Even though protests have left the headlines, Black and minoritised communities have not stopped fighting for their lives for one single second.
Disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in the recent UK January peak, our communities are still drowning in untold grief. Levels of poverty, domestic violence and critical mental health have increased. Our Black siblings are still mourning and grieving from the onslaught of police brutality that has not eased up even for one day. Funding donated in response to the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement to multiple Black and minority community-led organisations in May 2020 is soon coming to an end. At the same time, the force and funding of the Metropolitan Police has increased. Were funders’ commitments made to communities last year genuine, or merely for the sake of appearance?
The Ubele Initiative derives its name from the Swahili word for ‘the future’. We are an African diaspora-led intergenerational social enterprise founded in 2014 with the purpose of helping to build more sustainable communities across the UK. Ubele has been developed through a bottom-up, community-based approach.
The Ubele Initiative released The Booska Paper on 21 April 2021. It exposes structural racism in the third sector and explores the impact of the pandemic on funding attitudes in the UK. It highlights the crisis of confidence experienced by Black and minority communities, which is accompanied by feelings of not deserving funding even when they need it; a culture of competition being bred; diversity and inclusion efforts being confused with demonstrating anti-racism; and a lack of transparency about which applications are being turned down and for what reasons.
2020 was a year in which the reality of institutional racism came to be acknowledged in ways it never had been before. Yet as we approach the second half of 2021, it has become apparent how invested the UK government is in the denial of institutional racism. A key question at The Ubele Initiative has been to what extent the new-found awareness catalysed by the BLM uprisings and the visibly disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on minoritised communities will lead to enduring change, particularly for the Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector in which we work?
As it stands, we are far from the wholesale transformation that the funding system must undergo to adequately reckon with the effects and influence of racism in this country, particularly because we remain in a context in which the argument that racism exists and is bad still hasn’t actually been won.
As unbelievable as that sounds, we see this in how the government has doubled down on gaslighting the population since the BLM movement reached peak media interest. The Department for Education has already banned from the teaching of Black history in schools any ‘victim narratives’ it deems harmful to British society. The crackdown on our fundamental right to protest in a democracy, especially against policing in the UK, is escalating. Reactions to Meghan Markle’s experience within the Royal Family reveal the extent to which society is still not able to understand how pervasive racism is. As we were about to publish the Booska Paper, we had to stop and consider an urgent response to the attempt by the British government to co-opt leaders from our community to claim its legitimacy while releasing the Sewell Report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.
This constant onslaught on our mental health and wellbeing in the wake of a deadly virus has left us with a feeling that this is an intentional method of wearing us down. We are tired, but the truth of institutional racism cannot, and will no longer be denied. In a recent joint condemnation led by key community leaders in the sector, we #RejectTheReport. Despite wide societal support, this letter has caused Conservative MPs to report the Runnymede Trust to the Charity Commission for ‘breaching political neutrality’. The underlying issue here is that people in the sector who are not white are expected to operate as raceless. This is another way to ensure that everyone conforms to toxic white supremacy or stays quiet; this is what we stand against.
Funders are bodies that distribute grants to the third sector, which contains Black and minority communities. What can funders do? A lot. First, we need them to understand what anti-racism is and to read all of the education material that was presented to them last year. Stop probing Black people and people of colour. Then, we ask them to create a plan to implement our nine calls to action, measured by a time span to which they can hold themselves accountable. Action requires more than just proclamation, black squares, plaques in a street protest and hashtags on Twitter. It needs investment and removal of the obstacles to receiving it, so it can reach the most vulnerable in our community, first.
50 Black and minoritised community-led organisations have so far signed this report, and we are counting. These include the Runnymede Trust, recently been placed under attack by Conservative MPs for being vocal about the Sewell report.
We urge all funders, big or small, to consider their role and how they could approach their work with the honest and direct intention of dismantling white supremacy, internally, externally and across the funding landscape worldwide.
The authors are part of The Ubele Initiative. The Ubele Initiative is an African Diaspora led intergenerational social enterprise founded in 2014, with the purpose of helping to build more sustainable communities across the UK. Natalie Armitage is Project Manager, Anita Duda is Communications Manager and Yvonne Field is Founder and CEO. The Ubele Initiative are currently working with the University of Bristol on their Elevate programme.
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