8 Ways People of Color are Tokenized in Nonprofits

6. You use People of Color as your mouthpiece and shield against other People of Color.
Going back to the HBO show Insecure, there’s an episode where Molly, a Black attorney at a prestigious law firm, is approached by her White senior partners to speak with Rasheeda, a new Black intern, about not fitting in with their “corporate culture.” Beyond the dangers of People of Color not code switching to fit into White culture, the episode also shows the practice of Whites in power seeking People of Color to act as mouthpieces or shields against other POC. This to me is the most heart-breaking type of tokenizing as it pits POC against each other.  The reality is that the tokenized POC has no more power than before, with the racial hierarchy remaining the same and leaving issues of race “at our level” for POC to mentally fight it out amongst ourselves.

7. You give more money to White-led nonprofits, even when the nonprofit is focused on People of Color.
Of course, individual donors and foundations have the right to focus their giving on whatever cause they choose. But if you choose to invest your dollars in White-led nonprofits centered on non-White group or groups (refugee services, “inner-city” youth, overseas humanitarian aid, immigrant and civil rights, affordable housing, low-income minority workers, etc.), then you are doing the opposite of empowering POC Despite the obvious hypocrisy, there is still a trend for funders to give most of their dollars to minority-serving nonprofits led by Whites. Nonprofits led and operated by POC are literally given token amounts of funds compared to White-led groups. I did a (highly unscientific) study a few years ago in Guidestar of nonprofits focused on “immigrants” or “refugees,” and found in my search that the highest funded groups were headed by White people (mostly men). Funding makes the nonprofit world go round, so POC leaders and POC-led causes will remain systematically underrepresented and underfunded as long as #tokenizedfunding continues unchecked.

8. You intuitively know the nonprofit space would benefit from more People Of Color leaders, but you don’t really know why.
This last reason goes to the heart of how even well-intentioned, White nonprofit leaders may inadvertently tokenize POC. I have had the benefit of working with many amazing White nonprofit workers and philanthropists over the years, all of who get the importance of recruiting, hiring and supporting more POC in nonprofit leadership. Many of these folks have read Ta-Nehisi Coates, can quote Martin Luther King, Jr., believe that mass deportation is a human rights violation and that Black Lives Matter. They have been to trainings on racism and proudly voted for Obama. But that’s the problem. The focus when thinking of race has been on us, the Other, vs. you and your own community. And yes, even if you don’t wear white sheets on your head or carry tiki torches in Virginia, that is part of White American culture that all Whites need to grapple with as a community, rather than immediately washing your hands clean of it and joining a local BLM or Women’s march.  Just as many POC have done, our White colleagues need to look critically and without shame at their own generational history and trauma, the residue of White supremacy that persists in a country built on slavery and the construct of Whiteness, and the ways it permeates your thoughts and behaviors.

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