Gentrification and Paralyzes of the Heart

“Imborghesimento del cuore ci paralizza.” The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us. Pope Francis


Artwork from, artist Ashley Lukashevsky

Since I read this a few days ago the English translation has been rolling around in my brain. At random moments the thought of gentrification as a feeling and paralysis bounced through my thoughts and I paused to think about what it really means. I couldn’t pin it down until today. While sitting in a downtown law firm I saw several Black men wearing traditional Muslim taqiyahs. I wanted to give them a fist-bump for momentarily un-gentrifying the law firm. Their simple presence in a gentrified space was unexpected, yet so affirming. It was a feeling of belonging even though I had never met them before.

I haven’t read the full papal letter to understand the Pope’s words and intentions. After ten years of Catholic school, I can’t tell you the names of more than maybe two popes, three if you let me count Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II. All of this to say I’m not a Catholic or religious scholar. What I appreciate about the line from Pope Francis is he ties gentrification to a way of being and not just an act of moving into a neighborhood. I’m not going to delve into gentrification as it relates to urban planning or place because I’m a novice on the topic. What I do want to think about how gentrification is more than moving into a neighborhood, it is as Pope Francis says a consequence of comfortable living.

More Polite or Authentic

Gentrification at its most basic definition means “to make something or someone more polite and refined.” On most days because of the privileges I have, I am a gentrifier. I have professional access to meetings and in those meetings, I practice gentrification so I don’t get kicked out and lose my access and my livelihood (I like my job and the wages that come with it). In practicing gentrification, I temper my words, saying “we would appreciate if you can share the timeline for transparency,” versus the ungentrified line of “you need to share the timeline because we don’t trust you, we think you’re just going to blow us off.” Or as another friend said, “I’m going to get myself kicked out, I just said ‘this is bullshit!’ in the middle of the meeting.” I am professionally rewarded and live a comfortable life because I gentrify meetings and am able to act politely and refined – all of which Pope Francis warns against. Comfortable living for some is often at the sacrifice of others.

When we practice gentrification of the heart it comes from an inauthentic place. I’m giving you the sanitized version because that is safer. Sanitized and gentrified versions of ourselves allow us to keep our distance and to be polite. Do we want refined or do we want real? When I speak in coded language asking for things politely do I sellout and keep it safe for me, but sacrifice those I’m supposed to be advocating on behalf of? I can argue it both ways in my head — gentrify some and I can stay in it for the long game, un-gentrify maybe we get to a resolution faster — hard to know which is the more effective strategy.

Are you ready to un-gentrify?

For white people are you ready to give up some of your white comfort as your act of de-gentrification? Earlier this week I was in a meeting and a white colleague kept pivoting the conversation away from race. The combative nature and not-so-subtle signs of white fragility showed his paralysis and his fear. On an elevator ride down with another colleague we both looked at each other and asked, “what just happened?” I sighed and said “white fragility.” I explained the person has to do their own work on understanding race and as a result, their heart is paralyzed and in protectionist mode versus being willing to tear apart the manicured whiteness and privilege built up and receptive to new learning.

For pocs, our acts of de-gentrification should be looking at how we change who we are to be more polite or refined for the sake of systems, institutions, and power structures. When we show up and have to cater to whiteness we gentrify and paralyze part of ourselves. For our acts of de-gentrification we need to work to show up more authentically and true to ourselves. We also need to have each other’s backs when we do this. My speaking truthfully and openly means I’m placing trust in others around me to accept and suspend judgment about what I am sharing. We may not agree with each other in the moment but work to build a relationship of understanding and trust with each other. A friend who does research on trust and pocs shared her research which found trust is built over time and when we are willing to show up more authentically, including sharing what could be vulnerabilities.

If we want to work on de-gentrifying physical spaces we also have to work at un-gentrifying our hearts a well.

By Erin Okuno

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30 Things to Do and Don’t do in 2018

panda raising hand.jpgWelcome to 2018! I hope the year is starting out great. This time of year is ripe for exploring new ways of thinking and pushing boundaries on our practices. Here is a list of thirty things we should commit to not doing and doing. Why thirty? I just received a survey asking me to rank and choose leadership attributes from a list of thirty suggestions – fakequity. The attributes listed were mostly color blind too, double fakequity, so this is a list partially in jest.

In 2018 We Will Stop:

  1. Sending meaningless surveys that are mostly used to say “I engaged the community,” but really the outcome is pre-determined or you already know what you want to do.
  2. Developing survey questions without community input.
  3. Saying “But I translated it…” and believe translation is racial equity. Short answer translation and interpretation provides access to an already established process. Equity is deeper and harder and involves sharing power.
  4. Having book groups, staff meetings, community gatherings talking about equity with only people who look and sound like us. This includes poc groups who aren’t diverse in class status, perspectives/thought, etc.
  5. Believing diversity is racial equity, it isn’t. Diversity helps us reach racial equity, but having a diverse group isn’t synonymous with equity.
  6. Fighting petty fights that lead us no-where, including on social media. Dear trolls, Please leave the comforts of hiding behind the internet and go meet some real people. It is much harder to say mean things to someone who could (in theory and practice) punch you.
  7. Weaponizing data.
  8. We will stop believing solutions have to be an either/or, zero-sum, or mutually exclusive. Community-driven solutions are often more complex, rich, and will last longer than believing there is only one way of solving a problem.
  9. Stop believing Asians are Whites and have the same privileges as white people. Also, stop grouping and treating Asian data the same as Whites, while many Asians are performing well they haven’t transcendent racism to achieve those results.
  10. Stop ‘Gotcha’ politics. Playing ‘gotcha’ or tearing apart people isn’t nice. Instead, work to build relationships and use those relationships to push boundaries and thinking.
  11. Stop centering whiteness.
  12. Don’t ask a poc ‘to pick your brain.’
  13. Stop having woke-offs. No need to prove how woke or social justicey you are. We’re all smart on some things and idiots at other things. Let’s practice humility and be cool with learning from each others. While we’re at this, no need to play oppression wars. We’re all oppressed in some way. I really don’t need to hear how you felt you were denied something, you weren’t entitled to it, you’ll survive the disappointment and aggrievement.

In 2018 We Will:

  1. Focus on racial equity and racial justice. Focusing on the future and what it takes to get there requires a harder push than just focusing on petty fights. We need to shift narratives to what is working.
  2. Prioritize data, stories, and voices from marginalized communities of color.
  3. Disaggregate data and shift practices to acknowledge race groups are not monolithic (the same) in experiences. Within race groups migration stories, languages, and cultures are very different.
  4. Seek diversity of all sorts within communities of color: LGQBTIA, disabled, immigrants/refugee, non-English speakers, seniors and youth, poor, unhoused, etc. Practice intersectionality, focusing on those farthest from justice.
  5. Acknowledge the histories and the harm of colonialism and work to undo colonist tendencies. We will acknowledge we are on Native American land and listen to our Native American/Indigenous partners on what they need to achieve justice.
  6. We will acknowledge our individual privileges, and work to use our privileges to undo racism. If you are thinking, “Yo, I’m not rich I’m not privileged,” check-yo-self, you are reading a blog post in English. The privilege of literacy and access to the internet are two of many privileges you have.
  7. Focus on balancing power and actively working to redistribute power from those who have it to those who deserve more. If you need a crash course on power, start by just watching who is speaking and who makes decisions – probably not those most impacted by the decision.
  8. Build relationships with people who are different than us and invest in these relationships. But don’t get creepy with it, not every poc wants to be your friend.
  9. Invest in the relationships that bring us joy, different perspectives, and allow us to be our authentic selves.
  10. Build movements versus isolated actions. Individual actions are important, but remember the larger context and long-game of undoing racism.
  11. Be an ally and accomplice. Be willing to call bullshit and stand behind what you say. Don’t wait for others to do what you know needs to be done.
  12. Vote, and work to bring voting to pocs. Stop voter suppression and push for non-citizen voting.
  13. Focus on systemic change. Systems dictate results, decisions made by people that impact others is how a system functions – focusing here has the potential to impact many people.
  14. Use your spheres of influence. Start a conversation with someone who needs to be pushed to think about race and justice. Need some ideas start with the Fakequity chart. or play Fakequity BINGO.
  15. Read books that make you think differently about race. News articles have their place, but deeper longer forms of reading take us to different places. If you are like me and haven’t read an adult book in six months, children’s books are a great way to open up to something new. Go to your public library and browse the shelves to find a new book by a poc author. Need some suggestions go here.
  16. Be engaged and examine without defense.

By the way, if you screw up in the next few days, don’t worry Lunar New Year’s is around the corner and you can start fresh, but only after you go to the temple to ask for a blessing and forgiveness, humility a value to practice in 2018.

By Erin Okuno

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

Beyond Books, Blog Posts, and Bleacher Seating: Relationships Matter and I have the Whale Pictures to Prove it


Mural of three different types of whales/dolphins swimming. Photo by Heidi Schillinger

Editor’s Note: We’re taking next week off to celebrate the holidays. Look for us back in 2018. Also, this is a long blog post, but stick with it to the end.

There are probably three readers that have clicked on this link wondering how I am tying whales to racial equity. You’ll have read until the end to find the connection (don’t cheat and scroll to the bottom), but I am glad the whale click bait worked.

One of the most common responses I hear to how people are building their racial equity awareness and knowledge is by reading books, subscribing to blog posts, watching movies and attending lectures. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of books, blog posts, videos and lectures. I have stacks on books on my desk. If you are wondering, I am currently reading Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning: and Sherman Alexie’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Clearly, I am a fan of blog posts –, Fakequity, Nonprofit AF, Black Girl Dangerous, and so many more. I have also recently been captivated by the Think Indigenous podcast, featuring Indigenous perspectives on education. And, I am a proud Viki Pass Plus subscriber, so I can watch all the Korean dramas I want.

Reading and listening are not substitutes for relationships

One of the dangers of solely or mostly relying on reading and listening to build our understanding of different cultural and racialized (among other) experiences is that we still filter our learning through our own experiences. I have seen this lead to a distorted sense of understanding and knowledge. Where people speak with a false sense of authority about something they have read, but never experienced or never had anyone close to them experience.

Or reading and listening in isolation leads to people immediately and easily dismissing ideas that challenge a current way of thinking. A minimum “practice” (otherwise known as homework) suggestion I give workshop participants is a read a few articles, all written by people of color, from a list I provide. The list includes articles such as, Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing The Ally Industrial Complex and How to Uphold White Supremacy by Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion. When I ask for reflections on the readings, I often hear comments like “I was really put off by the tone of the author. I couldn’t even finish the article because I felt like the author only complained and didn’t offer solutions. I feel like all these articles just make me feel bad about being white, and that isn’t helpful.” This is how racialized power shows up even when we read. Consider how these same patterns play out in our work. White systems won’t listen to people of color if they are too emotional—news flash racism is emotional. White systems won’t listen to people of color if they don’t present ideas in formats deemed “professional” according to the standard set by whiteness. White systems won’t listen to people of color unless white people feel included, affirmed, and comfortable. To ignore these patterns of racialized power, even when we read, watch and listen, is to uphold systemic racism.

At this point, you might be thinking –

  1. Whew, Heidi is not talking about me. I don’t do or say any of the things she just mentioned.
  2. Okay, Heidi, but I talk with other people about the books, blog posts, movies, and lectures.
  3. Heidi, when are you getting to the whales?

For the people who chose 1, we all engage in these patterns of racialized power. Yes, even people of color. Yes, even me. To say you haven’t been impacted by racism is equivalent to saying, “I believe in institutional racism, it’s just not in my work.” This is the #alllivesmatter of liberal racism.

A quicker note to the three people who chose 3, I promise I’ll get to the whales. But please keep your expectation realistic.

Answer 2: Designed for segregation and dehumanization

A longer note to the people who choose B, my loving critique is really aimed here. This is where book clubs and lecture discussions are happening but in mostly racially segregated spaces. At the very roots of systemic racism are policies and practices that were intended to segregate and dehumanize; colonization, slavery, Jim Crow laws, internment. In plainer language, policies kept white people separate and in power in order to dehumanize people of color and justify economic exploitation. The legacy of that explicit segregation and dehumanization lingers with us today, even in the way we learn.

Ask yourself, is your book club or discussion group an echo chamber? This is an especially important question for white folks. Discussing Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” or the most recent Ta Nehisi Coates’ Lecture in a group of mostly white people (and a few Asians) is upholding segregation. Having brown bag lunch and learns at work with mostly white people is upholding segregation. Holding a racial equity training with a group of mostly white participants is upholding segregation.

For people of color having spaces with just Asians, just African-Americans, etc. serves a different and important purpose, but we also need to be aware of how our echo chambers can uphold the dehumanization of different communities of color. As an Asian American, how does segregation uphold my participation in anti-blackness? If we aren’t paying conscious attention, our personal and professional lives will default to racial segregation. Remember it was designed that way to continue to uphold systemic racism and white supremacy.

Another article I often ask workshop participants to read is Men Just Don’t Trust Women — And It’s A Huge Problem. Too many times, men read this article and then tell me they talked with other men about the article and have decided it is false. This is the echo chamber problem. Or men will tell me that they talked with one woman and she agreed that the article is false. This is the tokenization problem. We can do better.

Design for relationships, design for humanization

If our default patterns are designed for segregation and dehumanization, we need to design our lives to foster true cross-racial relationships. As we think about redesigning our lives and work, remember equal is not racially equitable even in relationship building.

About four years ago, I took a hard look at who I had built relationships with and currently trusted to give me work advice. One glaring omission from my inner circle at that time was youth, and in particular youth of color. Yet, I spent a lot of time talking with educators about how to make schools more racially equitable for youth of color. I spoke from research, books, videos, and anecdotal stories. But my work wasn’t being influenced by students of color.

I realized I shouldn’t go around telling others to build relationships with the people most impacted by racism and not do this myself. I decided to redesign my week so I could regularly volunteer with youth. I chose the Major Taylor Project hosted at the YES Foundation of White Center. I hung out and rode bikes with high school students once a week. It was awkward at first. I am an introvert and hadn’t been around high school students for a long time. None of the students really talked with me, and I had to work hard to build connections. A few years later, one of the students told me they purposely didn’t talk to me for the first six months because they didn’t know if I was going to stick around. They were right, many volunteers didn’t stick around for more than a few months. I am glad I stuck around, and I am glad the students started to share things with me. My life and work have been richer, more meaningful and filled with more urgency for racial justice because of my relationships with Ricardo, Juan, Tom, Huang, Diana, Phuc, Thai, Michael and many more.

A few things I learned in my own relationship redesign process:

  • It requires effort and planning. I needed to have something regularly scheduled on my calendar. I had to prioritize these efforts to ensure they happened.
  • I had no agenda, other than relationship building. It wasn’t connected to my work. I wasn’t the leader. I was only there to connect with kids and ride bikes.
  • Building trust took time. It took six months (or more) for the students to trust me and begin to open up. But once trust had been built they shared openly.
  • Relationships are reciprocal. I had to be willing to share things, invest time, and learn from the youth as well.
  • Relationships are humanizing. Issues are more personal and urgent when I care and am connected to people directly impacted. I am less tolerant of excuses, justified or not, about why we can’t make radical changes in our education system. I know the lives of students I care deeply about are being impacted right now and they can’t wait. They shouldn’t have to wait for racial justice.

These are ideas that can be applied to our personal relationship building and also things to consider as we design for better relationships and connections with communities of color in our work. A few words of caution that deserve their own blog post in the future: please don’t tokenize, be a creeper, or displace/gentrify.

“Save the whales”

You made it. We’re going to talk about whales now. As a nearly lifelong Washingtonian, I have grown up with whales in my backyard. Not literally in my backyard, but metaphorically in my backyard. I have also done a lot of work in the environmental space and have a racial justice knee jerk reaction to the save the whales crowd. Perhaps both as a product of taking for granted things in my backyard and an explicit bias towards the save the whales crowd, I have never been that interested in whales. A year ago, I would have left a conversation about whales as quickly as I could think of a good excuse to go back to the snack table. In all fairness, it wasn’t that I didn’t like whales, I just wasn’t interested in them. But people and relationships can do unpredictable things to us. Someone I care about really likes whales and convinced me they are important to the ecosystem and just darn great animals. I even watched Free Willy.

A year later, I am struck by the fact that I have had conversations about what whales co-exist or don’t co-exist together, why a certain type of whale has a tusk (a narwhal if you’re curious), and why orca whales in captivity have collapsed dorsal fins (scientists don’t really know, but it is a sign of an unhealthy whale). I have found myself at windy and cold Beluga Point looking for whales during a recent trip to Anchorage. And, my phone camera roll includes more than a dozen pictures of pictures of whales. I even have a new outlook on the save the whales crowd. In fact, I might be in the save the whales crowd now, as I just told someone today to stop using Styrofoam and to think about saving the whales. Like working towards racial equity, we need to connect the head to the heart, relationships help us do this.

Relationships matter. Save the whales.

By Heidi Schillinger

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

Reverse Stacking and Better Facilitation to reach Equitable Results

A note before we start: Today the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), ruled to disband Obama-era protections on equal access to the internet, better known as net neutrality. I’ve been following this debate and the ruling isn’t a surprise. I’m using this blog’s platform to say the undoing of these regulations will not favor people of color. If we explore it more deeply we will find threads of systemic and institutional racism. The fight isn’t over yet. Washington’s Attorney General and Governor have both taken steps to limit the reach of corporate internet providers in undoing net neutrality. Others across the country are stepping up as well. We need to keep the pressure on government officials to restore these protections and keep a more level playing field for access to information.

panda meeting 2

I’m guessing if you are reading this blog you’ve attended a few meetings in the past week. It could have been a small meeting of two people or a larger meeting with a few dozen to maybe larger. Someone was probably facilitating the meeting or gathering in some form. I do a lot of facilitation for work and in other places. Facilitation is a skillset that needs to be developed and practiced, especially as it relates to how can we use facilitation to reach more equitable results. If you don’t want to read much else here are the three main points on facilitation skills, we’ll unpack today:

  1. People Want to Be Seen
  2. Relationships – Even brief relationships are important
  3. Leveling power

If you know me well, you should be saying “Erin, those are race neutral – I expect better from you.” Here is where race comes into the three topics.

Everyone Wants to be Seen and Reverse Stacking

sad pandaYes, everyone wants to be seen – white people are seen a lot. White people are in almost every meeting I attend, even in spaces that are centered on communities of color, there is often at least a few white allies. People of color want to be seen and need to be understood just as much as white people. Yet the way current systems are designed and the way we are acculturated to dominant society people of color aren’t always seen and at the least they aren’t equals.

I learned a new term today – reverse stacking. Colleagues from Na’ah Illahee Fund presented on being allies with Indigenous communities. One of the practices they use when asking for feedback is to recognize and center Indigenous voices first, followed by other marginalized communities further from power. They invite Indigenous/Native American women to speak first, then Indigenous/Native American men, African American/Black and Latinx women, African American/Black and Latinx men, other poc women, other poc men, and finally white women, and white men. Please don’t get caught up in the race terminology or exact order within the order; the idea is what is important here. By changing the order of who is heard we are changing the power dynamics of the meeting.

Often time who speaks first sets the direction of a conversation, by being conscious of who is seen and whose voices are heard we alter the direction of a conversation. Using facilitation methods such as reverse stacking is important to allowing voices of people who are often not heard, heard first. When I facilitate I often call on pocs in the room or will invite them to speak first, much like the principle of reverse stacking but without the stacking. These practices are important for leveling power in the room too. Without realizing it, traditional power dynamics bleed into spaces – such as white men are seen as having power by just being born as white men, but facilitating in ways that invite others to speak up first allows us to change habits and power dynamics.

As a caveat, when I wrote everyone wants to be seen I believe that is true, but not everyone will want to publicly comment all of the time. Sometimes introverts, quieter people, or those where English (or whatever the dominant language of the meeting is) may not feel comfortable speaking in larger groups so use different modes of meeting facilitation to reach people, such as smaller table conversations or writing before speaking to elicit people’s responses.

Facilitating to Build Relationships

Relationships are very important; the facilitation of a meeting should work to create, foster, and deepen relationships between people – preferably cross-racially. Meetings should always be thought of as just one piece of the overall and longer-term work. Most of the real work happens outside of the meeting room, such as in the networking after the meeting in the parking lot or in my case at lunch or happy hour.

As much as we should allow relationship building to happen organically, we can also give it a nudge by socially engineer some of the relationship building. Everything from where people sit to the questions asked can help to build relationships. I recently facilitated a meeting where several white people sat together. Most of them were new to the meeting and they congregated together as they came in. As more people filtered into the room I steered several poc colleagues to that table to intentionally diversify the table conversations. I made sure to not isolate any of my poc colleagues at that table by sending several pocs to that table. At some meetings my team and I do table assignments as people walk in to purposefully break up cliques, mix people, and promote cross-racial conversations. Don’t be afraid to do these things, they make a difference and help to build new relationships in forming.

Leveling Power

We touched upon power earlier in the blog post. Power dynamics are always present, we can’t create spaces devoid or immune to power. What we can do is to facilitate meetings that level and redistribute power to people of color.

When I facilitate I try to pay attention to power dynamics. Some of it is easy to spot such as who is speaking and who isn’t. Or where people sit is another easy way to level power, breaking up cliques and more specifically white people cliques is an important way to redistribute power.

Even before a meeting starts you can level power dynamics through intentionally thinking about the attendee list and making sure it is diverse and centering communities of color and other groups such as immigrants/refugees, disabled people of color, elders and youth of color, by sectors that may not traditionally show up in your space (e.g. in education are you hearing from faith-based communities of color, health, or legal), are invited.

These are a few steps that may help to change conversations and push them towards more equitable results. Like all skills the more you practice them the better and easier they get. My final tip is to watch how other people you enjoy facilitate and take mental notes of the facilitation moves they make. We all need to push and develop some new edges around our skills.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

Community Engagement Phrases That are Funny in Other Languages


A picture of a pink jacket with English text translated from Chinese. Picture taken in Taiwan by Erin Okuno

A friend said we needed a funny blog post. This week we’ll poke fun at the English language and the privileged space English has in our lives. One of my resolutions for 2017 was to spend less time in English only spaces. I still spend about 98-percent of my life in English speaking spaces, but that other 2-percent is memorable.

This blog post is making fun of English phrases you may hear or read while doing community engagement. Many of these phrases or words are really hard to explain or translate to a non- or limited-English speaking/literate people. As an example a few weeks ago I was waiting for my kid’s soccer practice to end, imagine October on a cold night watching little kids running in a scrum and keep missing the ball. Another parent who I know a little is Chinese speaking and she stopped me to ask what does light dinner mean. She was translating an English flier into Chinese but didn’t know what light dinner meant. I tried to explain it meant appetizers, but she didn’t know the word appetizer and Google translate wasn’t helping. I tried saying dim sum like food, thinking that the Chinese reference might help, but that confused her more. Pupus was out of the question. I think in the end we settled on just the word dinner.

Here are a list of phrases and words, crowdsourced from my Facebook friends, that don’t translate well from English into most languages. Some would argue they hardly make sense in English, so why would they make sense in any other language.

Community Engagement – You want to marry the community?

Light Dinner – You want me to eat a light bulb?

Heavy appetizer – I can’t even begin to fathom how to describe this to a non-English speaker. Appetizers are tiny pieces of food, but it must be heavy too?

Task force – Using brunt force to complete our tasks is acceptable. People talking at a nonprofit meeting can get violent at times.

Executive Director – My colleague said she couldn’t explain my position title to her Chinese speaking mother. I was translated into President.

Intersectionality – Like a traffic intersection you drive through? And it isn’t to talk about your intersections of identities, watch the video in the link if you’re confused.

Lunch and learn – I’m expected to learn about your lunch? Wait, I have to bring a paper brown bag to this lunch too?

That’s a Very Good Point (when pointing out the obvious that the room is filled with all white people) – Explaining this nuance through an interpreter sounds like this “All of the people who are nodding are white people. They now understand they are white and need more ideas from people of color.”

Committee – I think the translation of a committee into any is “where good ideas go to die.” My friend Bao shared the Vietnamese word for committee which is “ủy ban.” She also said the cultural nuance is important because ủy ban is a communist-invented word and many Vietnamese immigrants do not like the word.

Authentic engagement – We want real engagement, not fake engagement? Engagement as in you want to marry me? Well, at least this is authentic engagement and not community engagement where you wanted to marry everyone.

Bring your whole self to the conversation. — Sooo, not just my side eye?  (h/t Kristin W.)

Lean in – I should put my head in the middle of the meeting? I need to assume a pose like a skier? Wait, I’m from a warm climate and barely know what skiing is like. Can I just sit down or stand up?

Be present. – I should bring a present, like a gift?

Listening tour – You’re going around listening to people, like people who are band groupies listening to music?

Potluck – My cooking pot will bring you luck? Smoking pot might bring you more luck, but that isn’t legal in every state so it definitely won’t bring you luck if you land in jail.

I want to raise up your voice – You want me to speak in a higher octave?

Let’s put that in the parking lot – We should walk outside and put this into a parking lot and then drive away?

Limited childcare available – So I should limit how many children I bring? Just some childcare is available, so I have to pick them up early?

Skin in the game – You want me to cut myself and leave my skin on a game board? Barbaric!

Finally, let’s try to interpret the phrase Racial Equity – Race, not a running race, but people race. Race as in where people are from. But not really because some people are born in America but still considered a certain race (don’t confuse nationality with race). Equity – not financial equity, but how much people need to be complete? People aren’t complete? This is sounding a lot like when you tried to explain limited childcare to me. I think I’ll just stay home and take a nap.

When working with non- or limited-English speaking communities it is best to say what you mean. Skip the code switching, the talking in circles, and break down your concept into terms into words that make sense. Such as instead of saying “lean in,” say “I want you to pay attention even if the other person pisses you off. Don’t leave or stop listening.”

Some other tips for working with interpreters:

  • Interpretation vs. Translation – quick definition is interpretation is verbal, translation is written.
  • Interpretation requires quick thinking and processing. The interpreter often has to listen, process, and translate simultaneously. They often must also have to communicate in two languages and both directions, e.g. English to ASL and ASL to English, Spanish to Chinese and Chinese to Spanish, etc.
  • Translation is written and requires sophisticated grasp of written language and cultural written nuances.
  • If an interpreter is being used it is helpful for them if you can do the following:
    • Pay them for their professional skills
    • Speak at a normal or slower pace
    • Pause to allow them to think, process, and speak – even when using simultaneous translation (i.e. translations where people are listening in on headsets, or the interpreter is speaking at the same time as the speaker)
    • Be aware of background noise and work to limit it
    • One speaker at a time, don’t speak over other people too
    • If using simultaneous interpretation test your equipment ahead of time and bring extra headsets and extra batteries
    • If the meeting is long, hire more than one interpreter so they can trade off. ASL interpreters often work in pairs, we should work to do this for other languages as well.

Posted by Erin Okuno. Thank you to friends who contributed to this blog post.

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

What it means to be Asian American, on the mainland

I’m out of topics to blog about this week and I’m too lazy to think hard about race, equity, and policy stuff. Instead, I’ll write about what I know well, what it means to be Asian American. This is a privilege of the blog, controlling the content and unfairly using the pulpit to focus and aggrandize me, I promise not to make this a regular thing.

Asian first or Japanese first?

2016-07-16 16.49.41

My kid wearing my kimono looking at ikebana.

I’m Asian but haven’t always thought of myself as Asian. I was raised in Hawaii where Asians are everywhere. Hawaii’s Governor George Ariyoshi was a Japanese American governor during my keiki time (Hawaiian word for child). He was the first Governor of Asian ancestry to ascend to governorship in the county, he broke the bamboo ceiling. More recently Hawaii Governor David Ige is the first Okinawan American governor in the nation. This is what I grew up with – seeing Japanese and Asian Americans and Asian immigrants around me.

Growing up in Hawaii I didn’t see myself as Asian, I was seen by my familial ethnicity of Japanese first, and a bit of Okinawan. It was great, I was secure in my ethnic identity. Teachers looked like me, my neighbors and friends were diverse, going to the store we didn’t need to shop at the Asian food store or aisles to find nori, Okinawan sweet/purple potatoes, or mochiko. Visiting my grandparents, we got our doses of Japanese and Okinawan culture and sprinklings of language. One grandma played old school tinny Japanese records and I think my first kid size kimono was a gift from her. My other grandma taught me how to be Japanese and Okinawan through feeding people. Food was her love language, “You hungry? Eat more.” Through her I saw what it meant to be in a Japanese community – you feed each other, literally and figuratively, the aunties and cousins would be over, and the food would spill out of the kitchen and be present whenever people were around.

Ohhh, now I’m Asian

I moved to Seattle for college and it was in college I figured out “Ohhhhhh, I’m now Asian – not Japanese – Asian.” On the mainland, what Hawaii people call the continental United States, label me first as an Asian, and maybe get around to understanding my ethnicity and culture. Being on the mainland I learned as Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) we have to fight to be seen in a way I didn’t feel like I had to Hawaii. Hawaii’s demographics and culture are more centered towards the API experience and the population density allowed us to be seen differently than in the continental US.

Growing up in a state that was “majority-minority,” a term that is now outdated and pejorative but is descriptive of the time, gave me a grounding as an Asian American. I didn’t walk into a room and scan the room to see if there were other Asians because there almost always were other Asians. This is a habit I learned when I started working on the mainland, I scan the room and count to see if there are other people of color. Being part of the majority meant I had safety in numbers, my identity wasn’t unusual in a space like it is now, being somewhere I wasn’t the exception to the rule, and it also meant I was accountable to others who knew how to hold me accountable in cultural ways, not just traditional accountability.

As an Asian American in Seattle, I can see how growing up in Hawaii gave me a different lens to the API and poc experience. In some ways growing up in the majority means I expect things that others may not feel I have the right to expect. Such as I expect APIs and POCs in leadership roles. I expect the Asian experience to be understood as nuanced not as a monolithic group. I expect our identity as APIs and pocs to matter and to be seen as both, not forced to choose whether I am Asian, Japanese, or poc. When I walk into a meeting I expect to be taken seriously and be given the benefit of the doubt because of who I am, not have to prove I belong there. Some people read this as arrogance at worst and self-assuredness at its best, I think it is somewhere between both, and apologetically I don’t know how to think otherwise.

At times systems and institutions don’t know what to do with Asians. I know I have access and privileges because I’m a poc that can code-switch. Growing up in the majority taught me how to navigate in dominant culture – I can speak up, I can bridge communities and institutions, and I work to understand poc cultures. That said at times systems and institutions don’t know what to do with Asians (broadly speaking, not just me), they want to consider us white believing we’ve transcended racism, but if you talk to many Asians we tell a different story. I do my best to own the privileges Asianess has afforded me and my family, but being an Asian with many privileges doesn’t mean I’m white. I can’t walk into a room and trust I will be in the majority, I can’t trust systems to recognize the migration stories, languages and cultures embedded into the API experience, and I know if I step out of the bubble that I created for myself surrounded by strong poc leaders, I am more of the exception than the norm.

API stories and leadership matters. APIs are a rich race group with over 40 unique ethnic groups. Our languages, histories, cultures, and migration stories are different. My API experience is different than others in my extended family and friend network. Heidi and Jondou, two close colleagues who contribute to this blog, are both Asians and their stories are different than mine, yet many look at us as Asians first and assume we are the same.

Some readings to learn more:

Posted by Erin Okuno

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.


Stop Saying We’re Winning, We’re Not

Before we start, if you’re not paying attention to the battle for the internet, you should. The FCC has proposed changes that will eliminate net neutrality. The short version is ending net neutrality will create more of a digital divide by creating more of a market based system where you pay for what you need, sounds good but if you are poor or a small business it is hard to compete with people with faster internet. If you care about ending racism, you should care about freedom of information and who has access to it. Rise up and get mad about Net Neutrality, link to the FCC comment page, enter code 17-108.

I’m torn between writing this post and writing something about being thankful because it is Thanksgiving weekend. Alas, this is Fakequity and we rarely do what is expected.

Last week I attended a policy-wonk conference. It was interesting and a great way to learn more about federal tax policy, meet other colleagues, and learn some new things. I learned a lot of new acronyms like EITC (earning income tax credit) and terms like Con Con (look it up) that make little sense to non-wonks. The wonk-factor was high at this event in a good way.

Several people mentioned how different this conference felt than the year before. The 2016 conference happened right after the presidential election that elected Trump. It sounded like a collective mourning and shrouds of darkness hung over the event. This year we didn’t kid ourselves that things were rosy, but the light was peeking through despite being in windowless hotel conference rooms. There was ‘fight’ in the room, I was waiting for someone to play Rachel Patton’s Fight Song as an anthem.

During one of the plenary panels, several speakers said: “We’re winning…” The multiracial panel talked about how we stopped the Republican’s attempt to squash the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Others talked about success at multiracial organizing and bringing white rural people along. It was interesting and inspiring and an important shot of go-go juice, but a third of the way through the talk I wrote myself a note “Are we really winning?”

I may be standing alone in the corner in the policy-wonk land, but I don’t think communities of color and the progressive movement are really winning right now. We may feel like we’re winning but we’re just slowing down bad stuff from happening. Our causes are in defensive mode and we’re responding. We’re doing a great job at slowing down crap from happening, but I hesitate to call this winning.

Holding the Line

Last year at the Washington State Budget & Policy Center conference I dropped into a panel discussion with Dr. Ben Danielson. Dr. Danielson is a local legend for his work at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. While on the panel his co-panelist talked about the defensive policy moves we would have to take after the Trump was elected. The panelist talked about steps to save Apple Health for Kids (state medical insurance) and rural versus urban politics. These were important points, but nothing really stood out until Dr. Danielson answered a question and said something along the lines of “I’m worried we’ll hold the line and we won’t make progress.” This honest sentiment resonated.


Artwork from the National Portrait Gallery Struggle for Justice exhibit. Photo by Erin Okuno

Holding the line and fighting to keep what we have is important, but does this come at the expensive of working for more? People and communities of color are already behind. It is important to protect the gains we’ve made, but if we’re not pushing for more we risk staying behind. We need to be honest about where we are and the gains we’ve made. We also need to believe we are entitled to more. By declaring we’re winning we’re putting blinders on to the fact we are wasting a lot of energy fighting for things we already fought for. If we weren’t forced to save healthcare, we could use that energy to work for some greater achievement.

Be Bolder

A few months ago, I was working with the Chinese immigrant community and my colleague and friend Jondou asked the parents a simple question “What are your dreams for your children?” People who work with Asian immigrants are probably chuckling a bit, in the Asian community we don’t talk about dreams. We may talk about aspirations, but not in the terms of dreams. One of the participants answered this question thoughtfully by saying “I don’t even know my own dreams.”

It is hard to dream when you have been told to stay inline and to be grateful for what you have. The message mainstream America tells people of color is “You too can achieve this dream if you work hard.” But what mainstream America doesn’t explain is how racism works. The American dream is also just that, a monolithic American dream, don’t dare to want something different than that dream or to ask for more, or to question if the resources and tools are there to achieve the dream.

Jondou shared with the group “I think one of the ways that…racial inequality happens is when people can’t even dream anymore. We’re so busy looking for a translator that we can’t think our own thoughts.” Many of the parents we worked with said their identities as Chinese people weren’t recognized by the school system. They didn’t have aspirational dreams to share because they were caught up in asking the school system to provide little things many of us take for granted. They were asking for basics like interpreters, to making sure their children weren’t misidentified as needing special education services when really the child didn’t understand English, and to be seen by the school system. I hear similar stories out of other communities of color. It is hard to dream when you’re worried about physical safety – is it safe to walk home from a neighbor’s house past 10.00 p.m., is it safe for your African American teen to walk your sweet pit bull at night, do you dare to dream about college for your child when your kid is constantly told they need to behave differently to stay in class.

This is how systems tell us to stay in our place and we call little things wins – Yay we got an interpreter today, never mind the bigger dream of changing the system so we have bilingual teachers and education for all. We are too busy fighting for things that should be provided. When we speak up to demand what we should be entitled to it we’re told we’re being too forward, too audacious, too outlandish. The subtle message is we should be more reasonable, shut up and be grateful for the pittance of wins. So yes, we are winning, but we’re not winning fast enough to stay caught up.


My resolution in 2017 is to practice more gratitude. The challenge for me is to remember gratitude doesn’t equate with settling. As an example: I’m grateful we saved health care, I’m still annoyed we had to fight that fight.

Join me in celebrating the wins but continuing to call out fakequity. I will share what I am thankful for as it relates to winning and holding the line:

  • I am thankful for the policy wonks who wonk-out and provide the data needed to prove we’re winning and how we’re not winning. At another time I’ll blog about how you need to wonk-out with activist to breakdown silos.
  • I’m thankful for people like Dr. Ben Danielson who speak truth-to-power and brave being the lone person on the panel saying nope, we’re settling for less than we deserve. There are many of you who model this — thank you.
  • I’m thankful to the families who showed up and stayed in the uncomfortable space of talking about their dreams. In American terms they “leaned in,” which trust me doesn’t translate well into Chinese or other languages.
  • Thankful to the people who feed me both literally and figuratively.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.


We Can’t Train Our Way to Racial Equity

Erin is gone on a “work trip” and told me it’s time to write this blog post that I promised weeks ago. In true Heidi fashion, I need to start off my post with a disclaimer. I make my living as a racial equity consultant and most of my work comes from requests for trainings. So, it might not be in the best business interest to criticize the core service of my business, but here it is. I too am learning to undo the ways I uphold systemic racism and support white supremacy. Change, reflection, and applied learning are values I strive to model in my own journey towards racial justice. This is one of my “show what you’re learning, not what you already know” moments of living the Color Brave Space norms.

Training is NOT the destination


Heidi preparing for a training

I now realize many mainstream organizations are approaching “training” as the destination for their racial equity work. This realization and discomfort are affirmed through employee surveys, where overwhelmingly the most common response to what their organization is doing to advance racial equity is training. Believing we can train our way to racial equity is fakequity.

There are two fundamental reasons training cannot be our destination. First, paraphrasing the Racial Equity Tools definition, racial equity is when race is no longer a predictor of outcomes. Training does not guarantee disparities by race will be eliminated. In the article, The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy, the author defines the system we are trying to dismantle as one that protects white comfort, white control, and white confidentiality. Training also does not guarantee these systems of white supremacy will be undone or even disrupted. As our friend at Nonprofit AF writes, racial equity is about money and the ability for communities of color to have power and control over how money is spent to address racial injustice. Training does not guarantee money will go to communities of color to fight racial injustice. (Sidebar, I know you will continue to conduct training so please ensure you are hiring facilitators who are people of color. Hiring white facilitators because it makes mostly white participants feel more comfortable continues to center whiteness.)

The second reason training is not the destination is most organizations have staff who are starting at such varying and disproportionately low skill levels. Having participants at such varying skill levels makes conducting an effective workshop almost impossible. I use language learning as a parallel cognitive skill. Imagine you were trying to teach a Spanish class to participants who don’t know any Spanish, who know some Spanish, and a few who are fluent in Spanish. Then imagine the expectation was that after 8 or 9 hours of training everyone will be fluent. We are setting ourselves up fail. We are creating a false sense of progress that upholds the very system we are working to dismantle.

Relying mostly on training continues to give whiteness the benefit of the doubt

A predictable pattern of systemic racism is giving white people the benefit of the doubt while requiring people of color to show proof and evidence. This double standard plays out in who organizations hire and promote based on a perceived potential. It plays out in requiring people of color to prove or show evidence of racial discrimination before we are believed.

Relying mostly on training to achieve racial equity continues to uphold this double standard. People of color are required to know how to navigate white systems before we are deemed “qualified.” Yet through training at mainstream organizations, mostly white people are disproportionately invested in and seen as having the potential to learn strategies to achieve racial equity. Going back to the language analogy, we are trying to train people to speak Spanish in a few hours, when what we need right now are fluent Spanish speakers.

Moving beyond training, addressing racialized POWER

  • Hire for Racial Equity Skills – Hire people already fluent in understanding systemic racism and strategies to achieve racial equity. This should be a required, not just a desired, qualification. At the very minimum, stop hiring people who don’t believe systemic racism exists.
  • Promote based on Racial Equity Skills – Like hiring, racial equity skills should be viewed as a required qualification. This means developing and using job performance “metrics” reflective of this requirement, and of course having evaluators/supervisors with high racial equity skills as well.
  • Design for Racial Equity – One of my favorite examples to share is the behavioral economics study that looked at different rates of organ donors in Europe. What the study found is the opt-in or opt-out form at the department of motor vehicles had the most influence over rates of donors. We currently have an opt-in approach to racial equity, when what we need to design are programs and process that default to racial equity. Erin wrote Luck Doesn’t Create Equity – Good Design Yields Better Results back in 2015, it is still one of my favorite blog posts.
  • Put your Money Towards your Racial Equity Values – We need to do a better job of tracking where our money is going. Often people get uneasy when I tell them I consciously try to spend money at businesses owned by people of color (if you haven’t seen our open source POC business map, check it out). If I asked you, do you want almost exclusively to support white businesses, the answer is usually no. But if we are not consciously thinking about it, we probably are supporting mostly white businesses. That is what the default system is designed to do. Be transparent with your money, how much is supporting white businesses, white staff, white consultants and how much is truly being directed at poc businesses, poc staff, and poc consultants?
  • Change Decision Making Tables – Decision making is connected to money and resources. Who sits at the final decision-making tables for how money is spent, invested, or how staff time is used? If these tables have been and continue to be disproportionately white this is systemic racism at work. If you continue to justify why and how these tables can’t be changed, this is paternalism upholding white supremacy.

What would you add to this list of ways we can work towards racial equity beyond training?

Making training more effective

I’m realistic, you’re still going to spend time and resources on training. I will also continue to train, as it does allow me to get my foot in the door of many organizations that would otherwise never have these conversations. Before you jump on the training bandwagon, check out this past blog posts on how to make racial equity training more effective. Here is a hint, all or mostly white groups discussing racial equity is a recipe for fakequity. We need to stop treating racial equity trainings like 8-hour degree courses, and start viewing them as continuing education opportunities. Here are my commitments. What are yours?

  • I am committed to taking on more projects that help people change organizational practices and processes to address racialized power.
  • I am committed to supporting organizations to find ways to have training be one, but not the only, strategy to work toward racial equity.
  • I am committed to facilitating racial equity workshops among people of color, as we also have work to do and often this work doesn’t or can’t happen when whiteness is overwhelmingly present.

When you see me next, feel free to ask me how I am doing on my commitments.

Posted by Heidi Schillinger

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

Equitrend = Equity+Trendy

Today is Veteran’s Day. Thank you to our servicemembers and Veterans.

Earlier this week a colleague joined my organization’s advocacy and policy cohort to talk about her advocacy and community organizing journey. It was a rich hour-and-a-half conversation and we easily could have spent all day listening to her stories and wisdom. In my notes from the meeting I wrote: “know yourself, like really know yourself.” While this is easy to understand and theorize this line, it is harder to live and practice. Along with this premise, another friend suggested as a blog topic to talk about people who use equity as a way for self-promotion because it is trendy or they can be the expert in it. These two topics go together in a strange mashup.

Believing and understanding racial equity is a personal journey. It takes a lot of introspection, grappling with personal privileges — we all have some form of privilege, and understanding your personal why is part of the journey. Equity is the in-thing and conversations around race are at the forefront of many organization, the reasons for wanting to practice equity can’t be trendy or be used for self-advancement without understanding your personal reason for practicing equity.

Equitrend = Equity+Trendy

trendy panda

Trendy equity panda shirt

Equity is trendy. Organizations have equity teams, big organizations have departments on org charts charged with paying attention to equity, and people throw the word out at meetings all the time. Maybe the next phase of popularity will be Woke-departments.

If you have colleagues who want to jump on the equity trend but you are skeptical is ask them if they have a personal definition and a personal reason for wanting to engage in the work. This is a simple but loaded question since you’re asking about their value systems. I remember being at a luncheon with an ethnic business association and the presenter used the word equity. One of the audience members earnestly asked what does equity mean, because she came from the financial sector and thought of financial equity. The presenter couldn’t answer the question succinctly and stumbled his way through it. My colleague kept hitting my leg in disbelief during the answer, the presenters desire to be on the equity-bandwagon was falling apart as we ate our delicious dumpling soup.

Fail Specatarily with Others

We need to be willing to fail at race and equity conversations, maybe not as publicly as I just wrote about, but we need to be willing to fail and be willing to reflect on our failures. I’m borrowing a concept from Ray a friend who is an art teacher. He blogged about creating a culture of failing spectacularly. Very few people want to fail at race conversations and as a result, we have a culture that refuses to confront the impact race has on our country. Instead, we need to find people and create spaces where we can fail at the conversations and be honest and let go of conceptions about how to be ‘right’ at race conversations. I have multiple people who keep me in check and humble me when it comes to talking about race and other forms of identity that I can never authentically live. I ask them to invest in my learning and in return, I hope they know I am part of their squad-care too.

What to do

My friend asked for strategies for helping people understand that equity isn’t about them. There are times when I’m losing my patience and want to say “yo, you’ve been talking a lot and your equitrend analysis don’t make sense,” or what I really want to say is “you’re all spun up like a tighty whitey, let go of some of that white supremacy bullshit.” I can’t really say these things and expect to be effective instead, I try what a colleague calls “call in and call out” strategies to re-direct the conversation. I’ll also admit at times I just give up and sit back and watch to see how things play out.

A more positive strategy is to take people out of their normal environments and to tell them to shut up and listen to others. Take people to visit a school in a different neighborhood, take them with you on a site visit to a youth or senior program, take them to lunch with you with more woke people and tell them their job is to just listen. When you take them out point out the subtle differences they may not notice – such as at a youth program point out who is doing the talking in the classroom, talk about the history of the neighborhood and who currently lives there. When we confront the differences, we begin to see things differently.

If a site visit isn’t possible create spaces for deeper conversation. Talk about a TED-Talk related to something you’re working on and ask some probing questions about race. Ask what is the last book or article they read by an author of color and how it informed their thinking, if they can’t recall reading anything by an author of color explore why that is (hint talk about systemic racism and how whiteness is not normal).


Take time to engage and reflect. This will help you understand your personal why.

Posted by Erin Okuno

The Effects of Structural Racism are NOT Normal

That’s Not Normal, Stop Thinking it Is

Last night I had a dream-not-quite nightmare, I was in a work meeting with all-white people. I remember the feeling of anxiousness and being afraid of the group. I also dreamt I was holding a baby, but as it turns out I really was holding my not-baby-baby; she has sneaked into my bed and was trying to ‘snugga’ (snuggle). As I was holding the dream-baby I tried to make sense of this all-white people meeting and what they were talking about; I gave up and just held the baby awkwardly and in real life fought for more space on the pillow. In the dream, all the white-people were ok with being in an all-white people meeting.

The feeling of wondering why everyone else was ok to be at a meeting of all-white people is what Heidi (of the Fakequity team) describes as a byproduct of structural racism. We often don’t think twice about why whiteness pervades our society and we’re conditioned to accept and normalize it.

20171020_084046.jpgAs an example, last month I went to the Board Source Conference. They made a big deal about talking about diversity and race in the opening session, provided scholarships to cover the cost of attending to local leaders of color from organizations with budgets under $500,000 – our nametags publicly declared our charitable acceptance by saying “Scholarship,” and they featured sessions talking about race. Yet even with all of this, it was still a conference geared towards white people. The subtle signs and legacy of structural racism were prevalent. I sat through a plenary session with an all-white speaker panel. Many of the sessions were race-neutral or when the speaker introduced race it sounded like an unexplored afterthought. Few others at the conference seemed to notice these signs. Jondou (also of the fakequity team) calls it “knowing what you know what you don’t know.” Most people at the conference didn’t know the conference was catering to whiteness.

Another example is too often Native Americans are left out of data presentations and few stop to ask why. Because of structural racism towards Native American, they have become data-invisible. This effect of structural racism shouldn’t be normalized, instead, we should call out why we aren’t including Native Americans in the dataset, even if it is to report zero participation. By making a small shift to include the race category of Native American/ Indigenous and seeing n/a or zero reminds us we have a responsibility to change the results from zero to something more representative of the community.

Whiteness Isn’t Normal

We’ve been conditioned to believe whiteness is normal. In Melody Hobson’s TED Talk she says “…imagine if I walked you into a room and it was of a major corporation, like ExxonMobil, and every single person around the boardroom were black, you would think that were weird. But if I walked you into a Fortune 500 company, and everyone around the table is a white male, when will it be that we think that’s weird too?”

Whiteness isn’t normal, it is the offspring of structural racism. Part of this legacy of structural racism is a complacency and acceptance into thinking whiteness is normal. Heidi provided these examples of ways structural racism is normalized or excused: “There aren’t enough teacher of color,” segregated communities because of red-lining housing practices, board and leadership of organizations that aren’t diverse, elected bodies that aren’t representative of the people they serve, city and street names honoring white people versus using indigenous names for areas, etc.

Structural racism holds down people of color by normalizing whiteness. My wicked smart colleague Paola Maranan taught me: “Racism is always self-correcting, it works to preserve itself.” Structural racism plays out in our systems is in accepting the status quo, continuing business as usual, and not questioning why things are the way they are. We also tend to marginalize, silence, or label people who call out the need for change. The excuses sound like this: “we tried to find people of color but they aren’t qualified,” “it will take too long,” “that is too drastic a change, it is rocking the boat,” “we provided interpreters and went to their community but no one showed up.” When we let these excuses go it is allowing structural racism and a white-dominated system continue versus questioning what structures or activities were undertaken to get to different results. We have to train our brains to spot structural racism and we must be able to develop ways to call it out and correct the imbalance.

How to Do Better

Training ourselves to see the effects of structural racism isn’t hard, just start questioning everything. You may annoy your colleagues and even yourself, but after a while it works.

Ask Why – Somewhere in the vastness of the internet I read an article about asking why. The writer said to ask why three times. Why are those racialized results the way they are? Why do I feel funny about it? Why is that ok? It doesn’t have to be those three why questions but asking why several times forces us to dig deeper.

Train your brain to look for what is missing – Structural racism limits what we can see and what is presented to us. When we start looking for who is missing it is easier to see. Such as in my example above about missing Native Americans in data, start looking for who is missing and ask why don’t just accept the data as is.

Slow down — Slowing down is important in figuring out what doesn’t feel and sit right. In meetings and especially if you are facilitating, slow the meeting down to think. You can say “I’d like to check for understanding on ___,” or if I’m facilitating I may have people pause to think then write down or draw what they are thinking as a way to process and not just allow talking to happen.

Slow down and recognize people and land. In gatherings recognize the host of the meeting and say thank you for hosting the event, especially if being hosted by a community of color. Recognize we are on Native American land and say so.

Don’t be paralyzed, Take Action – Racism thrives on the status quo, inaction, and nuance or excuses. We have to actively work to correct what racism hands us, and we have to fix the systems that gave us those results. Sometimes these actions are making data corrections, being more inclusive and actively seeking new voices, or calling out what isn’t normal. Do something, don’t just allow things to stay the way they are.

Finally, keep learning and pushing your edge. We all have to keep learning about racism and how it shows up. For me I’m aware of some of my blindspots around things I don’t know. I know I don’t know a lot about poc disabilities and this isn’t natural it is because our society isn’t designed to be inclusive and we force people with disabilities to work harder to participate. My job is to learn more and not be ok with what dominant culture says is normal around disabilities. I have many other things I need to learn so stay tuned so you can learn with me too.

Posted by Erin Okuno, idea and examples from Heidi Schillinger. One day Heidi will have to write another post on this same topic from her perspective.

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.