Presence isn’t Power — Shifting Power to Create Change

By Erin Okuno

A few years ago I attended the Othering and Belonging Conference hosted by the Haas Institute at UC Berkley. It still ranks in my top three of best conferences ever attended, and it didn’t make the list because of the after-hours networking, which let’s be real that is sometimes more important and powerful than actual conferences – relationship building is important to undoing racism. This conference was great because of the new thoughts generated and the disruption in old thinking.

One of my favorite lines from the conference came from the Rashad Robinson of Color of Change. During one of the talks, he said “Presence doesn’t equal power,” and went on to explain somewhere along the way his organization realized just turning out people and having a large social media presence didn’t matter. Having a social media post viral with millions of reshares and likes or turning out thousands of people at a rally are all great but they don’t equal the power to push for change. Power comes with using that presence and energy to build a movement, disrupt and have people take actions.

Presence is important and sometimes presence is action. Such as I am reminded of the story of how El Centro de la Raza in my adopted city came to be. In the 1972 Roberto Maestas and other local activist took over the El Centro building declaring by their presence that the community needed and deserved a community gathering site. By being physically present they galvanized each other and their power grew and they eventually were awarded the building. Their presence was intentional and part of a broader movement to uproot racism against people of color and to establish a physical place for the Latino community and other communities of color. Today El Centro’s presence is a comfort to many in the community. They provide housing, preschool education, and so much more from their perch on Beacon Hill. Without their presence in the community, there would be a power vacuum.

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Artwork from Amplifier

What isn’t Power

On the flip side too often I see people trying to claim that just showing up is enough. Showing up is important. Systems and power holders see fear in numbers. Thousands of people showing up at a rally helps to convey a sense of urgency and importance, but we need to remember a one-time mass show up of people power doesn’t change power dynamics. Mere presence without intention and in isolation of other efforts doesn’t lead to change; put more simply a one-off action doesn’t have the power behind it to create change – sustained efforts and building a movement gain results.

Dismantling structural racism takes more than posting on social media and showing up at rallies and meetings. Showing up one-time at a rally or posting an article about a topic is a one-off, a one-time presence will gain you exactly one-wokeness point. One-wokeness point doesn’t buy enough to unearth the layers of historical history, oppression, or even begin to unpack the racism that we are all charged with undoing. You’ll need way more wokeness-points to make changes.

Shifting Power

We need to use our presence as people of color and allies to disrupt and create a new counterculture. These new disruptions and countercultures have to be rooted in who we are as people and communities of color and built to withstand racism and to undo the historical legacies of slavery, oppression, of stolen land, and assimilation.

In order to shift from presence to power we need to remember the things we’re asking people to do are gateways to deeper engagement. Such as why are you posting something on social media, is it to share out information or is it to engage with people on a deeper level. If you want to engage people on a deeper level, then your presence needs to be felt more deeply as well – are you then doing the deeper work to build a deeper relationship with them to talk about the topic of the article.

Some ways to move beyond presence:

Learn about what you plan to attend—If you are attending a rally do the deeper work about learning about the topic, and learn about it from a poc perspective.

Learn what it means at the national level, state and local levels:

If you attended the rally protesting the separation of migrant families read about the topic in national newspapers (i.e. Washington Post, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, foreign papers).

Next, learn what is happening in your state and city – on immigration in Seattle recently a local immigrant lawfully here with a Green Card was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, you can also learn what organizations are working on the issue and work to support them.

Finally, think about what it means for your sphere of influence. What conversations do you need to have to disrupt and be a powerful ally? On immigration, have you contacted your lawmakers? If you run an organization or work with kids do you know what policies are in place if ICE shows up? Can you help families create emergency plans? These steps equal power to make change, not just power to be seen.

You can use this same format for almost any topic – homelessness, education, literacy, maternal justice, disabilities, etc. When we shift from simply showing up to thinking more critically about our individual roles in disrupting racism this is where we shift power for good.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke, C+C, Carrie, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Heidi, Janis, Jennifer, Jillian, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Laurel, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Molly, Sarah, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

White Allies — What Desserts are You?

Editor’s Note: For the second week in a row, woohoo, we welcome back white ally Carrie Basas. This blog post emerged out of a late night online conversation when we both should have been writing other assignments.

By Erin Okuno and Carrie Basas

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Dessert and flower table centerpiece [photo copyright: fakequity, do not use without premission]

It is summer and we’ve had several serious posts so it is time to talk about something a little less serious — DESSERTS! Don’t expect a lot of how-tos, let’s make things better, or really anything serious out of this blog post. This is in jest and good fun so don’t get all crumbly like a dry cake.

Snowflake cookie— We’ll start with an easy one. Are you a snowflake cookie, pretty to look at and pretend to be cool, but as soon as the conversation gets heated in talking about race the frosting on you melts into a white glob of stickiness.

Oatmeal cookie with raisins— You enjoy being crunchy and healthy. You talk about health justice for POCs and community gardening, have a few friends who are POC, but in the end, tend to gravitate toward fairly safe and sometimes boring choices. If we were throwing a culturally responsive potluck, you’d show up with some more oatmeal cookies or a kale salad. For talks about race, others need to come to where you are— the middle.

Trifle cake— You understand race, equality, and like to have woke-offs to prove how down with the people you are. But you forget that people are complex and issues don’t come in neat packages or layers. The term intersectionality and multiplicity of identities are too much for your taste buds to handle. Stop thinking in layers and mix up that cake to get a more delicious bite; equity work requires us to think in complex ways and not in layers/silos. 

Berry Chantilly cake— You’re covered in a thick white coating of whipped frosting. You ooze luxury and deliciousness (in cake form only— no cannibalism). When people think fancy, they think you. And how could they not? You can be found at all the big fundraising events. Inside is another delicious layer of white cream between layers of white cake, you bring in people of color and display them like diversity bits into your cake. Remember diversity isn’t equity, sticking people of color into an all white environment doesn’t yield equitable outcomes, equity takes harder work and sometimes means baking a whole different dessert. (Unrelated trivia: Chantilly cake originated in Hawaii at Liliha Bakery.)

Creme brûlée— When race comes up, you’ve got a bit of a hard exterior. It’s been a bit burnt, shall we say? You started out all sugary on the outside but apply some heat and you were cracking. Deep conversations about race feel like a spoon has been jammed into that thin exterior. You’re soft inside. We know. Unlike the snowflake cookie, you can stand the fire. It’s just not where you want your whole time to be and if you feel the heat, you’ll turn it back on others. Do what is right and soften that hard exterior, get to know people who are different then you, break that shell and share a little about yourself and let others see your soft-sweet creamy insides, but remember your job is to mostly listen.

Fortune cookie— You’ve got it, or so you hope. Now, you’re on a mission to tell others how to be woke and equity-fancy. If we asked your white friends, they’d say that you have an extensive collection of multicultural cookbooks AND you tell them often about how they need to do better for racial equity, as they are eating something you made with fair trade chocolate. We love this advocacy but don’t avoid doing your own work by handing out overly simplified social justice warrior one-liners. If it fits in the cookie, it ain’t equity — equity is harder to achieve and doesn’t fit on a little slip of paper.

Magic bars— Think of people dumping everything and everyone together and hoping they come to some tasty resolution without any hard work or difficult stirring. Is this you? Mix in a few choice terms like equity, diversity, gender-neutral pronouns, but really when we ask you to take a stand or for an opinion, you just spout more -isms without substance.

Cake donuts— Like a plain ordinary everyday cake donut you don’t pass yourself off as an expert, you sit dutifully in trainings and engage just enough to be engaged, but when forced to rise up and confront racism you’re hollow like the donut hole. As you sit through the diversity and equity trainings start to engage and do some deep thinking. If you need to do more deep thinking find a poc owned donut or coffeeshop and buy yourself a donut, sit down and reflect on what you learned. If you want to buy yourself another donut this time eat it while reading a book by a poc author and invite a few friends (poc or white allies) to discuss it with you (don’t make your poc friends do all of your thinking though).

Vanilla soft-serv (twist optional)— You are coming in hot with all of these equity words. Or should I say cool and smooth? The words are flowing so fast that it’s hard to keep you from hitting the floor like some ice cream soup that we’ll clean up at the end of this discussion. Engaging is good but pace yourself. Be aware of how much space you’re taking up or risk running over the edge of the cone of community.

So, what’s the ideal dessert? Just like in life there is no one ideal. The good news is you get to taste your way through race, equity, and diversity work, lick a little frosting along the way, and occasionally get a stomach ache from eating too much. Take some time to savor the lessons you are learning, explore new desserts including from communities of color, dig deeper and learn important food history, how food is colonized and decolonized, and how food stories relate to the present and future. When you do this we’ll be a richer and more connected community, and you can put away those snowflake cookies for some true poc-homemade desserts.


Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke, C+C, Carrie, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Janis, Jennifer, Jillian, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Laurel, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Molly, Sarah, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

The Genealogy of My Passing

By Carrie Griffin Basas

Editor’s Note: We welcome back white-ally guest blogger Carrie Basas. This week Carrie shares how disabilities isn’t a static state of being. We need to evolve in our awareness and thinking about disabilities, disabilities inclusion/access, and disabilities equity. She drops a new term on us, woke crip, read more below.


Larsen’s Syndrome beget hip dysplasia which beget unsuccessful attempts to pin my hips which beget traction of my infant body which beget hip replacements during law school which beget fragility.

Thirteen days ago, I became more disabled. Someone recently asked me the story of it, as if knowing how it happened might provide some insights into preventing its trajectory. “I fell HARD. I tripped over this weird sandstone ledge in my foyer. My toe got caught. I went over on my left side. Really nothing dramatic.” I joked about how lackluster my story was, but landing on a 16-year-old hip replacement that is constructed from wire, titanium, plastic, and a cadaver bone is complicated.

I was in excruciating pain. I got up from the floor that night only to go to the ER the next morning and again two days later, to spend a day in the hospital advocating for my admission after an outside expert in my condition (who only treats children) said it wasn’t a choice to remain at home—that I could crack further and also that I was at risk for blood clots. The hospital couldn’t decide if I had a fracture, if I should weight bear, if I really was in pain. When I said that I didn’t know how to get around the bathroom safely, that my pain was a 7 or an 8 on that beloved and meaningless pain scale, that I couldn’t walk the way I had with a cane—that I really couldn’t walk at all, they asked me what I wanted: A rehab facility? (Synonym: nursing home.) Admission to the hospital? For what? Didn’t I have a wheelchair at home? Didn’t I live in an accessible house? Did I work? Full-time? Really?

Becoming more disabled isn’t something I know how to do. There is no wheelchair-accessible house or trauma coping kit issued at birth or injury. My body doesn’t hurt or matter less because I started disabled.

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Picture of learning how to transfer from a sofa to a wheelchair using LEGO. Photo from Carrie Basas

I have an incredible community of beloved “crip” (reclaiming cripple) friends. They showed me via LEGO models how to transfer safely from my sofa to a wheelchair without getting a rim lodged in my posterior. They organized a meal train. They distracted my restless child who is about to have surgery of her own. Wonderful members of Fakequity did, too. People came out and I love them for it.

Ironically, all of those friends answered a question that had come up in a disability training that I had just done the day before my fall with public health officials: “But I’m not getting it—why wouldn’t you try to be more normal rather than accept disability? What’s the benefit?” I stammered some answer then about community and the impossibility of me being normal like the person asking the question—and how a lifetime of being told that the holy land was where I could walk unencumbered had just made me feel inadequate. But I’m much better at saying these things than living with these things.

I tried to stay on top of work. It distracted me from feeling diminished self-sufficiency. I reached out to the organizer of a legal conference where I was set to present. I reiterated that I’d be there, except that I needed to know about the accessibility. His answer involved coming in a secondary entrance (synonym: service entrance), calling catering to allow me to use their elevator, waiting for a temporary ramp to be installed, and then sitting in front of an audience as “the expert” when I was expected to stand. Basically, show up and feel like you’ve been dehumanized and infantilized and then give them a great PowerPoint, ok? This was an audience who had never anticipated or intended that people like me would be there.

I believe that what came out next to my family, as I sat in my friend’s borrowed granny scooter, was an expletive that I’d be embarrassed-proud for my daughter to say at school but teachers might not enjoy. And after that:

“This is ridiculous. I’m not presenting in spaces where no one has looked for a baseline of accessibility. I’m tired of conforming to other people’s comfort.”

My husband, not disabled but POC, joked that I was suddenly “crip woke” in my impending boycott of offers to speak in inaccessible spaces.

In the past, I would have dealt with it. For example, when I showed up this spring to present about IEPs at a hospital, I faced a set of stairs to the presenter’s area. I grumbled loudly but I didn’t walk out. That didn’t seem professional. I’ve always felt beholden to making others feel comfortable about my disability—to diffuse their awkwardness with humor or acceptance. I appreciate people who are trying to get disability. Other times, though, I am reminded when I’m the only disabled person in a space, that my presence is a surprise and that I occupy a tenuous position. Be nice or reinforce that my people are unrealistic and angry.

My friend, who had LEGO-educated me, heard my rant about access and said: “That’s a good starting point. Maybe we need you to lose some vision and some hearing.” Yes, maybe I do.

My conference host was embarrassed and admitted, no one had come with a disability before and he never thought about it even though the topic was disability. Could I just tell him if I was coming? He assumed that I was bringing someone to be with me all day to help me. I have a fragile hip but not a round-the-clock work assistant. I can take care of myself if I can come with my new-fangled equipment. No, I don’t have someone coming with me. Some people with disabilities do have attendants to support their health needs. That does not diminish them. Just because I was more disabled than the last time he met me didn’t mean that I was issued a helper or that I needed one. I said all of this in a much nicer way which amounted to a terse laying out of my concerns and a polite “no thanks,” along with suggestions for non-disabled speakers.

Even my description above shows how difficult it is to accept—and shamefully so in my “woke crip” state—that I have internalized and accepted so much rampant ableism. I conformed my body and needs to what was presented to me because I often had the privilege of making it work, of taking on that burden myself. I made walking with the least amount of equipment my goal. I can say that’s a way of being functional in a world designed without people like me in mind. And that’s true.

But I can also say it makes me complicit in enforcing what desired normalcy looks like—and not just with disability. To struggle with accepting the here and now is to also advance attitudes that say white is better, male is better, English-speaking is better, gender binary is better . . . because aren’t those identities “easier,” too? Don’t they conform to the circumstances—both access and attitude—that we find ourselves in today? And don’t they also tell those of us who are not those versions of “normal and acceptable” that we don’t matter as much? And we’ll be rewarded—just not right now—when we become those things? The destruction of ourselves isn’t worth it.


Carrie Basas works in education advocacy and formerly in civil rights law, specializing in disabilities rights. Formerly she was a law professor impressing upon law students the importance of understanding race and its impact on people. Carrie has a MEd in Education Policy, Organizations and Leadership from the University of Washington. She earned a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School and an Honors B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Sociology/Anthropology from Swarthmore College. However, her biggest claim to fame is some of her fashion weekend wear while hanging with her family and dog and bunnies.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke C+C, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Janis, Jennifer, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Molly, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

What does a vibrant democracy look and feel like?

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We the People Are Greater than Fear, art from Amplifer by Shepard Fairey

Last Friday I was debriefing an event with Jondou and he mentioned the phrase a “vibrant democracy;” it now seems so long ago. As we talked Jondou mentioned how our project progressed from an event featuring a single voice to a series of events featuring many voices. This conversation was before the news that Supreme Court Justice Kennedy plans to retire allowing Trump to nominate the next Supreme Court Justice, most likely swinging the court conservatively. It was before the latest mass shooting in Maryland in a newsroom killing five truth-seeking journalists, and before the Supreme Court ruling allowing the Muslim travel ban to stand. Last Friday was now ages ago. In a week the term vibrant democracy has taken on a new meaning and new heaviness.

We weren’t the first to use the term but it is one that sticks. It is hard to feel the word vibrant applies in our current state of national and local affairs. Today I posed the question “What does a vibrant democracy look and feel like? How will you participate in a vibrant democracy?” to colleagues of color. They all stopped and gave me a look of “huh?” After a long pause, a friend said “We haven’t had it [a vibrant democracy], so I don’t know what it feels like.”

I’ve preached on this blog – vote, run for office, testify before your school boards, call your elected officials, etc. While I preach these actions I also know they are slow-moving ways of bringing about change, they are hard to access and not always available to all people, and it is still privileged activities to participate in. I don’t know if they are enough to feel like we have a vibrant and equitable democracy, but it is currently our way of being heard in our systems.

As my colleagues and I talked through what it means to be in a vibrant democracy I mentioned many conservatives finally feel like they have a vibrant democracy where they are seen and heard, where they are in control of the national agenda. The problem isn’t with the agenda swinging from one side to the other, our current problem is how marginalizing and how polarizing our conversations have become. As my friend CiKeithia said we’ve lost what civility looks like in conversations involving politics, race, and government.

“Do we need to create new forms of democracy?” How will you participate in a vibrant democracy?

Another colleague said it best when she said “Do we need to create new forms of democracy?” We talked about what it means to have democracies rooted in our common humanity, where we can include and in many ways focus on the needs of our most marginalized neighbors, sisters and brothers.

A vibrant democracy has to be more than just one vote, one person, one action. We need to recreate and newly-envision what it means to have a democracy that isn’t tied to privilege and oppression (everyone feels oppressed in some ways, time to step away from oppression politics). John Adams wrote, “Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.” A new vibrant democracy also can’t be about denouncing the current regime, it has to be in response to the justices we need from each other — together, not just what the loudest want.

It is hard to envision what hasn’t been done. I’ve thought long and hard about re-envisioning what racial equity in education could and should look like. I almost always come up with a blank since I’ve ben trained and currently work to stop bad-policies from happening; it takes different muscles and brain power to think of new ways of working. While visioning and listening to others can be hard, we have to do it, without it we will re-create something that doesn’t work.

New forms of democracy need to look, feel, and act differently. When I say they need to look, feel, and act differently I really mean that, maybe they should also taste differently too – a little sweet, a little bitter, and savory. The experience of a new democracy needs to be so different we recognize it as new and be willing to suspend judgement just enough to give it a try.

It needs to be inclusive of people of color and practicing intersectionality– focusing on people farthest from justice. Democracy can be more than just people voting and calling elected officials. A vibrant democracy needs to take into account histories of poc exclusion from participating in government and work to undo those embedded structures in access to government and democratic processes. A vibrant democracy needs to be about supporting people to participate and not about navigating systems to participate.

We also have to be willing to ask questions such as why we exclude people, such as felons from voting, they have the greatest stake in voting in justice minded elected officials. We should ask why do exclude non-citizen immigrants from voting? Why do we place such a high premium on tying voting to homes and places – intellectually I get it, vote where you live, but as gentrification pushes people of color out does this notion of being tied to place still hold true or do we re-envision a new meaning of one vote.

Vibrant communities are tied to vibrant democracies can we get ourselves there is the question. We can’t keep using the same methods, definitions, and practices if we are to see a new way to building. Tonight I don’t have answers on what a new democracy means, but I do know our current version isn’t shining as brightly as it could. For now we have to do the bare minimum of creating a new democracy – we vote, we get others to vote, we resist, we see the humanity in each other, and we keep on being – all of this is needed as we work towards a more vibrant and just democracy.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke C+C, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Janis, Jennifer, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Molly, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

Six Consequences of Not Addressing Racism

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke C+C, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Jennifer, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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Artwork from Amplifer, by Jess X Snow

Last Saturday my organization hosted a half-day Summit. Our Summits are a time for us to hear back from the community, spend time unpacking interesting information and thoughts, and charting our way forward. For this event, the group decided to explore what our histories look like. Not textbook histories like WWI, civil rights movement, etc. We took a more nuanced look at how our personal histories inform our futures. One of the questions Jondou and our group came up with is forward-looking, but informed by our past (slightly edited): “What will be the consequences if we do not address racism and injustice?”

We live in a society where the consequences of racism are with us. Here is a short list of consequences of not addressing racism. But before we all get too depressed and stop reading after number one, I’ve also included possible ways to disrupt racism and create better futures for ourselves, pocs and white people. As a side note, these weren’t answers that came out of the Summit, these are my thoughts on the prompt.

One. We will cease to exist. If we do not address racism communities of color, our ties to place such as South Seattle, our ways of life will no longer exist. Forces such as gentrification and displacement will go unchecked and our communities will no longer exist as we know them, we will be systematically erased.

Disruption: Exist, simply existing and holding space for communities of color to authentically be ourselves is important. Jondou shared a story of how his family and another multi-racial family had a picnic in a park and how good it felt to be together and holding space despite the gentrification around them. For white allies do your part, allow community groups to use your space to meet (discount or gift space to poc led and embedded groups), invest money into poc embedded organizations, shop at poc owned businesses.

Two. Whiteness continues. Unchecked racism means we cater to and assimilate into white norms. Many people of color consciously or unconsciously cater to and assimilate into white norms, it is how we need to function to not get beat down every day. This is racism at work in an underhanded and slight way.

Disruption: Call out whiteness. Calling out whiteness can be as simple as saying “I would like to invite a poc to answer the question first. If they pass that is fine, but having a poc answer first will allow us to center people of color’s thoughts.” Calling out whiteness can also be looking at where we need to focus on pocs, such as who is represented in data and is that dataset hiding people of color.

Three. We follow noise vs. substances of issues. Racism thrives on noise and echo chambers. Not to minimize the current injustices and atrocities facing families separated at the border – it must stop, but there is so much noise in the debate. Today’s noise in the news cycle about it is the coat Melania Trump wore which on the back said: “I Really Don’t Care.” Don’t get me wrong it is offensive, but if we’re focused on that noise and not paying attention to the substance on how the hell ‘we’ as a collective society allowed families to be separated to begin with is where racism thrives.

Disruption: Focus on the substance of an issue and listen to what people of color are saying. Take time to dig deeper and figure out where the systemic issues around race play into a topic.

Four. Colonization mentality runs rampant. If we leave racism uncheck modern day colonizing forces, such as wealthy people and their companies will seep in and change our ways of thinking and being, just like in all of the teen dystopian novels that are on summer reading list (e.g. The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.) where we all comport or have to conform to other’s norms.

Disruption Four. Learn about colonization and work to undo it. Colonization sounds like this gigantic force that overtakes communities. It can be that way and it can also show up in smaller ways, learn about it. Watch this short video about Standing Rock and how settler colonialism shows up. (Thanks to Heidi for sharing the video.) Work to undo colonizing tendencies, start small by learning the Indigenous place names for where you plan on traveling or where you live. Such as I learned that where I live in Seattle used to be known as the green-yellow-long-spine, I need to dig deeper to learn more including the actual Duwamish place name, it takes a bit of work but through the effort I’ll learn something new.

Five. We become less healthy. Unchecked racism has already changed the way many communities eat. Native Americans and Indigenous people have lost traditional foraging and hunting grounds, the salmon runs that sustained them since time immoral are now decimated. If I also think about health in the global sense of the word food and connections lead to healthier societies. In communities that are more tightly bonded, even if they are poor, their health outcomes are greater, people report they are happier and live longer. Racism thrives on isolating people and creating enemies where they didn’t exist before. It thrives on finding weaknesses and exploiting the weaknesses to create a sense of othering versus belonging, when this happens we all become less healthy.

Six. We stop aiming for better and we stop dreaming. Racism is great at reminding us to stay in our places. It hurts whites and people of color when we do this. A few weeks ago in a planning meeting Jondou put up the prompt “How will we know when we have educational justice? What will it look, feel, taste, smell, or sound like?” I honestly said I couldn’t think of an answer because I spend so much time trying to stop bad policies and practices from happening I don’t spend time envisioning a better future. Perhaps I’m also afraid I’m inadequate to answer that question which is a function of racism too, who has the right to define our futures?

Disruption: Start dreaming by listening. Listen to people of color and don’t dismiss what we have to say. You may not agree but check your biases and do your part by listening without dismissing, and examine without defense.

We have the power to combat racism every day. It isn’t hard but in the spirit of Color Brave Space we have to be kind and brave in calling it out and acting to correct it.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

Can Foundations Achieve Equity?

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke C+C, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Jennifer, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, and Miriam. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.


By Erin Okuno, with thanks to Heidi Schillinger

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

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Student artwork: “We believe in fighting apathy.” Taken at Ingraham High School, Seattle. Photo by Erin Okuno.

I’ve been mulling over the question of philanthropy and foundation’s roles in equity for several weeks. Working in the nonprofit sector most of my jobs, including my current job, have been funded by private philanthropy. At the risk of pissing off an entire sector and any future job prospects we have to talk about foundations, philanthropy, and racial equity. Many foundations and the philanthropic sector are having or starting to have conversations about their role in advancing racial equity. This is a welcomed change from the “we know best” savior mentality, and power lording over nonprofits. Even with these burgeoning conversations we owe it to those we serve to have the broader conversation about foundations and equity.

If you ask me today if foundations can achieve equity, my answer is no. The current practices and landscape of foundations and the philanthropic sector today does not allow foundations to be equitable. They can adapt their practices to be more equitable, but overall the way philanthropy is currently practiced falls into either providing access to money or programming our way to equity.

Can We Achieve Equity through Inequity?

Jondou Chen, a fakequity partner, is fond of asking the question “Can we achieve equity through inequitable means?” Many of the foundations existing today came about because of private wealth of some sort. Much of the private wealth generated in the United States was through exploitative means of people of color. Through policies such as slavery, underpayment of pocs, red lining, state sponsored practices such as inadequate funding of schools, opportunity hoarding, and other societal practices that favor white people. Wealth and opportunities benefited white people and allowed for wealth accumulation over time. Philanthropy has become a benevolent way for white people to feel ok about their wealth and to work to redistribute it, and at the same time it is also another way for white people to benevolently control the destinies of people of color. Put another way, it is a way for white people to incentivize and reward organizations who can code switch, model off of whiteness, or reward white problem solving for communities of color.

In a slightly off-topic but related story, I once spoke on a panel to mostly wealthy white people who were learning about philanthropy. I kept using the word equity and the philanthropist kept giving me weird looks. I finally stopped and threw a question to them. I asked “How do you define equity?” A bold person said “you mean like financial equity where you build wealth through investments.” In that moment I realized we were having two very different conversations and two different starting points for understanding equity. Since then I’ve become more clear about defining racial equity and not just using the word equity. It also crystallized that white controlled philanthropy has a very different starting point for understanding the impact of their role in undoing racism. In that room there was a skewed balance of power that tipped to the philanthropist because of wealth, being in a collective setting, and control of the agenda. I also wonder if they were ready to think about how their giving upholds or dismantles racism — they probably weren’t ready since I was standing between them and a buffet lunch on real china not paper plates.

In the book Unicorns Unite how Nonprofits & Foundations Can Build EPIC Partnerships co-authored by my friend-colleague Vu Le, the authors write that foundation’s money is for the common good. Once money is put into a foundation it ceases to belong to the person who placed it in the foundation. Yet, even with this belief and practice, many of the foundations existing today consciously or unconsciously practice white-biases and even white supremacy.

Whiteness shows up in who is on the board and staff, how the grant priorities and guidelines are put together, in the processes for distributing funds and the metrics used to measure success.

On a practical level I understand how these practices emerged and the demand to use money wisely. And yet we must acknowledge the inequities and unconscious racism embedded in the philanthropic system. Philanthropy wasn’t designed for people of color’s ease of navigation or access, and it definitely wasn’t designed for poc wellbeing or comfort, including for pocs working in philanthropy.

Who has Power and Control

Whether we acknowledge it or not foundations and philanthropy have a lot of control and power over agendas and nonprofits. Some of the power is used for good and some of it misplaced. When a foundation wants to make a shift or prioritize a new way of working they will signal that shift in their giving and if nonprofits who rely upon those dollars want the money to continue doing their work they have to comply with the shift. Sometimes the change is appropriate and it modernizes nonprofit practices. But when these changes are forced upon a community and without community voice to help shape the change that is how fakequity happens.

The nonprofit sector emerged to fill the gaps that government, individuals, and others can’t fill. We don’t like seeing hungry kids, unhoused people, animals being abused, or racism run amok – the nonprofit industry (it is an industry) chooses to act. We do it because we want to see change, but in order for the change to be equitable it has to be led by the community and those most impacted by the change – not driven by an outside agenda dangling a carrot of payment. This at the heart of Jondou’s question “can we achieve equity through inequitable means?”

Foundations, as we know them today, aren’t designed to share control and power. They are designed to have an agenda and to fund organizations that align with their agendas not a community of color driven agenda. The current model of foundation giving, even pooled giving or poc centered giving, doesn’t allow for this. Pooled and poc centered giving is still built off of models of white-philanthropy, so while foundations and funds centered on poc voice and experience are more equitable they still adopted many of the practices (e.g. grant guidelines, applications, contracts, etc.) and are accountable (i.e. IRS tax structure, laws governing nonprofits, etc.) to whiteness. If we are to achieve racial equity and racial justice we have to believe communities of color should be in control of our own destinies and build a structure centered on pocs, not rebuilding off of whiteness.

Foundation’s Can do Better

In order to do better we need to change. Jondou shared this quote from poet and activist June Jordan “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” We can’t wait for some outside force to bring about the change.

Since we probably won’t see a wholesale change to the philanthropic sector I will leave you with some questions to ponder:

  • Riffing off of the Martin Luther King quote at the top, is your foundation/giving looking at root causes of inequities for people of color?
  • Who is defining the request for proposal? Is it being informed by what pocs want to see funded? Have pocs been given the space and resources to think and redefine what a radical solution could look like?
  • Is the foundation’s board and staff willing to slow down and acknowledge the biases, power, proximity to other forms of power, and inequities it holds?
  • Is the foundation willing to share power and control and undo structures that favor dominant culture?
  • Borrowing off of another Jondou question, is the foundation willing to ask “What are the justices our community needs from us, and how can we be in a just relationship with each other?” Acknowledging both the giver and receiver have to have a more balanced role with each other.
  • Is the foundation willing to change, does it have the courage and humility to change? Will the organization let go of past practices, people, relationships that no longer fit a new vision? Is it willing to put resources into building new relationships and willing to go slow to build trust and put money towards trying new ways of giving?

If we can move foundations to being in more just and equitable maybe I’ll come around to believing foundations can achieve equity.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

Our very own Korean Drama: Part 1 – Are you my bio sister? – Pre DNA Test Results from Three “Sisters”

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke C+C, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Jennifer, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, and Miriam. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support. 

This week’s blog post is a bit long. It is long for a reason, it takes a look at three personal stories about one-family-set of DNA tests. Why is this on a racial equity blog? Personal stories and narratives are important to understanding people of color’s histories and truths. We also believe in relationships. Heidi and Marki are integral parts of the Fakequity family, understanding them is to understand the team as a whole. Thanks for sharing and trusting us with your story.


By Heidi Schillinger, Marki Schillinger, and family

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This post is personal. Really personal. At the risk of no one deciding to read this post, I am really writing it for myself. As a way to process, heal, and normalize the experience of being an adoptee. I think sharing our personal stories is a way to connect to humanize.

Anyone who knows me knows I am addicted to Korean dramas. I started watching Korean dramas over 20 years ago to “help” with my Korean language learning. I am not sure it has really helped, but I keep watching. Korean dramas have evolved to encompass every possible storyline, but the best original K-Dramas had you in tears by the end of the first episode. They were full of family secrets, raw emotions, and unbelievable coincidences (not to mention love triangles, cross-class forbidden romance, and terminal illness). Recently my sisters and I have joked that we have our very own version of a real life Korean drama. Sad and true. Or true and sad.

I want my sisters to be able to speak for themselves, and the chief Fakequity editor enforces a word limit. So, I am going to do a quick summary of events to get you up to the point where I proposed to my sisters that we take DNA tests to confirm whether we are biologically related.

Episodes 1-5: A Quick Recap of the Long Search

My sister, Marki, and I were adopted into a white family (hence the name Heidi Schillinger) in the mid-1970’s. Our parents originally wanted to adopt one child but were swayed when asked if they’d consider siblings to keep us together. We joke that they were duped in a two for one scheme. We grew up like many Korean adoptees during that time, fully assimilated into dominate white American culture and disconnected from Korea. It wasn’t until my senior year of college when I studied abroad in Korea that I started to consider my connection to Korea.

While I was studying in Korea, people told me I should look for my biological family. Actually, they told me I should look for my “real” family, but that is for another blog post. That started a nearly decade long search for my biological family. At first, I searched because people told me I should, and I was young and impressionable. But it was emotional, overwhelming, and disappointing. It took a few years and coming up with my own reasons for searching before I started looking again. Thanks to a Korean friend, Marki and I appeared on a national TV talk show called Achim Madang (아침 마당) , on our local MBC Mokpo news program, in a national newspaper, and even in a Korean song dedicated to Korean adoptees. We met with families who had given up children, some exposing long held family secrets and shared tears with them over our common connection with loss. During other periods of living in Korea, I often wandered around Korea looking at older women and thinking about the title of the children’s book “Are you my Mother?” Years later, Marki recognized our bio mom randomly in the subway.

Just when I thought we had exhausted all of our search options and I had come to peace with the fact that we might never find any biological family, a Korean drama-like coincidence unfolded. I had since moved back to Seattle but happened to be in Korea visiting. At the same time, a distant paternal cousin happened to be visiting from Japan. And our oldest paternal aunt happened to be visiting from the U.S. (Boston). The distant cousin from Japan begins to relay a story she heard from her sister about our Achim Madang TV show appearance from a year ago to our paternal uncle, who lives in Seoul, and to our oldest aunt. Within about 24 hours, our orphanage in Mokpo and the Korean national TV station are calling my old Korean phone number, which the friend I am visiting still happens to be using. And a few hours later, our paternal uncle and aunt show up at my friend’s house in Daegu (5 hours from Seoul), claiming to be our bio family. It was a very emotional and confusing time. My first emotion was disbelief. Even though I wanted to believe, I couldn’t. We had met other families on this journey that didn’t turn out to be our relatives. At some point, I started to get numb to the process and prospect as a coping mechanism.

But my paternal uncle and aunt seemed sure. They seemed so sure they insisted I come home with them immediately. I didn’t. I made them convince my Korean friend who had been helping me search first. My uncle managed to convince my friend with old middle school documents that provided the same home address that was on our orphanage adoption paperwork. This was it. I had been searching and waiting for this day. This moment. What proceeded was a whirlwind of family stories, where I learned everyone has their own version of the truth. My uncle even led us on an investigative journalist style chase down of our biological mom, complete with the dreaded knock on her apartment door and her full-on breakdown in the backseat of my uncle’s car. In the meantime, I am asking myself, “What was happening? What did I just unearth? Is it worth it?” I’ve just disrupted so many lives. Including my sister, Marki’s life. She never signed up for this roller coaster ride. She thought she was just being supportive of me. Maybe she never really thought I would find anything or anyone. Back in Seattle, Marki was also being bombarded with calls from our biological family.

The other life I disrupted was of our oldest biological sister, Unnie (older sister in Korean, even though technically Marki is my Unnie too). Our Unnie immigrated to the U.S. with a paternal uncle in the mid-1990’s. She was married and had three children by the time we were reunited. And, her immediate family and in-laws had no knowledge of us. After I returned from Korea, Marki and I immediately flew to Boston to meet our Unnie and family there. I don’t remember much, expect there was a lot of food, a lot of crying, and a lot of exposing of old family secrets.

Episodes 6-10: Let’s Take a DNA test! Huh?

That brings us to now. Fifteen years after finding our biological family. Fifteen years of living as family with our Unnie in Boston. Those years included trips to Korea together, yearly visits to Seattle or Boston, seeing our niece and nephews grow from little kids into amazing young adults, and a lot of food. I mean a lot of food.

A few weeks ago, Marki and I visited Boston to see our family and attended our niece’s college graduation, Hooray, Carrissa! On our final day there, I pulled out three DNA test kits and proposed we take them and confirm if we really are biologically related. Our Unnie asks, “why now? We’ve been living as family for 15 years. Why do this now?” That’s a good question.

Why now? Seriously, I don’t really know. It could be because the DNA kits were on sale during Black Friday last year, and I thought why not. I don’t think easily accessible DNA testing was available when we first reunited. But really, the answer is maybe I am just curious. Curiosity has been a driver all along. Somewhere along the journey, I came to terms with the fact that curiosity can be enough of the reason. As an adoptee, I didn’t have the luxury of knowing where I come from, who my biological family is, where my physical and personality traits steam from, or even if I am truly connected to this place called Korea. People would often tell me if I am happy with my life and family in the U.S. then I shouldn’t be curious, but I believe this is a false and dangerous dichotomy. I believe curiosity about who I am and where I come from is natural, despite my current situation or relationship with my (adoptive) family.

Unnie asked me, “What if you find out we are not biologically related? Will you search again?”

What if? This is the scarier question. I have all these what if’s running through my head. I want to believe that regardless of the results, my relationship with both my sisters won’t change. But somewhere I wonder if I am embarking on another part of this journey that will disrupt lives again,including my own. Here are some of the what if’s running through my head- my feelings, my rational thoughts, and my feelings.

What if Marki and I really aren’t related?
We’ll be fine. Our relationship won’t change.
But what if it does?

What if Unnie is not really our biological sister?
We have lived as family for 15 years it will be fine.
Some little part of me is scared that it won’t be the same. It won’t be fine.

What if it says we are related? Is that the end of this journey? Will I be satisfied.
Yes, this is the definitive answer I have been searching for through this process.
I probably won’t be satisfied. I will want to meet our half siblings despite our bio mom’s objections

What if it says we aren’t related? Will I search again?
No, I’ll be satisfied with the “bio” family relationships we have created.
I’ll probably feel the need to search again.

Marki and Unnie already have their DNA results, but mine came back “unsuccessful” – perhaps because I am not human or had too much chicken in my saliva sample. We promised to wait until we all could open our results together. So stay tuned for the next episodes of our very own Korean drama – the DNA Results!

Marki’s Pre-DNA Test Result Reflections:

“We can only know where we’re going if we know where we’ve been.” Maya Angelou

My sister, Heidi, and I were adopted in 1975, from South Korea. We were young and were told we were biological sisters. I believed it. I still believe it. It’s what I’ve believed all my life. Our voices sound alike, we have some similar mannerisms, and we’re both terrible singers. I mean very terrible. Here’s one of our best photos together.

Heidi and Marki

Marki and Heidi as children riding a toy pony. One of the few pictures of both of them in dresses.

Heidi and I spent many years growing up in a small Washington State town. We played basketball together, we went on family vacations, and we fought like sisters do. We grew up in a family with four additional siblings.

About 15 years ago, Heidi searched, and found our biological family. We met our birth mother, birth father, aunts, uncles, cousins, and a sister.  We immediately flew out east to meet this sister we didn’t even know existed. Finding another sister in our 30s was amazing. We met her family and have continued building a great friendship with them all.

Marki and Heidi bikes

Marki and Heidi riding bicycles in Korea.

As adults, Heidi and I have remained close friends. We traveled all over, including a cross country trip in South Korea on our bikes. She said I snored, but I don’t believe her. Here’s a picture of one of our epic journeys together.

A few months ago, Heidi proposed we three sisters take DNA tests together. I was surprised, but curious. I had settled for the truth of what others had told me, but DNA could settle the matter once and for all. I wanted to know. Heidi and I flew east and took the 23andme DNA tests with our sister.

Initially, I was a cornucopia of emotions. I had so many questions. What if we weren’t really sisters? What if my life had been built on something false? What if it meant Heidi and my relationship would change? Where would I belong if I wasn’t related to my sisters? What if only two of us were related and the third wasn’t? What if… what if…  As I wait, I wonder…

Then, I remember all the memories. I remember all the times I spent with Heidi and my family growing up. I have memories of us at the beach, having picnics, playing basketball together, seeing newborn nephews and nieces, graduations… I have so many memories with Heidi. I remember sharing a room as teenagers and blasting my 80’s music over and over and Heidi trying to cover her head with her pillow to drown out the music. I remember drawing a line in the middle of our bedroom floor as to separate the space that was individually ours, and the other couldn’t cross. Except I didn’t leave Heidi any room to exit, she was trapped. Oh the things I remember. The funny stories, the tears, and the love. I remember our birth search we did together, I remember the awkward meetings between Korean women who wanted to be our mother, but just couldn’t have been based on information, ages, etc. I have more than 40 years of memories with Heidi and my family. I have more than a decade of memories with my newly found biological sister on the east coast. Those don’t just go away, the relationships don’t just disappear. I’m pretty sure we three sisters are biologically related, but there’s a chance we aren’t. In that case, I know where I have been. I know the memories I have, and I know my future will include my sisters and my family.

Boston Family’s Pre-DNA Test Result Reflections:

Unnie (via Our Niece): Yes, I think we ‘re sisters. If not, I guess we’ll still keep in touch and keep our relations. The past 15 years we believed we were sisters so now what? I’m going to keep believing we’re sisters.

Brother in-law (via Our Niece): (nodding head) I think they’re sisters. Too many family similarities; all have bad singing voices, all have bad skin, and all can’t drink.

Aunt (via Our Niece): They’re sisters. The address that you had matches up with the address that we have. Heidi looks exactly your mother. Marki looks like your grandfather on your father’s side. Kum Soon looks exactly like her grandmother on her father’s side.

Niece: I think they’re sisters. Definitely having the same home address is weird but the physical features are very similar. Heidi and my mom look really similar and oddly I look very similar to Marki. I definitely think it’s scary to ever think Marki and Heidi aren’t my biological aunts because they’ve been a part of my life for so long, but like my mom said so what? In my heart they’re always going to my aunts and a part of my lives. They have been with me through thick and thin and I couldn’t imagine a world without them.

For now we wait. We wait until Heidi’s results come back and the great unveiling. We wonder what will happen and what the next episode of the Korean Sister Drama will be. In the meantime we will practice singing, or maybe not, or maybe just to torture our brother-in-law.


 

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

Implicit Bias — You have it too

By Heidi Schillinger, edited by Erin

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: C+C , Kari, Matthew, Ali, Kathryn, Elizabeth, Evan, Jennifer, Clarissa, Aimie, Megan, Kelli, Lori, Annie, Miriam, Edith. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

Editor’s Note: Heidi wrote this in part to share ideas about last week’s blog post about Starbuck’s afternoon closure. This week we’ll go deeper into looking at implicit racial bias and why we need to pay attention to it.


cultural_unconscious_biasAll of us have biases. We develop them as we are socialized and it is part of who we are. As part of our work around being better humans and learning about race and its impact on people we need to pay attention to our biases and work to recognize them.

Acknowledge and Model Normalizing Implicit Racial Bias: It’s easy to point at others, or whisper behind their backs, and say how horrible their implicit racial bias problem is, but the reality is brain science points to the fact that is it human to have bias. And implicit (a.k.a. unconscious) bias comes from the socially designed construction of race— specifically, designed racial segregation, including colonization, reservations, slavery, racial restrictive covenants, legal segregation, Japanese Internment, Chinese Exclusion laws, Jim Crow, and now the current evolution of those explicit policies – displacement, segregation, etc. Repeat after me. It is human to have bias. I am not a bad person if I admit I have bias. No one took a training and presto eliminated their biases.

As a thought experiment have a conversation with someone about biases. If they say, “I am a good person, so I don’t have biases,” or if they tell you they got rid of their biases in 2005, share a recent racial bias you noticed in yourself, and admit you are human and have biases and that likely they might have biases still too. The key to this strategy is not to share a bias from childhood (sending the message that you only had biases when you were young), but to share one from today or the last few days.

In case you’re wondering people of color have racial biases too. We are human too (although the dehumanizing narrative of race still runs deep and thick). It’s important to acknowledge that racial bias + power = systemic racism, which is why white folks need to carry a heavier load of unpacking racism and biases. It’s also important to stress that racial bias just doesn’t show up as negative bias toward a group, but also positive bias toward your own group. Consider how white folks are often given the benefit of the doubt and can avoid things like traffic tickets, school discipline – or how white folks can use the restroom without paying for coffee at a café, walk around a neighborhood without people suspecting they/you don’t belong, or get hired on a belief about their/your potential even if they/you don’t meet the stated qualifications.

In the spirit of modeling, here is a recent example of my own. During a recent training session, I saw two young women of color walk into the session. My first thought (that inner voice) was that they must be interns, as I knew this organization was working hard to racially diversify their interns. I really wanted to ask, “Are you interns? What school are you attending?” But caught my inner voice, and thought since I’m doing a session on implicit racial bias, maybe I shouldn’t ask those questions as my initial conversation starters. When we went around the room to do introductions the two young women stated they are recent hires and engineers. That is when shame took over in my mind. But hey, I’m human too. The good news is I could catch myself before asking the questions, but I am sure I don’t always catch myself.

Action Tip: The takeaway from this strategy is to talk with one other person today about an implicit racial bias that you noticed in yourself, and try hard to normalize these conversations.

Slow Down and Notice Implicit Racial Bias: Okay, we’ve established all humans have implicit racial biases, now we need to slow ourselves down and notice them. I work with a lot of educators and love the teaching prompts “I notice… I wonder…” as a way to talk about implicit racial bias. Here is how this can work. When you’re sitting in a meeting today, slow down and notice who is in the room and who isn’t in the room. For example, if you’re having a meeting about how to engage people who speak English as a second or third or fourth language, stop and ask “I wonder how many people in this room have that experience?” If everyone says, they are monolingual English speaker, then say “I notice that everyone here is a monolingual English speaker, and I wonder how we might be missing important perspectives as we have this conversation.” Here are some other examples ways to practice slowing down and noticing race (and seeing if there is implicit racial bias) –

Action Tip: Notice the Race of the –

  1. Authors of your favorite books
  2. Most recent hires
  3. Board members and leadership team
  4. Closest friends
  5. Professional network
  6. Owners of the businesses that you support
  7. Consultants you hire

Most people’s gut reaction to doing this is to justify or say “yes, but…” Here is the thing if racial bias shows up in these analysis, you’re not a bad person, you’re just a product of our (racist) system. The question is, now that you know, will you do something different? Or will you just justify the results and continue to uphold the existing system of racism?

Be Curious and Consider the Opposite: Two of my favorite TED Talks – How to overcome our biases? Walk boldly toward them and Color Blind or Color Brave offer examples of how this “consider the opposite” strategy works. Verna Myers in How to overcome our biases, talks about how she was really excited when she heard she was flying in a plane with a woman pilot, but when the plane hit turbulence she thought “I hope this lady can fly.” But then on the flight home, she realized that it’s always turbulent and bumpy and when there is a male pilot, she never questions whether they can fly. Mellody Hobson, in Color blind or Color brave, takes about how most board rooms are filled with white men, and we just believe that is normal, but if we were to walk into a board room filled with just black folks we would think that is weird.

Action Tip: Think about when your biases play out and think about the opposites of those biases. As an example if your bias is to listen to leaders talk but tune out others during conversations ask yourself why, does race have a role to play in who gets listened to and believed?

Design Around our Default Implicit Racial Biases: Once we can admit we have implicit racial biases, then we can design around them. Here are a few ways this is being done.

Many/Most HR departments are acknowledging that unintentional name bias is happening during the applicant screening process, so to design around this names are being removed during the review process. Taking a name off of an application allows for a first blind review and has the potential to screen in people with names that may be believed to be more racialized.

Women and minority owned business enterprise (WMBE) contracting efforts started as a government way to contract more with women and people of color. Once people acknowledged that most contracts go to white male owned businesses they can make a conscious effort to not leave women and people out. Side note, if you analyze your WMBE numbers, I am willing to bet unless you are being intentional most of your WMBE contracts go to white women. Which is another reason to also be explicit about calling-in race.

Action Tip: Pay attention to where you default to spending your time and money, then design your day to be more intentional about including people of color owned businesses or whom you spend your time with.


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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

Nine Things to Do While Starbucks is Closed

By Erin and Heidi

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, C+C, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Jennifer, Kari, Kathryn, Kelli, Lori, Matthew, Megan, and Miriam. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.


coffee cup

photo by Mark

Starbucks is in the news because they are closing next Tuesday, 29 May for a company-wide training on race. To quickly review in 2015 Starbucks launched a company wide campaign to start conversations about race. Baristas were supposed to write “Race Together” on cups, CEO at the time Howard Schultz (a white male) was front and center on the campaign. That campaign was short lived and fizzled faster than a Frappuccino could be made. In 2018 Starbucks is back in the news because a manager called the police on two Black men who were waiting for a friend at a Starbucks, they hadn’t ordered anything was the excuse/justification the manager gave.

Here is a list of nine-things you can do while Starbucks is closed for their company-wide training.

1. Visit a people of color owned coffee shops or business. Spending our monetary and time resources at poc owned businesses is investing in communities of color. If you need suggestions of where to go check out this map by Equity Matters. It is an open source map so please add to it and edit it as needed (e.g. add or delete businesses that are now closed). Bookmark it and refer back to it so you can invest your dollars into poc businesses. Here is a Black owned coffee roaster, Mt. Tahoma Coffee Company, you can order online so no excuses for those of you reading in other parts of the internet world.

2. Read the previous Fakequity article on “We Can’t Train our Way to Racial Equity.” The short version is one-time training won’t ‘fix’ Starbucks or any other organization. The racism that launched Starbucks into the news isn’t isolated to coffee shops it can be found almost anywhere. Racial equity and undoing racism work is a lifetime commitment.

3. Learn about implicit bias. The Starbucks incident is not uncommon, the same behavior of calling out Black and Brown people happens everyday in grocery stores, and even in people’s own homes. Implicit bias and white supremacy are built into American society.

4. Acknowledge we have racial biases. It’s easy to point fingers at Starbucks, and say how terrible their implicit racial bias problem is, but the reality is that all brain science points to the fact that is it human to have bias. It’s easy to point out other folks racial bias and it’s often done in a shaming way. This finger pointing and blaming makes folks defensive, shut down, and unwilling to admit we all have biases. Repeat after Heidi. It is human to have bias. We’re not a bad person if we admit we have bias. Once we acknowledge it we can begin to catch ourselves before we blindly act on them. We’ll blog about this more in future posts.

5. Recognize coffee’s history and origins. Coffee beans originally came from Ethiopia. Because of trade, colonization, and companies like Starbucks, US coffee culture is now synonymous with white culture. Many communities have unique coffee cultures and ceremonies that involve slowing down and connecting people to their histories, learn about them and remember Starbucks fast-mass produced coffee culture isn’t the norm. In the US there is a violent history of African Americans being segregated and not allowed into restaurants, spend some time learning this history.

6. Not everyone drinks coffee. We are currently in the holy month of Ramadan in the Muslim faith, which involves fasting from sunup to sundown. Many of us center our social lives and work around food and drink. Recognizing how prevalent our US lives are around food is an important part of recognizing some of our biases. I (erin) mark Ramadan on my calendar as a reminder to be conscious of the holy month when scheduling with partners. I don’t drink coffee either, never got around to liking it, so I’ll still meet you for ‘coffee’ but order a tea instead.

7. Design your no-Starbucks-cause-they-are-watching-implicit-bias-videos-afternoon differently. How many times do we default to using Starbucks or other large companies (amazon, Facebook, etc.) instead of defaulting to a poc centered way. Visit a poc centered and preferably embedded museum or cultural center such as Northwest African American Museum, Wing Luke Museum, American Latino Museum, Smithsonian Museum of American Indian,or Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture. If you look hard enough you can find a poc centered community driven museum or cultural center, so don’t try to use the excuse “But I’m nowhere near the Smithsonian so I can’t visit a poc museum.”

Heidi also shares this: “I realized in my work I spend most of my money at white owned businesses, in fact too much money at Amazon, damn them for making it so easy to shop whenever something comes to mind. This was by design. If you feel a little uneasy about directing money towards people of color owned businesses in this explicit and intentional way, consider the opposite. Do you want to spend most of your money at only white owned businesses? Usually the answer is no, but that is the current default design of the system. In an attempt to make it easier to spend money at people of color owned businesses, we created an open source map of people of color owned businesses. So now if someone wants to have a coffee meeting or happy hour, we can just open up the map and easily choose a people of color owned business. Please add to the map. I’m happy to report it now even includes a marijuana shop (only to be used in states where pot is legal).

8. Don’t burden pocs, especially Black and Brown people, with educating you on race. In what limited information we’ve seen on the Starbucks training it looks like they engaged very well-respected and credentialed people to help them design the training. It will feature videos, a guidebook for facilitators, and conversation. We sincerely hope in those conversations the pocs in the room aren’t burdened with having to educate others or deal with white tears, fragility, hostility, and so on. Creating a space to learn together takes time and dedication, practice, and trusting relationships.

9. Register to vote. Spend the afternoon getting involved in civic actions. Voting is important to undoing racist policies at a systems level. Register to vote and help someone else register. Learn about an obscure race or ballot measure– those school board elections, initiatives and referendums, port commissioners races on the ballot. We have yet to meet someone who is well versed on everything they vote on. Engage someone unexpected in a conversation about these and think through how race impacts the election. The other day, while I (erin) was waiting for my kid to finish a project I chatted with a small business owner-of-color about Washington’s need for an income tax and how a regressive tax system holds back families-of-color like hers. She was confused, but it planted a seed of a thought for a future conversation.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

Being in Just Relationships

By Erin O. with much thanks and appreciation to Jondou Chase Chen for the ideas shared

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going. Lori, C+C, Kari, Kathryn, Elizabeth, Evan, Jennifer, Annie, Miriam, and Edith thank you. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.


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Photo taken at the National Portrait Gallery by Erin Okuno

Today, at my organization’s coalition meeting I threw out an ice-breaker question inspired or riffed-off of (as he likes to call it) from Jondou. “What does community justice look like?” and “What does it mean to be in a just relationship?” The question left some scratching their heads and others dove right in. The answers that were shared out were interesting. One person shared that a sense of community justice had to be rooted in place and history, especially as it relates to understanding Native American and Indigenous contexts and the connectedness of land. Another person said a just relationship felt focused in the present and it was important to see it and feel a connection to each other. From what I could hear people wrestled and grappled with this prompt individually and had to define justice for themselves.

Justice is often conceptualized as a big and imposing idea. When I think of justice I often think of formal justice like law enforcement, judicial and court systems, and judges who adjudicate. There is a buildings called the “Temple of Justice” where court are held — it sounds very ethereal like justice floats down from the heavens on soft puffy clouds or more harshly through thunderbolts if you are in the wrong.

Yet in our everyday lives we have to balance and shift relationships to achieve what Jondou calls person-to-person justice, he uses the metaphor of the Chinese character (ping), shaped as balanced and translated to mean equal, level, peaceful, calm. When I pause to think about the people I value most in my life and the people I have the most meaningful and thoughtful relationships with are those where we seek to have person-to-person justice. This idea has stuck with me this week because of some activist moves I’ve had to take to advocate for my community to seek justice for ourselves.

What is a Just-Relationship

When I say just relationship, I mean to strive for and participates in acts of justice. I am using the adjective form of the word defined as “behaving according to what is morally right and fair,” not the adverb form meaning “exactly.”

Being in a just relationship implies, firstly, there is a connection of some sort. The relationship can either be a deep relationship such as a spouse, familial tie, friends or colleagues, or more loose such as two-Facebook friends, or in elementary school two kids who are friends one-week but frenemies the next. Add on levels of racial awareness, wokeness, sexism, gender-identity, power dynamics, and other layers of social context and relationships begin to get complex. Being in a just relationship means we need to attend to these complexities and sort through them as co-participants in the relationship.

In the book The Jesuit Guide to (almost) Everything James Martin, SJ, writes that friends do not exist to simply support, comfort, and nourish us. Friendships, which I broaden to define as relationships, serve as secure bases and there is a sense of freedom. Relationships aren’t a possession to own. Being in a just relationship with each other means we seek to balance and comfort and nourish each other as the relationship needs fit.

Since this is a blog about race and equity, I want to name that for too long white people and white institutions treat people of color relationships as something they can own and at the same time dispose of when the relationship becomes a liability. An example include Colin Kaepernick, an NFL player who refused to stand during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. He was valuable when he performed on the football field, but his form of seeking justice wasn’t palatable to NFL owners and due to his protest he remains a free agent with no NFL team signing him. Some might say Kaepernick should have known not to rile things up, that his job is to play football and to protest police brutality while in his role as an NFL is uncalled for. Yet can a person have justice and be in a just relationship with others if they have to censor themselves?

In another more local example, earlier this year the YMCA of Greater Seattle announced they are closing a beloved education program, Powerful Schools. The details are shared in this op-ed. When the announcement was originally made a group of parents sought justice through information, we wrote a letter requesting a meeting with the Y’s leaders– a call-in to build a relationship however fragile. Yet, from the start the relationship felt transactional and there was little person-to-person justice. Communication, transparency, and a willingness to engage in forms of justice seeking can help to balance power and build towards more just relations. These values have to be shared, when it is one sided the relationship is unbalanced and justice is harder to seek.

When justice is lost in a relationship we’re forced to seek other forms of justice, such as having to publicly call out an organization and institutions for their acts of injustice. Cell phone videos showing state-sponsored violence is an example; police (loosely using the word not saying every law enforcement officer) can be perpetrators of injustice and now with mobile technology and social media evidence of this is more widely shared — people seeking their own justice through social media. We lose a sense of humanity and good relations when forced to seek punitive forms of justice.

Historically white led institutions need to get better about realizing their responsibility in helping to bring about justice. They also need to get better about acting with humility and recognizing the histories of injustice that have led to our present day situation. My bitterness runs deep since I see how my community is owned, used, defunded and under prioritized because white-led institutions have the power to prioritize other relationships. If I don’t seek some justice for myself and my community we will be left behind again.

Before I end this on a completely bitter note, I will make a public commitment to seek person-to-person justice first. Relationships are important and we achieve more if we can be in just relations with each other. I will do this as a way to work towards justice and to hopefully write a more just-seeking future.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.