Farm Radio International – defining our role in the anti-racism movement

When news of the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer spread, and Black Lives Matter protests took place in many parts of the West and other parts of the world, we took serious thought as an organization. As individuals, we were shocked, angered, and saddened. We reached out to one another, reflected on the impact, and the meaning for ourselves and our work. Where did we stand as an organization when it comes to becoming explicitly anti-racist? Should we say something publicly — or was our role to step back in favour of vital Black activist voices?

We paused.

Racism is abhorrent. In this moment, we, as an organization are asking ourselves: how can our work challenge racism? Surprisingly, it is the first time we have asked ourselves this question in the context of our organizational mandate and work. We are a diverse team of staff, comprising mainly Africans, including half of the executive leadership team and all our country leadership. However, we don’t have a governing policy on racism or strategies to ensure we are actively anti-racist. We haven’t done an internal analysis of how we may be contributing to or complicit in the racism we see around us. We have not undertaken anti-racism training or made it a learning priority.  Our work aims to address some of the effects of centuries of racism, from the slave trade, to colonialism, to today’s deeply unequal global economic system, but it is also shaped by those realities.

Had we, then, done the work needed to earn the right to make a public statement?

What followed was a series of conversations at different levels of our organization: some private, some at leadership levels, eventually culminating in a staff-wide forum with 87 of our colleagues participating from 11 countries. There we discussed how recent events affected us on a personal and professional level; whether and how we should communicate our views and commitments publicly; and how we can make Farm Radio International an anti-racist organization.

A few things became clear: the lived experience of our staff, both within Canada and across Africa is diverse, but both recent events and lifelong experiences of anti-Black racism have made people angry, concerned for themselves and their children, and committed to making change within our organization and with the people whose quality of life we seek to improve. 

It also became clear that we want to say something about it publicly. Silence is complicity. We need to show solidarity with movements to end racism. Those of us who are white need to commit to being strong allies. And we need to take a look in the mirror.

We rarely talk about racism in the international development community. Why is that? Perhaps because we had the illusion that it was unnecessary. After all, it is part of our daily mandate to try to fix, at least in some way, a legacy of centuries of racism, an ideology and system that justified and was cultivated by colonialism, slavery, conquest, apartheid, and a global economic order in which most extremely rich people are white (men) and the vast majority of the world’s poor are not. Perhaps it is because the very idea of international development can smack of colonialism, and that makes us uncomfortable. 

We have work to do, and our all-staff meeting was simply the first step.

Here’s what we are committed to doing as we take on the work of becoming explicitly anti-racist:

  • Undertake an analysis of our work, structure, approach and methods to see which factors might be inadvertently contributing to racism, and which could be strengthened to be made anti-racist, then implement those changes.
  • Use a participatory approach to developing a rigorous anti-racism policy.
  • Build the knowledge and skills of staff and the board of directors through ongoing training, learning, and unlearning activities.
  • Support our partner radio stations in promoting inclusion, diversity and cross-cultural understanding.

Our mission is to make radio a powerful force for good in rural Africa—one that shares knowledge, amplifies voices, and supports positive change. We would be remiss if we did not stand for that now. 

The Black Lives Matter movement is happening now and has been happening for many years. We see it and other movements against racism as a vital force for systemic change — an effort that everyone is called to take part in and champion in our lives and work. We are grateful for this call to action, and we know it needs to continue long into the future. In Canada, Indigenous and First Nations people are facing a similar struggle against racism and police brutality — as an organization with roots and an office in Canada, we acknowledge that we have much to learn from voices within these communities. We also know racism intersects with other forms of systemic discrimination, including gender, and we must consider this going forward. It is work we must continue to do over the long term, with renewed energy and determination. 

Today, we also encourage everyone to support Black-led organizations who are doing anti-racist work and supporting Black people and people of racialized communities. This could be your local Black Lives Matter committee, or an organization doing similar work. 

For our part, we look to organizations like the Canadian Association of Black Journalists who strive to advance the work of Black journalists and media professionals in Canada. 

Should we make mistakes along the way, we hope our colleagues, our donors, our board, and you who are reading this, will keep us accountable.

Black lives matter.

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