We write this — as a group of both current and former BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) employees of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York — to expand on the issues of racism and anti-Blackness in our workplace mentioned in our general open letter to the PPGNY Board. Planned Parenthood of New York City once released a shirt that said “Defy, Disrupt, Dismantle.“ We write this letter in that spirit.
PPGNY, under the leadership of CEO Laura McQuade, has effectively gaslit and silenced their marginalized staff thus creating a toxic work environment. While we stand together as people of color, we also stand firm in our commitment to acknowledge that anti-Blackness is a critical and specific fulcrum of white supremacy.
The PPGNY Senior Leadership team, despite the visual appearance of diversity, has repeatedly weaponized the language of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Rather than using their true definitions, senior leaders and upper management have used these terms to manipulate and silence those with differing opinions and perspectives. They have leveraged identity politics by putting Black and other people of color in positions of leadership who actively participate in harming Black staff and other staff members of color below them.
At this point, PPGNY’s attempts to present itself as a diverse workplace have been carefully orchestrated and superficial at best. PPGNY repeatedly tokenizes their Chief Equity and Learning Officer, a Woman of Color who is not of African descent, as the “voice” for BIPOC staff. The decision to hire a non-Black person in this role exemplifies the ways in which white-led organizations use non-Black people as a buffer to actually confront and uproot anti-Blackness within organizations. We also question the ethics behind a member of the Senior Leadership team who operates a consulting firm bringing on her co-founder into another role on Senior Leadership.
We know that Black people in positions of leadership or BIPOC leadership does not in itself ensure an environment either free of or working towards the abolition of white supremacy.
To quote Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor:
“This doesn’t mean that representation no longer matters. It does. But we can no longer assume that shared identity means a shared commitment to the strategies necessary to improve the lives of a vast majority of black people. Class tensions among African-Americans have produced new fault lines that the romance of racial solidarity simply cannot overcome.”
The class tensions are made clearer when the BIPOC leadership were also complicit in the decisions to furlough/terminate 28% of staff. This included the closing of health centers in the Bronx and Queens, as those areas were being devastated by COVID-19. Additionally furloughed staff, many of which are BIPOC women, remain unclear when they will be called back to work and left with no official information regarding when their health insurance will be terminated.
With multiple attempts by the BIPOC staff to bring these concerns to our supervisors, we continue to be invalidated and marginalized. White and non-Black employees are still given more pay and more advancement opportunities than their Black colleagues. Blanket statements are used to overshadow our grievances, while only exacerbating the problem. Black staff are further disheartened when our white and non-Black colleagues use their privilege to amplify our concerns, and find they, too, are challenged and manipulated into silence.
We will no longer be pacified with performative allyship. We are the authorities on our experiences and have organized in defense of ourselves to highlight the multitude of structural issues facing BIPOC staff. We lift up the demands in the aforementioned letter; to eliminate the toxicity at its core we demand senior leadership and their policies be deconstructed and replaced with policies and safeguards and a reimagining of what is possible at PPGNY. We refuse to be complacent and to let this continue further. We ask our white colleagues and supporters to stand with us.
We are in a moment of collective rage but also hope and social transformation. We are seeing the impossible happen everyday because of organizing and people refusing to be silent. We write this letter as a testament to our experiences but also as a call of action to the entire reproductive rights movement.