“Why does everything have to be about race?” Though not always spoken aloud, this question lives in the minds of many white nonprofit advocates as the field shifts, changes, and hopefully evolves.
One answer to this question is strategic: because our movement will succeed or fail based on how well it embodies the leadership, realities, dreams, and needs of increasingly diverse communities.
RACE AND ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY
Another answer is a moral one: because the conservation movement has historically been white-led, erasing of the experiences and realities of People of Color (POC) communities, and even feeding into white supremacist narratives and movements. So the only way to true healing is by bringing race into the front and center of all of our work.
What does race have to do with “traditional” environmental campaigns like saving animals, trees, mountain tops, rivers, oceans? Everything. Because the social systems that create and perpetuate racism and injustice are the very same ones that have gotten us into the epic environmental and social crises we face.
OUR WORK ON JUSTICE, EQUITY, DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION (JEDI)
For that reason, our commitment is to center conversations about equity and justice in all of our work, and especially in the narratives we build and share. These days we are working harder than ever to focus not only on who receives communications, but also on who creates them, and how cultures can change inside the conservation movement. We are determined not to perpetuate narrow notions of who is qualified to lead environmental communications work, but instead to center the leadership of most impacted communities and their stories.
We are also now providing training and capacity to partner organizations on the Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) journey, informed by our own journey and summed up in a new guide.
TAILORED JEDI TRAININGS
We know from experience that a cookie-cutter training and professional development programs can be counterproductive. Different staff members have different needs. Resource Media is now composed of 50% people of color and 50% white staff and that deep and wide experience range inform what we bring to our partners.
Our white staff haven’t had to confront race every day of their lives, and easily get subsumed into the white organizational cultures of our clients. Our POC staff have vast networks and connections to community, cultural knowledge and history, as well as lived historical trauma that they don’t need to be reminded of from square one every day at work.
So for clients, we offer differentiated trainings and program offerings that honor and center the needs, resources, and joy of their POC staff, while working directly with white staff to identify and shift deep patterns of white fragility and internalized white superiority.
These two things must happen at the same time, because it is never fair to ask POC staff and community members to wait until every white staff member is educated, trained and ready for action before addressing how structural racism shows up in an organization and its work.
We strongly believe that POC staff should not be expected to watch, guide, comment on, give input to and “gut check” the equity learning and journey process of white staff. Beyond that, POC staff are not just damaged people who need space to recover — we are also issue experts, data geeks, community networkers, and creatives with so much to give. More equitable organizations support and nurture all the skill sets of all their employees, and moving toward that goal takes time, commitment, and especially for white staffers, the desire and ability to stay with discomfort on a learning journey.
As fellow travelers on the JEDI journey, we are excited to join with you in a shared orientation toward a just, sustainable world. Take a look at our offerings and let us know if you see something in here that sparks your interest. We’d love to talk with you!
— Sian Wu and Belinda Griswold