as development scholar Olivia Rutazibwa argues, we should not throw the baby (altruism) out with the bathwater (aid’s racist and colonial past), and instead ask ourselves: “What do we keep? What do we throw out?”
Why did we have to employ staff, invest and invent our own due diligence processes for our partner organisations around the world when we knew other colleagues had just completed their own due diligence processes of the same organisation at great expense. Everybody shook their heads in frustration about the inefficiencies, but we still sent our expatriates to fact check their books and accounts. Why is there a difference of approach between large multinationals that received much greater sums of money and local organisations? Why did I have to sign off on duplication of scarce resources to tick boxes that were already checked when the organisation we were assessing was busy actively saving lives? Why is there no urgency to agree a joined up global due diligence system?Alex Carle (LinkedIn, 5 July).
It's time the UN faced up to its treatment of black people like me
At the time, black women and many from the global south asserted that it was disingenuous to speak about the exploitative aid sector without probing the systemic racism. Black people and people of colour, both in the industry and in the countries where most of the aid work is carried out, experience an amalgamation of abuse of power, systemic sexism and white supremacy.Rosebell Kagumire (The Guardian, 6 July).
But little, if anything changed, in the sector. Until George Floyd’s death, which saw an outpouring of solidarity statements with BLM. The very agencies that silenced us now tweet about diversity.
Seeing the new tone from the agencies, I shared my experience of racism in the sector, and several former and current UN employees got in touch.
“They wanted my contribution but not my voice at the table because they wanted me to act like I don’t see the injustice,” said a Haitian former colleague.
But developing countries also continue to accept aid knowing that its impact is often minimal. They are trapped by past colonial transgressions and must tread today’s geopolitical tightropes, leaving them feeling they have little choice but to accept Northern domination of aid.Themrise Khan (Global Dashboard, 7 July).
Southern development professionals also perpetuate the privilege of Northern aid assistance, as they rush to obtain a piece of the project pie. When aid agencies pit one ‘local’ organisation against the other in funding bids, these organisations happily play the game. Recipients do not want aid to end either and play an almost equal part in allowingthe sector to run riot with our countries’ social and economic resources.
Even when there are calls for the ‘localisation’ of parts of the development sector, the power imbalances are maintained. Because localisation never comes with a genuine commitment to letting go of the ‘internationalisation’ dimension of aid.
The statement accused MSF of failing to acknowledge the extent of racism perpetuated by its policies, hiring practices, workplace culture and “dehumanising” programmes, run by a “privileged white minority” workforce.Karen McVeigh (The Guardian, 10 July).
Addressed to senior management and colleagues, the letter calls for an independent investigation into racism within the organisation and for urgent root and branch reform to dismantle “decades of power and paternalism”.
My concern is that addressing the issue of racism in the aid industry won’t go far enough. The language of anti-racism can and will be co-opted by corporate processes – the endless round of training courses, workshops, and conferences that all of us are familiar with. So although I can’t imagine the decolonisation of aid without aid organisations becoming anti-racist, I can imagine an anti-racist aid organisation that does not work towards the decolonisation of aid. In fact, I can imagine the opposite: an anti-racist aid organisation that continues to operate as an unwitting extension of empire.
(...)Yet if anti-racism is framed in distinctly American language, and while the US – despite its rapid decline – is effectively the only remaining imperial power, exporting that language to other contexts risks extending the cultural hegemony of the US.
In the original version of this article, I had a sentence in which I referred to the books which had informed my views. We cut that line out of the final version, but here's a thread on some of the thinkers who influenced Young Paul. https://t.co/Bz0BhBGd64— Paul Currion (@paulcurrion) July 14, 2020
The Thomson Reuters Foundation asked 24 non-government organisations (NGOs), charities and United Nations agencies how many racism complaints they received in the past year, and if staff had faced disciplinary action in the past five years.
Seven would not respond to questions or share data, a further eight said they had received no reports of racism against employees over the last year, while four said it was not possible to obtain clear data.
Only five organisations confirmed they had dealt with racism complaints and provided numbers.
Aid workers campaigning against racism said they did not believe the numbers reflected the true extent of the issue.
Christou says it's time for a total revamp:Nurith Aizenman (NPR Goats and Soda, 15 July).
"Being clearly anti-racist in this organization is not just about dismantling and overcoming all these barriers that may have been created over all these years," he says. "It's about rethinking the humanitarian model: The whole way of distributing the decision-making power and also the resources."
As a start, on Thursday he is convening a meeting of the international board to vote on a range of measures — including setting metrics for progress that will be regularly monitored.
But how much of this talk will translate into a new reality on the ground?
How does a chief executive apologise for racism?Angela Bruce-Raeburn (The New Humanitarian, 16 July).
Doesn’t this organisation owe more to the Black and brown women whose courage was key to exposing this and other racist workplaces? Aren’t they owed more than an apology from the CEO? The collective trauma of Black women can be tended to much the same way that one strokes a pet – absent-mindedly and without forethought.
No Black woman chief executive would have survived allegations of racism, tokenisation of minorities, or creating a toxic work culture, especially in an organisation whose mission is the protection and safeguarding of women. No male CEO would have survived accusations of a culture of sexual harassment and discrimination. Donors would have called for their heads, and the board would have raced to appease them.
A principled interpretation of impartiality entails fostering more equity, over equality, in providing protection and assistance to affected people. For humanitarian action to be equitable and anti-racist, it is necessary to acknowledge that neo-colonial issues of racism and compounded inequities gripping communities all over the world extend to the humanitarian sector as well. Without this understanding, we are building on quicksand, trying to transition to being anti-racist, for example, whilst clinging to structures that can be perceived as racist. Instead, we must forge a new path towards ‘power with’ humanitarian action, working with people affected by conflict and violence and elevating work focusing on diversity, inclusion and accountability.Saman Rejali (International Review of the Red Cross, 16 July).
A reckoning requires civil society to turn away from bureaucracy and undertake a revolution in our demands and approaches. Imagine building a movement of solidarity in which NGOs and other civil society groups from the Global North and South used their power to wage strikes against the top policy-makers, donors and international agencies until serious reforms were implemented?Degan Ali & Marie-Rose Romain Murphy (Open Democracy, 19 July).
Imagine if we came together to organize a million-person march in New York and across capitals throughout the world during the next UN General Assembly, demanding permanent UN Security Council restructuring including the removal of veto power? Imagine if our silos and parallel movements at last found their common ground in fighting for justice and equality, and jointly fought for structural change that shifted control to communities?
During my time working with the organisation, I realised MSF didn’t see this issue as I did. They didn’t see this as important for real empowerment of the communities they serve. When I raised the point of working with the diaspora, this was not fully acknowledged, explored or supported. And that’s okay, it was 2014. Very little changed over the years, and the underbelly of the humanitarian sector’s whole USP is structural racism. I left the sector because even my 2-year MPA degree from the LSE, and experience working for MSF in the field, wasn’t enough to become an non-medical expat. I met plenty of volunteers who were in the field with much less experience, no to disrespect to them.So I left the organisation, and every time a black person asked me if they should apply for roles in the organisation, I encouraged them to try. But I also encouraged them to be prepared for racially motivated decisions. That there still aren’t many black people in the office and people still experience racism, racial gaslighting and traumatic experiences in the office.Dalia Majongwe (LinkedIn, 20 July).
“Our African colleagues”: On the limits of diversity in development
The shift from shallow to deep diversity is not a luxury for the development sector but a necessity. To be relevant, they need to understand the communities they seek to serve and the contexts in which they operate. And to be effective, they must put the expertise of those who know the terrain intimately at the very heart of what they do.Faten Aggad (African Arguments, 21 July).
Fortunately, this realisation is growing in the sector. The modus operandi of foreign “experts” flying in to provide technical advice is no longer as acceptable, and local involvement is increasingly becoming a requirement. So many Western-driven prescriptions have been seen to fail, while Africa’s own knowledge ecosystem has been growing exponentially.
The Privilege of Control
In a textbook display of privilege, agencies within the sector have assumed the capacity to act as both defendant and judge or jury. Defining the boundaries of how they will talk about addressing their racism marks an appropriation, so for instance deciding to look forward but deflecting accountability for the present or the past. Angela Bruce-Raeburn asks the question that is erased by these declarations: “Can a chief executive ‘apologise’ for racism and stay?” This is a particular exercise of privilege, because it both masks and is a product of our virtue. As I’ve written before, the legitimacy of the sector is challenged by its susceptibility to moral licensing, allowing its good works to facilitate or counterbalance bad stuff. We downplay the offense and then rationalize our actions. Why such persistent difficulties with community engagement, localisation or ‘downward’ accountability? Because we justify our inaction and allow our racism to hide in the plain sight of “power over” policies or practices of knowing what is best for them. Move fast fast fast and you do not notice.Marc DuBois (Humanicontrarian, 21 July).
This discussion has been forced by #BlackLivesMatter - this is not a discussion humanitarian/ Aid orgs have encouraged or made space for - let’s be clear about this. It’s change from the outside that’s shaking the foundations of the aid sector. #GetToWork #DecoloniseAid #Aid https://t.co/JZqHZ29gnp— Shaista Aziz (@shaistaAziz) July 21, 2020
Doctors Without Borders is admitting it's got a racism problem, after more than 1,100 current and former staff wrote a letter demanding changes. pic.twitter.com/bFp0R6Ld6i— AJ+ (@ajplus) July 23, 2020
Ultimately, even white people need to know, not just in their heads but in their bones, their hearts and in their bellies that ending white supremacy is part of our own liberation. Not because we haven’t benefited hugely from the privileges our societies and this oppressive system have offered us, but because at the end of the day, these privileges do nothing to connect us to our own humanity, our sacredness or our capacity to be part of change.Mary-Ann Clements (Medium, 23 July).
For that, we need to cultivate the very things white supremacy has suppressed in us. And getting them back requires us to be willing agents of change, ready to build our capacity to be part of building a new culture in our organisations and our lives that commits to anti-racist practice for the long-term and allows that commitment to affect everything about how we live and do our work.
Said immediately turned the issue around: Could you please provide me evidence of your competence? This question ended the courtship. For the staff person from the Western NGO, it was self-evident that their organisation was competent, and to ask the question was insulting and communicated a lack of seriousness on the part of the person from the Southern NGO. But Said was making a subtle yet profound point: it is insulting for the Western aid agency, and it is equally insulting to him. And if it is a fair question to ask of Southern aid agencies, it is a fair question to ask of Western aid agencies, especially because so many evaluations of humanitarian operations have raised serious questions about their competence and professionalism. If Western agencies are serious about confronting the institutionalised racism in the sector and how they contribute to it, they should start by considering how race is baked into their assumptions and biases about competence and who is superior and who is inferior.Michael Barnett (ALNAP, 28 July).
This is well-worth a watch, from @StephKimou’s 4 steps to decolonizing aid to @DeganAli’s argument against localisation, and @HSlim_Oxford questioning whether neutality is necesaary for humanitarianism. I’ll be chasing you all up for Op-Eds! https://t.co/i43U7iA41e— Heba Aly (@HebaJournalist) July 29, 2020
- We are not People of Colour, or Women of Colour. This means we are not acknowledging white as a colour. We are all in this together as development practitioners, scholars, academics, students, managers etc. Do not distinguish us being “outside” your scope of vision. It’s a clear form of “othering” to use a common Western academic term. Also, in our countries, we are all coloured. What do you call us then? This is specifically for Western contexts and it shows that you are living in a bubble.Themrise Khan (La mehdood, 2 August).
- We need to lobby our own governments to do better by us, not by foreign powers. Our own organizations must come up with new ways to generate our own revenue and not bid for foreign aid packages. Otherwise it makes us no different from the corrupt states we so love to decry.
- We who have worked tirelessly to engage our own communities in fighting against poverty and oppression, will not sell out to a foreign donor because of “partnership”. Once you sign on the dotted line, you have no power in your decisions.
It’s time to put an end to supremacy language in international development
But whichever language we use, the words we select have ‘steering effects’ on roles and relationships, power differentials, and how activities and priorities get valued or ignored. At present, the many familiar terms and concepts in common use don’t set the stage for community-led development. They preclude co-creation among equals by impeding the recognition of people as experts of the own worlds, skewing power dynamics, and eroding the potential of independent, self-directed collective action.Ann Hendrix-Jenkins (Open Democracy, 4 August).
Degan Ali on how Black Lives Matter is also a reckoning for foreign aid and international NGOs
Local civil society organizations (CSOs) or non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are the frontline workers, risking their lives to access areas that well-funded international NGOs or even UN agencies cannot access. However, critics of the current system claim that the local NGO is often the sub-contractor and not a real partner that is allowed to contribute to the design of the project. If something goes wrong in the process, that local NGO is blacklisted, not the UN agency or the international NGO that received the funding.Degan Ali & Dan Banik (In Pursuit of Development, 5 August).
I've seen first-hand the toxic racism in international women's rights groups
Re-threading some podcasts viz. anti-racism in the aid sector. These are long-form interviews on what career paths, barriers and proud moments have looked like for folks from global South (and/or minority backgrounds). (1/n)— Ian D. Quick (@ian_d_quick) August 11, 2020
After working with international feminist organisations for more than a decade, I can attest that racism is prevalent in the sector. White women occupy the majority of leadership and decision-making roles. Black and brown colleagues are subjected to microaggressions and toxicities, ranging from awkward to harmful. This should be unacceptable in any workplace, let alone one whose aim is to end poverty, misogyny, and discrimination.Lori Adelman (The Guardian, 17 August).
I didn’t express my true feelings – such as my sense that I was continually navigating institutional racism or that a learning and development team responsible for over 10,000 staff with so little diversity could only be defined as colonial. I settled instead on advocating within and outside the team on the more “politically correct” need to focus our efforts on localising our initiatives and processes. My message always seemed to be met with extended sighs.
In the meantime, my main project – to open up the digital learning platform to everyone, including national staff – had run into problems: Vendors had been slow to finish, and MSF’s own approval systems for access to online programmes were segregated, based entirely on whether one was a “national” or “international” employee. That meant that one could not easily create an open learning website that could be readily and equally accessed by all. To begin the authorisation process, you needed to identify yourself as MSF defined you: Are you international or national? Are you us, or are you them?
Systems of oppression are built to hide behind good intentions and better excuses and to sneak into even the best places. The humanitarian world is no different. What is difficult to accept is seeing it simmering under the surface of organisations that do great good and have good intentions but fail when it comes to this particular side of their culture and behaviour.Tammam Aloudat (Geneva Solutions, 23 August).
I am uncertain at what it will take to change things. The debates and reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement and the organic voice of people in the humanitarian sector are making it difficult to deny the problems. A set of cosmetic solutions that change little in the long run is still the risk.
The humanitarian sector will find it difficult to face the problems of the coming era: political turmoil, advanced conflicts, the climate crisis, emerging diseases, widespread migration, and brutal capitalist exploitation if we do not deeply examine where we stand and what we should be. This is not likely to be done by directors and consultants alone; without the genuine voice and participation of those most affected, the change that will save us is unlikely to materialise.
The report concludes that racism is endemic in Dfid’s headquarters and a network of offices abroad. “At best it is denying equal rights to BAME staff and at worst enabling toxic and hostile environments,” it says.Rajeev Syal & Jim Waterson (The Guardian, 26 August).
“Whilst many BAME men reported a real commitment to the work of Dfid, they also reported feelings of fear, disillusionment, anger and damaging impacts on their confidence and mental health.
“Almost all respondents felt that the organisations’ work on diversity and inclusion had little or no impact and some felt it was going backwards.”
A department source claimed that since the report was published, the department had organised discussions with BAME men to determine possible changes and had created a working group to address racism and equality in the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
Readers React-Racism in the aid sector and the way forward
In my work for an international aid organisation for seven years, something that shocked me was the internalised racism and how well supported it was by the HR system. People of colour would actively seek new staff and interns from specific high-cost universities in the US or Switzerland, passing over or actively excluding people who attended universities in their own countries. It’s hard to get a start in this industry and we put up barriers to people who are not well-off white people from day one. And when people of colour, national staff, support these types of hiring strategies they are seen as making wise decisions, because to back your own people would be seen as nepotism or charity. Nevermind that the whole system at the top is built on nepotism, which we are obliged to call “networking”.The New Humanitarian (11 September).
A hard look in the mirror: Reflecting on racism and whiteness in the development sector
A key message that returned, in one form or another, in all conversations was the idea that racism in the development sector is very real, highly complex, and inextricably intertwined with the way in which funding and aid in general are organised That is, with development organisations and donors in the North still being in a position of power. Therefore, a final spot that we should examine is the power-dynamics that continue to define the development sector. To help in this endeavour, the power analysis tool developed by Partos’ Shift-the-Power-Lab was pointed to as very useful. The tool has been designed to make power imbalances more visible, enabling organisations to analyse and reflect on power relations. Likewise, donors and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should pick up a mirror as well and critically look at what they can do to change long-standing power imbalances and im- or explicit form of racism within their organisations.Kiza Magendane & Yannicke Goris (Partos, 24 September).
Benchmarks and peer reviews must therefore demonstrate that cutting edge research and policy thinking is decolonised. Race cannot be lazily dismissed as an epiphenomenon. Equally, we need to understand race in the context of planetary problems including sustainability, collective prosperity and justice. A more granular understanding of the origins of racism and its negative impact on a better future is the only permanent way to end its relevance in behaviour, thought and action.Kathryn Nwajiaku-Dahou & Carmen Leon-Himmelstine (ODI, 5 October).
Inside Geneva: Aid agencies face racism accusations
In this episode of our Inside Geneva podcast: Geneva-based humanitarian aid agencies are soul searching as they stand accused of institutional racism. What's behind the accusations, and how are they being addressed?Imogen Foulkes (Swissinfo International Geneva, 6 October).
As some kind of 'P.S.' I am also including a few key academic texts on the subject of race/racism & international development:
This paper challenges the dom inant ‘colour-blind’ stance ofdevelopment, arguing that the silence on race is a determining silence, whichboth masks and marks its centrality to the development project. The aim of thepaper is to set out a basic framework for exploring this further. Noting manycontinuities with colonial formations, it identifies three critical dimensions ofdevelopment which need to be interrogated: its material outcomes; its techniquesof transformation; and its modes of knowing. Its analysis of race emphasises th ediversity of understandings and the fluidity between them which underlie boththeir potential for transformation and their resilience. Following Omi andWinant’s work on the USA, development is suggested to comprise a process ofracial formation, made up of a vast range of diverse and contradictory racialprojects which link the meaning of ethnic, racial and national identities tomaterial entitlements.Sarah White (Third World Quarterly, 2002).
Critiquing ‘race’ and racism in development discourse and practice
These articles explore how racialized forms of power and inequality build upon this foundational distinction between the ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ and draw attention to the various, unspoken assumptions about‘race’ that underpin some of the key ideological bases of development thought and practice.Additionally, they identify the need for further exploration of the subtle manifestations of racism within international developmentUma Kothari (Progress in Development Studies, 2006).
The elephant in the room: racism in representations, relationships and rituals
Racism touches many of the relationships created by the international developmentindustry, but has been largely ignored by policy and academic studies. Like its historical precursors,it is in conversation with other forms of inequality based on class, gender, ethnicity and caste.Generalized representations of ‘racial’ groups are pervasive and can be trivial in impact. But whencombined with exclusionary social networks and rituals, and used to justify white-dominatedpower structures, the result can be systematic discrimination against people based on their racialidentity. With examples from encounters between staff working in development in internationalagencies, networks, governments and national organizations in Latin America, Africa and Asia,we illustrate how racism is played out. We suggest that such observations emphasize the needto decentralize power to the South and that the subject deserves more thorough investigation.Emma Crewe & Priyathi Fernando (Progress in Development Studies, 2006).
Race, Racism and Development-Interrogating History, Discourse and Practice
Race, Racism and Development places racism and constructions of race at the centre of an exploration of the dominant discourses, structures and practices of development. Combining insights from postcolonial and race critical theory with a political economy framework, it puts forward provocative theoretical analyses of the relationships between development, race, capital, embodiment and resistance in historical and contemporary contexts. Exposing how race is central to development policies and practices relating to human rights, security, good governance, HIV/AIDS, population control, NGOs, visual representations and the role of diasporas in development, the book raises compelling questions about contemporary imperialism and the possibilities for transnational political solidarity.
Race and a decolonial turn in development studies
This paper reviews and revives a longstanding conversation about race and development studies, which was prominently explored in a collection of papers on race and racism in the journal Progress in Development Studies back in 2006. This revival is timely in the context of a global call to decolonise higher education. Given the central logic of race and racism in European colonialism, and the decolonial argument that colonialism continues in the production and value of knowledge, I examine the presence and absence of race and racism in discussions of decolonising higher education and in development studies. Through a systematic review and content analysis of papers published in six major development studies journals over the past 13 years, I identify where and how race is present in current development scholarship and explore the implications of this for a decolonial turn in development studies.Kamna Patel (Third World Quarterly, 2020).