The experience of unbelonging

The experience of unbelonging
Mai 24, 2021 Hannah Stevens

This post was written by Kamna Muralidharan, Policy and Projects Officer at Paul Hamlyn Foundation. This blog is cross-posted from Alliance Magazine’s ‘Uprooting racism in grantmaking’ blog series (the original can be found here).

Immediately I could feel my shoulders drop.

To be able to sit with a group of people of colour led by facilitators Swatee Deepak and Roshni Nuggehalli to talk about racism was in itself liberating and healing. It was an acknowledgement that how we are racialized impacts how we exist in the world – our thinking, our behaviour, our opportunities and our challenges. Ultimately, we are a product of a system, and this deeply informed the series of anti-racism sessions I was a part of last year led by Healing Solidarity, supported by the Ariadne Network – European Funders for Social Change and Human Rights last year.

As I sit down to write my reflections on being part of these sessions, I am transported to a brave space – a supported space. While people instinctively wants to feel safe, that’s not what these sessions were intended for. Healing Solidarity’s commitment to an anti-racist practice means actively interrupting harm and this was a lesson that I listened to deeply.

As people of colour, we are not immune from doing harm. A number of South Asian participants spoke about the ways in which the norms and standards of white supremacy culture have permeated into their culture – both societal and familial. The anti-blackness that is rife in many Asian communities likely stems from a colonial history of divide and conquer in Africa and elsewhere.

While this history was not new to me, it did give me the opportunity to recognise how as people of colour we can be victims of white supremacist structures, and equally have internalized these norms and standards, thereby perpetuating harm.

A particularly challenging and vulnerable exercise invited us to reflect on our self, interpersonal relationships and the impact of the external environment on our sense of belonging as people of colour. Together we came to understand how so many of the norms and standards of a culture – in families, communities, and organisations – contribute to a feeling of not belonging. This is perhaps most damaging and insidious because it is unspoken and not actively chosen by the group.

Image courtesy of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation

We looked at the norms and standards of white supremacy culture and reflected on how this plays out in grant-making specifically: from paternalism to worship of the written word.

This framework added context to many participants’ experience of not belonging. It lifted the expectation to fit in, and that shame of not fitting in, that being racialized as a person of colour dictates in the philanthropic sector.

My personal ultimate take-away is that anti-racism work is for each of us who identify as Asian to do. On a practical note, we reflected that we can do more as funders to challenge norms and standards, improve processes, and diversify decision making to ensure funding is more accessible and equitable.

Kamna Muralidharan is policy and projects officer at the Paul Hamlyn Foundation.

Continue reading this series about key learnings from conversations among Black people and among white people.


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