How An Instagram Account Is Holding Melbourne’s Not-For-Profits Accountable For Racism

In late July, the Instagram account @holding_accountable_ started posting anonymous accounts of everything from micro-aggressions to blatant racism, experienced by employees in the not-for-profit sector in Melbourne.

holding accountable not for profit instagram

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In late July, the Instagram profile @holding_accountable_ started posting anonymous accounts of everything from daily micro-aggressions to blatant racism, experienced by employees in the not-for-profit sector in Melbourne. Since then, dozens of submissions from workers across various NFP groups have been shared, which include some of the more well-known, and highly-regarded organisations.

Of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC), a post claimed that: “white volunteers could walk straight through reception without signing in but the volunteers and staff who were people of colour were stopped and asked to sign in and prove they weren’t clients”.

A post about the Federation of Community Legal Centres (FCLC) claims it “is a violently unsafe place for POC. The management, the CEO and her deputy, are bullies — both ruling the few staff left through intimidation, exclusion, division, and shaming. Particularly POC/LGBTIQ and younger staff”.

@holding_accountable_ was made after a series of similar conversations between a group of friends about their own experiences of working in the NFP sector. Inspired by accounts like @changethemuseum, the friends were galvanised by the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on multicultural communities in Melbourne, to start their own version.

“We thought it’s about time some of these stories come out,” said Bee* to Junkee, one of the people running the account (*not their real name, they preferred to remain anonymous). “For us it’s about giving room to them and giving complaints somewhere to go.”

Powerpoint Activism

And that is exactly what numerous other Instagram accounts do, all of which have popped up over the past few months.

@Changethemuseum and @_fortheculture2020 amplify stories illustrating systemic racism in museums and cultural institutions across the United States. There was @Blackatnike, which followed in the steps of the many “Black At” accounts to detail harmful experiences faced by employees at Nike — before the account disappeared without a trace.

Instagram as the choice platform for this movement, and this kind of criticism, makes a certain kind of sense.

Following the death of George Floyd our feeds collectively stopped showing just the usual escapist imagery we’re used to seeing on Instagram. Inspirational #girlboss quotes, or artfully dishevelled selfies, or places we want to travel to, made way for a new kind of post — bite-sized text designed to educate the masses on everything from where your nearest BLM protest was, to whether your favourite brand was using Uyghur labour to make their clothing — often in slideshow format.

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A new coalition of more than 180 global human rights groups has stepped forward to call on the textiles industry to put a stop to Uighur forced labour in Xinjiang, China. The coalition estimates around 20% of the world’s cotton is produced in Xinjiang, where involuntary labour camps are imposed on some 1.8 million Uighur people. “Almost every major apparel brand and retailer selling cotton products is potentially implicated”, says the coalition. And it’s calling on big brands to cut ties with Uighur cotton. Yet, the ask is shining a light on the need for transparency, because while many brands have been quick to ensure they don’t sell clothing sewn in Xinjiang, tracing their cotton suppliers is a murkier story. WHAT CAN WE DO? Let’s tell fashion brands to step up to the coalition’s call to action and sign on to their brand commitment, which requires signatories to remove Uighur forced labour from its supply chain and undertake remedial action including compensating workers. Our 2020 Fashion Transparency Index found that just 24% of brands publish their second tier suppliers (the places where materials are processed) and only 7% publish their third tier suppliers (where they source raw materials). In order for brands to eliminate forced labour from their supply chains, they first must trace and publish their suppliers. We can start by asking brands #WhoMadeMyClothes?, demanding that they cut ties with forced labour and requesting that their entire supply chains (not only the factories where garments are sewn together) are published and accessible for all to see. Learn more at the link in our story 🔗 #FashionRevolution

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On August 4, 2020 two massive explosions erupted in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, destroying homes, businesses, and full city blocks and injuring thousands. So far, 300,000 people are now homeless, 5,000 have been injured and 135 people have died. As more people are being reported missing and buildings keep collapsing, these numbers will likely keep increasing. A state of emergency has been declared and the army will be taking over the city for two weeks. Beyond loss of life and massive wreckage to the city, this explosion has severe consequences for the livelihood of the entire country. Up to 80 percent of the country's food needs are imported in any given year while the port of Beirut handles 60% of all Lebanon imports. With the destruction of the port, access to food, basic necessities, and medical supplies is now close to none. While we need to rebuild Beirut, the explosions are just one example of the mismanagement and negligence of the Lebanese government. Everyone must play a part by holding the Lebanese government accountable, sharing accurate information, donating wherever you can and demanding your country’s officials put international pressure to investigate this disaster. Swipe for more information on how to help >> Follow & support the below >> Domestic workers aid @egnalegna @alinedeloscampos Food relief aid @lebfoodbank @ahlafawda @atfalouna.leb @kafe_be_kafak @foodblessed General relief aid @lebaneseredcross @offre.joie @beitelbaraka @impact.lebanon @baytna_baytak @daleelthawra @lebanonneeds @rebuild_beirut #lebanon #beirut #beirutlebanon

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Vox labels this “powerpoint activism”, explaining that: “the 10-image carousel, which Instagram launched in 2017, has been repurposed by activists, independent artists, advocacy groups, and well-meaning individuals as a means to educate and inform the masses, one slide at a time”.

This type of post relies on being shared through Instagram stories to spread its message which can lead to large and fast organic followings, which is exactly what @holding_accountable_ experienced.

Climbing The Ladder

Bee says Instagram works so well for them, because “it’s informal in a way that can be quite powerful, because formal ways of doing this were not working. Trying to climb the ladders of attempting to get an organisation to understand that they have a damaging structure in place wasn’t working.”

Speaking from personal experience, Bee recalls that while you can take something to human resources or raise it to someone above you “there is a common thread of exhaustion where you get heard out and you kind of feel listened to. But then the action never parallels that. And so over time, you just get exhausted and realise that nothing changes, and the problems keep occurring.”

This means workers have to make tough choices — leave, stay in a toxic workplace, or speak publicly — anonymously or otherwise — to have their issues heard.

This experience is not unique. Human resource departments have been shown to be ineffective at dealing with issues like racism and sexism in the workplace, especially when the complaints are made against company leaders and managers. We only need to look at recent highly publicised occurrences at companies like Refinery29 and Cards Against Humanity to see how this plays out. Often those filing complaints have instead been seen as the problem.

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Questions in our DM’s.

A post shared by @ holding_accountable_ on

After numerous posts were made about the Centre for Multicultural Youth (CMY), the CEO sent an email to staff in response, pointing them in the direction of the organisation’s code of conduct and social media policy. The email told staff to “ensure adherence to these policies when you professionally and personally engage online” and that the social media policy “will be updated to reflect the changing nature of social media”.

In a statement to Junkee, the CMY said “the idea that members of our team feel unheard is deeply upsetting. Our purpose for being is to ensure people are understood, accurately represented and influential. We’re proud of the work we do and we want that to include everyone in our team.”

“We have already begun talking to all staff members, and are actively working to provide everyone the opportunity to have their feedback heard, and acted upon.”

In a statement, the ASRC said “we have seen the stories posted online and this has been raised at the highest levels within the organisation. We have policies and processes for staff, volunteers and members (people seeking asylum) to raise an issue or concern with us and be heard. We would encourage anyone who has feedback to reach out to us so we can work through these concerns with them.”

“The Fear Of Speaking Up Is Deeply Embedded”

As the Black Lives Matter movement dominates worldwide discourse, and the COVID-19 crisis has exposed numerous systemic racial injustices, workplaces that appear otherwise progressive havens are being held to account for their failure to move beyond lip-service on issues of diversity.

Recently, Priya Krishna, Rick Martinez and Sohla El-Waylly — the ‘diverse’ stars of Conde Nast’s food brand Bon Appétit — announced they would no longer be making video content for the company after the issue of pay disparity between white and non-white colleagues was revealed. Meanwhile at Australia’s SBS, several former journalists came forward with their experiences dealing with both implicit and explicit forms of racism while working at the multicultural broadcaster.

What made these stories, and those highlighted by @holding_accountable_ especially concerning, is that these employee experiences run counter to the ethos these workplaces claim to stand for. That is, representing and serving migrants, refugees, and those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The organisations’ goals not only become another impediment on the path to speaking up, but act as blinders to internal issues, according to Bee.

“The fear of speaking up is deeply embedded and the organisations guilt you, like, if you say something or if you criticise us, then that’s only hurting the most vulnerable people that we’re serving.”

“What we’re finding through our own experiences and through these stories is that these places are not open to criticism because they have a moral high ground. Perhaps because there is this idea that ‘oh they’re helping refugees’ that means they must be good but if anything, they should be critical of themselves even more.”

As Bee and the group take a moment to figure out what to do with the flood of submissions and messages they are receiving, what they hope is that through the stories they are collectivising, workplaces move to actively dismantle the damaging structures in place.

This follows one of the key rallying cries of the recent months in racial activism — be actively anti-racist.

This means first recognising and acknowledging that systemic racism exists in a workplace, critically examining work experiences of current and former employees, and actively working towards creating more equitable systems.

The first step of owning up to the existence of racism in the workplace — and doing so without being defensive — is crucial in being anti-racist, and this seemingly presents a unique set of challenges for organisations whose primary purpose is to serve communities of racial minorities.

Doing good and important work for racial minorities is not mutually exclusive to upholding damaging structures for racial minorities working within the organisation. But continuing to ignore this fact inflicts more harm to the cause, as more and more employees inevitably get pushed out, or burned out.

The stories on @holding_accountable_ make this much abundantly clear.

FCLC did not respond to Junkee’s request for comment.

Rashna is a young Muslim multi-hyphenate with lots of strong opinions. You can find her on Twitter @rashna_f if you want to hear them (or better yet, hire her).