white antiracism & racial healing: the temptation to quit by Anna Martin

Anna Martin
Anna Martin

Hello fellow humans. My name is Anna Martin (she/her). I am an Evaluator, Social Worker, Facilitator, Complexity Coach, curious mischief maker and co-founder of Picture Impact . For this post you should also know I am a white American, cis-, heterosexual woman and mother.

Choosing something different

Over years of evaluation practice I have naturally migrated to complexity-aware approaches. They simply feel better and more true to me. My innate affinity toward Developmental Evaluation and other approaches has coincided with unpacking why I might like them better and how counter-cultural (within evaluation and more broadly) showing up for complexity can be. This line of questioning leads to critique of RCTs , relinquishing logic models, arguments for broader legitimacy of different knowledge and knowledge production, and more. I have learned many ways in which evaluation mirrors, embodies, and operationalizes white supremacy–particularly within the international development industry.

Upon learning to articulate the harm I see and experience within status-quo reinforcing evaluation and M&E, I have had a strong temptation to quit the profession, all together. My desire is to make sure I don’t contribute to harm, that I am not complicit is strong—so count me out. And yet, this idea of opting out is a stellar example of my white privilege and white conditioning. It demonstrates a strong binary using either/or thinking that blinds me to the rich array of other choices and possibilities. It seeks to solve a problem through disconnection, ignoring our interdependence. It’s a pretty strong defensive response, seeking to defend myself against any implication of wrong-doing. Lastly, it belies the white saviorism embedded in a lot of work as I have an illusion that I can simply walk away from the work and be free of it, as though my only role is that of an outside savior, who can either succeed or disconnect.

It’s the Blue Marble principle of “skin in the game” that truly has me keep coming back. I need to show up and participate in changing the way evaluation is practiced and in changing the way international development is even conceived, not because the current way causes harm to others, but because it harms me. White supremacy hurts me. My well-being as a human is tied up in dismantling hierarchies, seeing beyond binaries, and being in relationship with others in radically different ways. I have a role in generating something new, something that invites in a much fuller humanity than white supremacy culture will ever offer. And so, I keep showing up.

Lessons Learned:

  • Yes, evaluation does and can participate in supporting and perpetuating white supremacy;
  • Walking away does not actually free me from participation in the harmful systems and beliefs;
  • White supremacy is the water I swim in and part of how I seek to solve problems;
  • I experience the harm of white supremacy within evaluation and it drains me;
  • My well-being is tied up in dismantling white supremacy.

Rad Resources:

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.

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