On June 8, 2020, Funders Together CEO Amanda Andere gave the following remarks on the National Low Income Housing Coalition's weekly national call as a part of their response to COVID-19.
I want to acknowledge that Black people in our movement are hurting - in ways that feel both the same and new. We are hurting because the system is not broken, but rather is working just as it was designed by white supremacist slave-owners on stolen Indigenous land to protect their interest. And because of that, we have been unable to fully breathe for more than 400 years.
I hope in recognition of the pain and exhaustion of your Black colleagues and colleagues of color, that white leaders are creating space for them to grieve and not putting the burden on them, or them alone, to resource and lead the work of racial equity and creating anti-racist policies and culture in your organization and communities.
I know the focus right now is on the police and George Floyd, and on individuals like the ones who publicly lynched Ahmaud Arbery. But, we, as a movement to end homelessness and housing poverty, must realize we are complicit in the structural and historical racism that suffocates our country. The lack of basic housing and health resources contributes to the violence and death of Black people and people of color. And even the good-intentioned way we work to achieve housing stability can still deny access to Black and Indigenous people to fully live their lives free from their historical oppression. Racism isn’t a bug. It’s a carefully designed chip that powers the whole operating system.
We can’t water down the reality of white supremacy, anti-Blackness, and systemic racism in order to default to the comfortable space of diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the housing and homelessness movement, we often mistake equality for equity and think that if programs or polices serve people who are Black and brown that they will achieve racial equity or justice through more programs and resources. To be anti-racist, we have to do an impact analysis of what got us here and work to change those structures, not just add more money to the problem and contribute to the layer cake of racism where we put seemingly good policies and resources on top of structures that were designed to oppress Black and Indigenous people.
As this post by the YWCA USA says: "There is a fundamental misunderstanding that racism manifests only in the segregation of races and that if we welcome people of color into workplaces or communities, they will begin to filter up through the system, eventually rising to the tops of our organizations, magically bringing equity and peace along with them. This is a lovely, but misguided—and intentionally naïve vision of what racial equity and racial justice could be. This vision fails to address the history of racism that exists in the ways in which we bring people of color together and exploit their labor, resources, and bodies. Moreover, racism is embedded in the framework our society and lives within all our systems, and thus cannot be defeated through interpersonal and institutional efforts alone.”
I can’t tell you how to address anti-Black racism or be anti-racist in the length of this post. But I can tell you what we are doing now is not working.
Anti-Blackness is defined as the debasement of Black humanity, indifference to Black suffering, and denial to Black people’s right to exist. Anti-Black racism is prejudice, attitudes, beliefs, stereotyping or discrimination that is directed at people of African descent and is rooted in their unique history and experience of enslavement and colonization.
Start with the framing of Anti-Black racism as you examine every crevice of your organization, its policies, and the policies you promote. Are you dismantling anti-Black racism, or is your work neutral to it? And by being neutral does it just continue to enable our structures to do what they were designed to do?
The master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house, and we have to confront the reality that the housing movement has just been putting window dressing on the master’s house.
I heard this recently: transformation is not just a transformed or different outcome. It means transforming the process in the way we make decisions and prioritize resources. It’s the literal transformation of power. How are you giving up power to Black and Brown folks, especially people with lived expertise?
Lastly, I am often asked what we can do now. What is the low-hanging fruit? I offer this quote to you:
“There is no low-hanging fruit. The tree is 400 years old and the roots are deep. These trees are deeply rooted in racism and the fruit they bear is rotten. We have to plant new seeds and toil new soil.” - Aisha Alexander-Young, Vice President for Strategy and Equity, at The Meyer Foundation