People and Data Must Mix — Humanizing our Work

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Happy 2016! I hope you are ringing in the new year with a good ol’ hangover or some traditional New Year’s food – collard greens, black eyed peas, champagne, or in my culture mochi. A quick side story: every year on New Year’s Day my mom and dad would serve me Japanese mochi. Not the sweet stuff filled with red azuki beans. This is the gelatinous white rice flour pounded until it is smooth and sticky. Growing up I hated eating it, I now only eat it out of obligation to some tradition I can’t name. Tomorrow, New Year’s Day, I pass on this tradition to my first born. I am anticipating a lot of whining and protesting, but damn it he will eat mochi – if only because I had to as a kid.

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There is a tension between focusing on data and remembering that real people are behind the numbers and statistics. Too often when we do our work, we are encouraged and taught to focus on data. This past Sunday the Seattle Times featured a story about how millennials are more data-driven in their approach to giving. The millennial-philanthropist ask organizations to show how they are using data to ensure that their interventions work and how organizations re-calibrate to get even better results; in other words they want to make sure their funding is making a difference. I agree with the focus on data, in fact I’ve previously written that data should define the gaps and the problems which helps to frame equitable outcomes.

Where we go wrong, is forgetting that stories are a form of data, and people’s experiences and stories are equally important. We need to humanize problems. Charts, graphs, and reports do not create urgency, they don’t build relationships, and in Simon Sinek’s TED Talk he points out Martin Luther King didn’t preach: “I have a plan,” he said “I have a dream.” People are more likely to want to follow a dream they can see themselves in than following someone who says “Follow me I have a strategic plan with data points.” There is power in stories and there is important data in stories and experiences. Human experiences are behind the stories, charts, and graphs.

We cannot forget that every problem has a lived experience behind it. When we fail to recognize the human connection, we have a harder time empathizing. Empathy is essential to understanding another person’s experiences so we can work towards more equitable outcomes.

Why Data isn’t Enough

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Data is necessary to understanding a problem and ensuring that we are tackling the ‘right’ problem. Data gives us empirical evidence and helps to shape and frame a problem. Good data also focuses us on what we should be looking at—such as where racial gaps occur, are there clusters of disparity, are there pockets of achievement, etc. Data also helps to ensure an intervention is working and how to get better results, including testing new methods to see if a small adjustment will yield improvements.

However, when we only look at empirical data – i.e. test scores, homelessness rates, crime data, deaths, etc. we lose an essential element of understanding a problem. We lose the relationships and the human context which are necessary to understanding the problem and the connections needed to solve problems.

As an example police departments across the country rely upon data to tell them where to respond. In the 2000s TV The District, the police chief of the D.C. police force uses CompStat (comparative statistics) to focus his police department. The show is what you would imagine from a TV drama— a ruggedly tall and dapper police chief, with self-depreciating humor, but still tough as nails police chief uses data to solve crimes. In this show the police chief has a big room where he brings all of his people and projects crime data onto big screens, then gives them speeches with punch lines that motivate them to solve crimes. One of the problems with the CompStat approach displayed on TV was relying upon past data, i.e. crimes already committed, and not using community level data to understand what is happening and what isn’t being shared. There is also an absence of talking about the human impact and the role of what communities are experiencing. For every data point we also have to ask who isn’t represented in the data point. In a CompStat review could there be under reporting, or an over intervention? We need to ask these questions.

When we focus only on data we fail to recognize the power of a human experience. Raw data makes it too easy for us to think of a statistic exactly for what it is, a number, a percentage, or a risk. Yet, when we humanize our work we see what is behind it. For every CompStat crime statistic there is a human face behind it.

People Behind the Stats and a Little about Weaponizing Data
On a local Facebook group there is a neighbor, we’ll call him Fox Mulder, who constantly posts crime stats. They look like this:
11/30/2015 2:45:26 PM
HARASSMENT, THREATS (to kill)
10XX BLOCK OF S Moo ST
Final Call Type Category: THREATS, HARASSMENT

Several of the Facebook group members have asked Fox Mulder to stop posting every police call, saying it is negativity and they don’t want to see it. Fox writes back that he wants to daylight the information to motivate people to press city government for more police, arguing crime should be equally low across the city, not in isolated pockets (we are in the higher crime neighborhoods). Because all of this is over Facebook there aren’t a lot of strong relationships in place between Fox and others.

What Fox Mulder fails to remember is within that data and how it is presented are people. His presentation of the data dehumanizes the process; he presents facts but doesn’t give the whole story. The way the information is presented is straightforward and without context. It is factual and important information, but for a local neighborhood group the context and human experience are equally important. Because the group is neighborhood based he fails to remember the person behind the posting may be a neighbor experiencing a low moment in their life. My colleague Dr. Jondou has a term for this, weaponizing data. Data can be used for good, or it can be used against people and communities. Many in the Facebook group feel like the constant stream of crime data is used as a weapon to highlight the crap of the neighborhood without presenting solutions. We need to use data for good and to help build relationships.

Empathy and Data Must Mix
No matter what the data is we shouldn’t use it in isolation. We have to put a human story to the facts, otherwise we fail to remember the importance of the experience. A fact without a story also allows us to dehumanize and doesn’t promote empathy. Empathy is a key part of working towards undoing institutional and systemic racism. If we don’t have empathy or relationships with people who are the most affected by negative outcomes the policies we build and the practices that take place won’t be effective.

Humanizing our work means we see people, learn and understand lived experiences—including in data sets and other forms of empirical data, only then do we begin to get the work right.
The next time a stat is shared with you, challenge yourself and others in asking questions:

  • What is the human story behind this data? Who’s life is represented in it?
  • Has this data been shared with the community? How did they receive it?
  • What is missing from the data? What story is the data saying and does it match what the community wants to hear and talk about?
  • Do you have relationships with the people from those impacted by the data?
  • Are we using data for good or are we using it to dehumanize an experience?

These answers will help you frame what to do with your data and how to build a human connection around it.

It is a new year, and in this year let’s end fake data and emphasis real people with real, whole-life stories.

Posted by Erin, photo credits mochi — Wikipedia entry on mochi, Craig T. Nelson on CBS’s The District

2015 Fakequity Wrap-Up, 2016 Resolutions (or at least until Lunar New Year) & A few Predictions

It is the end of 2015 and this is a good time to reflect on the good, the fake, and come up for resolutions for the new year. For fun maybe I’ll add a few predictions.

The Good
All of you! I’m grateful for all of you who are practicing calling out fakequity and living a fakequity-free life.

Grateful for movements that continue to highlight the need for work around racial equity. The hard work that many of you are doing is making a difference and advancing racial equity. We all have our roles and together we are making a difference.

Grateful for silence. I’ve been reading Silence, The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh. He shares this thought: Realize that silence comes from the heart, and not from the absence of talk.This past year I’ve been trying to listen more and talk less. Silence allows for listening and deeper thinking, which is necessary for fakequity busting.

Another good thing is investments made into equity work. More foundations, policy makers, and others are beginning to understand why race matters in ending inequities and achievement and opportunity gaps. I recently heard about a small foundation that has decided to spend-down and invest all of their funds into African American efforts. This bold commitment happened because of the #BlackLivesMatter and other movement efforts.

The Fake
Donald Trump. We need to worry about loud and noisy people like Trump. For a moment I thought if I ignored him he would go away, like the Ms. Universe crown—one moment you have it, the next someone takes it away. No one has silenced him yet and the longer he blathers on the more people he’s reaching. Now we have to get loud and out shout him.

Every time and ‘equity bomb’ is dropped I get another grey hair. I’m looking older and older with every equity bomb lobbed.

Dividing and wedge issues. A colleague and I were talking about how communities of color need to create a space so we can work out our crap. We need to come together so we can work out our differences and not let others divide or split communities apart. Recently the Seattle Asian American community protested at a hooka bar in the International District where Donnie Chin, a beloved member of the community died after being caught in crossfire. The Mayor and others ran with the idea and tried to close all of the hooka bars, thus pitting the Asian community against immigrant Africans, which was never the intention of the Asian community. The question should have been why aren’t there stronger law enforcement, community building, and other efforts to keep everyone safe, not what is needed to target closing a line of immigrant owned businesses. People of color will become the majority in a few years, we need to stand together and not let others divide us.
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Resolutions for 2016 (or at least until Lunar New Year when I realized I failed and get a do-over)
Live up to these two fortune cookie fortunes: “Stand up for what you believe in even if it’s not popular,” and “Don’t let others stop you from doing what you know is right.” I got these at dim sum lunch today. Umm, yes I ate two cookies… Resolutions two – find the gym, workout, and practice self-restraint.

Go to bed by 10.00 p.m. and wake up early to sit in silence. Probably won’t happen, since I’m writing at 10.50 and wide awake, but resolutions can be aspirational. If I go to bed by 10.00 I’ll wake up refreshed and ready to fight fakequity.

Build a new relationship with someone who scares me. There are a lot of people who I sort of ignore because they scare me. Some of their scare has to do with power, positions, or I’m intimidated, but a lot of that has to do with the stuff in my head, not reality. Building relationships is important to working towards equity. When we know each other well we can personalize and humanize our work which is important to pushing for change.

I resolve to ask better questions and read more work by authors of color. The art of asking questions is a hard one to master, but asking questions is critical to digging to the core of what is holding us back from achieving equity. Reading works by authors of color will give me different perspectives to understand and begin to ask better questions.

Predictions
The word ‘centering’ will become the new buzzword. Heidi and I had a long email discussion about centering, hopefully we’ll get around to writing that blog post. We’ll start to see Centering Committees in the next decade, then we’ll need to coin a new term “off-center-quity.”

We will see a rise in hyper-local efforts, and they will begin to get more attention. Already cities and municipal efforts are gaining attention for their ability to nimbly respond to changing demographics.

The tide is beginning to shift on dis-aggregated data. Data analyst and organizations are beginning to embed these practices into their everyday work. The next challenge is to look at how language and immigrant/refugee experiences can be pulled out from data. Lots to delve into around this idea, maybe we’ll explore it more in 2016.

Donald Trump will flame out and end up on Dancing With the Stars.

See you in 2016! Here’s to another year of fighting Fakequity.

Posted by Erin, picture by Erin Okuno

Are you have the conversation? Are you talking about race?

7413435At a recent training on equity I was paired with a program officer from a rural community foundation (rats, not a place we work otherwise I would have asked how to access funding). We chatted about our work, eventually our discussion veered towards what is happening in our organizations. I told her about   my organization, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), and how we hold equity and community as two of our core values and try to live those values.

As we talked, I shared how the turmoil from Trayvon Martin’s shooting, Freddie Gray’s death, and this past summer the violent death of a Somali youth who was walking home from a funeral of another youth made me question how I was leading for racial equity and living our values. These events forced me to evaluate where I stood, was I going to perpetuate fakequity—all talk and no action, or would I do something about it. My response was to open a conversation around race in education and to be intentional about how or coalition has open conversations about race.

My colleague said “wow…” in a tone that suggested she couldn’t have done that in her organization. For a moment I thought “I am in a privileged position to have these conversations,” then I thought no it isn’t a privilege, it is something we ALL have to do.

Recently another colleague told me about her experience. She works for an organization that says they want to embed equitable practices into their work. Their staff is largely White and my friend is African American. When the verdict in the Michael Brown shooting came out my friend talked to her boss and asked if the staff could have a conversation about what was happening nationally and how they would respond. During the meeting, her colleagues talked about how they didn’t think the email message about Michael Brown’s death was appropriate and they didn’t want to have a conversation about race. My friend left the meeting mad and frustrated. Fakequity is saying you want to do something about race, but only doing in a way that makes you comfortable.

“Can we talk about race now?”
Paola Maranan, Executive Director of the badass advocacy organization Children’s Alliance, recent spoke about policy and race and said “Can we talk about race now? Do we get to have the conversation? … We can’t build new systems or policies grounded in reality until we talk about race.” When we talk about race we are talking about the deep and personal stuff, in other word we begin to talk about values, our biases, and personal histories – the stuff that makes us who and what we are.

Depending where you sit and whom you talk to, talking about race is either constructive and important to solving problems or the third rail—talk about race and you get shocked. We need to talk about race and be honest; it doesn’t need to be a shock or a topic that makes people uncomfortable.

Last summer after the deaths of too many African Americans and East Africans, I decided it was time for our coalition to be more explicit in talking about race. I was in a position to respond, but the question was how and what would we do to contribute to the community. I was stuck, I didn’t know what to do or how to lead so I leaned on a few close friends and colleagues.

One of my trusted colleagues is in law enforcement. He sent an email checking in about other things and I emailed back saying I was stuck and restless, he generously offered to help think it through. We met for lunch and over sandwiches I explained my restlessness and frustration. I explained that I knew as an Asian American I was getting a pass on having to talk about race, and it wasn’t right. I felt the tension around wanting to respond, but in an appropriate way, to support the African American community and follow their lead. My colleague is a seasoned and wise African American officer who knows communities, government entrenched systems, and sees the good in a lot of people and places. He urged me to be the bridge builder and to use my position to bring communities together. I also talked to CiKeithia and Heidi, two trusted friends on the fakequity fighters team. CiKeithia told me about her frustration around not having a place to dialogue as a community about what the deaths of African Americans meant to her, in her words she said “I’m struggling.” With Heidi I laid out a few ideas, all of which were promptly dismissed because they were too surface level (she’s the Sherpa and I just follow her and buy her lunch in return).

What We Did – Can we be brave and talk about race?
Heidi came up with the idea of using historical documents to open a conversation around race and center the conversation in education (a realm familiar to all of our coalition members). The historical documents show that not a lot of progress has been made in the past century. She also designed the conversation around using race caucuses. This was an intentional design, by having people caucus the conversations were able to go deeper and faster, especially since we only had 75-min.

At our coalition meeting we had a packed room of partners. These are partners who showed up in the middle of a workday and devoted two hours to the meeting. It was a conversation I think many wanted to have and needed to have the space to talk and connect. When we talk about race we are talking about the deep and personal stuff necessary to build trusting relationships.

Heidi set up the session by giving people a framework of how to have the conversation. She talked about being Color Brave, put relationships first and be intentional about talking about race. The caucuses were meaningful and showed me where we need to do more work. We debriefed as a large group. The sharing was important because people spoke about their own experiences and what race meant to them. Having the conversation recommitted me, our organization, and our partners to speaking honestly and openly about what race means to us and our work.

What are you going to do? How are you going to have conversations about race?
We all have our roles to fulfill and we all can push for racial equity in different ways. Some will be on the ground marching and disrupting to bring important media attention to the cause, others will use their organizational positions to create policies that are designed to impact the racial disparities. What is your role? You have a role to play.

I’m not going to tell you what to do or tell you to read certain books, but rather ask some questions:
Are you having conversations about race within your organization. If you tell me your organization doesn’t deal with race that is BS, we are all impacted by it. Race impacts the environment, arts, education, sciences, entertainment, government planning, etc. Begin to dig deeper and you’ll figure out how and why race matters to your sector.

  • What conversations have you had about race? What did you learn?
  • Are you disaggregating data by race? If you aren’t you need to, people need to see themselves in the data.
  • Where are you getting your information? If everyone you hear from looks like you or you are comfortable with them, you’re not hearing from the right people.
  • What conversations are you avoiding because they are hard? Who do you need to talk to help push for more equitable policies and actions?
  • What is one thing you can do today to open a conversation about race? If you need some help pull out the fakequity chart and begin to think about a program or project you are working on and plot it on the chart then talk to your colleagues about what is working and not working

Some suggestions about how to start the conversation

  • Ask a few people and ask if they want to join you in a discussion. You can suggest something like lunch for equity, race to happy hour, be brave and drink your colors. Before gathering send out a short article or a TED Talk to launch the conversation.
  • Talk to your leadership team and explain why this matters to you and why you want to talk about race. Sometimes a conversation and a little nudge is all that is needed. Also be ready for some push back or to have this take longer than you might like, but some progress is better than none.
  • Be bold and bring it up yourself. We are all responsible for our own actions and we are all in positions every day where we can call out fakequity. Our individual actions make a difference.

I’m grateful people showed up at the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition’s conversations about race, it was the beginning of something deeper. We continue to talk about race, and our open conversations about race bring people to the coalition. While talking about race isn’t enough to fix problems, the open conversation allows us to build relationships and work towards equity from the inside then outward. Having conversations about race allows us and our partners to understand our beliefs, which we need to understand before we can build equitable policies and programs.

Posted by Erin, photo credit to Karen Fletcher

Partnerships Move at the Speed of Trust

Before I write this week’s fakequity post I want to address what is happening in the world. Last week I wrote about subtle forms of racism. This past week’s news is exploding with headlines about race—everything from Justice Anthony Scalia and his disparaging comments (he needs a historical lesson and to learn about structural racism), Donald Trump’s endless mean spirited comments towards Muslims, locally in Seattle hate crimes. I think we sometimes forget about the personal impact and the everyday experiences.

A friend, who is Somali, shared that her elementary age son came home from school saying another student told him: “All Muslims are bad people and they kill all of the Christians.” The vitriol and hate in this one line is enough to crush a parent’s soul.  My friend is now dealing with reassuring her son that Muslims are not bad people and they don’t all kill. She’s also having to talk to teachers, school leadership, and others about the implications of what is happening in her son’s school.

I grew up learning about the internment of Japanese-American after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in fact I am writing this on 7 December—the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. I remember watching in the days after 9/11 as then U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta resoundingly say U.S. airlines were banning from practicing racial profiling or subjecting Middle Eastern or Muslim passengers to extra scrutiny in the wake of 9/11. I remember thinking despite the turmoil of 9/11 “we got this one right.” As a country we learned from history, we learned from the internment, we learned that we cannot project fear and hate on a group because of the actions of a few.

I am reminded that while we have made progress we still have to be intentional and persistent in calling out racism. To my friend and her son, while I haven’t personally experience internment, Islamaphobia, or bigotry of the overt nature you are experiencing, please know I will actively work to prevent history from repeating itself. Fakequity is about calling out fakeness and working to create better systems to prevent inequities. I challenge you as a fakequity follower and reader, what are you doing to call out the racism you see or hear?

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A flame that burns as hot and bright as Justice Scalia or Trump’s racism cannot sustain itself forever, and many of us will be working to douse it with a fire hose.


Partnerships move at the Speed of Trust
I’ve been thinking a lot about partnerships this week. I’ve been thinking about how amazing they are or how draining they can be. At the PolicyLink Equity Summit I heard the line “Partnerships move at the speed of trust.” This one phrase captures the sentiment so well. Within my organization we’ve brought great content and projects to our coalition quickly because of partnerships that we built or nurtured. In a few short months we’ve taken on more work and projects because we were able to partner and work with coalition partners.

Behind the Partnerships – Trust
Trust can be magical and soothing, like watching a baby panda roll around or torturous like listening to overly long and boring introductions at meetings. Trust starts with little things—returning an email even if it means you’re working while watching Master Chef, showing up on time (or within the five-minute grace period), picking up the phone even when you see on caller ID who it is and you’re thinking “crap this going to take a while,” to just being a nice person. My strongest community partners are those who I know have my back and I will do my best to support them as well.
Trust takes time to build and earn—If you want to go fast, you need to be patient
When I first started at my job we were approached by an organization that wanted to financially support us. We needed the funding, but I was hesitant to accept the money because they have strong political views and influences and I didn’t want to get caught in their politics. Because I was new I didn’t have relationships to help guide me, nor the trust with the leaders. Many questions ran through my head– were they going to use us, were they genuine, what do they expect in return, what would others think? We ended up accepting the funds and using them to support a community building event.

After the event we hosted a lunch between our organizations. We needed to build relationships and to get to know each other. We invited about a dozen diverse community partners, and on the funders side they brought a group of their members. Over papaya salad and rice noodle bowls we shared a meal. As I welcomed everyone, I told the group there wasn’t an agenda, there weren’t going to be formal remarks, we were there to get to know each other. I asked people to talk to each other, and to rotate seats so they could get to know each other. Spending time together and learning about each other was so important and the right work. Working towards racial equity was present at that meal because we were learning how to be together.

Spending time lingering over a noodle bowls and dessert allowed us to accelerate our work. A colleague just told me the phrase “If you want to go fast, you need to be patient.” By being patient and building the relationship we’ve been able to do more work together versus having it be a one-time opportunity. We’ve also been able to support each other through some tough times.

Vulnerability
A few weeks ago I flipped through my Netflix account and rediscovered the Tom Clancey movie Sum of All Fears. Towards the end of the movie Jack Ryan, a US intelligence officer, is covertly talking to the President of Russia (or the Soviet Union – can’t remember which) trying to convince him not to blow up America. Ryan basically says: you sort of know me but not really, I’m telling you America is vulnerable, please trust me when I say you need to stand down first, hopefully we won’t blow you up as you stand down. In the end Russia disarmed first and the countries went on to sign nuclear arms agreements. While trust in the nonprofit world is rarely this dramatic, the same idea of showing vulnerability in our sector. In my work I sometimes feel the pressure to impress others, the opposites of showing vulnerability. No one wants to go into partnership with a know-it-all.

The vulnerability has to go both ways. In order for trust to build I need my partners not to throw me under the bus when I say I don’t know. At some point I also hope they can feel equally vulnerable with me. This could be something as simple as saying “I trust you to choose where to eat cause you know where all the good food is,” to something more complex and saying “I’m stuck on a problem, can you help?”

Communities of Color and Building Trust and Partnerships
In communities of color we have to work to build trust in multifaceted ways. We have to work to build trust with mainstream organizations and funders. We have to prove to them that we can do the work and we are able to achieve the outcomes expected.

We also need to build trust within our own communities and often times across communities. Within my coalition I work to build partnerships across my community and to foster trust between partners. There are times we nail it, and there are an equal amount of times where we haven’t done our work on building trust and need to continue working. I continue to work at learning about communities different than my own. It is amazing how fast some of our projects have gone because we have built trusting relationships with partners.

I’ve also experienced how quickly a partnership falls apart because the trust was violated or not as strong as it needed to be to begin with. As an example, a colleague told me about a grant she recently wrote and invited another organization that works with a different immigrant community to join her in applying. Partnering allowed them to apply for more funding and leverage their work. However, when I last talked to my colleague the grant application was falling apart because they are both concern about how the work will happen and the funds will be handled—code for there isn’t enough trust in place yet to ensure both of their agendas and organizational needs will be met.

Be a Partner for Equity
Partnering for racial equity means partners need to ensure their partnership is equitable—not equal, but equitable. For larger established organizations this means looking at how money is distributed, are you passing through enough to make the work happen, are the outcomes being asked for proportional to the size of the grant, are the right conditions in place to make the partnership a trust building one, are all of the partners on board with what it means to work towards racial equity outcomes?

For smaller organizations we have to have the courage to say no to partnering when it doesn’t drive towards equitable outcomes or authentic partnerships. When I first took this job I almost said yes to a small grant that wasn’t aligned with our racial equity agenda. It was hard to say no, but I said no because we didn’t have a firm relationship and trust in place. We’ve since gone on to learning more about each other and having some hard conversations have led to better results. In many ways saying no to the grant upfront, has allowed us to build a stronger more equitable relationship.

Thanks for being a partner in our blog and for trusting us with five minutes of your time. We know you could have spent your five minutes looking at panda videos, but you trusted us with them—thank you.

I would like to give credit for the original quote, if anyone knows who said “partnerships move at the speed of trust,” please comment or email fakequity@gmail.com so we can properly acknowledge the originator.
Posted by Erin

The Racist Things People Say

Racism is that word that no one wants to talk about. A colleague said she went to a training on public speaking, specially to prepare for TED-like talks, and the advice given was “If you’re going to speak about race or racism, lower your voice.” We can’t lower our voices, it is time to call out racism and label it for what it is and for the harm it does. In that same conversation another colleague talked about hearing a white man say “Why aren’t more people angry? Why aren’t we all angry about racism?” My astute colleague calmly said “We are mad and we are angry, but we can’t always show our anger. We don’t always have the luxury of being angry.” She’s right sometimes as People of Color if we get angry and speak up about racism we’re labeled as ‘the Angry [fill in race],’ or if we get angry our anger is misinterpreted and seen as hostile, or if we speak up about race the burden shifts to People of Color who are then blamed for the problem.

If we say race matters, we also need to believe racism matters. Racism is insidious it shows up in big and little ways. It shows up in headline grabbing news stories, and it shows up in smaller ways that are harder to see, name, and define. When we don’t name racism we say it doesn’t matter, we give people a free pass in thinking they are exempt from dealing with racism.

Two Experiences in One Day—I’m Over Thanksgiving
The Friday after Thanksgiving killed the thanksgiving mood. I was home eating a bahn mi sandwich when the doorbell rang. Two women (not Chinese) said they were looking for Chinese speaking families to share religious information with in their native language. I was hangry (hungry-angry) and rude—no giving thanks here for their preying with prayer. The two women sulked off confused why I wasn’t receptive to their divine message. It had nothing to do with their message, it had to do with the delivery.

The racism they demonstrated was subtle and disguised as kindness, but it was still racism. When the women said they were looking for Chinese speaking people, they were preying upon a vulnerable group. Native Chinese speakers are most likely immigrants and at a disadvantage because of language, new-comer status, less community and family support, and not knowing the American culture. I’m also guessing the two missionaries are learning Chinese or at the least not native speakers, which means if they are looking to practice their language skills which will benefit them more than the Chinese immigrants.

IMG_20150417_210706Earlier that same day I stopped by my favorite Vietnamese deli to pick up lunch. The shop is small so everyone is in everyone’s business. A White family stepped in and the father picked up tofu spring rolls and said to his teenagers “Let’s get these, what are they called? ‘hee hees’?” He was being serious-funny. I gave him the stink-eye. It was rude to insult another person’s food with a made up name that sounds like something a toddler would say. That behavior wouldn’t be condoned by children in a mainstream restaurant, yet when a White dude steps into a Vietnamese deli he can get away with it.

These two examples happened in one afternoon. These two examples didn’t lead to devastating consequences, but they demonstrate the underlying values that people in my community hold. I have so many other examples of individual, structural, and organizational racism. I’ll save those for another day, some of them are worth sharing because they are so painfully sad or just sad-funny.

Racism Matters
We have to own up to our actions. We also need to begin to see that sometimes we make mistakes but we also learn.

“We weren’t trained to admit we don’t know.  Most of us were taught to sound certain and confident, to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused. Or for asking more question rather than giving quick answers. We’ve also spent many years listening to others mainly to determine whether we agree with them or not. We don’t have time or interest to sit and listen to those who think differently than we do.” — Meg Wheatley, Willing to be Disturbed

In order to undo racism we have to admit we don’t know. We don’t know what it is like to live in another person’s experience, we don’t know how a person will react, and we have to be ok with not being rewarded or having the answer. The rewards will show up in learning about others and creating a more inclusive community. We also have to learn to ask better questions and to ask why is it ok to make another person feel lesser because of their race.

When we admit we don’t know we begin to build an understand, we build relationships by being open to new ideas. When we admit we don’t know something we are also bringing voice to the unknown and breaking the code of silence. The silence is hurtful and is a tacit form of anger.

Racism Matters, our Collective Voice Matters
At a gathering of African American families I sat next to a high school principal. At one point he leaned over to me to tell me about the restorative justice work his school has undertaken. He said they started learning about restorative justice, but quickly pulled back. They didn’t pull back because they didn’t believe in restorative justice, instead they chose to lean in and do they work by starting with themselves. He realized that he and others had to heal themselves before they could create an environment conducive to restorative justice and community building.

We need to do our own work around learning about race and racism, myself included. I need to grow as a person and stretch my thinking about race. Several years ago I would have been annoyed by the two incidents I wrote about earlier, but wouldn’t have been as pissed as I am now. On the positive side, several years ago I wouldn’t have known how to put together the Fakequity chart that guides me and others on how to work towards racial equity. I hope you’ll join me in continuing to learn so we can have a collective voice around calling out racism in its many forms.

We need our collective voice to rise up and call each other on the racism that exist. Sometimes this is in comments or actions that take place on a personal level, or in policies and within institutions. With enough collective voices we can begin to root out racism and build stronger communities.