Yup…International Development Has a Race Problem

I’ll never forget my interviews for international organizations. I feel like I spent half of the sessions batting away stereotypes. Looking back now, I can figure out the trick questions, maybe trying to find out just how “thick my skin” was.

Often, there was no black person in the room…and on the few occasions there was a black woman, she certainly didn’t have hair worn naturally like mine. After reading the frank and heartfelt opinions of a very rare voice – a black woman in the humanitarian and development field talking about race – I felt real healing begin. I acknowledge that my own story would be titled “Wait till they see my black hair, hear my accent, and see the pants suits I wear“. I really didn’t stand a chance.

Finally…Somebody said it

As I write, I really really want to make this full of depth and meaning, with great analysis and beautiful language…but I can’t. So I’m glad I found someone who can speak for the voiceless…

Ms. Bruce-Raeburn shares her opinion that: “Calling out racism — or the racial power dynamics of aid workers in low- and middle-income countries — as a systemic problem of international development has remained a topic that has not honestly been embraced in polite company... we realize that diversity and inclusion do not speak to the entrenched racial-ized power imbalances that define those who receive aid and those who deliver aid.”

More than anything, I wish other people had the strength, the commitment to justice, the righteousness and sense of obligation to others…to speak openly, honestly and truthfully about this ugly side of the development field. The commitment is to numbers to meet targets. I never once felt included, that’s because it was never intended that I would last in my position. I served a purpose for which I was disposable and replaceable by another shade to meet the annual targets. It just took precision of counting and a culture of silence in the face of injustice.

My experience was not an isolated one.

To all those who remained silent, we won’t be like you.

My friends and I have gotten lawyers, and we intend to speak out. Expect us!

It’s been years, I know, but still I haven’t recovered from 3 years of workplace punishment. And then society, family, people around me tell me to just move on, “You’re being weak. Why do you need to pay for therapy?” Then the dismissive ones are the worst…”It wasn’t so bad” or “other people have it worse” and “just push through”… But you can’t. Nightmares and social anxiety, your confidence gets knocked and your everyday becomes a quest to overcome and go back to being yourself. But hey, why bother make a fuss…

So here I am wishing this to be more, but the right words escape me and my intellect fails me because I still can see my embarrassment, and taste my tears, and smell my breakfast escaping the chaos of my gut. I can still feel hateful hands extended to humiliate me, and vicious words hurled to demean me. I can still feel the room looking at me, doing nothing to stop the aggressors. And I can still feel the oppression of the system set up to be this way. Racism in international development is no accident. This. Is. By .Design.

Because of this experience I haven’t slept well in 2 years now.

Where there’s no peace, there can be no justice.


Bruce-Raeburn, Angela. “Opinion: Why We Can’t Separate Sexism from Racism in the Humanitarian and Development Sector.” Devex, March 6, 2018, http://www.devex.com/news/opinion-why-we-can-t-separate-sexism-from-racism-in-the-humanitarian-and-development-sector-92271/. Retrieved June 1, 2019.

Bruce-Raeburn, Angela. “Opinion: But Wait Until They See Your Black Face.” Devex, April 10,2018, http://www.devex.com/news/opinion-but-wait-until-they-see-your-black-face-92485. Retrieved June 1, 2019.

Bruce-Raeburn, Angela. “Opinion; International Development Has A Race problem.” Devex, May 17,2019, http://www.devex.com/news/opinion-international-development-has-a-race-problem-94840. Retrieved June 1, 2019.

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