The Non- Profit Industrial Complex

  • What is the impact of this dynamic on the woman of colour in the organization?

  • What is the impact of this dynamic on the organization?

  • What is the impact of this dynamic on the community sector at large?

Looking back at the experiences I've had working in for and non profit companies I've come to realize it wasn't me. Last week I had a conversation with a colleague about why I structured BIPOC STAHC as a horizontal agency. We discussed our similar experiences working for and within white agencies, this does not mean that there are not folks of color leading these orgs, it just is a term I will use here for organizations that operate under historically systematically structured white agency. As our discussion progressed it occured to me that it wasn't me and when I finally made the decision 10 years ago to stop working for agencies that are not only hierarchical but operate with white agency infrastructures it was my intuition guiding that decision due to the many hurtful and painful experiences I had experienced trying to climb 'the ladder of white success.' After our conversation she sent me this model and it hit home. I wanted to explore these ideas in more depth from my own personal point of view.

When women of color enter into a binding commitment to serve as tokens or just accept a job position, they are usually accepting the job because it will not only better their lives but the lives of their communities, which is a very different perspective from which eurocentric folks accept positions in organizations. You see, more times than not, women of color are coming more from the concept of being leaders in their communities and have experienced way more outsider moments than their white counterparts. As for me this was the case. It took a great deal of effort and struggle for me to attain my degrees and I knew when I was aiming for graduation that with those two pieces of certification (my BA and MA) I thought I would be able to situate myself in a position within companies in which I could enact change. At the time of entering the job market I was delusional about the direct effect my race identity as an african american women would play. I was eager to be 'the change' I wanted to see in the world not recognizing that that change was not in alignment with my white colleague counterparts. It took me decades to understand what I thought it was that 'I was doing wrong.' Until, one day I woke and said, 'I can't do this anymore.' I started to unpack what that really meant for me. That took another decade as I plugged along in trying to start my own business working part time for others and part time for myself.

It wasn't until I was able to launch full time into working for myself that it occured to me, 'all along I thought it was me.' Which, now looking back I realize that there was actually nothing 'wrong,' with me and that it was the actual structure in which I had been operating that was the problem. As I started to unpack my experiences I started to gain more confidence not only in myself but in my abilities to recognize these traps. The stronger I became in my own skin and ability to be able to understand that race dynamics are front and center in every company in America, the more I could see that it never mattered 'what' I did only that I 'existed.' So what is this 'not me?' thing that I am talking about?

First, lets look at the the first question in detail:

  • What is the impact of this dynamic on the woman of colour in the organization?

My first real position after obtaining my Masters degree in Organizational Systems Renewal was as a Youth Leaders of Promise Coordinator. At the time I couldn't believe that they even gave me the job but soon after realized that as the only person of color on the team that the decision to hire me had a lot to do with me being black, even though I couldn't see it at first. I thought that it was my skill set or that I could 'speak white' or maybe 'the way I carried myself.' For the first year I was a force to be reckoned with shifting agency and working statewide with high school principals to build teenage leaders within their high schools. I was eager to 'do my part.' I was passionate about seeking out underrepresented youth and launching them into their ideal careers as leaders in their fields. There was a sort of happiness that came when I saw a youth have a light bulb moment around realizing that they too had the power to change the world and become a leader. The position was one I was so passionate about and deeply found gratification for.

It wasn't until I started to question the agency in which I was working about the impacts of having only one person of color on staff that my problems started to arise. After a year I started to feel unheard and silenced by many in the organization even though in side conversations I felt that they understood my plight. But in ur main group staff meetings Iwas being targeted and judged for having 'the other position' in terms of identity politics. I felt like a guinea pig, as if being tested on and forced to 'just go with the flow,' which went against everything I believed not only for the youth I was serving but for the community that I had come from. It was like I had too much power, too much agency and that was not why they hired me. Towards the end of that position I started to realize that I was hired to 'fill' a gap, that the agency had not been able to garner. To be able to attain grants and 'look like' they were catering to communities of color, I was hired as a token. When I started to push back on that concept is when all my challenges within that organization started. At the time I had not even known that that was what I was doing. I had thought I was just trying to