Giving Thanks for Diverse Books

Happy Day After Thanksgiving! Hope you had a nice time with your family and friends or whomever or whatever you chose to celebrate with. We celebrated by renting a yurt at a state park. It was a great plan until the heat went out in the middle of the night and we froze in 30-degree weather. A two night stay turned into one, it was memorable and cold.


In the spirit of sharing something good and a project that brings me thanks, I will share what I’m reading. This past summer I took the Diverse Books Challenge, and pledged to read 15 books by authors of color. The We Need Diverse Books campaign started a few years ago to highlight the alfneed for more diversity in children’s literature. The campaign included a story in The New York Times showing how few authors of color and characters of color there are in children and young adult’s literature. One of my favorite pictures from the campaign said “We Need Diverse Books because there are more aliens/werewolves/vampires/yeti in books than People of Color.” If you are a yeti or a vampire you’ll feel good about seeing yourself reflected in American literature.

I took the diverse books challenge because I felt the need to diversify the media I hear from. I took it as a personal challenge and I control a lot of the books that come into our house, so it spilled over to my family. As the family library goer I control a lot of the books our children consume. As a result many of my 15 Diverse Book challenge books are children’s literature (plus children’s books are faster to read).

I want my funyuns (children) to see diverse characters, understand others, and to see themselves reflected in books. Seattle author Ken Mochizuki, author of several children’s and young adult books, writes “the value of fiction [is] it can sometimes prepare you for what happens in life.” My job as a parent is to prepare my children for life, and life beyond our home and family. Books are helping with this preparation.

The Diverse Books Challenge has exposed us to lots of new authors, and reread several favorites. Taking this challenge has forced me to be more mindful about my book choices, and open me to new authors. Instead of just picking books off of top-ten lists, or through recommendations, I spend time looking for authors of color.

What I’ve Learned

Authors of Color are in Every Genre—A few of my favorite books in this challenge have come in unexpected places, including a book about house cleaning by the Japanese cleaning phenom KonMari or the audio version of Oprah’s book What I know for Sure. Authors of Color aren’t relegated to only world literature or the entertainment or sports sections of the library, explore and wander the shelves.

Gatekeeping in Publishing—I think it was in a Star Trek episode I heard the line “History is written by the victor.” This means that many publishers cater to mainstream audiences because they have the power to publish. As a reader I have to push to have diverse stories featured in books and put on the shelves of bookstores and libraries. As People of Color we have the numbers, if we demand to see authors of color featured they will be. Be vocal and demand to see authors and authentic characters of color featured in books. Two publishers that currently standout are Blood Orange Press and Lee & Low. (I don’t work in the publishing world, I only keep track of this on a marginal level. Perhaps there are others I don’t know of.)

New Perspectives—Being exposed to books by authors of color has brought interesting viewpoints that I wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. For instance in the book Being Mortal by Atul Gawande made me think about aging across cultures. I also learned about the Freedom Rides from Senator John Lewis, I could have read about this period of history from a traditional history book, but reading Sen. Lewis’ version brought it to life in a real way.

Mindfulness—I just started Silence by Thich Nhat Hanh who writes about being mindful about the media we consume. This experience has shown me how mindful I have to be with exposing myself to different thoughts and perspectives. The We Need Diverse Books challenge has pushed me to dig deeper and to counter some of the noise. I still read the news and enjoy many mainstream media channels, but I try to ensure I keep different perspectives coming forward.

Requesting Books by Authors of Color—I’m fortunate to live in a city with a well-supplied library system. The Seattle Public Library provided me with almost all of the books I’ve read for the book challenge. Part of supporting authors of color and pushing publishers to publish more diverse authors is to get their books put into libraries and purchased overall. At the Seattle Public Library we can request books added to the collection through an easy online form. I’ve requested books for this challenge and the library has ordered them, a win-win-win. Win for the library that now has a more diverse collection, win for the author who has more readers, and win for the publisher with a higher book count.

Reading to Children—My children love being read to and I enjoy sharing books with them. About a month ago my kiddo said I could choose what we would read before his bedtime so I picked up a journal on racial equity. This is what he said “All I hear is word, word, word, word, word.” In other words he was tuning it out, he needs to see himself reflected in stories so he can understand the world around him. He recently brought home a book from his school library featuring a multiracial family. He chose the book because his teacher read it to him in class and he wanted to share it with me. He said he chose it because he wanted me to read it with him, he was in control and wanted to share it with me.

What this has to do with Equity— Diversifying what I read informs what I think. Equity work requires understanding others and realizing that our world view is only part of the picture.

Here is my list of 15 (and some bonus books) for the We Need Diverse Books that I’ve read over the past few months:

I hope you’ll join me in reading authors of color. Please share your favorite books either on Facebook, Twitter (@fakequity), or in the comments below.


Equity isn’t a Thing to Solve

I’ve spent the past few days in a training on equity. One of the lessons I learned from equity champions was: “Equity isn’t a thing to solve. We solve problems through equitable solutions.” The point the speaker was making is we can’t keep throwing the term equity around. It isn’t that we need to solve for equity, like an algebra problem: X + Equity = 209 happy children, but first we have to isolate equity so we can make sure we get it right – wrong/fakequity. We can’t isolate equity, equity is the process and the methods to get toward equitable results.

Equity isn’t a Thing to Solve or Isolate

One of the problems I continue to see is organizations trying to solve equity. They have separate line items or boxes on their workplans labeled equity with targets such as “recruit XX% of people of color,” or “hear from 10 communities during the community phase,” or my favorite phrase “it’s the equity factor.”

Equity isn’t the thing to solve, it is the solution to the problem. The problem should be defined by disaggregating data, communities most impacted, and asking the right questions to really understand the underlying systems in place that are holding people back. Once the problem is defined, equitable solutions begin to present themselves.

Slapping an Equity Label on – Bitter Lemons

bitter lemonA few years ago I was invited to be a grant reader for “equity grants.” The funder has a fancy theory of change; it is a really pretty infographic that is easy to understand through pictures. This grant round was a way for the foundation to flex their equity muscles. The organization was proud in pulling together the money to offer these equity grants.

As a grant reader I got my packet of applications and started reading. As I read I became more and more disappointed. The grants were from mainstream organizations and the projects were directives from their organization down to the community. There was little community voice, let alone communities of color defined solutions. From the community perspective the projects were lemons, pretty to look at on a tree from afar, but sour and tart when bitten into.

What Went Wrong

Slapping an equity label on the grant round and isolating the effort didn’t produce truly equitable results. What went wrong was the grant making process and the organization stayed the same—in other words the organizational and process systems didn’t change, but they were aiming for a different result.

By keeping equity isolated to the grants and not embedding it across the organization, it defaulted to what it knows and what is easy. In this case the funder started with what it knew, it knew mainstream organizations and partners, it knew how to do grant making through traditional means (i.e. send out Request For Propsals to people they know, expect properly formatted LOIs back, make grants, and expect reports back), and it was informed by voices from within the organization not the community.

How to Get it Right—How to Make Lemonade

Equity isn’t the problem to solve, equitable tools are needed to get to equitable results and solutions. In this case the funder didn’t define the problem correctly, it took the easy way out and said “we want to impact equity so we’ll give out equity grants.” There are no such thing as “equity grants.” This is the lazy way of doing things. What the funder should have done is look at disaggregated data, listen to the community, and allow the community to define its own problems. The funder, or whatever group is working on a problem, then uses its power to put together a process that targets the problem. The principles of racial equity should be embedded into all of their grants or plans, not isolated to one grant cycle or activity.

The grant making process needs to change to get equitable results. This is where we take those sour and bitter lemons and turn them into lemonade. In order to make lemonade we need to acknowledge not everyone or every group with lemons also has the right materials to make high quality sweet lemonade. In order to make lemonade you need clean water, sugar, and a pitcher—in grant terms does the organization have access to the grant, do leaders within the organization know how to write a grant and get it submitted, can the organization navigate a site visit and build relationships to receive funding, who is reading and scoring the grants, etc.? If the answer is no, then we’re stuck with lemons and won’t get lemonade.

We also need to acknowledge not everyone has the same access to the ingredients to make lemonade or win a grant. For some the burdens to get this access is greater. In order to get equitable results we need to change the structure of the grantmaking process.

  1. Define the problem correctly—disaggregate data, listen to the community, allow the most impacted groups to define the problem to solve.
  2. Redefine systems– Change the application process to allow those most impacted a fair chance at receiving a grant. Ask about distribution channels, ensure large organizations aren’t competing with smaller organizations for the same funding, look at who the grant readers and scorers are, do grant seekers have the tools and information they need to apply?
  3. Questions assumptions– Does it need to be a grant or are there other mechanisms to solve the problem? Is the grant structure right for accomplishing the goal and solving the problem?

In answering the questions we can begin to insert equitable changes into the process, which will help get to equitable results.

Redesigning the System to Embed Equity

In future posts we’ll explore examples of when this is done right. We all need something to look forward to and inspire to.

A special thanks to Bao N. for her thoughtful lemonade example and prompt. She offered the prompt as a dare to use it in a sermon. I’m not a sermonizer just a bitter old lemon, but I took the dare and hopefully made some lemonade.

Posted by Erin

Entitlement BINGO– What About ME!

entitlement bingo

If you are reading this blog post you probably know about the fakequity chart. We were worried about being a one-chart wonder so we worked hard to bring you our second chart—Entitlement BINGO. Like the fakequity chart this one makes fun of things said, done, or not done. It is also meant to help us all recognize and call out our privilege and entitlement.

Entitlement BINGO was born out an annoyance of listening to people talk about themselves and feel that equity work should be centered on their needs versus community needs. There are times we may slip into entitlement and privileged positions. The true test is can we recognize and own our privilege, and figure out why we are uncomfortable and feeling the need to take control or prove something. Entitlement BINGO is a way to keep us in check.

Please remember it is a bit of a joke, so don’t really play it and leave it lying around with people’s names on it. Equity work is about building relationships, not making enemies.

Some suggestions on how to use it:

  • Ice breaker BINGO, have people ask others if they have heard or experienced what is written
  • Use it in meetings and have table monitors watch for things that might fall into the categories, names don’t have to be written perhaps just tallies
  • Use it to start a conversation about how privilege shows up in your work

Share your suggestions for comments to put in the squares or how you think it might be used. If we gather enough new material we’ll make a second or third BINGO board.

If you would like a PDF copy please email: Click on the picture to see a larger version, double click to read it.

posted by Erin

Staying and Be Kind to Yourself

A Late Night Conversation– How do you Stay?
It was a late night sidewalk conversation I still remember. Nora, a wickedly amazing younger colleague, asked us “How do you do the work? How do you stay?” Her question caught me off-guard, she’s young and eager, how could she think of leaving the field? I sobered up quickly from my half-glass jalapeno margarita, and told Nora that she has to stay in the field of community building—we need her, she is the current and next generation of leaders.

At the PolicyLink Equity Summit Nick Tilsen, a Native American economic justice leader, talked about seven generations: “Honor three generations of the past, you are the present generation, and work for three generations ahead.” He also said to learn from your elders, you may not agree with them all of the time but they can be your greatest allies and wisest supporters.

This is for you Nora and other social justice leaders, you are the present and the future. I may be older, but I’m not old enough to be wise or profound enough to be your elder; just old enough to buy the drinks without getting carded. This is also a thank you to our elders and a invitation to the three generations ahead of me.

“Social justice work moves at a snail’s pace, on a turtle’s back, at a rodeo.” Dr. Donald Felder
Social justice work moves at a snail’s pace, on a turtle’s back, at a rodeo. Imagine that and you’ll get a sense of how long you need to work to see change. Dr. Felder’s quote also reminds me how crazy the work is and how crazy I also have to be to get anything done. Equity work is personal, there is no way to make it anything but personal. These are some steps that have helped me stay somewhat sane.

Seven Survival Steps
1. Find Your Tribe: Find some friends and colleagues whom you like and gather. About every six-eight weeks I get really antsy and that is my clue that I need to gather my Fakequity Fighters for breakfast or happy hour so we can vent, laugh, and problem solve. Good things come out of these sessions (like this blog). When we gather we allow ourselves to talk honestly about our successes and struggles. I also find they push me to think more creatively and to think about equity more deeply. I don’t know if I give the same to my friends, but maybe my gift is I send out the doodle poll to schedule.

2. Learn: Recognize your experiences aren’t the same as anyone else. In order to get the work right we need to continually learn and adapt our thinking. Read a lot of different articles and books, listen to your elders, and learn to spot fakequity. Spotting fakequity is a skill you will build, as you learn you’ll begin to sniff it out and then be able to call it out.

3. Call out the fakequity and ask good questions: Dr. Donald Felder is one of my amazing mentors and board members. He is trying to teach me the skill of asking a good question. Dr. Felder has honed the craft of asking questions that push people to understand the change and thought process he wants them to pursue and see. It is a Yoda-like skill I have yet to master as I’m only a Jedi-in training.

4. Don’t Read Noisy Blogs or Comments: It is tempting to read noisy ranty blog and newspaper comments, but as another friend once said “I feel less than human [after reading them].” If I don’t have a relationship with the person writing them, then I probably won’t fully understand their thinking. I don’t like getting mad and yelling at my computer and I don’t find it a productive use of my time, so I’ve decided to stop reading newspaper comments and I limit my reading of ranty blogs.

5. Drink and Know Your Non-Negotiables: Go drink water (you thought I’d mention alcohol), go for a walk, breathe, and figure out your non-negotiables. The only way I can stay in the work for the long-haul is taking time to also do things I love. Find something you love that isn’t connected to your daily work and do it. Put it on your calendar and hold the time. Heidi, a fakequity fighter, thinks best while bicycling and loves the activity. Jondou is great at BBQ and takes great care in feeding others grilled meat (if you’re vegan you get one grilled cremini mushroom). CiKeithia dances her heart out at Zumba. These gifts are equally as important as their professional work, save some time for you. Community work requires time to think and doing something for yourself will lead to interesting connections.

6. Say Yes (and No): Say yes a lot. Say yes to the things that are scary and push you in just_say_yes_mousepadnew ways. Say yes to meeting people you may not want to meet with. Say yes to embracing the weird space of not having answers or knowing what the heck is happening. It will lead you to new experiences and you’ll meet people who can help you along the way.

Saying yes, also means becoming very clear about when you will say yes and help you define when to say no. This year my organization has built new partnerships because we said yes to embracing new work. Saying yes also meant we were saying no to doing other things that weren’t right at the moment. Saying yes to partnering with organizations that align and who bring great support and partnerships to our coalition partners is a win. Who we said no to are activities that aren’t mission aligned nor racial equity focused, or perhaps just not the right time.

7. Don’t be a Jerk: Racial equity work is about relationships, put people first. It is really that simple, put people first and don’t be a jerk. Be a good partner, open doors literally and figuratively, share, and be nice. Fakequity = Jerk. Equity = harder work of sharing and being open.

There are a lot of other tips, but we’ll save those for another time. Feel free to share what works for you, I’d love to pick up a few new self-care tips. It is easy to talk about self-care and harder to do, so maybe your tip is the magical one.

Posted by Erin