How do systemic racism and other structures of injustice influence our day-to-day work in the nonprofit sector? In organizations that aim to change the world, there can be a presumption of goodness—an overarching idea that our positive intentions are enough. But an intentional focus on equity and inclusion must be at the forefront of social justice work in the nonprofit sector.
The change of seasons is a good time to commit to some introspection and reflection. So consider taking some time to deepen your thinking about racial equity in your organization and the world at large with these fall reads.
1. So You Want to Talk About Race—Ijeoma Oluo
Ijeoma Oluo shares pieces of her life experience as a bi-racial black woman in the Pacific Northwest, written with a simplicity and clarity that you cannot misunderstand. Her delivery is finely honed and aimed precisely so that those of us who most need to learn about the realities of racism, can.
This is not a book to leave on your coffee table like a virtue signal. This book is a call to action, a call to change. If you read only one book from this list, let it be this one.
Notable Quote: "You are either fighting the system, or you are complicit. There is no neutrality to be had towards systems of injustice—it is not something you can just opt out of."
2. Born a Crime—Trevor Noah
Do yourself a favor and get this one on audiobook. Trevor Noah does a superb job as the narrator of his own story about growing up bi-racial in South Africa during apartheid.
He’s a skilled storyteller who manages to take readers on a path through his life that will make them laugh, cry, and pull them back from the darkest experiences in his life to laugh again. This book is a complex study on the interlocking issues that surround racism: poverty, crime, education, mobility, dreams and possibilities. And at the same time, it is a beautifully crafted love letter of appreciation to his mother, showing how just one person can have a fundamental impact on our lives.
Notable Quote: “The genius of apartheid was convincing people who were the overwhelming majority to turn on each other. Apart hate, is what is was. You separate people into groups and make them hate one another so you can run them all.”
3. White Fragility—Robin DiAngelo
Why is it so hard for white folks to talk about racism? Often, these conversations trigger a defensive “not me!” reaction—because racism is bad, and none of us want to be labeled a bad person. DiAngelo discusses racism as a spectrum, and makes suggestions for how to move away from the good/bad dichotomy. Her approach brings a more nuanced view of how we all have a place on the spectrum of racist beliefs and actions.
Notable Quote: “Stopping our racist patterns must be more important than working to convince others we don't have them. We do have them, and people of color already know we have them; our efforts to prove otherwise are not convincing. An honest accounting of these patterns is no small task given the power of white fragility and white solidarity, but it is necessary."
Don’t have quite enough time to read all of these? Watch the video of DiAngelo presenting the content of her book.
4. Children of Blood and Bone— Tomi Adeyemi
Maybe what you’re really looking for is a fiction read while you cozy up on the couch. This debut novel by Tomi Adeyemi is magical young adult fiction–and so much more. It’s an allegory for the police brutality and systemic discrimination that black Americans face.
This story has so many important topics within it: oppression, self-discovery, resistance, community, and chosen family. Nestled within a fantasy novel, we are provided with space and distance to explore these themes without the usual defenses that surround discussions of race.
Notable Quote: “I won’t let your ignorance silence my pain.”
Thinking about how to discuss race equity issues within your organization, or with your colleagues? Check out these activities to help get the conversation going.
Ashley Fontaine is a writer, mental health professional, and former nonprofit executive director. She’s on a mission to eliminate “we’ve always done it that way” from our collective vocabulary by helping leaders focus on possibilities rather than limitations. She believes organizational culture is the key to productivity and staff retention.