by Neta Meltzer
Communications & Development Coordinator, CCASA
In conversation this week with my colleague, Josh, he said something that stuck with me hours after I’d left the office for the day.
“Knowledge is power, but more than that, knowledge is responsibility.
Similarly, privilege is power, and we must realize that with privilege comes responsibility.”
This insight was offered to me shortly after I’d read through the 2017 report from the Building Movement Project, Race to Lead: Confronting the Racial Leadership Gap.
The report did what we in the anti-violence field spend so much of our time doing – myth-busting. The researchers took commonly held beliefs and myths about the reasons for lack of diversity in nonprofit leadership and replaced those myths with facts. In a survey of over 4,000 respondents, participants were asked about their “personal and organizational background, their future career plans, the development and support of their leadership, and their perceptions on leadership and race in the nonprofit sector.” The findings demand our attention.
The report found that there was no significant difference in background, qualifications, skills, or preparation for leadership roles between white respondents and people of color. Further, people of color expressed more interest in leadership roles than white respondents. But the report indicated a number of barriers to advancement that disproportionately affected POC respondents – the role that their race or ethnicity can play in limiting their professional advancement, the frustration of being expected to represent their communities, the need for role models and the lack of strong social networks in their field, and the struggle to form relationships with fundraisers, to name a few. All of these hurdles speak to a system that isn’t working. And respondents, regardless of race, all agreed that the lack of diversity in the highest levels of leadership in the nonprofit sector is a systemic problem that must be addressed. The report concludes: “Overall…respondents, especially people of color, agreed…that executive recruiters don’t do enough to find a diverse pool of qualified candidates for top-level nonprofit positions.”
As I was reading this research, I was struck by the parallels between these struggles and our fight to create a world free from sexual violence. There are well-intentioned programs out there that focus on providing opportunities for communities of color to access training and resources, but they forget to establish the expectation that those in positions of power and leadership take tangible action steps to address this issue. It feels like the kind of victim-blaming our society engages in in order to distance ourselves from the hard work and responsibility of dismantling rape culture.
Just as we work to teach our communities that sexual violence is never the victim’s fault, that it is our responsibility as a community to create a safer world for everyone, we must also be reminded that the work of liberation cannot be placed solely on the shoulders of the oppressed. Leaders, individuals with privilege – it’s time to take action.