Changing the way we advocate

By Erin O.

On Tuesday I had breakfast with a colleague who reads the blog. He joked that I start each blog post with a “I don’t know what to write about this week…” whine, then dribble on for a few hundred words. That assessment isn’t too far from the truth, but this week I know exactly what I’m going to delve into– advocacy.

In my day job, I spend a lot of time thinking about and actively working on advocacy, policy change, and community engagement. These three components are often thought of in isolation from each other, but they need to come together for smart poc-centered changes to happen.



Student advocacy at a school board meeting

Advocacy is the act of publicly supporting, trying to influence a decisionmaker, and promoting a viewpoint. All of us are advocates and we all advocate for things hundreds of times a day. As an example, I was advocated at multiple times tonight when my kids asked to watch the Emoji movie, one kid advocated for M&Ms instead of strawberries for his snack, the other advocated for just the crumble part of the apple pie leftover from Pi-day and a scoop of chocolate (not vanilla) ice cream. As the target of their rudimentary but effective advocacy strategies, I held a lot of power in those asks. I had the power to fulfill their ask or to deny their requests; I gave in to all but the M&Ms.


On the flipside, I am often the one advocating for policy shifts at work. These acts of advocacy happen at work when my organization is making an ask about a position because we believe the change we’re asking for is better for children and families of color. When I’m advocating I’m often in a lesser position of power because I need someone else to do something. Race is interwoven into this in multiple ways, especially if I’m advocating to a mostly white group or a historically white-dominated organization I’m automatically viewed in a lesser position to be advocating from.

How it Goes Wrong

Before I talk about how all of this comes together, I want to explain how I’ve seen advocacy go wrong. For advocacy to work we have to recognize there are power dynamics at play – one person or a group has something the other person or group wants or needs. The person asking for the change needs to prove their point and convince the other person to shift their position to do what is asked. This can go wrong in so many ways and for so many reasons.

I still remember my first experience providing public testimony at the state capitol. It was on an early learning related topic, the specifics of which are long expunged from my brain. I had to drive over an hour to get to Olympia, find parking, then make it through the maze of buildings on the Capitol campus, and finally find the right room while not slipping on the slick marble floors due to the winter rain. When I finally found the room, my colleagues had already signed me in to testify and I took a seat. I sat and waited for what felt like over an hour. An hour waiting to give two-minutes of testimony, on top of already having driven over an hour and invested a lot of quarters into paying for street parking because this is the system we have for policymakers to hear from the public. When I finally testified I realized those listening already made up their minds and I was simply speaking to get on the record to share a viewpoint that wasn’t super popular.

More recently I’ve seen where advocacy can go horribly wrong in listening to other people testify. The act of advocating for something is a personal belief. The belief can be race-conscious or race-blind, it can be grounded in ‘fact’ or the other person’s version of ‘fact,’ it can be informed through authentic community engagement efforts, or through echo-chambers of listening to people whom you already agree with and reinforce a viewpoint. Perhaps it is because of our democratic engrained ways we give equal weight to allowing people to formally advocate. Anyone who can jump through all of the hoops to testify at a public meeting has the same amount of time and the same access to the podium. The problem is in the equality of the experience. The barriers to advocacy are greater for some than others. To testify a person often has to carve out at least an hour (often more) in order to give two-minutes or less of public testimony. There is also language and transportation considerations, as well as understanding what is often a mindboggling process to figuring out what are the protocols involved to advocating in this formal way. Whenever I give public testimony I still get nervous, I can only imagine what the experience is like for someone who is an immigrant or a non-English speaker.

I’m also struck by there is little way to really unpack and delve into what people are presenting during their statements. I once testified on a topic providing my viewpoint and was followed by another advocate who’s testimony was the complete opposite. In this setting there wasn’t a mechanism to help the policy makers understand facts and to unpack what is facts versus beliefs, especially when they come to race, bias, opportunity hoarding, and the ilk. A lawyer friend pointed out there is no swearing an oath to telling the truth when we testify; maybe we should have to swear that testimony is truthful and specify what is a belief not fact. (Did you catch that subtle advocacy? I just asked for a policy shift.)

How this All Comes Together and Changing the System

At the heart of advocacy is relationships. Advocacy needs at least two people, one person to ask and the other person to hear the message. When we are working on advocacy efforts we need to build and sustain relationships to get to a place of yes and activate change. These relationships need to be diverse and recognizing and balancing of formal and community power dynamics.

We also need to create more ways for advocacy to happen in settings outside of staged events and through formal testimony. While on a school tour a school health nurse shared how students using her health clinic will tell her things about their lives while at the school health clinic because it is on their campus- their home turf, but those same students are less likely to share if they are seen at a health clinic in a more traditional medical setting. Having home turf advantage is so important to leveling power in advocacy efforts, especially with communities of color and communities farthest from justice.

We all need to do our part to push government and other formal systems to shift and bend to better meet community needs. This starts by paying attention to wonky stuff like school board meetings, City Council, and other process-driven organizations. Watch government hearings to get a sense of what is happening and then talk to a few friends or others to see if they have the same take as you, this simple act of community engagement may lead to different thoughts or the start of a movement. Get into the game and over time we can change this game to be more poc-centered.

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Disability Rights So White: Disability and Racial Justice

Fakequity Blogger Note: This week we welcome a guest post by my friend and colleague Carrie Basas. Carrie is our first white-ally to blog for us. I invited Carrie to write for us to about disabilities, this is an area I need to learn about. -Erin

By Carrie Basas

Inspirational porn star . . .
Look we got enough problems
No need for you to call a cop who can’t solve one.
-Wheelchair Sports Camp “Hard Out Here for a Gimp”

carrie 2

Photo from Carrie Basas

I come from a long line of cleaning ladies and people who passed as white because they were poor and did not want to be further marginalized. They set me up to not experience that racism—rather to benefit from white supremacy. They did their best, but hate and shame seep in and shape us.

Maybe it’s not surprising that when I was born with disabilities, I was told to pass as normal, as non-disabled. My family no longer had to worry about their skin color. Now, there was a new challenge—how to get a disabled girl through a world that would read her as “less than” and defective. Those fears—of racism and ableism—are not the same, but they are fueled by similar systems.

My parents were not disabled like me and had not received a mythical handbook on how to raise someone like me. They did their best and absorbed the messages of well-meaning others that encouraged them to make me better. Their fears became written on my body and mind, but also my motivation to do well in school.

I was “supercripping”—I tried to overcome every stereotype about disability by being palatable—smiling, kind, smart, overachieving, conflict-avoidant, tidy, and funny. I was not the disabled person that we fear—angry, bitter, lazy, benefits-receiving, argumentative, unkempt, and aggressive. I made non-disabled people feel more comfortable with disability, mostly because I wasn’t comfortable with it myself.

I didn’t realize that the disability rights movement existed until I met a POC professor who was becoming disabled and grappling with it. She introduced me to community, history, and positive identity that shook me to the core. I had a new way of seeing myself and also new tensions with those that only knew disability as deviance.

My physical and mental impairments do not disable me as much as how society reacts to me. I am disabled in the supermarket when a stranger touches my shoulder and tells me how inspired they are. I am disabled by men in former workplaces who made sexual comments and then denied them because I wasn’t a real woman. Didn’t I know?

What disability also gave me is people of color in my life, a place where I could just be and know what community could look like. Disability justice and racial justice are intertwined. Stigma about each experience can make us avoid exploring that connection. I might say that young Black men are more likely to have disabilities than people who look like me, that disability is caused by discrimination and resource inequities and that discrimination makes us sicker, that most people killed by police are our shared brothers and sisters. But the pain of our distinct discrimination can be too much to bear, let alone intersect. As one colleague said, “Why would I claim disability when part of my fight is to make sure that my people are not labeled more?”

I sit in spaces where disabled people bemoan the fact that POCs don’t include them on the agenda. We each have work to do, but disability rights can pause and learn first from POC activism:

Representation in leadership matters: Non-disabled leaders (siblings, parents) of disability rights organizations claim to change the conversation about disability but never cede their power. That reminds me of the NAACP’s early days of benevolent whites insisting on leading. That had to change, as does this. Being an ally is not a proxy for discrimination and experience, just as I do not know racial profiling in my bones just because my husband experiences it.

Effective organizing is about individual and collective needs: Recognize where we are, but don’t rush to ensure safety for those with power. There is no checklist, no “one-time woke training,” that will relieve the discomfort of not knowing how to be with another person’s reality. Be humble. Be open-hearted. Be uncomfortable: that’s the work. I am uncomfortable constantly in an ableist world. I need to be uncomfortable with how much racism has given me power.

Faking is obvious: Many of us in disability rights understand the rising, patronizing tone used for children when it is used on us. We see people talk to non-disabled people and ask them to speak to our experiences. Don’t do that to our POC friends. Being fake doesn’t dismantle racism or ableism; it perpetuates it.

Being an ally is not an additive process: In the foreword to “When They Call You a Terrorist,” Angela Davis writes that fruitful movements “… call for an inclusiveness that does not sacrifice particularity.” In disability communities, we are used to other organizations failing us and we start to expect it. We can rush to argue that ableism deserves as much airtime as racism. They are different. We degrade one another’s experiences when we claim anything else.

We need one another for the growth of our movements and mutual recognition. We must take off our survival masks and talk about our shared overrepresentation in prisons, discrimination by doctors that wouldn’t want to be us, schools that would rather outsource us to other buildings and teachers. We need community and collaboration. Sometimes, we just need to be one another’s witnesses—that we do not face identical oppression, but oppression corrodes us and blocks our work. Where we most need to have a conversation is about how disability leadership is too white, male, English-speaking, middle class, wheelchair-using, inspirational. In many ways, disability is too me.

Professor Mari Matsuda encourages us to “Ask the other question.” Ask what we haven’t considered, whose voices are missing from our movements. We can work on dismantling systems that keep us apart and yet both marginalized. When we do, I hope that our soundtrack will be crip hop.

As I make our playlist, meet some POCs making sure that disability is not too white:

Twitter: #disabilitytoowhite

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.

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Stop with White Only Equity Trainings

By Erin

White people, you don’t need to hear from more white people

White people, you’ve been coddled and you are surrounded by whiteness. Wherever we go there are signs of whiteness – English language was created by white people, almost all our cash money has pictures of white males featured, sit in a professional meeting and it is most likely a white-dominated meeting. White people, you don’t need more whiteness if you’re trying to understand race and the impact of racial inequality. Let’s stop white centered racial equity trainings.


Artwork from

If you want to learn about race stop listening to white people and start listening to people of color. People of color are the ones who experience racism and the most impacted by inequities. Listening to a white person explain racism is a way of toning down the impact of racism. In these spaces, you can intellectualize and theorize about poc experiences, explain away realities, and most importantly there isn’t a need to act and change behaviors. It also allows white people to avoid confronting their own racism and biases, white safety abounds.

Diversify who you hear from

I understand people need spaces to process and think about race. We often say to white people go off and find another white partner to make sense of the complexities of race. Pocs don’t always want to be your teachers or therapist. That message is very different from having a racial equity training for all white people. Racial equity trainings filled with all white people are creating bubbles of whiteness; sounds so lovely and lyrical — it’s not. Sure, you’ll be learning about things like white fragility, systemic racism, and bias, but you’ll be learning those things from a white perspective. It would be like me trying to learn about the disabilities movement from a nondisabled person – nuances, urgency, and personal experiences are lost. At some point, it becomes an intellectual exercise versus a way to understand at the head and the heart levels.

In a good racial equity training, white people benefit from hearing from pocs. Pocs in the room aren’t there for the entertainment of white people but to provide honest views of race and the impacts of racism, and many time solutions pocs want to see put into place. However, for this to work a few things must be in place:

  1. Safety in numbers for pocs—there needs to be at least a few pocs so it the pocs aren’t tokenized or the spokesperson for pocs. It also helps to hear from many different poc experiences. If you need to provide stipends to the pocs in recognition of their time, expertise, and the burdens they are taking up to be there.
  2. Center poc voices and experiences—racial equity trainings that focus on whiteness, such as talking about white fragility are interesting, but not impactful.
  3. Poc safety and comfort—along with centering pocs a good training will center and focus on poc safety and comfort thus allowing pocs to be more honest and open. Safety means laying ground rules or norms for how people will behave, remind people that they don’t have to answer if they choose not to, and what pocs are sharing is a gift to white people (no reciprocity needed—we don’t need white gifts). White people will be ok being uncomfortable for a few hours.

Can we achieve equity without equity?

If we will ever achieve racial equity we have to also think about power, control, and money/resources. Can we achieve equity if money is being invested in white spaces and with white trainers? Stepping back who controls the training budget is it pocs? Who do the white people want as a trainer/facilitator? The answers to these questions may point to hiring a white trainer and hosting a training for white people is the right move, but you better ask a lot of hard questions about why the group is going down this route – including is it centering white people’s needs again, is it safer, is it more comfortable, why?

Training versus Caucusing or Affinity Groups

There are times where it is appropriate to break-off into poc and white spaces. Last year CiKeithia and I were co-facilitating a discussion around race that got deep fast. Towards the end of tour two-hour meeting I ‘read’ the body language of our pocs attendees. They looked just tired and fatigued. We had done our best to center their needs and create as comfortable a space as we could for our poc partners, but cross-racial conversations around race are difficult. I looked at CiKeithia and she said, “You want to caucus – I know it.” In planning the agenda, we had agreed to not caucus, however, in that moment the pocs body language was begging for a space to unwind.

In this case, creating separate spaces for pocs and whites was the right thing to do. It was the pocs who asked for it (even if it was through non-verbal ways) and we were centering poc needs first.

Cross-racial work is hard but necessary. We reap benefits from it when done right so stick with it and be willing to embrace being uncomfortable in the name of learning something new.

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People of Color Behaving Badly

By Erin with help from Heidi


Art credit:

The Fakequity team has been tossing around the idea for this blog post for several years. Over time we’ve collected stories of people of color (pocs) behaving badly. While there is a general code of not undercutting or talking shit about other pocs or airing problems unnecessarily, sometimes we have to be able to talk about problems if we want to fix them. I’m also attempting to write this in a way where I’m not calling out individual people, but more general behaviors and patterns.

To our white allies a few things for you to keep in mind: I’m hoping you don’t read this and use it against people of color, that just isn’t cool. If you are ever tempted to use this against pocs, think about what is your role in causing bad behaviors. Many times, it is the white power structures and white built systems which leads to the bad behaviors and pit communities and people of color against each other, create scarcity models, power plays, etc. We need allies to work to undo racism which will lead to less bad behavior by all.

The disclaimer we always give… These examples were collected over time and are not attributed to individuals. Collectively the fakequity teams have decades of experience and have seen and heard a lot. If you think it is about you, it isn’t just about you, but maybe you should ask yourself if you perpetuated some of these things in the past and more importantly what you’ll do to not do it in the future.

Bad Behaviors

PoC Know it Alls

No one likes a know it all, and really a poc know it all isn’t any better. Just because you’re a poc doesn’t give you a free pass to be a know it all who needs to be at the top and use information as a weapon against other pocs. Being a poc doesn’t mean you understand every poc experience. And being a poc doesn’t mean others have to grant you some magical status because you’re a poc. I’m not saying you don’t face racism or others have unfairly used the 31 flavors of oppression (h/t Kirk for the phrase) against you, but like everyone else you don’t get a poc badge that allows you to be a know it all. Playing into this dynamic is a reinforcement of systemic racism.

PoC Entitlement

This one is a callout to my Asian sibs (trying not to be gendered here). As Asians we are pocs and we face racism and all sorts of crap. At the same time, many of us have learned how to navigate society and have a lot of privilege. With that privilege comes a sense of entitlement. Let’s keep that entitlement in check.

Just being an Asian doesn’t mean we should do things that give us or our kids an advantage over others, especially over other pocs who may not have the same access, information, or ability to navigate systems. Instead of fighting to get yourself or your kid a special privilege, use your influence and push to make this a reality for others who may not be able to advocate. This is one way you can work on centering people who are more impacted by racism.

PoC Spokesperson

Like the poc Know it All, the PoC spokesperson is equally annoying. Speaking up and using your position as a poc to proclaim a position on behalf of pocs isn’t cool. PoCs aren’t a monolithic group.

I’ll give a concrete example– standardized testing. People of color, just like white people, fall on both sides of the debate – some feel it is an important way to gauge if students are learning, others believe standardized test are harmful and shouldn’t be used. Listening to just one poc voice or spokesperson on this debate is shortchanging all of us. There are leaders of color who can use their positions to say testing is bad, and there are leaders of color who believe standardized testing is necessary to exposing achievement and opportunity gaps. If we listen to just one poc spokesperson what part of the debate are we missing? You can find this in almost any debate or topic – yes listen to pocs and work to diversify the pocs you hear from because poc experiences and thoughts vary.

If you are a poc spokesperson, please watch your messaging and say “I don’t speak for all pocs, I am here to represent [fill in the blank].” Own your privilege of speaking and don’t squash others who may feel differently than you– create space for multiple truths.

PoC Fighter and Grandstander

The poc fighter is the person who blames and shames everyone, white people to other pocs who aren’t ‘woke’ enough. Some people call this bullying behavior. The poc fighter likes to be right, and needs to let everyone around them know they are right. I get it, my day job is to fight injustices and inequities, if I didn’t fight I would suck at my job. That said sometimes as pocs we need to fight and sometimes we need to turn off the instinct to fight and build relationships to help people understand where we’re coming from. This doesn’t mean we have to become their mentor or teacher or bffs – not unless they pay us for this service.

The poc grandstander falls into this category too. The grandstander is often passionate and has a lot to say. They will stand up and give a very long statement proclaiming their position on a topic and reiterate the injustices they faced or try to rally people in ways that center themselves. The line between sharing a point and grandstanding is a fine one, we should never silence someone. That said make your point and allow others to share their points. As Heidi wrote in the Color Brave Space norms, show what you are learning, not what you already know.

Poc Keeper of the Status Quo

This shows up as the poc who doesn’t want to rock the boat, either wants to move fast to keep things moving while other pocs want to slow down or vice versa, asking for more data, etc. Many Asians and other poc leaders, because we were acculturated and told to assimilate to reach our positions and status, may fall into wanting to keep things as is which holds everyone back. It doesn’t give you or other Asians a special status by maintaining the status quo. This is feeding into systemic racism. Instead, we should use our positions and power to changes that make it better for other pocs too. Change is hard but in the end it is better than being stuck in a racist crappy system.

PoC Manspaliner

The poc mansplainer is very much like the white manspaliner. It is ok to not speak, it is ok to turn off the need to be overly masculine. Poc women can speak for ourselves. Thanks for explaining things again, but we’re cool, I understood things the first time.

We also need to change the culture where boys of color can learn how to be ok too, we don’t need them to always be strong, gendered, or masculine. Mansplaining comes from a culture of having to show off and prove something; this is isolating and I imagine it isn’t easy for men either. Like I mentioned earlier from the Color Brave Space norms, show what you are learning, not what you already know. Learn with the community and work to create a community where we all belong.

As a personal note, I apologize if I do any of these. I probably have and probably will in the future. I’ll try to be better, and hopefully with some grace and kindness from my community you won’t kick me out for sinning on these.

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Slowing Down to Show Up

By Erin Okuno

cny7Lunar New Years and Tết (Vietnamese New Year). Lunar New Years is a really big deal to many Asian communities. In Chinese culture, it is customary to hand out red envelopes with money. It is also bad form to work on Lunar New Years, so if you scheduled a meeting with me on Lunar New Years please feel free to hand out red envelopes.

Its been a few weeks since I’ve written. The writing break has been nice since it allowed me to slow down and read what Heidi and Jondou have written which I greatly enjoyed. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to slow down and why we need to do this to achieve equity. Often I’m working with the pressures of external timelines – grant deadlines, legislative and policy schedules, school calendars, two-hour street parking limits, etc. These timelines are there for reasons and they keep us moving forward which is important. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about what is the fakequity I need to stop perpetuating with timelines if I’m going to achieve personal equity and justice.

“This is what it means to slow down”

People who know me in real life, know I’m a classic introvert. I’m also an introvert in a job that requires me to be an extrovert. When I’m extroverting, I find it taxing and after a while my brain and my soul goes into overdrive trying to process and eventually, it screams “Abort! Get me out of here.” For me this is the equivalent of fast-food engagement – lots of people fast without a lot of substance. I can’t find equity in fast-food engagement.

Several weeks ago, I was watching Jondou facilitate a group. He started the meeting with a check-in question. I don’t remember the question and in some ways the question itself isn’t important. What was important was taking the time to slow down and connect with each other. In listening to people answer the prompt we really took time to connect with each other and to have deeper and more meaningful conversations. We saw each other as people, not as roles in jobs or not as the object of an interaction. We took time to listen to each other and reflect. Because we took time to reflect and take space to listen to each other we connected differently. At the end of that meeting CiKeithia said something that stuck with me “This is what it means to slow down,” she went on to say how it felt good to slow down and reflect and listen, fast-food interactions wouldn’t get us to deeper soulful conversations.

Slowing down to build a relationship meant I attended to a relationship that will sustain me for the long run. In some measures I am penalized for taking this time, it means I stay up late to catch up on email and filling out my timesheet that was due three days ago. It means I will probably say no to some other invite to sit in a meeting because I need that time back to do something else. But slowing down means I am more deeply connected to someone and that sustains me.

How to slow down

When we slow down we attend to different power dynamics. Power is all around us and use of time is one way power shows up. CiKeithia often says “Agendas are only suggestions,” meaning we have agendas, but really if we need to take more time on one item then we should. Too often dominant society tells us we need to abide by time schedules that force us to skip the “getting to know each other” phase, but how can we work towards common goals unless we understand how people are seeing the common goal.

There are many ways we can slow down to create more space for equitable practices. At meetings I facilitate I sometimes call them relationship building questions. I often give a prompt question and try to relate it to a personal experience and invite people to talk about race as they answer. Today I used this prompt: “What is a holiday or a celebration that is meaningful to you or your family? How is it a reflection of your culture?”

Another really important way to slow down is to force people to slow down to check for meaning or to stop bad behavior in meetings. When I facilitate meetings, we use the Color Brave Space meeting format developed by Heidi. We read them out loud as a group and talk about a few of them. I often acknowledge as the facilitator I have a lot of power and one of the powers is to stop or slow down a meeting if I feel we need to attend to power dynamics, if conversations are drifting away from the common goal, or if I think we need to get out of a loop of thinking. Slowing down is a way to disrupt problematic dynamics and to keep us focused on moving forward together. Stopping or slowing down also is important for leveling power which allows for greater participation.

Enjoy your slow down. This is one simple way we can all help to fight fakequity and maybe achieve some personal justice and equity.

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Creating the Justice We Need: When Fakequity Isn’t Enough (Part I)

By Jondou Chen

I can only remember one author of color that any teacher assigned me to read from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It was Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was twelfth grade English. I was initially thrown off by the narrator’s voice, needing to sound out each word, sheepishly recalling my experience as an English Language learner. Dubious at first about this writing style so different from Austen or Shakespeare or Steinbeck, I soon found myself smitten by the protagonist Janie. I appreciated the description of a community and culture that differed from that of the majority of my white classmates, and saw a mirror in what it meant to make sense of the world as a person of color.

College was marginally better, although retrospectively I still cannot believe how deep my internalized oppression was. Seeking to flee a racialized stereotype, that as an Asian I had to be a STEM major, I couldn’t remember any other students of color majoring in history, where I managed to read DuBois and Confucius. Again, I was moved by how much these texts resonated with me, but I had little time to do more as I was so focused on memorizing history “facts.”

That’s right. 

I thought being a history major and “good” historian was about memorizing as many facts as possible. And this wasn’t because I didn’t have a “good” history education. I took five AP social studies classes in high school. I attended a prestigious university. I knew about primary and secondary sources. But what I thought mattered most was to memorize as much as possible from these sources. And what if sources had facts that didn’t align with facts from other sources? Ha! I saw through that trick question and believed that my job was to memorize and restate both sets of facts. Synthesizing ideas? Restate the facts. Developing my own thesis? Restate the facts. And somehow I still graduated with honors – even as I gratefully passed on writing a thesis after professors discouraged me from writing one because they didn’t believe I was capable of developing my own ideas. How did I still earn honors? By taking extra classes where I memorized even more “facts.” Some time in the future, I’ll write more on this experience to unpack how this story highlights the model minority myth, the failure of my formal educational experience to teach critical thinking skills, and also how this embarrassing saga might have actually been protective in some ways because my college history department wouldn’t have been able to handle a self-realized and politically conscious Asian American. 

Instead, it wasn’t until I became a social studies teacher that I was confronted with what history actually is. It began with the impossible task of selecting what history to teach to my students given that we didn’t have enough time to cover everything that I might possibly and supposed to teach according to state standards. It was catalyzed by the need to make history real and relevant for my students in a way that honored their own histories and power to be historymakers. In teaching at a diverse school with a history of political activism, I couldn’t justify teaching a history based on “I memorized it, so you need to, too.” I couldn’t teach the story of global colonialism from the perspective only of western colonizers, but needed to imagine possibilities to teach about the vibrant cultures challenged and oppressed by colonialism and from which also came survival and ongoing resistance. I was able to present more historical figures of color to my students, and I have been able to continue this as an instructor in alternative and higher education.

Yet something was still missing for me. As much justice as I sought to do for my students, I wasn’t always doing justice for myself. Sure, I benefited from reading what I gave to my students, but I also needed to ask myself, what is the justice that I need? What is it that I need to read for myself and only for myself? In leading educational equity work for the past fifteen years, I have told the story of my own schooling countless times. I have shared about how much the “best” education denied me the opportunity to see authors whose identities or experiences reflected my own or other folks of color. But when asked by listeners what books do I wish I had read and if I had done anything to seek justice for myself, I had nothing.

20171119_144745And so this past summer, I gave myself the justice – the assignment and the gift – I needed by setting out to read 50 books across the year – 50 books for myself and for no one else. I looked to book awards and Facebook lists and personal recommendations for my choices. I read collections by individual authors as well as academic texts and young adult novels. The majority of my books were fiction, and I’ve been surprised by how much reading fiction shaped my dreams at night, more so than even my work! In the end 46 of my books were by authors of color, with the other four being deeply shaped by communities of color. I am deeply indebted to the Seattle Public Library for its collection of audiobooks on Overdrive, graphic novels on Hoopla, and ebooks on the Kindle apps. This allowed me to “read” during my commutes on the light rail or biking along Lake Washington, while cooking dinner or out working in the garden, and in many cases to hear the texts in the authors’ own voices.

Through this process, I’ve come to appreciate that injustice is real. Fakequity is real – both Fakequity as people attempting to create “excellent education” without real equity as well as Fakequity being the ability to critique these attempts. And yet to work toward justice, noting and calling out Fakequity is only the beginning. We must also lift up our communities and our cultures, our resistance and our resilience, and we must find time to build the world we want as much as we bring down the oppressive systems of this current world. From these texts, I was inspired by all that has come before and that continues being why the struggle is real and worth it. And while I don’t plan on stopping reading, witnessing the brilliance of these writers and artists has inspired me to spend more time collecting my own stories and ideas in writing. For all the folks who follow us on Fakequity and enjoy learning and commiserating with us here, let’s remember to celebrate and build as well the justice that we need.


In case you’re interested, here’s my list.  I’d share most of these titles with folks to read to diversify their reading lists and also to broaden our understanding of how justice – educational and social – can differ by individual, community and culture.  (I’ve also added to those texts read aloud by the author and that are available (for free!) from Seattle Public Libraries – all of these texts are available from SPL).

  1. Daniel Alarcón, The King Is Always Above the People
  2. Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian ***
  3. Julia Alvarez, Before We Were Free
  4. Carol Anderson, White Rage
  5. W. Kamau Bell, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell ***
  6. Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
  7. Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do
  8. Keith Chow, Jeff Yang, Parry Shen; Secret Identities & Shattered
  9. Lenora Chu, Little Soldiers
  10. Sandra Cisneros, A House of My Own ***
  11. Matthew Desmond, Evicted
  12. Junot Diaz, Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Who
  13. Louise Erdrich, Four Souls
  14. Louise Erdrich, LaRose ***
  15. Louise Erdrich, The Birchbark House
  16. Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum
  17. Louise Erdrich, The Porcupine Year
  18. Louise Erdrich, The Round House
  19. Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
  20. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
  21. Eddie Huang, Double Cup Love ***
  22. Eddie Huang, Fresh Off the Boat ***
  23. Geronimo Johnson, Welcome to Braggsville
  24. Paul Kalanathi, When Breath Becomes Air
  25. Michelle Kuo, Reading with Patrick ***
  26. Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
  27. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
  28. Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth
  29. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, March (Volumes 1, 2, and 3)
  30. Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver
  31. Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  32. Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs
  33. Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
  34. Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers
  35. Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You
  36. Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
  37. Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
  38. Sonia Nozario, Enrique’s Journey
  39. Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
  40. Maria Qamar, Trust No Aunty
  41. Phoebe Robinson, You Can’t Touch My Hair ***
  42. Erika Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
  43. Valerie Smith, Not Just Race Not Just Gender
  44. Angie Thomas, The Hate You Give
  45. Héctor Tobar, Barbarian Nurseries
  46. Desmond Tutu & Dalai Lama, Book of Joy
  47. Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples; Saga
  48. Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing
  49. Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad
  50. Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints

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Super Bowl Edition: How to talk with people about racial equity using sports analogies

By Heidi Schillinger

This weekend is Super Bowl LII. I’ll be rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, in case you care. I am feeling very bitter about the Seahawks not making the playoffs and that one team who shall not be named being in the Super Bowl again. Sorry to any Fakequity Fighters out there who root for that team. While my sister tries hard to get me to pay attention to college women’s hoops, really the time between the Seahawks and the Seattle Storm is a long dry sport watching period for me. By the way, if you are thinking, Seattle Storm? They would be the WNBA team in Seattle. Yes, Seattle has a basketball team and I am a proud season ticket holder. Go, Storm!

Wearing Seahawks jerseys at a work event.

Okay, so while advertisers are bombarding us with Super Bowl ads, let’s harness that energy and talk sports analogies and racial equity. You know, because I have the unique ability to make any conversation into one about racial equity and racial justice. Does that qualify as a superpower? Besides someone recently told me I need to write funny blog posts too. So, if you hate my attempt at mixing racial equity and humor, you can blame Vu. [Side note, be sure to ask Erin about that one time I had us both in Seahawks jerseys facilitating a meeting. She might even be able to show you a picture. Erin’s note — picture found and posted, I looked so young, that was just three years ago pre-fakequity blogging.]

I am going to write these analogies like a “Dear Fakequity” column. All sentiments are real, but the letters are made up. Any resemblance to you is an intentional coincidence. If you have a real “Dear Fakequity” question send it to Erin at She will answer it between episodes of Queen Sugar. These are meant to be useful but cheeky, and not necessarily very deep. So take them with that disclaimer.

Dear Fakequity,

I have a friend who says that they are inherently a good person, who loves different cultures and races, and treats everyone equally, so they don’t need to focus on “racial equity.” How can I approach a conversation with them?

Speechless in Seattle

Dear Speechless in Seattle,

When you say, “you have a friend” does that really mean you? There is too much (contradiction) to unpack here in a word limited blog post. But let’s jump right to the big picture and use a football analogy here. I love football. I respect the game. I even know a little about the rules and players, (but don’t quiz me). Here is the thing loving the game, respecting the players, being knowledgeable about the rules, doesn’t mean I can get on the field and play football. We are done here.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

My coworkers are upset that we have an equity and social justice initiative. They said all this talk of race is making worse, that nothing was wrong and now this initiative is stirring up trouble where there isn’t any.

Stirring Things Up

Dear Stirring Things Up,

I saw this poster recently that had the MLK quote, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” This might be a good starting point, but they might think this is stirring things up too. So let’s try using a basketball analogy. Roll with me here. Or maybe bounce with me here works better. I was recently watching the University of Washington vs. Washington State women’s basketball game with my sister. I noticed there was a new line painted in key. Since my sister keeps up on changes in the game more than I do, I had to ask her what that new line meant. If you’re curious it means offensive players can’t get called for an offensive foul inside that line. I reflected on all the changes the game of basketball has had over the years. I started playing organized basketball when I was six years old and had a short-lived career through high school, but since I started playing the game has added a shot clock, a three-point line, constant changes to the over and back rules and jump ball rules, just to name a few. Even a classic game like Basketball evolves and changes with the times. What about trying to be like the game of basketball?

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

After getting asked to sit on my fifth interview panel at work this week, I think I might be the token person of color my organization wants to put on display. I’m not getting extra pay, and this is not a part of my job description, but I secretly like to use my biases for good. Is this wrong?

Biases for Good

Dear Biases for Good,

If one day you are fed up with being tokenized and decide to let a long string of swear words out as you resign while slamming doors, our Fakequity community will totally understand. I also have some good support groups to recommend or would be happy to buy you a beer or two. In the meantime, I am totally for using biases for good. Let me explain using a soccer analogy (or what the rest of the world calls football). Bear with me, I know very little about soccer. I once experienced grown adults screaming, “I’m Sounders ‘til I die” loudly all night, so that is about my only credibility here. My other credibility, I am using that word loosely here, comes from watching my young nephews and niece play. One cold night a few weeks ago, I noticed that soccer referees are positioned on different places of the field. One is there to observe the whole field, but two assistants are positioned along the sidelines looking for when the ball leaves play. This is how I see using biases for good working too. I am guessing that your experience as a person of color in your organization helps you see things that others on the panel don’t see, and this is a good thing. If fact, I would try to advocate for finding more people of color to help you use your biases for good, since we all know “people of color” is way too broad of a category to even begin to capture all the unique ways we might be able to see the field or evaluate a candidate. While you’re at it, you could work on rallying your white allies to make more systemic changes to the process, like not tokenizing, compensating, etc. but that is a longer letter.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

My organization is really focused on the individual level of addressing racism in our organization. We are constantly receiving training on things like implicit bias, cross-cultural communication, etc. I feel like something is missing. Any advice?

Left Feeling Individually Empty

Dear Left Feeling Individually Empty,

Your gut feeling is not the sign of the flu. But I am in no way qualified to give medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional. Your organization is on the right track but might be missing the whole field. That line was the set up for my track and field analogy. I am more qualified to talk about track and field than give medical advice. I high jumped and triple jumped (yes, that is a hop, skip and a jump) in college. Focusing on the individual level of addressing racism is like all the individual events in track and field, but at the end of the day it is also a team sport. I could win my event, but as a team we might still loose. Looking at how the whole team performed was equally important as fostering individual athletes. A good team and coach know, they can’t just foster individuals and neglect the team. It sounds like your organization, and many others, are overly focused on the individual athletes and ignoring the team (or systemic) aspect of addressing racism and creating racial equity. Oh, one more thing, you might also want to share a past Fakequity blog post, We can’t train our way to racial equity, with people in your organization.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

I tried to use some of your sport analogies to talk with people about racial equity and they were offended because sports have so much racism, classism, and sexism. What do you say to these responses?

I Tried

Dear I Tried,

Well, I tried too. I would try the good ol’ rule of improv, “yes, and.” Yes, sports are not exempt from the racism, sexism, and classism that exists in our society at large. Native mascots, gender pay chasms, lack of accountability for things such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, just to name a few. And, we can both acknowledge those things and recognize that many people relate to sports. Talking with someone in a way that they already understand is like using your bilingual language skills. It could be that this is not the language of the people you mention. You could always try using Reality TV analogies.

Team Fakequity #15

In closing, I would like to mention that I made it through a whole blog post about sports without mentioning cycling. Well, until now. But if you miss my cycling analogies you can either a) buy me a beer; b) attend one of my workshops; or c) read any of my past blog post.

Go, Philadelphia Eagles!

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Hey Mainstream Organizations, this post is for you — Do’s and Don’ts

I’ve been thinking about this post for most of the week, which is rare. I normally start to think about the blog on Tuesday in fleeting thoughts and panic sets in on Thursday night. This week I started thinking about it in earnest on Wednesday. This week’s blog post is for mainstream organizations that want to work with communities of color or other underserved communities.

As mainstream organizations, you have different responsibilities and burdens. Nonprofits are meant to serve. Some of you serve children, others save whales, or maybe you believe in preserving the arts. We don’t exist to make a buck and serve ourselves, we are here to provide a benefit to the community in some way.

I am defining mainstream as larger organizations, many of which are historically white led. Some ‘organizations’ may be departments of larger organizations such as universities or hospitals, or large nonprofits. There are many nonprofits that are poc led but still considered mainstream, just having a diverse staff and leadership doesn’t change the way the organization operates or culture and beliefs. All of this is nuanced and use your best judgment in figuring out where your own work and organizations fits.

Here is a list of things to do and not do when entering a community. It isn’t an exhaustive list, but some things to think about.

parachute panda

Do not Parachute in and Land on a Community. Occasionally, I’ll hear of the opening new program that intends to serve communities of color. The organization or program is well-intentioned and eager. Maybe they have a great track record elsewhere and want to expand so they look at where they think they can make a difference. In expanding they parachute in and proclaim, “We’re here to serve!” They bring in their program, their staff, and their ideas on how to solve a problem. They may have token listening sessions, meet with a few community leaders, make promises, but their program is already baked and the goals already outlined – essentially they could pick up their program and put it in any community and in theory it should work. No thanks to this approach, we believe in co-creating projects and programs and letting local communities have control.

You better stay for the long-haul, minimum 20 years. If you decide to open up a program in a community it should be for the long-haul. Mainstream orgs have an overall reputation for coming into communities and when budgets get tight or grant outcomes don’t meet the promises written by the mainstream org they make “a hard decision” to leave. Often the decisions are made in the isolation of an Executive Director’s office or a boardroom with little community input. The community is left burned and scrambling to figure out what to do next. If you are planning on entering a new community think long and hard about your sustainability plan and you better be willing to put a lot of staff time behind being willing fundraise to stay, there is no other option.

Invest in the local community by hiring local community members, including in leadership roles. If you do open, invest in the community by hiring from the community. Pay living wages and pathways for leadership growth. The hiring of local staff should be at all levels of the organization – including in leadership positions, not just the people at the bottom of the org-chart.

If the budget numbers become challenging, you better stay – see point number two. Set the expectation you’ll be there for at least 20-years or two generations. If you are entering a community of color your organization better put some serious staff time into fundraising and sustaining those fundraising dollars. When mainstream organizations enter communities and then decide to leave because they claim they are taking a financial loss I lose respect for them – especially if they aren’t from the community to begin with. I get it, money is never abundant, AND you better do everything it takes, put every card on the table, and knock on every door before leaving. Promises are too easily broken by mainstream organizations and there is little accountability to communities of color or recourse the community can take. Over time this is how communities are harmed. One organization closing isn’t a big deal but after a while, it becomes a pattern of mainstream organizations leaving is how systemic racism happens.

Partner first, no writing grants or asking for money without doing it with community backing. I get it, the funding-chicken-egg problem. Do you approach a community with no money but want to partner to get money, or do you get money then go partner? False choices. You build a relationship of mutual respect first then worry about the money. I’m betting you can find money in a budget for 20-cups of coffee and a few lunches. If you look at my work calendar it is filled with coffee and lunch meetings. I don’t even like coffee, but I hang out in a lot of coffee shops because the relationship building is so important, and honestly it is interesting. Get to know people, listen, and build a relationship of trust, not a relationship of transactions. The money will come when the time is right.

Be present, work to build trust and long-term relationships. Don’t expect the community to trust you, work to earn their trust. Many community members have experienced broken promises, unreliable services, extra burdens to participating, etc. We have no reason to believe your organization will be any different. Earning trust takes time, there are long histories and memories of systemic racism so you can spare a few months to build the relationship. It also means doing what you say you’re going to do and listening to the community, especially when they ask for something different. One of my favorite colleagues is a poc who runs a large multi-million-dollar mainstream nonprofit. Marko makes it a point to show up at many community events. Many of the participants know him and they tell him exactly what they like and don’t like about the programs. He takes it seriously and the organization makes course corrections to meet the client’s requests, and when they can’t he is honest about why. The clients don’t always like the answer, but they respect being told the truth. He also makes sure other leadership staff and board members are present and show-up. When I was on the board I attended a child care picnic, parent meetings, and it made me a better representative of the organization. Sadly, I think many mainstream board members have lost these personal connections and don’t always know who their organizations are serving

Be gracious, kind, and willing to adjust to meet community needs. As a mainstream organization, the burden is on you to be gracious and kind. Communities are under no obligation to welcome you. You may think you have something to offer, but if that offering comes with arrogance, a know it all attitude, or a desire to just come in and take – no thanks. Instead come in graciously and culturally appropriate and be willing to meet the community’s needs, not what you think they need.

By Erin Okuno

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If I don’t reply to your email, I’m binge-watching TV

I’m going to admit something I’m neither proud of nor think it is worth hiding. I enjoy binge-watching TV shows, especially those with strong female leads. I didn’t realize this bias until Netflix labeled a suggestion list for me with this title – the creepiness of AI (artificial intelligence) in naming my unconscious biases. Here are some things I learned from binge-watching TV shows.

Law & Order SVU

svuThis was my main winter break binge-watching show. Netflix is slated to remove it in January 2018, so I had to cram in four seasons in two weeks. I did it! If I didn’t reply to an email during this time it was because I was too busy following the cases of Olivia Benson and crew. What I learned as it relates to race and equity: When people say they have gone through something hard we should show compassion towards them. I also enjoyed watching how the SVU team trusted each other and had to constantly rebuild and test their trust within each other. Some episodes deal explicitly with race, sexism, gender-identity, and police-power dynamics, sometimes they get it right sometimes they flub and go with stereotypes.


If you don’t like Greenleaf don’t say anything – don’t you dare ruin the show for me. My good friend Amy told me about the show, and once it hit Netflix and I watched it I was hooked. I downloaded four episodes for a coast to coast plane ride and when I finished those four I was so mad at myself for not downloading the full season. The show is about an African American family and their mega-church. From watching Greenleaf, I appreciated the storytelling and wrestling of family, trauma, and power. It is a great show for watching and thinking about how power is yielded, wielded, and what happens when different characters try to rebalance power. It is all, or nearly all, African American cast.

Queen Sugar

queen sugarThis is another great show recommended by Amy. The show follows African American siblings who inherit the family’s sugar plantation. Again, the show is majority African American actors and in watching the bonus features on DVD I learned the show was directed by women, many of them were women of color – hooray. From Queen Sugar we can think about how history and histories of racism shape where we are today, including the resiliency we have as communities and families of color.

West Wing

Watching the West Wing brings back memories of political days that inspired people to enter public service. It was originally on air before you could watch TV on-demand and flip-phones were cool. President Bartlett didn’t delve deeply into racialized politics; had the show been on today I wonder how they would have dealt with topics like police shootings, immigration, and would they maybe have recast some of the parts to have a more diverse cast. The show also gives us a window back before we had a real-life president who spews racist and sexist content.

Madam Secretary

This is my new version of the West Wing. A show about politics without the craziness of Trump-land politics. This show is very white, oh so white. They have a diverse cast but still white.

Homeland and Spy-Shows

I haven’t watched Homeland or House of Cards in a while. I also have a thing for spy shows, including past shows of Chuck and Covert Affairs, both very unlikely to be real life but that is what TV is for. These are shows deal with spy stuff and secrecy. What you should learn is spy stuff is fine for TV, but horrible to practice in real life racial equity work. That is obvious, but sometimes we should state the obvious. TV shows are entertainment, in real life race and racialized interactions are complex. TV shows can influence and shape our biases towards handling real-life situations, so remember real life isn’t scripted and TV is for entertainment – spying and political maneuvering for personal gain is bad, transparency and community interest is good.

Honorable Mentions of Bingy TV Shows

Heidi and I watched episodes of Dear White People while flying to a conference and while working out in the hotel gym. Dear White People (Netflix) is entertaining and worthy of a mention.

House of Cards binge-worthy but very little redeeming qualities for racial equity work. If I watch too many episodes in a row I begin to think everyone is evil. Same for Black Mirror, I’ve only watched two episodes and freaked out. After those shows, I feel like I need to go eat pho with friends and have them tell me stories about pandas, World Dance Party and other community events, and school board meetings to bring me back to happier times. Did I just say school boards and happier times?

Reality TV – the ultimate reality TV

If you want some good reality TV watch your local government channels. Turn on your school board meetings, city council, and state government channels. They are fascinating and worthy of your binge-watching time. You can watch for how race is talked about, how formal and informal power dynamics are displayed, how information and data is used/wielded/weaponized, who is believed and trusted as messengers, why is public testimony structured the way that it is – is this how we get to racial equity, and if you’re really lucky you may tune in when someone sings their public testimony (this happened at a city council meeting I attended). So much to unpack and realize how systemic racism plays out. Becoming and staying civically engaged is important in creating systems change. Ahh, now I want to go watch a school board meeting before bed.

What are you watching and how does it relate to race, diversity, and equity?

By Erin Okuno

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Gentrification and Paralyzes of the Heart

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


Artwork from, artist Ashley Lukashevsky

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

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

More Polite or Authentic

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

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

Are you ready to un-gentrify?

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

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

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

By Erin Okuno

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