Anti-Racism Work

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From the time it was established in 1987, the Appalachian Community Fund (ACF) has supported grassroots efforts to address racism. ACF also maintains the commitment to growing in our own understanding of how racism manifests itself in all areas of work and is a critical part of working for social change.

In 1997 the ACF Board of Directors decided to formalize our journey to becoming an anti-racist organization by making an intentional commitment to dismantling and undoing racism. Strategies were developed around this commitment which includes:

  • requiring all board and staff to participate in anti-racist training and education;
  • having time on each board meeting agenda to discuss, lead, act, write, or reflect on issues related to racism in our organizations, communities, country, and world;
  • committing budget resources to work on anti-racism;
  • analyzing the leadership, diversity, and culture of the organization; and looking at fundraising and grantmaking strategies through the lens of building anti-racist organizations and allies; and
  • Most recently, developing and offering other resources such as workshops to organizations in the region.

The ACF Board continues to reaffirm its commitment to making ACF an anti-racist organization, and to ensure that this commitment is reflected in our grantmaking strategy and processes. We do this in a number of ways: in our Board discussions and reflections, by including anti-racism criteria in the ACF Request for Proposals (RFP) and grantmaking policy decisions; by participating in, and hosting anti-racism workshops; and through evaluation processes.

“We continue to grow and struggle in this work as it progresses.

We don’t believe we have all the answers, nor do we expect you to.”

~ ACF Board and Staff


Frequently Asked Questions About ACF’s Anti-Racism Work

What does “racism” really mean, and who is racist?

One commonly held definition of racism, and one to which ACF subscribes, is described in the equation “Racism = race prejudice + power.” The term “race” was invented in the late 1700’s when it was created by European whites (Johann Blumenbach and Louis LeClerc Bouffan). It served the purpose of assigning social status, with whites as the ultimate benefactors of this social hierarchy. Racism exists among and between individuals at a personal level, but it’s also present, sometimes invisibly, in every institution in our nation. Racism is perpetuated and maintained through the built-in privileges afforded to whites of all income levels, and by the internalized oppression among people of color.

Racism is rooted in power and in a system created by white people for white people, unlike prejudice, bigotry and bias which are individual traits among people of all ethnicities. White people benefit disproportionately under such a system, even though they may not seek it or even be aware of it. People of color may obtain power through wealth or in a particular geographic area or social community, but that power is limited by both individual and institutional race prejudice and a set of rules, structures, and systems designed by white people to maintain power.

Low-income white Appalachians suffer discrimination and oppression. Why isn’t that racism?

There are many painful forms of discrimination and prejudice and not all prejudice is based on race. Low-income people in the United States suffer discrimination based on class. In the United States, the accumulation of wealth and power was made possible by slavery, land acquisition and genocide. Today all white people receive benefits and privilege, even though it may not be apparent at times, based on this racist system and history.

Why does ACF feel that racism is so important, compared to all the other “isms”?

ACF’s focus on racism does not diminish the importance of, or our efforts to address sexism, classism, heterosexism and homophobia, able-ism or any other form of discrimination. ACF believes that all issues of oppression and privilege are linked and that all must be challenged. Racism poses a unique obstacle to the ability of groups to organize, within our communities and with each other in the broader social change movement. History shows that racism has been consciously and systematically erected in the United States and has been intentionally used to manipulate and destroy every movement for progressive social change in this country. In addition, we feel that the methods we use to ‘unlearn’ racism can also be used to ‘unlearn’ other ism’s.

Many rural Appalachian communities are predominantly white. Why is anti-racist work important here?

Racism in the United States exists even in communities and institutions where people of color are not physically present or are a small percentage of the community. White Appalachians, while not feeling privileged, unknowingly benefit from racist institutions even while condemning a system known to be unfair, unjust, and oppressive. Racism is communicated powerfully and often subtly in society, through the media, schools, the legal system, and other structures and institutions that make decisions about our lives.

ACF feels that in order for any of our organizations to be allies in the movement for social change — which includes people from all races and ethnicities — we have to be willing to work cooperatively and respectfully with each other, and to be accountable for our behavior with our allies.

Has ACF changed its mission or focus?

Beginning with Native peoples, who are indigenous to Appalachia, the region has always been home to people of color including African-Americans, Latinos, Asians and people of Middle Eastern descent, in addition to whites from European ancestry. ACF’s focus on racism recognizes the great diversity in the Appalachian region, and is indication of an even deeper commitment to social change in Appalachia, which remains our primary mission.

Does my organization have to drop what we are doing to work just on racism in order to get funding from ACF?

No. We do not expect groups to abandon their core mission in order to address racism. ACF believes that racism is the most critical barrier to building effective coalitions for social change, and we expect that groups who understand social change also have an understanding of racism and see the importance of anti-racism work as a part of that social change. By working toward this goal, ACF believes we are expanding and strengthening the movement for social change in Appalachia.

ACF funds organizations working on a wide range of social justice issues, including environmental justice, domestic violence, education, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender rights, worker rights just to name a few. Within these issues and more there is room to have a deeper understanding of systemic and institutional racism and how it affects any of these individual issues.

If my organization hasn’t dealt with racism yet, can we still apply for funding?

When an organization requests funding from ACF, we look for indication that the group understands the importance of being anti-racist, and has or intends to make a commitment to that process, and/or is incorporating anti-racism into the overall organizational workplan. ACF recognizes that for many groups the idea of focusing on racism is new; we don’t expect every group to have dealt with racism already, just as ACF cannot and would not claim to have all the answers. However, in each proposal we look for an understanding of oppression in the work a group is doing; and in subsequent proposals we look for progress in this area.


Race: a false classification of people that is not based on any real or accurate scientific truth. The classification was created with the purpose of giving power to white people and to legitimize the dominance of white people over non-white people.

Power: access to resources, the ability to influence others, and access to decision makers to get what you want.

Racism: social and institutional power + race prejudice

Oppression: the systemic subjugation of one group by another with access to local power.

Internalized Racial Oppression: accepting and acting out a definition of self given you by your oppressor and rooted in a construct that names your race as inferior. Believing the images, stereotypes, prejudices and myths about ourselves or those of our own racial group which are based on racist messages we receive from the broader system we live in.

Internalized White Privilege: the way those in the dominant group internalize, accept and act out a definition of self given to you by your self and which comes from a system which designated your race as a superior race. Shows up in resistance to change, paternalism, scapegoating and blaming – having choices, freedom and opportunity, believing the system is fair.


People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, New Orleans, Louisiana

Haymarket People’s Fund, Boston, Massachusetts

Virginia Organizing Project, Charlottesville, Virginia

Peace Development Fund, Amherst, Massachusetts

Western States Center, Portland, Oregon