How to Avoid Organizing in Blackface

Is the group you work with organizing in Blackface? Are you organizing in Blackface?

If that question grabs your attention, or even if it offends you, that’s the point. This post is for you.

Blackface was and is used to represent a caricature of a Black person. So the question is this: is your organization or group doing anti-oppression work dressed in Blackface? Or are Black people centered in the leadership, decision-making, and action of the organization?

Many people who consider themselves allies to Black people most often organize with predominantly white-led efforts. They include few to no Black or other people of color, and often only attempt to collaborate as an afterthought, or to legitimize their efforts.

Black people have been organizing rallies, vigils, die ins, marches, protests, kickbacks and fundraisers to protect and support our community since enslavement; and we have been a force to reckon with in forcing long term change. You only have to look at laws prohibiting enslaved people from gathering and the massive militarized police presence at our protests to know white supremacy and its systems are afraid. Black people get shit done and everyone knows this (even if they don’t want to admit it).

Marches, rallies, panel discussions, walkouts, protests, study groups- these are the spaces created in whiteness, which Black people are called to anoint- often at the last minute.

Before you invite Black organizers, activists, speakers and change agents to uphold white intention, participate in or support your action or event, ask yourself:

Have we given enough notice?

Black organizations and organizers do not exist to be used or utilized by others. The priority is maintaining and growing capacity for our own work. Last minute requests put the burden to rush the work just to participate, unfairly on the backs of Black people. If you have been working to organize an event for three weeks, contacting Black organizers or speakers 72 hours before the event is not acceptable.

What compensation are we offering?

Black and Brown organizations are supported by people from marginalized communities, which means limited resources. Are you offering honorariums? What about transportation, childcare, food, or trades?

Are we asking Black organizers for sponsorship, money, or things that cost money?

Time is also money. Black freedom fighters typically are not paid for their ideas, work, connections, skills, or time, and it’s become expected that we make that sacrifice. It’s not a given, it’s a choice. We have more than enough right to decline.

Are we perpetuating anti-Blackness in public or private?

Even when Black people are brought to the table, the organizing isn’t equitable, and Black people are expected to support the work publicly; to give it credibility in non-white spaces; to be the face or voice of it; to somehow recruit more Black and Brown people to do the work of the ally. It’s a cycle that results in tokenization?

Are we inviting and including Black and other non-white collaborators in the planning of the event, and allocation of resources?

Non-Black people look to Black people to shepherd them into relevancy. We’re expected to use our stamp of approval on white-led efforts, which makes white people feel good about what they’ve done, even if it doesn’t have authentic impact on Black lives.

Black people determine the relevancy and impact of efforts to organize on behalf of Black lives, no one else.

If you would like to invite Black Lives Matter Seattle to co-sponsor or participate in your event, please email info@blacklivesseattle.org and provide the following information. Please note that requests to participate in events with less than seven days notice may be declined due to scheduling capacity.

Name, phone, and email address for primary contact

Is there a planning committee?

Name of event

Address

Date

Start and end time

Brief description of the event

Current sponsors

Is the event free and open to the public?

Describe the role you want BLM Seattle to have?

Additional information you want to share

We will respond to your email as soon as possible.