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Anti-Racism Resource: Addressing the Multi-Cultural Organization

October 29, 2020
Sarah Natchipolsky

Pt. 4 of Reintroducing the Western States Anti-Racist Organizational Development Tool 

This month, we’re continuing our breakdown of the Western States Center’s anti-racist organizational development tool in an effort to help NJJN members work towards adopting a truly anti-racist advocacy model. As outlined in the Western State Center’s assessment, organizations enter the anti-racist advocacy work at various stages. Last month, we highlighted the “Token” Organization, which characterizes nonprofit organizations that attempt to create equity through diverse hiring practices but fail to alter the white-centric structure of the organization. This month, we’re looking at the “Multi-Cultural” Organization.  

Organizations that fit into the “Multi-Cultural” category are characterized as: 

The Multi-Cultural Organization reflects the contributions and interests of diverse cultural and social groups in its mission, operations, and products or services. It actively recruits and welcomes people of color and celebrates having a diverse staff and board. It is committed to reducing prejudice within the group and offers programs that help members learn more about the diverse cultures that make up the organization. White people in the organization tend to feel good about the commitment to diversity. Like the previous two, however, people of color are still asked to join the dominant culture and fit in.” 

- Western States Center Anti-Racist Organizational Development Resource Book   

The “Multi-Cultural” Organization’s employees and board members are far more diverse than those of the “Token” Organization. However, the “Multi-Cultural” Organization remains similar to the “Token” Organization in that it fails to address the systemic racism at the core of its makeup. Those in charge believe there is a level playing field for all employees yet fail to conduct any sort of power analysis. Reducing prejudice and promoting diversity are the main concerns, but racism itself is typically deemed too uncomfortable to address. The highest paying executive jobs are still occupied by white people, and token decision-making roles are offered to those targeted by the organization’s mission.  

Why should “Multi-Cultural” organizations continue pushing towards anti-racism? 

Striving for diversity and equality are important steps in becoming an anti-racist organization. However, traditional workplace culture dictates that those with the most power in an organization are the ones leading conversations. These people tend to be white, middle to upper class, and not personally impacted by the organization’s mission. This practice is rooted in white supremacy and drowns out the viewpoints of the disproportionately BIPOC communities we’re aiming to help. In order to make meaningful changes, we must reimagine what we consider “normal” in our cultures and allow impacted youth and families to lead the conversation on what youth justice should look like. When we elevate the voices of those from impacted communities, we discover more effective ways to serve youth and understand their struggles and solutions on a deeper level.  

If your organization finds itself in the “Mulit-Cultural” stage, now is the time to examine how systemic racism manifests itself in expectations for staff, who holds the power, and what types of opportunities are offered to BIPOC within your organization.  

Further Reading… 

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