white antiracism & racial healing: how do we use our power/privilege to transform our field? by Libby Smith & Maddy Frey

Libby Smith
Libby Smith

Hello! We are Maddy Frey (she/her) and Libby Smith (she/they), two evaluators who discovered our shared commitment to racial justice through a book club  focused on anti-racist evaluation work in early 2020 led by Libby and Rita Fierro. This post is written for white evaluators, knowing that people who hold power based on many socially constructed identities might benefit as well.

Maddy Frey
Maddy Frey

As white evaluators we wield power and privilege inherited through systemic injustices; if we aren’t explicitly using this power to transform the field, we are implicitly using it to uphold white supremacy. How do we strategically share/build this power?

First, get clear on what power and therefore control you have inherited as a result of socially-constructed identities that confer or deny privilege. These include things like race, gender, age, education level (tends to be high among evaluators), and more.

Much has been written about the power we hold as evaluators. In addition to being evaluators, we are also business owners, employees, managers, parents, adult children, partners, and nonprofit board members. We wield privilege in all these areas, especially when we aren’t aware of it or deny it. 

Second, are you willing to wield, share, or build power toward transformative change? 

It became clear to Maddy in mid-2020 that the nonprofit she co-founded was upholding white supremacy. It was not explicitly anti-racist, and was even using the words “racial equity” in its vision statement to check a box. Maddy realized there were many people of color who were more qualified to lead, and the organization  could not make good on its mission statement if she continued gatekeeping. 

Rad Resource:

 Are You Willing to Step Aside in Order to Fight Systemic Injustice?

Lastly, HOW do you do it? 

  • Build authentic relationships, you can’t share your power/control if you don’t have anyone to share it with.  On a recent Feminist Evaluation Generative Network call, Vidhya Shanker (who also provided important feedback on this post) spoke about the extractive manner in which white evaluators use informally vetted lists of evaluators of color, privilegeing those few who have been deemed acceptable by the white evaluation community. Prioritize relationship building, something that can’t be done in the hours before a proposal is due.
  • Don’t abdicate responsibility, have a solid plan before you bring someone into your work. Ask yourself if the person replacing you is committed to racial equity. How can you make that judgement without being paternalistic?  Find an accountability group of folks who will give you honest feedback, and ask for help. 
  • Don’t tokenize  Libby’s experience on various nonprofit boards taught her that people of color are not just there to speak up for DEI work in white-led spaces. They may have their own areas of interest and don’t necessarily want to get labeled as the DEI person. 
  • Recognize complexity Working as a solo white evaluator, regardless of the client,  is rarely in service of equity. Transitioning out of your contracts and/or inviting in evaluators of color might take time, and it’s helpful to have an aggressive timeline to ensure progress is happening.

This week, AEA365 is hosting white antiracism & racial healing week where contributing authors explore the theme: What does it look like to be a white person committed to antiracism and racial healing? Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

1 thought on “white antiracism & racial healing: how do we use our power/privilege to transform our field? by Libby Smith & Maddy Frey”

  1. Thank you for this blog post. I enjoy hearing opinions that differ from my own. For those who may be interested in alternative views on this topic, consider reading Thomas Sowell’s (rather long) book titled “Wealth, Poverty and Politics”

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