NARAL’s Response to “Employees Are Calling Out Major Reproductive Rights Organizations For Racism And Hypocrisy“August 21, 2020, Buzzfeed Article
In late August, Buzzfeed News published an article reporting on racism in reproductive rights organizations, specifically naming NARAL Pro-Choice America — our national affiliate. The article outlined historical patterns of tokenizing employees of color, the refusal to address anti-Blackness, trans-erasure, and a work culture that conceals repeated racial aggressions and promotes almost exclusively White staff members.
As the current staff of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, we want to say that we believe the individuals who were brave enough to come forward with their lived experiences, and we take their truth seriously. While NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and NARAL Pro-Choice America work independently, we cannot separate our local organization’s culture and history from such stories — we too have behaved in such ways and caused such harm. And NARAL Pro-Choice Washington has to be accountable.
For more than 50 years, NARAL has operated as a white-led organization that has consistently centered the experiences of cis-female, middle, and upper-class white individuals to the exclusion and harm of Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) individuals.
Specifically, we have been complicit in upholding systemic racism through a focus on the right to abortion and “choice,” neglecting to acknowledge the barriers to care that primarily impact BIPOC, LGBTQIA, undocumented, low-income, rural, transgender, non-binary, and disabled individuals.
Over the last five decades, we have neglected the needs of BIPOC communities in our work and our inaction in supporting BIPOC communities’ priorities has deepened inequities for Black and Brown bodies. Additionally, our internal workplace policies have placed the burden of anti-racist and inclusive work on employees with these same intersecting identities.
These inequities, white supremacy, and racism must be addressed and dismantled through accountability, amends, and new actions from this moment forward.
Amends require making sure those most impacted are made whole again and that we change the behaviors and choices that caused harm so that we do not repeat harm. To acknowledge our history, we must take action internally, within our organization, and within every bit of work.
This action starts with the acknowledgment that we need to make amends with current and former staff, board members, volunteers, interns, and organizational partners. We apologize for the harm we have caused to BIPOC communities. We know that amends can only occur by changing how our work happens, and we are deeply committed to doing so.
We are at the beginning of our anti-racism work — focused on the intersection of addressing anti-Blackness, Indigenous erasure, and heteronormativity — and we are holding ourselves accountable to anti-racist action. Anti-racist action includes organizational structural change, organizing and policy priorities, and building/rebuilding relationships with amends and accountability at the heart of trust.
Here are our initial commitments as we deepen our work:
Organizational structural change | We know we are woefully late to the Reproductive Justice call to action from our Black, Indigenous, POC, Queer, and Trans siblings. The structure of our organization is currently upholding white-supremacist practice – from who has power, to who makes decisions, to what we fight for, and let go of; this must change. We must address our structure as a whole and let go of every system and practice that has harmed BIPOC communities. We commit to:
- Our team: Name, address, and dismantle anti-Blackness and racism whenever it is present, internally and externally. We know white staff members are the ones to hold that work, following the lead and needs of BIPOC communities and team members. White people create and benefit from these structures and practices, and the time is now for white folks to make it right.
- Our membership: Educate our membership on the racist history of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and the reproductive rights movement. Teach them the skills to dismantle these historical and present systems of harm. Only through such collective action can we invite marginalized communities to join us and know they are in a safe place to organize and grow the work together.
- Our decision-making: Expose white-supremacist, racist, and misogynist practices and stop enabling mediocrity by allowing our policymakers, advocates, and team to uphold the status quo. We will let go of the tenants of inconvenience and expediency that have shaped past decision-making within the organization. We will embrace the truth – especially when inconvenient – and take all the time needed to build our work around the goals and priorities of BIPOC communities.
New organizing and policy priorities | We know that our priorities in policy and the way we organize matters. If our work is not centering BIPOC-led solutions, we are missing the mark. If BIPOC families and communities’ lives are not made better, we are missing the mark. Therefore, we must continue defending reproductive freedom: by expanding our work to include abortion AND BIPOC-led intersecting policies for bold change.
- Policy & organizing prioritization: Proactively support the policy and demands of BIPOC organizations and leaders, and uplift and follow their demands for action. As a currently white-led organization, we know our lens is still expanding, and we trust the power of our BIPOC partners and policy analysis for change.
- Join advocates where they are, not expect them to join our spaces: Invest in the resources to meet activists where they are and ensure we consistently support their work first. Only by showing up continuously can we build trust and accountability.
- Accessibility in action: Design actions and events that make it possible for all to participate, by providing needed tools for engagement regardless of ability, income, and primary language.
- Radical transparency: Let go of the harmful political practices of gatekeeping and withholding information. This corrosive practice divides our movement and upholds status quo power brokering. To share power — and prioritize BIPOC communities’ power — we must tell the truth, name the harms, and hold fast to sustainable solutions.
- Intersectionality: Adopt an intersectional lens and apply it to our language and messaging across social platforms, and in our policy and organizing work. Our work is about so much more than abortion access for white women. We must include folks who need gender-affirming care, immigrants who need access to birth control and provide the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare and support for BIPOC people with uteruses.
- Stay in the work as it evolves: We will not stop until NARAL Pro-Choice Washington is a safe place where all can join our work and that we are meeting the needs of all folks, no matter their race/ethnicity, ability, documentation status, primary language, or income level.
Accountability and Amends | This work cannot begin in earnest without acknowledging our past, making changes to our actions now, and righting the wrongs our prior actions have created. This work is long, it is hard, it requires building trust and having full transparency until the organization and our movement is transformed. We are committed to the following:
- Follow the lead of BIPOC Communities: Asking for permission for support and allyship and respecting the needs and demands of BIPOC communities and organizations. We know to do this work, we must be true allies, which means we do our work by following the lead of the most impacted communities. BIPOC-led and Reproductive Justice organizations that know the heart of the work, and the role that allies can and should play in our shared work.
- Building/rebuilding relationships: Our commitments will only be reflected in our actions. We will be transparent about commitments, capacity, including our timelines and follow up; We will practice pro-active allyship without seeking credit or recognition.
- Calling-In other historically White-dominant organizations: Racism was built by and for white communities. It is our job to dismantle these systems and structures. We will do so by calling-in those who, like us, are still majority white organizations within the board, staff, and membership leadership. Together, and by following the lead of BIPOC communities, we can make a new path forward that starts to heal the past and present harms.
We agree White feminism is over. The NARAL Pro-Choice Washington team is fully committed to addressing systemic racism and working towards becoming a fully anti-racist, multicultural, and inclusive organization. The list of the priorities above is just the beginning, and there is much more work to come.