Sonia Ruiz

A five-person panel discussed how white supremacy and the idea of of the “white savior” affect the operations of nonprofits in New Haven and across the United States on Wednesday night at the Afro-American Cultural Center. Over the course of an hour, panelists described to the packed house the prototypical white savior who does not truly understand or meet a community’s needs, applying the concept to the nonprofit sector.

“The nonprofit industrial complex is very real and very alive in New Haven and needs to be dismantled just like any other oppressive system,” said Kerry Ellington, organizer for People Against Police Brutality. “White folks are centering themselves in these spaces and don’t know how to listen to the communities they serve.”

The event was organized by members of the U.S. Health Justice Collaborative, an initiative started by students in Yale’s health professional schools.

The panelists — a journalist, nonprofit directors and several organizers — described instances from their careers in activism in which they encountered “white saviorism,” or in the case of the two white panelists, displayed it themselves. Panelist Jordan Flaherty half-jokingly gave the example of Batman as a white savior, because he is a rich white man who dedicates his money to gadgetry and vigilante justice, rather than investing in his community.

The event was met with a far larger audience than expected, according to organizer Robert Rock MED ’18. Over 1,300 people indicated they were interested in attending the event on Facebook, well over what the building can hold at capacity. Although many potential attendees were turned away at the door because of space constraints, they were able to view a livestream of the event on Facebook.

The panel discussion drew interest from Yale affiliates, nonprofit leaders, activists and New Haven residents alike. Cara Donovan SPH ’18, one of the organizers, told the News that it is important for Yale events to reach out to the New Haven community early in the planning process to incorporate them into the dialogue.

Barbara Tinney, a panelist and the executive director of the New Haven Family Alliance, described her initial shock at the “audacity” of the event’s title, which read in full, “Paved With Good Intentions: White Saviorism and the Nonprofit Industrial Complex.” However, she continued, the themes of the panel echoed countless discussions she has had with colleagues over the course of her lengthy career in the New Haven nonprofit scene. There is a conflict between the important work nonprofits do and many of the oppressive power dynamics they can help to maintain, Tinney said.

The panelists touched on many hot-button topics, such as the predominance of white people at the head of nonprofits and white fragility — a term that commonly refers to the avoidance of difficult racial conversations in order to prevent white discomfort. “When my white allies use their claws, they could get pushback. When I hiss, I could get shot,” said panelist Kica Matos, the director of immigrant rights and racial justice at the Center for Community Change.

Matos added that discomfort should not stop white allies from showing up to support people of color.

James Cramer DIV ’17 stated that the attention the panelists drew to the racial disparity in nonprofit leadership positions made the event particularly compelling, adding that he believes that it is time for those organizations to change whom they “look to for donations, look to for volunteers and look to for advice.”

The panel discussion was followed by a 30-minute Q&A period. During this portion, audience members asked questions that stemmed from their experiences, some raising the possibilities of reparations for communities of color or taking back power in nonprofits that operate in communities of color.

Aaron Lee, who was invited to cater the event, found himself moved by the discussion and asked the panelists their opinions on the topic of reparations. Lee, who is black, described himself as socially aware and praised the organizers and panelists for calling attention to issues that have long gone underdiscussed. According to Lee, now is the ideal moment to address these issues, as America takes time to reflect on its racial history in the wake of the Trump presidency.

“America’s built off slavery, segregation, Jim Crow and all the things black people have contributed to society and have not been honored for; it’s like we’re just in the back,” Lee said. “We just want a piece of the pie, we’re not angry, we’re not frustrated, we just want to be happy. We just want to be free.”

Maya Chandra | maya.chandra@yale.edu

  • Andrew Squigmann

    Did the good white Yale 1%-ers get down on their knees and beg their POC betters to flagellate then forgive them for the audacity of their “whiteness?”

  • sez-who

    No worries. I’ll just stick to helping out only white people. That will leave people of color free of my evil influence. /sarc.

    I am really sick of these more-righteous-than-thou types.

  • ytzpzvgk

    Not to be picky, but isn’t the Yale Corporation a non-profit? Is there something wrong when people at Yale try to help others? I know that Yale is far from all white, but sometimes it has that feel.

    Maybe we should get rid of financial aid at Yale so kids don’t feel like they’re being hurt by the white saviorism of the endowment. Yeah. That’s a plan.

  • Tattycoram

    Is the simplest solution to stop all non-profits headed by, staffed by, founded by, or donated to by white people from involving themselves with any issue that is not white?

  • bflat879

    Right now, there are many black people with money who, if this is the prevalent opinion, can start their own charitable organizations. If they choose to dwell on the past, rather than look to the future, we’ll see how that works out. If this is the conversation Eric Holder says we’re afraid to have, let’s have it.

    We do need to understand what is the end game. Is there an end game? I’d say that, sooner or later, we have to figure out if we want a color blind society, or we want a society where certain people are treated different from others and are always victims? We’ve been trying to deal with this for 50 years. We need to deal with it, or allow one political party to have a campaign issue, but I don’t think we can have it both ways.

  • Cromulent

    All well and good. But do they have the guts to take on White Saviors who pretend to be on their side? Will they direct their fury at Planned Parenthood?

  • Lewisen Clark

    Leftists always eventually turn on each other and destroy their own. It’s hilarious. Please pass the popcorn.

  • TRD73

    Yeah! White people should keep their money to themselves, and not spend it on helping people of color.
    Oh, you just want them to go away, but still continue to fork over the money? Hmm, interesting.

  • Jason Arsenault

    How do they know the motives behind someone else’s charity? They’re making huge assumptions based on race alone.
    These people have become flat-out bigots looking for any means to spew their hatred. Their souls are as stained as any Klansman.

  • motoguzzi

    Perhaps the solution is more government, because everyone just loves more government. Just ask Florida HS students.

  • Marin guy

    Just when you think it can’t get any more absurd, you can. Excoriating white people for doing good simply because they are white. Nothing will ever be good enough for the left because the left exists to critique and aggrandize power for themselves.

  • brainy435

    “Matos added that discomfort should not stop white allies from showing up to support people of color.”

    Discomfort won’t drive white’s away. The blatantly racist attacks that infest this article will probably do it, though.

  • SamWah

    YES! Drive the white donors away! That’ll teach ’em!!

  • Kelly Lieberg

    Aside from the race component, the non and not for profit entities are a concocted do gooder segment compliments of the tax code. Many funded by grants and deductible contributions that loose much of their efficiencies through busy work and inflated salaries. It’s a secular expression of replacing charitable works for endeavors that fall far from mission work.

    • dogfFather

      See Clinton Foundation for best example!

      • Nancy Morris

        I read a curious report a few days ago stating that Chelsea Clinton has a net worth of $30 million, supposedly derived from the proceeds of her “career” in broadcasting and her expert management of the Clinton Foundation, of which she is Vice Chair but actually is said to control. One wonders if her mother has further amplified Chelsea’s wealth with mom’s peerless investing skills in cattle futures, but I digress.

        A nonprofit industrial complex that is very real and very alive and needs to be dismantled just like any other oppressive system? The Clinton Foundation is it!

  • caradoc

    “They don’t know how to listen to the communities they serve”
    1. They aren’t your servants, they are your fellow citizens trying to help you out
    2. When all that they hear from these communities is bigoted nonsense like this, it’s best to just ignore it and do the good work.
    3. If the communities they are helping knew how to help themselves correctly, well, they wouldn’t need those white people at all, now would they?
    4. Maybe it’s the minorities who need to STFU and listen instead of sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting “LA LA LA RACIST I CAN” HEAR YOU LA LA LA!!!”

  • John Marston

    Read between the lines: “Whites should just give us the money and then go away.”

    • Nancy Morris

      But even if whites just give blacks the money and then go away, there would still be the question of WHICH blacks the whites should give to, and that selection process would imply the existence of a nonprofit industrial complex that is very real and very alive and that needs to be dismantled just like any other oppressive system.

      Note: Anyone who uses the term “white folks” is presumptively a fool or a charlatan, in the absence of clear and convincing evidence to the contrary.

  • richard40

    So how exactly do white people win this game. If we white people dont give all of our money to black people, we are selfish bigots. If we do we are white saviors, and ignorant bigots. I think I will just ignore these loons, and do what I think is right, since they are obviously clueless.

    • DBmore

      maybe the problem is “white people trying to win this game.”

  • wonder_woman

    These comments perfectly demonstrate what “white fragility” is.

  • Ralphiec88

    It seems there’s an Aggrieved Identity Group Complex that is alive and well at Yale. Its hallmarks are an impossible combination of absurd demands for largesse, and novel approaches to biting the demanded hand that feeds. Next Yale demanded that “stipends” and “discretionary funds” be disbursed by cultural centers (barely disguised code for transfer payments to students of color), while “white folks” are univerally excoriated as not listening? Imagine for a moment if anyone on campus made such a statement about “black folks.”
    These efforts are utterly self-defeating, but perhaps that’s the point. The goal is not to help those less advantaged, or advance equality. Rather, it’s to perpetuate a state of victimhood, with a clear “other” to battle, and the power to anoint “allies” who are deemed more knowing than the rest. Ironically these are the same tactics used by the farthest right crusaders in our society.