Where does exclusion begin?

Another Board meeting, another battle over minimum donation and fundraising requirements for members of the Board of Directors.  Am I telling the truth when I assure my clients that establishing a give-or-get won’t damage their efforts to attract a diverse Board?  All I really know is that their refusal to establish one hasn’t produced anything in the diversity department.

Clearly, it’s better to state expectations up front and let people accept or reject them than to harbor secret expectations and then resent people for not fulfilling them.  And clearly there are nonwhites–at least in my major metropolitan area–ready, willing and able to make substantial charitable contributions, if only we can find the ones interested in our particular cause.  To think otherwise–to imagine all people of color are poor–is racist.

And yet: people of color constitute a minority of this area’s population, and wealthy people constitute a minority of any group’s population.  So we’re already looking at a relatively small pool.  Is it really justified to shrink the pool still further with a demand for a huge gift as a condition for joining this Board?  And would that feel like a deliberate act of exclusion if anyone were acknowledging all the other acts of exclusion that keep white people and people of color in different universes to begin with?  Anyone who’s been through a strategic planning process where diversity has become an issue will be familiar with the tension that suffuses a room in which everyone’s talking about the impact on diversity of a substantial give-or-get, except for the sole black Board member in attendance who says nothing for a long time and then starts to talk about the agency in a way that makes clear her unfamiliarity with its policies and people and thus the extent to which she’s been excluded from its governance, and then leaves without explanation. 

And does this mean we shouldn’t have discussed it?  Does this mean we shouldn’t have adopted a minimum give-or-get?  Or does this mean we’ve got to figure out some way to get racism out of our way so we can talk about diversity and donations and allow people who are disagreeing to just be disagreeing instead of making a statement about their ability to reach across our society’s racial divide?

Anyone who wasn’t uncomfortable tonight as a no-nonsense white Board member laid down the law about the need for a minimum–"Anyone who won’t give or get that doesn’t belong on this Board"–while her black counterpart listened and didn’t respond until much later and then only by tone of voice indicated that she’d been affronted–anyone, as I say, who wasn’t uncomfortable wasn’t paying attention.

But what is to be done?


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