Leave the Comfort Zone for the Danger Zone

Before we start, we’re pausing to hold in our thoughts the school shooting near Spokane Washington. Harm and violence at a school, a place of safety, is tragic. To our colleagues in Spokane, we are holding you in our thoughts.

mavericThis has been a marathon meeting week. I’ve been in all-day meetings for most of the week and my introvert self is ready to find my hidey-hole and settle in with Netflix and headphones. One of the reoccurring themes from these meetings is how uncomfortable white people get when they are asked about why they aren’t talking about race. In more than one meeting I noticed white people getting defensive, then shut down the conversation when asked about race. I’m accustomed to listening to unsatisfactory answers and knowing my job is to ask and sit through these conversations.

“My community was shamed…”

My favorite line from a meeting this week came from a white person*. The person mentioned the organizers should proceed with caution and be sensitive because the community they (gender neutral to protect my integrity) represents was recently reported on in the news in unfavorable light, “my community was recently publicly shamed… .” I cringed when these words were uttered. I thought “maybe they should feel a little shame, they aren’t innocent.” I also thought it took a lot of audacity for the person to suggest we need to tread lightly because a white community can’t handle being uncomfortable and they need special treatment.

This line also shows how much power white communities hold onto their comfort and how far they are willing to go to maintain their positions in communities. Being called out was a grievance and the language used was “don’t do that again to us,” and “we’re protecting our turf,” and “don’t let this happen again.” This behavior is what professor john a. powell (he doesn’t capitalize his name) calls as breaking. It ‘others’ people, saying you’re not one of us, and comes from a place of anxiety around diversity and the meta-narratives, leadership, and organizations around it.

In that moment, the white leader could have been an ally and acknowledged their community experienced a sense of anxiety and the change needed. Prof. powell writes “Anxiety isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s just there,” it is what we do with the anxiety – do we channel it to understand and bridge, or do we use it to break our communities?

As our communities change many of us, white people especially, need to learn to be ok with being called out and called in. There are many white people expect to be catered to and expect “the benefit of the doubt,” that pocs assume their best intent, and “hold safe spaces” for white people. All of these cater to a sense of making white people ok and not asking them to feel any negative emotions such as anxiety and shame. But when we assume best intent and allow safe spaces to prevail it is only safe for one group. History doesn’t show that white people’s best intent is good enough. Was best intent used when white people created exclusionary policies?

“I went to the Danger Zone”

danger zoneCiKeithia and I have a new joke called #dangerzone. It comes from my kid butchering the lyrics to the Top Gun anthem “Highway to the Danger Zone,” my kid sings it “I went to the Danger Zone.” Before or after hard meetings we’ll text each other #dangerzone. As people of color we enter danger zones all the time – meetings where we’re one of the few people of color, there to be the ‘strong voice for equity,’ or even just walking on the streets in mostly white neighborhoods. People of color don’t have the luxury of saying “that didn’t feel good, so I’m not going back into the danger zone,” if we did this there wouldn’t be very many places to go.

White people need to be learn to be ok in the danger zone too. If you never enter the danger zone you’ll stay in a bubble of whiteness for fear of being shamed or having to feel something. It is a learned skill around functioning in the danger zone and being ok with a little anxiety and other emotions.

How to Make the Danger Zone Less Dangerous

Of course, I don’t want to shame and blame people around race. Shame doesn’t go far and people shut down. I do want people to experience race and to think about their actions and how their responsibilities to make danger zones less dangerous, shameful, and to encourage people to act.

Some ways we can work towards change:

Build relationships – When we build relationships the danger zone is less lonely and there is more bridging.

Stop centering whiteness – As an example of how easy it is to slip into this pattern at another meeting a white speaker kept saying “non-white communities.” I finally interrupted or disrupted and said “Please say what you mean, communities of color. When you say non-white you’re centering whiteness again.” A small language change that makes people of color visible.

Watch who is speaking – While watching a council meeting I took out my phone and started timing how long elected officials spoke. The meeting was dominated by white women who kept speaking and wouldn’t stop. We should all be conscious about how long and often we speak.

Facilitate for PoC safety – Facilitators and meeting organizers need to make sure they are actively disrupting whiteness and inviting people of color in. Using the Color Brave Space facilitation guidelines helps with this.

Leveling power with high maka-maka people – High maka maka is a term from Pidgin English to denote people with status and power and who may need extra preening. It is important to level the power dynamics and remind people why they are there, which may be to hear from the community not to showcase what they know. A few months ago, I helped to organize a meeting between immigrant parents and policy makers. We attended to the power differential by telling the policy makers they were there to hear from the parents not to share their agenda. The policy makers were being given a gift of personal stories and insights and they needed to honor the stories by listening. This short reminder changed the meeting tone to one that centered the families more.

Let’s stop with the danger zones and help to create more spaces for learning and relationship building.

*I was in meetings or watching meetings with many white people this week. If you are trying to guess or think it was you, relax many people have uttered similar lines.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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Talking About Race without Talking About Power is Useless

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#defendDACA, artwork from amplifer.com, open source art and messages.

Since I last blogged Trump repealed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which allowed over 880,000 people to live more humanely and participate in our community more fully. As an action please sign this MomsRising petition calling on Congress to stand with DREAMmers. Please support organizations and individuals working to protect, defend, and push for progressive changes. My suggested list includes OneAmerica, Colectivia legal del Pubelo, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Neighborhood House, and 21 Progress (all of these organizations are poc led). Beyond financial resources, please take a moment to learn about what organizations in your neighborhood are doing to support DREAMmers and immigrant communities most impacted by this decision, immigrants will be here long after Trump so let’s keep the support going.


I’ve been thinking and reading more about power and how it manifests in our work and lives. In the United States, we are conditioned to believe and aim for equality. What this means for power is it is an off-limits topic, we consciously or unconsciously, believe we have equal chances of attaining our dreams. We hear phrases like “education is the great equalizer,” and we believe in ‘equal access.’ Due to power dynamics, we are never really equal. We can’t undo racism without talking about and understanding power.

In our current world view race and power go together, like hand-and-glove, fish and chips, and sometimes like oil and water. If we think about who currently holds formal and informal power we see patterns of whiteness. White people are in positions of formal power – they are over represented in government, business, public sector jobs, etc. By default, in informal settings, white people still hold on power. I’ve gone to many meetings with white people who should be my peers but they exert more power than they are due. It shows up in who is talking and where they sit, whitesplaining, or I have to sit through tantrums because a white person is unhappy when challenged and see an action as power being redistributed away from them.

I started reading Eric Liu’s book You’re More Powerful Than You Think, A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen. I’m only on page 56 so I haven’t fully gotten into the book, but it is giving me some good thoughts on how power needs to be attended to. In the opening chapter Liu defines power as “capacity to ensure that others do as you would want them to do.” Liu lists several main sources of power: violence, wealth, state action, ideas, social norms, and numbers. He goes on to say conduits of power come from institutions, organizations, networks, laws, and narratives. Borrow his book from the library or buy it from an independent bookseller to learn more.

When we think about the main sources of power, there are very few that allow for people of color to positively express our power. Currently social norms default to whiteness, wealth is concentrated with white people, ideas are monetized or acted upon by white people (wealth and networks to decisionmakers are more visible to white people). Violence and state actions are used intentionally or unintentionally to hold people of color down. Before you give up and stop reading there is hope.

When we acknowledge power dynamics, especially racialized power dynamics, and work to rebalance them we shift power. Liu touches upon shifting power dynamics in his book. Organizing is one way to build power, labor unions are good at using the power of their membership and numbers to shift power.  In the community organizing, I’ve been involved with we often use narrative to shift power. Community voice and stories are used to challenge and call out societal norms that default to whiteness. As people of color become the majority in our country it is important we work on coming together in ways that recognize our collective power when we act in solidarity with each other.

We all have the power to shift power dynamics to benefit people and communities of color as well. Earlier we blogged about Color Brave Space, facilitation guidelines Heidi developed. When I facilitate I use these to focus the meeting on people of color. The act of focusing our meetings on people of color is an important way for me to exert my positional power to focus on people I care about. While it may make people including myself squirm to acknowledge my positional power I must do so if I want something to change, not acknowledging or using it appropriately means the system will default to what is easy which is currently centering whiteness.

For societal norms to change we must acknowledge how race and power work. When we understand how power shows up we can begin to shift it. Here are some simple steps you can use to begin to understand how power works in everyday life:

  1. Who is speaking – Start paying attention to who speaks at meetings, in conversations, etc. What are the racial and in some cases gender dynamics?
  2. Decision making power—Do community members and people of color have decision making control? Do they need to seek final approval from a governing body?
  3. Privilege—Access to networks, materials, financial resources, information, etc. What steps are taking place to redistribute these privileges?
  4. Disengage—The power to disengage from uncomfortable conversations or work is an important form of power. Impacted communities cannot walk away from unsafe or uncomfortable situations, yet those with power can often abandon projects, strategies, programs.

The more we can name and see how power the better we are at having it shared. There is more to think about this topic so share your thoughts on the topic by commenting on the Facebook thread or emailing fakequity@gmail.com. In a future post, we’ll unpack power dynamics more.

Posted by Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com 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.

White People: What Kind of R*cist are you? Take this 8 Question Quiz

White Folks, Do you need everything to be about you quiz 

what-do-mean-we-have-a-quiz-todayConsidering it is the Friday before a long weekend and Erin is taking a nap and eating at buffets, I decided I am going to be a little cheeky. And, if cheeky is not your thing, feel free to stop reading. Also, if you find yourself wondering if an example shared here is about you, it’s not. Well, it’s not specifically about you, but these are all things I see or hear on a fairly regular basis in my racial equity workshops. We’ll see if this post gets past the chief Fakequity editor.

 The last time I had a conversation about race. . .

  1. I don’t have conversations about race. I just see everyone as human.
  2. I shared all the POC books I’ve read lately and invited people to my book club and an upcoming lecture. (If you don’t know what POC means, answer #1. POC=People of Color.)
  3. I focused on listening to and centering POC voices.

When someone confronts me about my white privilege, I say. . .

  1. It’s not my fault! I can’t help that I am white.
  2. But I am a good person. I volunteer with at-risk youth and went to the BLM rally. (If you don’t know what BLM is, then answer #1. BLM=Black Lives Matter.)
  3. This is really uncomfortable, but I’m going to lean in and listen.

When I saw the news about Charlottesville. . .

  1. I retweeted 45’s comment about there being blame on both sides.
  2. I thought thank God, I live someplace where that doesn’t happen.
  3. I sent money to a Community of Color embedded organization doing work in Charlottesville and didn’t feel the need to tweet about it.

When I see a white person cry in a racial equity training, my reaction is. . .

  1. Anger and then I would state in a loud voice, you are oppressing white people.
  2. Cry too and sit with them and offer tissue.
  3. Have compassion, but not allow the conversation to shift to centering whiteness.

When asked for a commitment at the end of a racial equity training, my answer is…

  1. Pass or I’m only here so I don’t get fined.
  2. Increased awareness, I’m going to read more articles and books.
  3. [Insert specific daily action] that leans into discomfort, is explicit about race, and works to dismantling systemic racism in your organization.

The “suggestion” I write on my evaluation at the end of a racial equity training is . . .

  1. You’d be more effective if you didn’t shame and guilt white people.
  2. Next time please focus on more than just race. I grew up poor and you just ignored my experiences with oppression.
  3. Thank you for helping us talk specifically about race. I wish we had more time.

I took this quiz because. . .

  1. Someone sent it to me, and I am really offended and about to start trolling them and this blog. I’m pressing “Hide post” or “Hide all posts” on Fakequity’s Facebook page. (We take no offense to this, bye Felicia.)
  2. I wanted proof I’m not racist. I plan to share my results on social media.
  3. I read the Fakequity blog every week.

My honesty level with this quiz was. . .

  1. I was honest, and my honest response is that this quiz is an example of “reverse racism.”
  2. I wasn’t really honest, but I chose what I thought should be the “right” answer. And, now I will share my results on social media along with my Ancestry.com results showing I am part Native American.
  3. I was honest and now I’m going to print out a copy of this quiz and place it on some of my coworkers’ desks.

RESULTS:

Mostly #1 Answers: Why are you here? I am guessing you didn’t really actually make it to the end of this blog post. You’re so uncomfortable with race that you can’t even read this blog post. You always need to be comfortable and centered. Pretty much everything always needs to be about you, your comfort, and your feelings.

Mostly #2 Answers: You might be a “self-appointed ally” who is more focused on looking good than addressing systemic racism. Your racial comfort is only on your terms. You really want to not be centered or comfortable all the time, but habits are hard to break. You still manage to make racial equity work all about you, your actions, and your comfort.

Mostly #3 Answers: I don’t believe you take it again. If you take it again and your answers are still mostly #3 then keep up the good work. You are comfortable being uncomfortable in racial equity work. You manage to slow down and consciously work to center the needs, comfort, and ideas of people of color. It is not all about you. But if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I really believe you.

By Heidi, with input from CiKeithia and J34. Chief Fakequity Editor says Heidi and CiKeithia should write more.

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Reflections from South Korea: Whose Megaphone are We Amplifying?

IMG_3778I’ve spent the last month exercising self-care and middle-class privilege; getting off the grid in Mongolia and riding my bike up the East Coast in Korea. I have a lot of stories to share but for most of these, you’ll have to meet me for happy hour. Before I leave Korea and submerge myself in the constant noise of the U.S. media, I wanted to share some perspectives from the Korean Peninsula. And, if I’m being honest, I owe Erin a lot of blog posts, so I’m trying to take advantage of some renewed energy while I have it.

This probably would have been a more timely blog post a few weeks ago, while North Korea still dominated the news, social media feeds, and many of my text inquiries from friends and family. But the news of explicit White Supremacy in Charlottesville has overtaken the news of North Korea. Still, I think there are reminders I want to preserve and share while I’m viewing U.S. news from outside the country.

This is not going to be a sophisticated post about the geopolitical and historical context of U.S., North Korea and South Korea relationships. This is more of a personal narrative and perspective sharing as a Korean-American who just spent the last two weeks in Korea, including riding my bike all the way to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). I fact, I rode my bike all the way to where the road ends (for civilians) near the North Korean border.

I started riding from the city of Pohang, about 250 miles south of the border. As I got further north the signs of militarization were more evident. I saw things like beaches fenced off with barbed wire, look out stations with military personnel with machine guns, barriers that can collapse into the road to prevent tanks moving forward, and of course, soldiers. The area just near the border felt like a ghost town; eerily quiet, peaceful, and undeveloped, especially in contrast to the crowded beaches and beach towns just a few miles (or rather kilometers) south.

IMG_3779This militarized reality is not new. Technically the Koreas are still at war and have been for over 60 years. South Koreans (and North Koreans I am guessing) have lived with this precarious situation for multiple generations. Over the past 20 years, I have seen friends and family members who seem to have grown accustomed to the carefully choreographed dangerous dance that happens on a regular basis between the Koreas. In most cases, life goes on as normal, especially in Seoul.

Since the noise from the U.S. media was really loud, bolstered by 45’s constant inflammatory tweeting, I decided to informally poll and ask friends and family in Korea if they felt particularly scared about the situation with North Korea. Most said they didn’t really feel any different, although some did mention that 45 is making things worse and unpredictable, without consideration for Koreans or the Chamorro people of Guam. My Korean cousin is in the military and stationed near the border, and his wife said things aren’t too different. Contrasting the recent situation to one two years ago (in 2015), when shots were being fired between the Koreas and their family had a “go bag” ready to head for the bunkers.

Whose Megaphone are We Amplifying?

All this context is to help offer a perspective from the Korean peninsula that appears to be in contradiction to the noise coming out of the U.S. In the rapidly moving environment of social media, could we be contributing to sharing narratives that enhance 45’s platform and perspective; imperialism, colonialism, and militarization? Could we be amplifying the very voices that we hope ignore? Could we be getting tricked by a dangerous game of “squirrel” that takes our focus and energy off dismantling systemic racism?

I’m a deep thinker, which is one of the reasons I can’t use twitter, it moves too fast for me. I know it serves a purpose, but even in the twitter-verse, or for me the Facebook universe I’d like to remind myself to ask these questions before sharing and posting news related to race and systemic racism.

Am I being performative? Am I looking for ally cookies or a social justice badge?

Fakequity has blogged about this before. Are we doing things to say we did them and to show we’re paying attention and in-the-know? It doesn’t hurt to be up to speed on current events or even the latest local gossip, but not everything has to be for show. Racial equity work isn’t about being seen and performing, it is about reflection and figuring out when to use your voice and when to step back and allow other voices to emerge.

Is this the narrative I want to share? Whose voice and perspective am I amplifying?

45’s voice is loud. In the position of power, he holds he has a huge microphone and a press corps trained to analyze his every word. But that doesn’t mean his voice should overshadow other perspectives. I work hard to make sure the articles and voices I promote and share are authentic to the story, such as finding people of color perspectives for articles or videos. White people interpreting a racialized incident doesn’t help to bring a new narrative forward, it might be adding

Who is the audience? For white people? For people of color?

Being in Korea I saw the difference in perspective. I was out of the American-white media bubble. The news there is different. Have you ever looked at the difference between BBC Worldwide and BBC America same company but they reprogram their content for a white audience. Same can be said of Al Jazera and other media companies. Locally look at the difference in content between The Seattle Times versus local media such as the South Seattle Emerald, Globalist, and ethnic media.

Othering versus Centering

Again, being in Korea I saw the difference in story narratives. In America, the press centered and focused on 45’s message and voice. They also othered Korean American voices. Very few media articles looked at what Korean Americans and other people of color, including Pacific Islanders, had to say about the topic.

It is important to remember voice makes a difference and we all have to be intentional about how we choose to use our own voice and who’s voices to share and amplify.

By Heidi Schillinger

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Stop with the Messages of Condemnation — Tell me What You’re Doing

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Sign: “All We Wanna Do is Break the Chains Off” from Freedom School Seattle Day of Service and Action event in Rainier Beach. Photo by Erin Okuno

Five days ago, on 12 August, violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. White nationalist and white supremacist marched in protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The rally was one of the largest white nationalist protests in recent history. The night before at the University of Virginia white supremacist marched carrying torches, yelling “white lives matter” and “blood and soil.” Images of defiant white men holding flaming torches filled news feed and scared many. The next day Saturday brought more violence as a car was used as a weapon. Heather Heyer, a white woman there as part of a counter protest, was killed and many other injured.

Trump responded with a controlled statement about the violence. He condemned the violence and called for unity. Many felt his statement didn’t go far enough condemning white nationalist. On Tuesday, he went off-script blaming “both sides” for the violence. We won’t unpack why that is problematic here since many others have done so in other news analysis.

Today many people of color are feeling tired. We know this routine:

  • Something bad happens to People of Color.
  • It explodes over social media.
  • Rallies are organized. Elected officials, organizations, and companies make statements about how we must stand together in unity/solidarity/community. This week they also condemned the violence and messages of the white supremacist.
  • White people go back to business as usual.

I’m not trying to make light of the evil and hatred that happens to pocs, especially to our African American/Black, Latino, and Indigenous kin. I am trying to make a point that something has to change and messages of unity and condemnation are becoming meaningless.

Stop with the Messages of Condemnation – Stop Centering Yourselves Again

The problem with these statements and rallies is NOTHING CHANGES. Messages of condemnation and support are a different form of white silence. This is the formula for a statement of support/denunciation:

“The [fill in the blank crappy event] was harmful to [impacted community]. We call upon all Americans to stand together in this time of trouble. [We believe statement.] We [fill in the blank org/company/elected official name] won’t back down.”

The problem with the current crop of statements, especially around the violence of this last week, is they don’t point to action and changes. Or in some cases, especially statements from elected officials and companies, they call upon others to act. The deflection of responsibility and pointing to actions they are taking is a less egregious form of white silence. It is saying “look at me, I stand with you” but I’m not going to make myself uncomfortable in the process, they are saying I’m innocent and I don’t have to change. The statements say “I see you,” I want to affirm you, I’m a good person for noticing racism, I am doing things on my terms where I don’t have to challenge myself. White people have the luxury of being silent the status quo allows white people to deflect responsibility.

I don’t want to read another statement about how much you care. Show me and prove you care. Make yourself uncomfortable and act. If you wonder why people of color don’t trust white people and historically white led organizations it is because white people don’t always act. My colleague Amber Banks studies trust and how it is formed. Through her research, she found actions are necessary to build trust in communities of color.

Doing Something Uncomfortable

Before you write a statement stop and think about others. Ask yourself are you issuing a statement to make yourself look good, feel good, and feel like you are doing something that challenges you and your organization? If you are putting forth a statement to point and acknowledge a moral injustice save your time, I don’t want to read it. What I want to read and see is how you are using your power, influence, and privilege to disrupt whiteness and the current dynamics.

While we may not be able to single-handily stop the white nationalist movement, we all have a responsibility to force institutional and systemic racism to change. We also have to remember actions will look different for all of us. An African American colleague and friend she said she’s been stepping back and practicing self-care. For her, this is uncomfortable because she normally engages in work around race, but right now she needs to focus on her own well-being. As an Asian American, I told her part of my work is to realize my privilege and to pick up some of her work so she can safely and comfortably practice self-care. For our white allies, your job is to find your own ways to disrupt whiteness in your jobs and personal lives.

Personal actions are important and we need to act in ways that make us uncomfortable. If we stay comfortable it means we’re not pushing, we’re not thinking harder, and we’re not challenging ourselves to disrupt the current situation. I would rather hear about what you and your organization are doing to protect, uplift, and center people of color than hearing how you condemn the actions of others.

Here are some actions you can take instead of just saying you condemn white supremacy:

  • Work on being ok with conflict – Healthy conflict is needed to disrupt and challenge people’s assumptions and actions that favor white people.
  • Center communities of color – Focus on communities of color and allow them to take the lead. This means checking your assumptions, timelines, and desires for a project and allowing the community to say what they want.
  • Condemnation – If you still feel the need to condemn an action then do it and do it the full extent of your powers. For corporations and nonprofit back it up by saying what you will do – are you organizing and mobilizing in a new and different way, are you willing to refuse to do business with the offending party, etc.

Posted by Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com 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.

We Should Strive for Transformation — short version

IMG_20170803_134341.jpgAfter the presidential election that allowed Trump into office Heidi and I had a conversation about what does racial equity transformation look like. Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Beacon Hill (Seattle) she explained how we need to stop tinkering around with little changes and strive for transformational change. As I munched on my cactus and cheese dish I told her I was at a loss for what transformative change would look like in the racial equity work I do. I spend so much time fighting for smaller changes there isn’t a lot of brain space left to dream bigger and figure out what racial equity transformation looks like.

Tonight I was reminded of this conversation as I listened to Washington State Senator Rebecca Saldaña at the Rainier Valley Corps (RVC) graduation. Senator Saldaña reminded us about the need to aim for transformation in our work. As I listened I remembered the conversation I had with Heidi.

What is Transformation

Transformation in racial equity work is f-ing hard. Like I said earlier so much of my work isn’t in the transformative space, I’m doing things to hold the line on bad policies, working on inclusion and improving access, or doing things to just get by. These actions are important, but they aren’t transformative.

Transformative work focuses and centers on what communities of color and the most marginalized need to thrive. Transformative work requires us to be creative and to think boldly and to have the audacity to try new actions.

How to get to Transformation

At the RVC graduation tonight I was reminded about what transformation could look like:

  • Transformation means honoring the past, acknowledging root causes of racism.
  • Focusing on and centering our work on communities of color.
  • Sharing control and focusing on who is comfortable, no one group should be unfairly burdened, we all take turns.
  • Transformation creates a sense of shared belonging.
  • Investing in communities of color.
  • Cultivating leadership from the ground up.
  • Thinking beyond one’s self and also beyond our own affinity groups. Transformation means we acknowledge and work to understand everyone’s shared experiences.

There is a lot more to say about transformation and maybe you have some ideas. Feel free to drop me a note at fakequity@gmail.com. At a later time, I’ll write more about transformation. This week’s post is purposefully short. It has been a great week with some celebrations and a lot of work, so it is off to bed I go. See you all next week.

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How to and How Not to Hire a Racial Equity Consultant

blue-puzzled-pororo-and-pink-happy-loopy-wavingThis week I spent time with colleagues who are racial equity consultants. I’ve compiled a short list of what works and doesn’t work when looking to hire a racial equity consultant.

Have a budget number and share it – Hiring a racial equity consultant isn’t like hiring a consultant to do your bookkeeping or even hiring a grant writer. Those jobs are fairly routine and they can charge by the hour. A good consultant needs to know the budget and scope of a project so they can give you an accurate quote and scope of work. Good consultants aren’t out to ‘get you’ and over charge you. They need to know your budget so they can plan and give you a realistic sense of how far your budget will take you with them.

Equity consultants in the Seattle area charge in the range of $100-250/hr. As consultants, we don’t have other grant money or other projects funds to defray costs and must charge what we need to live and grow a small business. We also need to cover expenses such as technology (e.g. wi-fi, laptops, printers, etc.), office space, taxes, insurance, retirement, etc.

Be honest about what you can afford. A friend put together a cost sheet for an organization and her contact went on to pick it apart to look for cost savings. That wasn’t a good experience for either side. Be upfront about how much you have and the consultant will be up front of what they can do and what to expect from them.

Don’t expect free – We know many people are doing good work and money isn’t always in abundance, but racial equity consultants can’t work for free either. This is our livelihoods. I also realize someone will ask “Can’t you do pro bono work?” As a consultant, I could do pro bono work, but doing more of the same work doesn’t feed my soul and help me grow and frankly it is tiresome to do more of the same but know I’m not getting paid. With my volunteer time, I want to learn something new and gain new insights and skills.

If you value racial equity work, value it by putting financial resources to it. My friend Kam has a joke about volunteering.  She repeats back to them their same statement with the phrase ‘work for free’ in it: “You want me to work for free doing a racial equity training?” “You want me to work for free analyzing your race data?” “You want me to work for free talking to your white friend who is interested in equity and trying to get a job? Um no thanks, you can talk to them. I’m stopping the personal privilege train here.”

Before I sound too jaded, there are times when pro bono work is appropriate. There are many groups who benefit from pro bono consulting and there are times we’re happy to support volunteer work. My litmus test of where to give my ‘work for free time’ is asking will it authentically support communities of color and what is my relationship with the person asking. If the request will support a community of color and I have a relationship with the person asking I’m more likely to say yes. Heidi uses a similar question screen to decide where to donate her time.

Have a plan – When you contact a racial equity consultant please have a basic idea and plan for what you are looking for. Are you looking for consulting, training, facilitation, or something else? Don’t say “We know we need to get smarter about this equity stuff.” Put a timeline on your plan, when do you want to start the work, is the timeline negotiable, how often do you want to meet or train? Who are you expecting the consultant to work with board, staff, external stakeholders? What is the demographic breakdown of who will be involved? It is best to do some pre-thinking and sketching these things out so you know what you are looking for and requesting when you talk to a consultant. Write it out and share it with the consultant you’re trying to hire.

No RFPs please – Please do not put together a request for proposal (RFP) process. RFP processes are a waste of money and time. I know a few top-notch consultants who refuse to do RFPs because they cost them too much time to respond and when they don’t get the work they are out money and time.

I once helped a friend write an RFP that she didn’t win. On the decline email the organization that put out the RFP said she was the runner up but they went with a different approach. The kicker was, they still liked her proposal and took ideas from it for their project. Not only was my friend out money and time from writing an RFP, her information and thoughts were extracted with no compensation.

Is your work all white? – Heidi has reached the point where she tells groups if they are serious they need to diversify who is in their training. Having only white people in trainings to talk about race doesn’t lend itself well to change. If you have an all or majority white staff and you want to do some racial equity work be willing to pay community partners to join your trainings and be thought partners with you. Read Heidi’s previous blog post about no more culturally competence training.

Ask early – Many of the best consultants are busy people. If possible have a flexible timeline and contact them early in your process. If they say no you may also want to check back with them in a few months to see if they have an opening in their schedule.

Be respectful – Please be respectful of a consultant’s time and intellectual property. If you are requesting an informational interview or a planning meeting before you negotiate a contract please remember this is unpaid time for the consultant. Maybe they are willing to give you their time in the hopes it leads to paid work. A friend told me she once met with a nonprofit three times, 60-min each meeting, not including prep and travel time, and the nonprofit chose another consultant. She felt burned from investing so much time into an organization that hadn’t shared up front they were talking to other consultants as well. The consultant community is small too so if you want a good referral it is important to be respectful to consultants otherwise you might be out of luck overall.

If you don’t have money to hire a consultant there are still things your organization can do – In another post in the future, we’ll unpack this a bit more. For now, I don’t want anyone to say “well Erin said we need to have money and a diverse staff to start working on race stuff so we won’t.” If your organization is serious about deepening its work around race then start.

Some low cost or no-cost ideas:

  • Start a monthly reading club have coworkers suggest an article to read.  Host a monthly potluck lunch to discuss the book or article. If people don’t have time to read suggest a TED Talk and bring people together to watch it together and talk about what they learned.
  • Invite a partner organization to talk about what they are doing around racial equity and how they got started. Be nice and buy their favorite coffee drink and have it waiting for them, or better yet buy/bring them lunch.
  • Cancel a staff meeting and tell people to go out and use that time attending a community meeting in a community of color. Please do this respectfully.
  • Focus your professional development dollars on topics that deal with understanding race, racism, and racial equity. Utilizing the resources you have and targeting them is an important way to start.

Posted by Erin Okuno, thanks to CiKeithia, Heidi, Stephan, and many others for their insights.

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com 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.

Quit Showing Up So White

white camel

A white camel in Mongolia

We’ve been joking about this blog post all week. We’ve battered the topic back and forth over text message and probably laughed inappropriately during a meeting while reading a text or two.

At various times many of us, including people of color, fall into the trap of ‘showing up’ in unfavorable ways. Sometimes it is a function of operating in systems not designed to focus on people of color, personality differences, or sometimes people are just asses and they like to exert power.

Let’s define showing up.

Showing up means how to do you interact and function with others, especially people of color and communities not typically seen as holding power. Such as how do you act, behave, what energy do you project to others. Another way to think about it is how do others, especially non-dominate communities and people, interpret your behaviors and actions, especially as it relates to race. The crass way of defining ‘showing up’ is how others judge you when you leave the room. Admittedly, some of us are flawed beings who judge and gossip, sometimes we call it ‘debriefing,’ but sometimes it is just gossip.

We brainstormed a short list of ways people ‘show up’ in less than desirable ways around race. If we’re being honest we thought about the most annoying things people do in meetings. Like we say in many blog posts, if you know us don’t get all paranoid we aren’t writing specifically about you, you’re not that special. We see these behaviors in many people and we think it is time to call out the behaviors and remind people to stop.

You cannot distinguish equity from equality. You’ve managed to attend a few workshops and now have a few words to throw out as an attempt to demonstrate you are showing up for racial equity. Your practices continue to promote equality. It is easy to think just because people of color will benefit the strategy is equity, but you stopped thinking and got lazy. If you dig deeper and listen you may realize the strategy serves everyone the same and is really equality which could hurt pocs by diverting resources away from people of color.

You believe your personal stories demonstrate your commitment to ally ship. We’ve heard many of the stories before, something uncomfortable happens and you swoop in and save the day, you’ve suffered too and you can connect, you were unfairly burdened and now you’re down with the cause. You make no mention of how you centered a POC in this situation and instead focus it all on you and your efforts. It is important to connect and to build empathy, but save the story for later. When you talk about it in the middle of a meeting ask yourself are you building a connection or sucking up space and time to put the attention on you.

You expect praise for your racial equity efforts POC’s deal with racism every day. Again, like the personal stories you choose to share, don’t expect praise for interrupting whiteness. This is your work!

You want to talk about everything but race. If we had a dollar for every time we’re asked why we are not focusing on other forms of oppression. Yes, intersectionality is real AND racial equity means we are leading with race.

Your strategies promote access. When pushed to elaborate on your practice actions, you run off the exhaustive list of the languages you have translated your upcoming event flyers. Access isn’t equity, this deserves a separate blog post so we’ll tease you with that one line for now.

You cannot take people of color at our word you need to show your white centered research that has lots of fancy charts and graphs. When we tell you disparities are real, believe us! We gain nothing from reliving our racialized experiences. Do we ask you to justify your white privilege? We don’t tell you to show us the data on how white people are performing well, why do we have to prove the system is holding pocs back? Maybe we should tell you to produce the data on how white people are performing, nah you’d come up with some lame excuse and never do it so we’ll save ourselves from the privilege-oppression-woke-off.

You want to show us what you know NOT what you are learning. Your vocabulary is impressive, high five on acing the SAT, GMAT, LSAT, MSW, MPA, PhD, or whatever letter combo you earned.  This isn’t a quiz, talk to POC folks about what you are learning, don’t show off what you already know. We want to know about your stumbles and how you used those moments to learn and grow. Being open to learning and stretching to accept new thinking is necessary to deepening our thinking about race. Even for people who do this for a living, we still should learn about new concepts and ways of thinking about race. We don’t know every nuance of every community so we should learn from each other.

You respond or interrupt every time a person of color brings up race. Just because someone says something about race you don’t have to feel threatened or show you’re an ally. Not every comment is a personal attack or recognition of you.

In Hawaii we have a term “high maka maka,” the closest English translation is high maintenance with an air of arrogance. If you show up this way, expect us to ignore you or make some comment that cuts you back down. You don’t need to prove you’re better than others. Quit being bossy too. Bossiness is a form of power we can do without. People of color sometimes do this too, we try to one up each other, let’s stop. We all need to check our privilege, stop name dropping, stop trying to prove we belong, and just be cool. If you act all high maka maka the aunties and uncles will put you in your place real fast. The white way of saying this is beware of your privilege and power and humble yourself.

Along the lines of being “high maka maka,” don’t roll your eyes, use jargon, talk down, or think you’re special. You’re not special, you’re just like the rest of us. Being white, or if you are a poc with privilege, doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else. If you act like you’re better or special go for it, but don’t expect to be invited back or get an invite to the picnic where we gossip and talk quietly about how badly people behave.

This was a long list of what not to do. If you need to know what to do, it isn’t hard, be real, be humble, learn, do your own work about learning about race, go find your more woke peeps where you can be humble and ask them to help you.

Posted by CiKeithia Pugh and Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com 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.

What is Trust & Who Has the Power to Define Trust?

Mongolia_JoelSantos_18

Picture by Joel Santos of Eagle Hunter — trust between eagle and eagle hunter in Mongolia

Earlier in the week, I thought I would write about power dynamics, but as life often happens conversations with friends and colleagues gave me a new idea to explore – how trust and power intersect. Too rarely do we explicitly talk about trust. How often do you go into an organization or a board meeting and spent more than a passing reference to trust and power in the context race? We might talk about race, sometimes the word trust comes up, but rarely do we spend time exploring the two together, yet the two are intertwined and have such major implications for how we design our work and move through the world.

Who Has the Power to Define Trust?

My thoughtful and amazing colleague Amber Banks, PhD, studies trust and how it shows up in place-based work. Her topic is much deeper and richer than what I just wrote, so I hope you one day get to hear her speak and read her work. Dr. Amber shared some of her research findings with us and the conversation has left me noodling on a lot on themes and topics. One of the themes I’ve been thinking about since hearing her present is “who gets to define trust?” Another way to also think about is who has the power to define how trust is defined in a relationship? (These thoughts are my own, they are informed by Amber’s thinking, but if I err the mistakes are mine.)

I’m guessing when you read the word trust you can name some attributes to go with the word. Some of the common ones are: walking the talk, showing up, truth-telling, speaking truthfully, familial trust, and reliability. During our conversation, we probed a bit on these attributes and how they were formed as an association with trust. Many people of color linked our feelings of trust to experiences from our own communities, families, and childhood. Our early experiences provide a basis for looking at trust and how we operate with trust as a value as adults.

Understanding the basis of our trust is important to look at who defines trust in a relationship and how we experience trust with others in our community and work. Many times, trust is defined in a normative way and framed from a dominant white culture. Such as in dominant society we are expected to trust power and authority – teachers, law enforcement, elected officials, directors, etc. We aren’t allowed to ask a lot of questions. To question authority is to question the fragile trust in the relationship. In this power dynamic trust is defined and controlled by the dominant culture. Trust and power are exerted downward and not always reciprocated. In this case, trust isn’t being defined on equal terms.

Validating Trust

In order to reach a mutual definition of trust, we need to pay attention to power and create a space for people and communities of color to be able to speak about how we define trust and how we want trusting relationships reciprocated back. There are many times where dominant culture doesn’t know or understand the historical context of how marginalized communities define trust. The narrative around trust is often defined for communities of color and other marginalized communities. If you want to understand this more fully, read about the Native American’s experience with boarding schools or how the African American slave trade happened or the internment of Japanese Americans. Sometimes this narrative of mistrust is used to pit communities of color against each other.

What is missing from this is how as communities of color we validate our own trust in different ways – cross culturally, cross racially, and in solidarity with each other. If people don’t know what trust looks like or how it is experienced in a community it is easy to dismiss or use their power to dismiss the community’s trust base. When communities of color define trust we may be starting from a different place, point, and expectation than our white colleagues. Without understanding this we risk recreating the same dynamic that led to mistrust to begin with.

How Trust Can be Developed

Some of the themes around how trust is built and defined in community context include:

  • Remembering communities of color and our experiences are diverse and often rooted in place as well as race. Trust cannot be formed by using a blanket definition or approach for all communities of color.
  • Trust is developed through action, including repeated interactions. Are people doing what they say, are actions meeting their intentions.
  • Trust is built through “speaking truth to power.” Can we have the difficult conversation in a mutually respectful way and in ways that level power dynamics? For power holders can we recognize and trust in the stories of communities and people of color, disabled, immigrants/refugees, etc.?
  • Do you respect my definition of trust? We must acknowledge trust is defined in many different ways and we need to be able to talk about how we each define trust, including that race, culture, and power dynamics shape our views, thoughts, and feelings on trust.

Posted by Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check fakequity.com 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.

Stop Taking and Extracting from Communities of Color

miyagi

Photo from the movie “The Karate Kid,” Daniel wearing a Japanese headband with his hands out trying to learn Karate from Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi looking patiently annoyed.

Earlier today I spent time watching Heidi run a racial equity training. As a facilitator and a periodic trainer, I like to attend other people’s trainings to learn new skills and watch how others navigate conversations. Watching Heidi is sort of like watching a really fast-talking Mr. Miyagi (from the Karate Kid for the Millennials who don’t know this movie go look it up). She can break down racial equity concepts and have people practice the basics in new ways. One of the basics she reminded me of is extraction from communities of color. We heard this term and concept at the Othering and Belonging Conference we attended a few months ago. It stuck with Heidi; I don’t remember it but I remembered other important things like lunch and what time we had to leave for the airport.

I’m guessing most of us think of ourselves as good people who believe we don’t take things unfairly. Dominate cultural practices reinforce the belief we have a right to take things in the name of the greater good. Such as we have the right to collect information because if you want to participate you need to at least give your name and address for tracking and accountability. Corporations take/impose their oil pipeline on Native American land in the national interest of commerce and shareholders. Or policymakers and researchers who go into communities of color to do research in the name of progress but don’t return to ensure communities that invested time into the project ultimately benefit — funding runs out, the person working on it moves on, etc.

I see this happening in my work too. White people or organizations will contact me asking for an informational interview or a connection to someone or a referral. I don’t have a relationship with the person asking or the relationship doesn’t feel equal. I wonder who really benefits in the end, probably not me or others in my community. CiKeithia, another Fakequity team member, blogged about this when she wrote No You Can’t Pick My Brain.

Stop Taking Without Investing

Many times, dominant culture, white culture, tells people of color we need to justify our work. We need to prove money is being well-spent, time is well-used, we have community buy-in, and prove we know what we’re doing. There is little tolerance for what the system calls risk-taking or doing something outside of the norm.

The system defaults to having people justify actions with reports written by high paid consultants, hosting feedback and listening sessions, asking for data, studies, or informational interviews. All of these actions take/extract information from communities of color. My colleague Jondou Chen lectures about this as weaponizing data. Data is taken from people and communities of color, with little control over how the data is used afterward. As he defines it people of color are turned into objects, our data is extracted and controlled by others.

Somewhere in this equation, someone is often profiting off the extraction of information. When I say someone is profiting I don’t mean that in just the literal way of someone getting rich, which does happen. Profit also looks like the white person who gets accolades for having relationships with people of color, who gets political points or access to political tables, or who knows the juicy gossip. A white colleague who is married into an African American family and works with the African American community shared: “If I bring an African American colleague to a meeting I get a lot of praise and a nod, my friend gets nothing out of it. If he brings me, a white guy, to his community I’m seen as his liability.” It took me a moment to understand that but once I did I understood what he was saying. Because of histories of colonialism, the taking of land, language, culture, money, etc. by white people/dominant society, many communities of color are reluctant, fearful, and angry at being used again. White people and systems constantly want to take something and not return the investment, it is one of the insidious and unconscious ways power is upheld.

How to Invest, Not Just take

When working with communities of color and other communities further from power and privilege (e.g. LGBTQIA, disabilities, poor, immigrants and refugees, etc.) we need to slow down and spend time building relationships. The number one-way extraction happens is when systems and people in power swoop in and take something from communities of color without reciprocating or it is token reciprocation – hiring local translators, buying food from local restaurants, sharing one-time information, etc. All of this is a good first step but it doesn’t leave the community stronger than before, power hasn’t shifted, nor has an investment been made into the infrastructure of the community.

A better way to invest is to pause and ask yourself are you the right person or organization to lead the work. As an example, a few weeks ago I had to ask myself that same question. I promised someone I’d write a piece for them about a very politically and emotionally charged race related event. However, after attending the event I realized I shouldn’t write it because I wasn’t the most impacted person in the room. While I had valid points if I wrote it the writing would have centered me. The timeline was fast to get the story written and published, and many of us wanted to get the information out because it was powerful. I had to wrestle with my ego, did I want to write the story because it would prove I was being a good ally and prove I cared and was there.

I did what I do when I’m stuck I called CiKeithia and Heidi. They both suggested I reach out and find someone else who could talk about it in a way that focused on the impacted community, which I ultimately did. I had to slow myself down and reached out to a colleague and she said yes right away. Her piece is beautiful and centered her community in ways that no mainstream news report even got close to covering. If I had written the story I would have been extracting the story of another community, filtering it through my lens, and profited off of it by being upheld as a good ally and through the attention I would have gained. This is one reason why I’m not mentioning the event, to do so would be to center and call attention to me being there. I tell this personal story because too often we don’t grapple with the personal emotions or we justify our feelings when we extract from a community.

Organizationally we should grapple with these same feelings and questions. When we take how does it feel to our staff and our communities? It is easy to justify, but how does it feel and how are we building relationships and shifting power dynamics for the long haul?

Questions to think about if you are about to extract:

  1. Are you swooping in for a one-time or a time-limited project?
  2. If you weren’t there how would things look different?
  3. Have you listened to what the community wants? As an example, if the project is on passing a bill does the community really want the bill you’re working on or do they want to work on something different? Such as you say you want to work on environmental justice by planting trees, but the immigrant community wants to gain citizenship so they can vote and influence policymaking.
  4. Are you asking for information (e.g. survey, interviews, focus groups, etc.)? How will the information be used and how will the community have ownership of the final product? How will it be used to shift and level power dynamics?
  5. Finally, ask yourself can you authentically show up in the community again and be received well? If you can’t answer yes quickly then adjust your practices or stop what you’re about to do.

Depending on how you answer these questions you may want to retool your approach to ensure you’re not extracting form a community without also investing.

Posted by Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you! Please check the fakequity.com website 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.