Specifically, we need to talk about non-profits and complicity. Ask anyone who works in a non-profit what it’s like and you’ll hear this: under-resourced, underpaid, overworked.
Now, much of this is about funding and the low priority our society puts on helping marginalized people. That is an undeniable fact. But another undeniable fact is that the non-profit sector relies on–and exploits I would go so far as to say–people’s passion for issues that, largely, they themselves have been touched by. Put another way, the non-profit sector relies on people’s trauma motivating them to help others in ways that can be severely damaging, whether we’re talking burnout, the health-consequences of overwork, or the realities of trying to get by when making less than a living wage.
The non-profit sector also relies on–and reinforces–a devaluing of emotional labour. A type of labour that is traditionally viewed as women’s and femme’s work.
I recognize that many boards and executive directors may feel themselves in an impossible position–funding cuts, the offloading of mental healthcare to adjacent-but-ill-equipped non-profits, ever-increasing need–but this system only works so long as those with power are complicit. Whether that is spreading 7 Full-Time-Equivalents across 13 people–none of whom made a living wage, as I’ve seen done, or making employment increasingly precarious–part time, contract positions, at laughably low wages (seriously, check any non-profit job board. That’s 90% of what’s out there)–these decisions are based on a tacit agreement that emotional labour–and the people who perform it–is of low-value, and issues of burnout, vicarious trauma, and the stress of near-poverty on top of it all are acceptable trade-offs. It is based on the tacit agreement that the people who devote their lives to helping others are replaceable, as they inevitably burnout or leave for a living wage in another field. It is based on the tacit agreement that marginalized people helping marginalized people count less.
I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying that hard decisions won’t have to be made. But I am saying that social justice starts at home.