Five Ways to Center People of Color

By Erin O.


Flat rocks stacked by the ocean. [Photo by Erin Okuno]

I often use the phrase ‘centering people of color’ and I’ll share my secret – it’s jargon. It is a lazy way of saying what takes a lot of words. I know I shouldn’t use jargon and I sometimes feel bad writing and saying ‘centering pocs,’ but I do it anyway. To atone for this jargon, I’ll explain what I mean when I say centering people of color. This isn’t an academic look at centering pocs, nor is it an exhaustive list – just some thoughts to get the conversation started and to help make sense of this phrase.

My overall definition is: Centering people of color is about shifting power, control, and well-being/comfort to people of color. 

1. Sharing Power and Control: Shifting power and control to people of color needs to be an action not just talk. Actions are important to shifting power and demonstrating intention. As an example of shifting power is looking at who speaks and when they speak. Are you consistently calling on the first person who raises their hand? If you are perhaps shifting power looks like pausing for a moment allowing people to gather their thoughts, important for those who aren’t English (or the dominant language) speakers, then calling on a person of color first. If you want to take it a step further call on a youth of color, or another person who may not be the first to speak. Who speaks first often drives the line of thinking so this is an important way to shift power in meetings. Be careful not to put people on the spot if they aren’t ready. Other ways of shifting power are agenda control, seating arrangements, decision making control, power of notetaking and publishing, etc.

2. Well-being/Comfort is something we often overlook. Heidi thinks about this a lot and wrote about it in some of her previous posts. I use the terms well-being and comfort interchangeably depending on audience and mood. Well-being looks like where is the meeting, is it culturally attuned, who is in the majority, who is included in the conversation. Sometimes well-being is something we can experience such as moving meetings into community settings where pocs are already familiar with. Other times comfort comes in who feels like they can relax into a space and feel safe. This is harder to quantify but important to look for. At meetings I facilitate, I use the Color Brave Space meeting norms developed by Equity Matters to help pocs feel like they are seen and the meeting is about them and to set expectations for white allies.

3. Resource Sharing: Centering people of color and communities of color means giving control of resources to communities of color and trusting them to use the resources wisely to achieve the best outcomes. Centering pocs means trusting pocs to use money, time, human capital where needed. Along with this, please don’t burden poc organizations with five-billion pieces of paperwork and forms to get money. Also, reimbursable grants and contracts are a pain in the ass and is anti-power sharing – I think I’ll try this tacit with policymakers: “I’ll pay my taxes after you prove to me you turn in to me proof you governed for racial equity, and make sure to track your hours spent on different projects then I’ll pay you.” That wouldn’t fly for power and resource sharing so why is it ok in mainstream work?

4. Expertise: Seeing people and communities of color as the experts is necessary to solving problems. Who knows better about the problems people and communities of color face than the people living them. Centering pocs as experts means we shift our dominant culture viewpoints on what expertise looks like. Such as a formal schooling doesn’t mean the person understands a community, and really the expert is the mother who has kids in the local school.

A colleague of color shared she applied for a job and was turned-down because of her age. A competing employer got a hold of her resume and saw she had led a PTA at a school with a lot of diversity. The employer said ‘I know you are interested in an office job, but I want you as my lead community organizer. You’ve led a PTA in a school with a lot of diversity, that takes a lot of community building skills.’ He saw her as an expert and centered hiring for racial equity skills which led to great results.

5. Humility and work towards learning together: Centering people of color isn’t taught in schools, books, or almost anywhere. We need to acknowledge it isn’t a natural occurrence in most places we operate (at least in the US). In dominant culture, we’re taught and we function in a hierarchy favors white people and caters to their needs first. Centering people of color means white allies, and even within communities of color, we humble ourselves to learn from each other. No single-person understands all of the experiences of people of color. Working intergenerationally, cross-racially, across language, with people with disabilities, with immigrants, etc. means we need to be humble and learn from each other. The act of centering each other means we recognize multiplicities of identities and create space for people of color to be our whole selves, this benefits allies as well since they can see more depth and hopefully find more common ground to connect with.

Access Isn’t Equity, Part 1.5

dolphinBy Erin O.

This is a short blog post for a couple of reasons — 1) I’m working on my netbook and it is really sloooooow , 2) it is spring break – I have to get back to drawing dolphins with the kid (her request), and 3) Heidi wrote a lot last week so if you need more to think about feel free to re-read what she wrote.

Since Heidi promised a part two to her blog post this is part 1.5. Heidi laid out some ideas on how to think about equity and what is more equitable and what is simply giving access to a system not designed by or for people of color. In this part 1.5, I’ll give five quick examples of where people try to pass off access as equitable practices. I’ve been doing my job long enough to have a list of activities people have mentioned as equitable practices but they are more around access and inclusion than equitable in principle and nature.

Translation and Interpretation: This is the number one practice people list as being equitable, it is also one of the most basic practices of racial equity. Providing language access is an important and one of the fundamental ways for many people of color to participate. Translation and interpretation should be high quality, no Google or Bing translate, and it should also be culturally nuanced.

Translation and interpretation fall under access because it is providing people of color (and other non-dominant language speakers) access to an already existing system. It is important access but it isn’t equitable since it wasn’t designed by the people most impacted.

Going into the Community, Evening Meetings, and Town Halls: Having time and location accessible events is an important part of attracting people of color to participate. An event a few streets away is much more appealing than having to figure out how to get across town, pay for parking, and know I probably won’t be in familiar company. Having events in local communities and going to people is important for reaching diversity and inclusion goals. These activities fall under access and inclusion because the process for these meetings is probably not one designed by people of color for their comfort (see last week’s post for more details on what this means). Evening meetings and having meetings when people are available is important, but if the meeting is still all about you and your agenda it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, I call fakequity.

Scholarships, Fellowships, and Diversity Efforts: These are great for helping people of color and others who are traditionally outside of a system into the door. So many people have found success because of scholarships. In a very roundabout way, because of a philanthropic fellowship and the network and access it provided, I got my present job. Scholarships and the like are great at bringing people of color in to help diversify efforts. Many times these efforts aren’t designed for poc comfort and can have a tokenizing impact on pocs, there is also the pressure to assimilate as well. That said often the access is meaningful and important, such as a college scholarship can change the trajectory of a person’s life, but we should also recognize access to a system and process not designed for pocs isn’t equitable.

Such as think about how many people of color with college scholarships drop out because they feel isolated, have additional barriers (i.e. transportation, needing money to pay for living expenses not covered by the scholarship, housing, family obligations, etc.). A friend who is a Dean of a college told me how she learned of a immigrant student who was in a master’s program and doing well, until she wasn’t. The staff asked the student what was going on and they learned she had to start driving for Lyft between 11.00 – 2.00 a.m. to make extra money to stay in school and help her family. The college gave her access to their program and some support, but that wasn’t enough to remove the most basic barriers to her participation in school. In a more equitable scenario, the student would have received comprehensive support including housing, cash assistance, and been continually consulted to make sure she had what she needed thus changing the system and centering her and other students of color. For a more privileged student a scholarship would have been enough access to complete the program, pocs often have additional hurdles where a scholarship isn’t enough.

Task Force Me to Death: Whenever I hear of a younger or less jaded colleague joining a task force I first congratulate them on their appointment to the prestigious task force (all task forces are special otherwise they wouldn’t exist), then I tell them to take all of their expectations and reduce it by two-thirds, possibly four-fifths depending on the task force. Task forces are important tools for gaining buy-in, highlighting inequities, and hopefully doing some of the background work needed before taking things to the public. Yet task forces are often working with dominant culture standards, timelines, and practices which aren’t designed with the comfort and control of people of color at the center of it.

Public Testimony at Government Meetings: I wrote about this before so I won’t go into detail, but let’s categorize public testimony and really most of the current ways of policy making under access. Control of the process is still held by a dominant white culture way of operating. Public testimony gives people access to influence the system but the final decisions and entire process isn’t determined by those most impacted.

Heidi still owes us part two of her previous blog post. When it is published we can see what examples she has and how she describes access isn’t equity. Access is an important step in reaching more equitable results. We need to overhaul our systems and work to change practices to say access and inclusion are important, and they aren’t enough. We need to aim for equity and in some cases recognize access and inclusion are tools to help us get there.

Heidi, you’re now up for part two where I hope you’ll delve into the other categories and how transformational equity with penguins is key to a better life.

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Let’s Not Confuse ‘Access and Inclusion’ with Racial Equity: An Interactive Post – Part I


By Heidi Schillinger

Gather some colleagues, poster paper, markers, sticky notes, and cold (or hot) beverages. This blog post is meant to be interactive, and it will be more interesting with others. I’ve had this topic at the top of my list of ideas to write about for over a year. But haven’t had the motivation to organize my thoughts on paper, although this is one of the topics I talk about the most in my workshops. Erin is off-playing, so it’s time to gather some motivation. I feel most comfortable writing up workshop exercises, so I decided to stick with that format for this post.

Background Context: Racialized Power Systems

Equity has become the new buzz word. It is used so frequently it has almost come to have no meaning at all. The misuse or appropriation of the term equity is so common and so annoying it spawned this blog site, Fakequity. As the term equity started gaining traction, people and organizations started calling all their diversity, engagement, and inclusion efforts equity. I call B.S. to this catch-all definition of equity. I developed this tool to help us get honest with ourselves about what we are truly doing (and not doing) to pursue equity, specifically racial equity.

At the very foundation of this work, we must acknowledge that business as usual or standard best practices default to upholding systems of white supremacy. If you have issues with the term “supremacy” consider it means control, authority, and power. Ask yourself how many of our institutions have been built and continue to cater to the comfort and control of white, middle-class, English speaking community members?

Many smart people have written about how access to our current system does not equal racial justice. So rather than try to summarize their brilliance, I will just ask you to read a few resources direct from the source –

It is important to mention people of color and communities of color can also uphold the current system. We are often tokenized, individually incentivized, and/or have internalized the superiority of the current system.

Set Up

Pause and answer this question before you continue reading: What are current strategies or actions that are evidence of racial equity in your organization? Write each idea on a separate sticky note (or index card). Generate as many ideas as you can. I often ask people to generate future ideas you hope to implement in your organization as well. You can color code the current and future ideas on different sticky notes to capture a visual of where your current ideas versus future ideas fall on the racial equity mapping tool.

When you are ready to have a group discussion, have everyone answer the question above and read the blog post. Or even take scissors to your current work plan or strategic plan to use with the map. Then print out the racial equity mapping tool or create it on a poster chart. I often create a large map of the floor with tape, so the exercise is even more visual and interactive. Please remember tools are not magical. Using a tool does not ensure racially equitable results or organizational transformation. The tools help us to slow down, be more explicit, brave, and intentional in challenging racism and in our pursuit of fairness and justice for every member of our community. Continued hard work is needed to implement ideas with fidelity and with the intentionality of power-sharing with communities of color. Please also consider who is and isn’t in the room as you have this conversation.

I have also added a PDF of a sampling of ideas collected in workshops, slightly edited for ease of understanding. You can print these ideas out and use them in your discussion as well. In a future Part II blog post, I’ll tell you where I would categorize the ideas on the PDF. I’m not sharing my analysis of these ideas right now because it would a) make this blog post too long and b) the point of the tool is not to convey there is a right answer, but to help us have more explicit conversations about what is and isn’t racial equity.

Conversation and Analysis

Are you ready to start diving into the conversation about where your ideas fall on the racial equity mapping tool? As a group or in small groups, spend time discussing what quadrant you think your ideas fit into. Map the sticky notes on poster paper (or index cards on a map on the floor) to create a powerful visual. I remind people this is not a “game to win” but a framework to help us have different conversations that hopefully lead to different actions and outcomes. I’ve used this tool regularly for over a year with many different groups, and I continue to learn and shift my thinking. So, engage in this conversation and analysis many times.

The tool was designed around concepts of “comfort” and “control” inspired by the article, The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy. It asks us to consider how comfortable are communities of color and how much (decision-making and resource allocation) control do communities of color truly hold. I’ll give you short descriptions of each of the quadrants, but I have also found the visuals (triangle, spiral, etc.) to be helpful as well. The visuals come from the video What Our Movements Can Learn from Penguins. The video uses an hourglass to help us understand the current system, but I use a triangle here to express a simpler version of the racial hierarchy that our system has embedded.

Business as Usual: Organizational practices that uphold white power structures. Communities of color have low comfort and low control. Efforts default to Fakequity and majority white people as primary final decision makers. Focuses on standard best practices, dominant society data, “efficiency,” limited or no budget for ideas.

Access & Inclusion: Organizational practices that influence white power structures. Communities of color have comfort, but no real control. Efforts default to tracking outputs and majority white people as primary final decision makers. Focuses on engagement, input, inclusion, access, and assimilation.

Programmatic Racial Equity: Organizational practices that build and share power within limited areas of white power structures. Communities of color have some decision-making and resource allocation control but limited broad comfort in the system. Efforts default to communities of color (most impacted by racial inequities) as primary decision makers over a limited scope project or initiative. Focuses explicitly on communities of color (most impacted by racial inequities) controlling narratives, agendas, and resources.

Structural Racial Equity: Organizational practices that default to shared power system/organizational wide. Communities of color have high comfort and high control. Effort default to racially equitable outcomes. Focuses on whole system/organizational redesign and structural transformation (the spiral in the penguin video) that impact racially equitable outcomes. Hint: Almost nothing falls here, but it’s our aspirational vision and goal.

Once you’ve mapped out your ideas, engage in some reflection about what you notice. Here are some sample debrief question ideas to get you started:

  • How does seeing the current results of this map make you feel?
  • What do you notice about where most of the ideas are placed?
  • What do you wonder about the current distribution of efforts and resources? How much is truly focused on racial equity work?
  • What are some important distinctions your group talked about between the “access and inclusion” quadrant and the “programmatic racial equity” quadrant, especially regarding decision-making power?
  • Are there any cards you think have been misplaced? Discuss them as a large group.
  • What will you do next?

This could be a much longer blog post (it’s usually at least a four-hour workshop), but I have already exceeded my suggested word count. I promise to dig deeper into specific examples for each of the quadrants in Part II of the blog post. But hopefully, this is enough to get you started.

Final Thoughts

This tool was originally developed for the City of Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment, with funding from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. If you plan to use the tool, please credit Equity Matters. If you want to use this tool in your consulting work (or any other capacity where you are compensated) please contact Equity Matters and obtain a license.

In the spirit of not just “extracting” if you find this post and tool, or any other Fakequity blog post useful, please consider financially contributing to an organization that is people of color led and community of color embedded. If you need some ideas here are a few –

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Let’s Play Ableism Bingo!

By Carrie Griffin Basas

Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago my friend and colleague Carrie Basas wrote about Disability Rights So White: Disability and Racial Justice. This week she returns with Ableism BINGO. Thanks Carrie for dropping by some wisdom and fun. There is a PDF download of the BINGO card at the bottom of the blog post which Carrie ran through a screen-reader to hilarious results.


A couple years ago, I was at an anti-racism training where the facilitators invited us to reflect on how they had made the space welcoming and how they had not. I listened as others gave feedback. I thought about not saying anything but it had bothered me that the registration page had listed information about gender-inclusive bathrooms and breastfeeding areas but had not explicitly invited attendees to flag any disability accommodations that they might need. I appreciated the access that they had offered, but saw a huge gap. I decided to share that feedback and came away feeling like it wasn’t received well.

In the spirit of my perpetual, uncompensated, and often tiring role as Informal Ambassador of All Things Disability, I also pointed out that I knew that they were good people because I had gone to another one of their trainings. It wasn’t that I questioned their intent or character. Had I not known them from another context, I would have hesitated to register because silence on access can be read as a message that you are not welcome. The next day, the facilitators tried again and did better—they had reflected on their miss and wanted to know more. We started again from a new place. I wanted to help and they wanted to do better; that’s the essence of repair.

I thought about this moment when I was doing that combination of cringing and laughing at Entitlement Bingo. Over the past few months, as I have vented about meetings, conferences, and the occasional school pickup to Erin, she encouraged me to write my own disability-focused bingo. We knew it would be therapeutic for me and maybe even helpful to others.

I have fond memories of bingo nights with my aunties and grandmother. I remember the frenzied management of multiple sheets, fast-action daubers, trash talk among ladies, and the smell of smoke in the air. I also remember the odd door prizes. I never won except once—and that night, I got a pen that vibrated and wrote in multiple colors. There is some irony in giving a vibrating pen to a physically disabled person. I had tried to master penmanship with my fixed elbows (AKA as “chicken wings” around my house) years earlier in school. Did I really need to up the complexity and awkwardness as a teen with a vibrating pen?

The bingo card that I’ve created below was made in a smoke-free environment. You won’t be lighting your auntie’s cigarette or collecting her money at the end, sadly. You can get out your pennies as placeholders, but please don’t give your dimes to a charity that objectifies kids with disabilities.

You might need some definitions as a way of introduction:

Ableism: discrimination against disabled people, along with the privileging of perceived “abled” people’s needs and desires. Ableism can range from hate crimes to denials of accessibility, institutionalization to employment discrimination.

Inspiration porn: We are about to enter that period of memes about the attractive non-disabled high school athlete asking the girl with disabilities to prom. Or perhaps you’ve seen something in your social media that looks like the images in this or even this. Inspiration porn is when we go over the top in celebrating disabled people for doing ordinary things. These representations are usually framed such that a non-disabled person is the true hero. Inspiration porn elevates non-disabled people over disabled people and reinforces the idea that a life with disability is not worth living. Ask yourself if you are inspired: Inspired to do what? If you have no clue, you just consumed some inspiration porn. Don’t tell your mother and please go and wash your hands. Then watch Stella Young’s excellent talk on inspiration porn.

Angry crip (cripple—and yes, I can use that word as a form of my own political empowerment) stereotype: Some folks believe that disabled people are bitter and angry to have the bodies and minds that they do. Therefore, disabled people can feel additional pressure to be acquiescent or even-tempered. We know this pressure is not unique to disability; it just takes different forms here.

Catching people, including yourself, in violations of this card should be an opening, not a closing or judgment. Truth be told, you could catch me in violations of this card at different moments. And I just might have spilled my single-origin hemp latte on the entitlement bingo card. Just because I have a disability does not mean that I do right by all people with disabilities all of the time, whatever my intent.

Happy playing—and know that I won’t judge if you light up while playing this or are slow on the daubers. Just don’t turn me into a meme or park in my spot, okay?

PDF Download of Ableism BINGO Card.

Parting Resources:

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10 Ways Whiteness Shows Up You May Not Even Realize


Artwork from Amplifer by Tataya Fazlalizadeh

By Erin O.

This week I spent time thinking about where whiteness shows up in our everyday lives. I’m not talking the major stuff like in the White House, although it is currently a gruesome shade of white. White supremacy doesn’t always come with a sign saying “Make America Great Again,” a KKK hood, or a Confederate flag. I spent the week thinking about the everyday stuff where whiteness is ingrained in our lives and we forget how it shows up. Here is a list of ten ways whiteness shows up every day we may not realize. This list isn’t designed to make you feel bad or to feel racist, it is simply to point out how we operate and live in a system designed by white people and has legacies of whiteness built into it.

  1. English is the dominant language. Language controls and defines a lot about how we understand the world. Framing thoughts through a European created language favor whiteness.
  2. Washington State’s name and other places that use non-Native American/ Indigenous place names. Native Americans and Indigenous people were here first and had names for places, thanks to white supremacy these original place names have been eliminated and renamed for white people or white cultural norms.
  3. European and white American Centered Curriculum. Whose history gets taught and read? Hearing “I was never taught about the Japanese internment,” “I didn’t learn about Native American history except through cowboy and Indian text,” or “yeah the teacher had all the children line up by skin color to teach about slavery” these things happen because of white supremacy showing up in education.
  4. School names. Along with curriculum how many of the schools across the US are named after white people? I’m a proud alum of Lincoln Elementary, a white president who ended slavery, but still a white man. In Seattle eight of the eighteen high schools, 40%, are named after white presidents. Only one is named after a person of color, Chief Sealth. The rest are named after places or other words not associated with people. Hmmm…
  5. Money – who’s faces are on our money – white people. All the bills in my wallet feature white men, hmmm. Who get’s paid the most, white men. Gender and race pay gaps exist and are due to systemic racism.
  6. Where do you get your news? I get mine through a lot of mainstream media which is a very white-dominated field. I appreciate many of the news outlets working to understand and report more about race, it helps but it is still a white controlled media news stream. Working to diversify where you get your news helps. I make a point of reading the South Seattle Emerald because they do a great job of highlighting local stories, many of which are by people of color. Do some research to find your local equivalent, and then make a generous donation to them to keep them going.
  7. A friend shared in the Washington State Senate there are two women of color Sens. Rebecca Saldaña and Manka Dhingra. Two out of 49, yes there are more pocs in the Senate, but two women of color out of 49, means there are a lot of white people making policy on our behalf.
  8. Pick up a few statistical documents and I’ll bet within a few reports people of color data is either missing (e.g. not reporting on Native Americans/Indigenous, missing Asians or Pacific Islanders, etc.), grouped in ways not authentic to our communities and perspectives (i.e. grouping Asians with whites), or we’re benchmarking and aiming for parity with white people. As a colleague said: “I don’t want to benchmark off white women, I want us to aim for the best outcomes globally,” which may mean people of color can achieve more and give us all something better to aim for.
  9. Leadership So White. Mellody Hobson said this in her Color Brave TED Talk: “[I]magine if I walked you into a room and it was of a major corporation, like ExxonMobil, and every single person around the boardroom were black, you would think that were weird. But if I walked you into a Fortune 500 company, and everyone around the table is a white male, when will it be that we think that’s weird too?” Leadership standards and the way we look at leadership is centered on models of white male dominance.
  10. Not having your food labeled as “ethnic food.” Mainstream grocery stores often have an “ethnic food” aisle, thanks for labeling what I eat as “ethnic” but really isn’t white people food just as “ethnic?”

I mention these things not to make people mad or to shut down, but to illustrate how prevalent whiteness is in our daily lives. We can’t undo things until we can recognize them for what they are. Realistically we won’t be able to undo every piece of whiteness every day, but we can be more conscious of it and where possible call it out and work to shift norms.

As an example, a friend volunteers to pick up books weekly from the library for her daughter’s preschool classroom. She relishes and loves this volunteer assignment because she can influence the media the preschoolers see. She finds books by authors of color, books about children of color, request the library buy/add certain books to diversify the library’s collection. If she just walked in and picked up the first ten age-appropriate books she saw there is a good chance the books would feature white kids be by white authors or be books about animals and trains. With a little intentionality, we can be aware of whiteness and work to undo it.

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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 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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