Yo! Your red lanterns are dope, and not in the good way. Are you Culturally Competent or Culturally Enriching?

Every decade or so a new set of words gets created and their predecessor fades out of favor. Here are a few examples:

1980s/1990s/2000s words:9457391_orig
Achievement Gap
Equity gone wrong

Diversity and Inclusion
Opportunity and Achievement Gaps
People of Color

Many of the new terms came about because the previous word was inadequate. The previous words hit on one part of a social justice concept but didn’t go far enough in capturing the sentiment of what was truly being communicated. Our communities and work have evolved and we need more than platitudes and simplistic efforts. Such as diversity isn’t enough. We can get a room full of diverse people but if they don’t feel included or aren’t given space and room to have a meaningful role in the work taking place the diversity is meaningless. Or a short while ago people of color were called minorities, but as demographics change, language has to keep pace to reflect the growing number of people of color; in a few decades the term people of color will be out of fashion and some new word will be used.

I’m proposing a new term, Culturally Enriching. No longer is it enough to be culturally competent, we need to strive for better. We need to create spaces and programs where children and families of color receive culturally appropriate, relevant, and enriching experiences.

Why Culturally Competent is Blah
There are many definitions of cultural competency, some of them elaborate and use technical jargon. For the purposes of this blog post I’m going to use the everyday pedestrian bare bones snarky interpretation of the term:

Culturally competent means we do the bare minimum: celebrate holidays and heroes, put up red lanterns on Lunar New Years, celebrate diversity with multi-cultural potlucks at the office, order a banh mi but pronounces it ‘ban me,’ use Google-translated documents to prove we made an attempt at translating documents, post hiring notices in ethnic media but fail to have people of color on the hiring panel.

The definition above are some of the attempts people make to prove they are providing a culturally competent environment. Don’t get me wrong, these attempts help and sometimes are enough. But too often people and organizations stop at these surface level attempts of community engagement or program development and miss the boat on creating truly great programs that enhance and allow people of color to grow, feel grounded and included, and embraced by a larger community.

As an example a friend shared a story about how a co-worker received a lot of praise for creating a new program to honor Pride Month. Last year her organization marched in the Pride parade for the first time ever. They held open houses and special programs with art and books showing LGQBT families. And they have a special storytime with a drag queen. Many of these efforts demonstrate an awareness of diversity and an attempt at having LGQBT families feel included. But the efforts stopped there and didn’t move to culturally enriching.

If the program organizers used a racial equity lens they would have realized that simply focusing on LGQBT families fell short of their racial equity commitments. They could have focused on LGQBT families of color to target their efforts even more. Focusing their efforts into Pride month also stops short of realizing LGQBT families don’t stop being LGQBT once Pride month is over, a more enriching experience would be creating welcoming environments and ensuring their regular programming allows for diversity to shine through all year long. Finally, the drag queen storytime—come on! Can we move past perpetuating stereotypes? I don’t have anything against drag queens, seriously I don’t, but having a drag queen storytime be the capstone of Pride month doesn’t create an enriching environment where children feel like they have a normal cultural experience.

A culturally enhancing experience would have been having books and program on LGQBT experiences readily available all year long. Having LGQBT staff of color working within the program, creating relationships with the LGQBT families of color and listening to what sort of programing they want to see, and embracing. Partnering with the LGQBT community to hear what programs and experiences they want to have and making adjustments to help provide these experiences. Some may feel differently and I welcome dialogue around this.

Culturally Enhancing
We can do so much better than just being competent.  We can do better than hanging red lanterns and celebrating the heroes and holidays, we need to create spaces where people can be their best selves. Closing opportunity gaps, turning the tide on global warming, stopping youth violence, and all of our other world problems means we have to be open to new ideas and we get those new ideas by creating environments where everyone is included and brings their best selves. Culturally enhancing programs look like this:

  • We invite people of color in and partner with them to create an experience where they see themselves reflected and valued. This means we open doors and share leadership and resources to allow people of color to create a culture that is embraces and honors communities of color.
  • We center our work in communities of color and allow people of color to control the agenda.
  • We move beyond stereotypes and surface level comments. We need to disrupt and shift the dominant narrative to include communities of color.

So what do all of those fancy words mean? It means we adapt and make things relevant to communities of color by centering our work in their experiences. It means we work to creating relationships where people of color feel and are valued and included and an equal partner in the work that is needed.

Yesterday, after my coalition meeting a white educator attendee stopped me at the door.  As we talked she said “this is one of the few meetings where space is intentionally created to be welcoming.”
Because our coalition focuses on race, culture, and the wealth found in communities of color we are creating something different, a more enriching experience for everyone, especially people of color. It was so nice to hear a positive comment affirming our focus on race and equity.

Posted by Erin

W.A.I.T. – Why Am I Talking?

8283288I learned a brilliant new acronym W.A.I.T. – Why Am I Talking? So many times I want to yell this in meetings, but restrain myself because I know it would be rude and then I would have to ask myself the same question “why are you yelling about talking?”

Often times we are expected and paid to talk. In the nonprofit, government, and philanthropic worlds we are expected to share our thoughts, advocate for communities, ask others to think about different angles, or at the very least ask a question about the topic to prove we’re paying attention and not thinking about the latest episode of House of Cards.

Yet, in talking we have to ask who are representing and are we the best ones to speak about a particular viewpoint or community. This is a question we should ask ourselves often. Are we speaking about a topic because we are ‘centered’ in the work or is our speaking up detracting from others. We should ‘pass the mic’ to others because they are closer to the topic and the most impacted by a disparity.

Pass the Mic Please
Recently Macklemore, a rapper, released a new song about white privilege. He’s gotten a lot of attention and accolades for talking about race and his place as a white man in the music scene. Others have criticized him for not ‘passing the mic’ to a person of color and using his influence to elevate the voices of other rappers and musicians of color. Is he aiding the cause or using his position of influence to take attention away from others. Could he use his influence to help launch an artist of color career instead of publishing a song that benefits mostly himself? Like Macklemore we have to ask ourselves these same questions in government, nonprofit, and community work.

In the nonprofit world we are rewarded for being in the room and speaking up. We are paid for bringing people together to help solve problems. We are in the middle, we are closer to the community and hopefully trusted by the community to understand what is happening and what is needed, but why are we talking and should we speak?

So… Why Am I Talking? Is What I Have to Say Interesting or Noise?
Several colleagues have shared stories of organizations and agencies that claimed to speak for communities of color but aren’t from communities of color. A colleague who is a leader of color took a meeting with a white advocate who claims to champion equity. As they talked over lunch, a rift emerged over what the term ‘equitable funding’ meant to both of them. As lunch continued the rift widened and became a chasm. Their definitions of equity were very different, my colleague believing in racial equity the other person believing more in equality AND she believed she had more of a right to speak about equity because of her experiences growing up poor and her ability to mobilize (via the internet) passionate ‘allies’ to testify and speak out on ‘equity issues.’ Is this new organization adding substance to the conversation about equity or is it adding noise and taking away from communities of color? Can they ‘pass the mic’ back to communities of color who are organized and already understand equity? The other group can take on another topic or be a good ally and support someone else’s agenda.

Another friend shared a story about leading a conversation about racial disparities and using data to show the gaps between people of color and whites in different sectors (e.g. environment, education, health, workforce, etc.). Midway through the conversation a white person took over the conversation to talk about how she felt the conversation was one-sided and the data wasn’t fair because she isn’t like other white people – she grew up poor and comes from a religious minority. Essentially the person hijacked the agenda and turned the meeting into a support group for herself thus taking the attention away from the important work of looking at racial disparities. My friend empathized her but it would have been helpful if she talked about the data and waited until after the meeting to focus on her feelings and process her feelings around race.

It is important for people and organizations to speak and to use our voices to amplify messages of racial equity. Speaking out about racism and dialoguing about race breaks down barriers and helps us understand one another, but we need to use our voices appropriately and in ways that elevates and supports people of color and those most impacted by disparities.

Think Before We Speak
As you W.A.I.T. to speak think about these questions:

  • Ask yourself why, why are you talking? Is what I have to say interesting, it is helpful, is it genuine or are you repeating what a person of color has already said? Are you pushing your own agenda versus amplifying the voices of communities of color?
  • Is your definition of equity the same as how communities of color define equity? When co
    mmunities of color say equity, we often mean racial equity, not equality, or worse investment equity. If it isn’t the same then don’t talk about equity, talk about your agenda and why it is important to you—but DO NOT evoke equity or I will hunt you down and buzzer you every time you misuse the word equity.
  • Can someone closer to the community or the movement speak more authentically than you? We need to use our positions and networks to open doors and close the gaps between policymakers, funders, and others who can influence decisions and the community– others can tell their own stories.
  • Ask yourself “If I must speak am I adding to the conversation or am I processing my own crap about race?” We all have to learn about race and sometimes we need to talk it out, but save that for happy hour and not the middle of a meeting.

Thank you to colleagues from Coalition of Communities of Color for sharing the acronym W.A.I.T. I think I’ve E.L.M.O. (enough, let’s move on) it thoroughly and ready to move to the next topic to blog about. 

Posted by Erin Okun

Lunar New Year- “Ally Organizations” See Your Fortune Here!

Happy Lunar New Year! The Fakequity team sends you well-wishes during the Chinese Year of the Fire Monkey. For many this is a time of the year where we look at our Chinese animal horoscopes and plan for the year ahead. Depending on the website you read you may either get a glowing prediction for the year or something draconian such as “If you are born in the year of the Horse you better buckle down and work hard because the year of the Monkey brings unexpected changes and you’ll lose all your money.”

We give you the Fakequity “Ally Organization” Lunar New Year Horoscope, or maybe it is Fakequity Horrorscope. Think of the wheel like the traditional 12 animals of the Chinese Horoscope. If your organizational practices fall into one of these Fakequity “Ally Organization” categories your fortune will be shown to you. The predictions are just predictions; will you and your organization fall victim to the prediction or work towards determining your own racial equity minded destiny? Your organization’s year is in your hands. The fortunes can be mitigated if you do the hard work of engaging with the community, using a racial equity lens, centering work in communities of color, continuing to learn about race and equity, and calling out fakequity.

Being a genuine racial equity ally organization is challenging, and the Fakequity team hopes that these predictions open up conversations for ally organizations to recognize and then quickly work to change (or avoid) some of these typical fakequity ally organizational practices. Missteps and challenges are part of this work, and because ally organizations are closer to power and control the (unintentional) blunders feel especially painful, and actually continue to uphold systems of racial inequity. While these predictions are focused on racial equity ally organizations, they can also be applied to other equity areas.

The predictions brought to you by Heidi S. of Equity Matters, Dr. Christine N. (who has a knack at reconfiguring words and serves as an honorary member of the Fakequity team), CiKeithia, and Erin. Leave a comment and tell us what you think of your predictions. If you would like a PDF emailed to you please contact fakequity@gmail.com.


Beyond Checking the Box


Beyond Checking the Box

In community outreach and engagement work, nothing invokes the concept of “Fakequity” more than when agencies (government and nonprofit) do it just to “check the box.”

While many agencies have gotten better and more intentional in outreach and engagement of low-income refugees, immigrants and communities of color – it’s astounding how much they still miss the mark by only seeking to mark that box.

Many agencies still do engagement with half-effort tactics such as inaccessible meetings; short or no timely community notice; translation/interpretation without context and support; duplicative surveying; online-only or email outreach; no follow through and more.

Whether for good PR (that photo opp!), appeasing a higher-up or positioning oneself for funding – to do half-assed community outreach and engagement just to be able to say that you did it is ultimately a waste of time and resources; and a detriment to building authentic community relationships based on trust, respect and self-determination.

The need for agencies to do better inclusive outreach and engagement is to ensure communities are educated, have access to and utilize public services; and where feedback, implementation; leadership and decision-making mechanisms exist to shape the policies and services designed to serve impacted communities.

As there are so many great grassroots organizations and agencies that do this work well, these recommendations really serve more like a “reminder” for opportunities to improve in these practices:

  • Successful engagement makes genuine efforts to maximize social-cultural opportunities to civic participation.Accessible locations; cultural competent technical support with translation, interpretation and facilitation; food, childcare and transportation are some examples of how to maximize participation from low-income refugees, immigrants and communities of color. Timely notice of opportunities for involvement and participation can’t be emphasized enough. Depending on the nature and urgency of the project, I’ve always tried to ensure that my outreach workers have 1.5-2 months to do their work with communities of color in-language for multicultural events. Understandably, there are urgent issues that come up short notice but it’s always a good rule of thumb to give advance notice as possible when attempting to gather diverse community members. Convenings should also be accessible in culturally familiar locations where communities feel more comfortable and at-home to enhance participation – specifically where communities live, work, play, worship, etc. such as a church, mosque, or frequented restaurant/business. Beyond translation and interpretation, limited English speaking (LES) communities often still need additional support to understand technical language and topics. Outreach workers that facilitate discussion in-language and transliterate feedback are critical to engaging LES communities.
  • Do the due diligent research and coordination on whether communities have already been engaged on that particular issue. I was recently reviewing grant applications for a foundation funding policy organizing and a few that I read proposed community engagement efforts to do a community survey on… housing. A topic that’s pretty much been surveyed to death. The fact that there is a local housing crisis and displacement (direct and indirect) is rampant shows the need for more action and implementation versus repetitive surveys. Contact other agencies and collect/coordinate whatever data and feedback was already received on that service or policy. Synthesize past feedback and develop strategies and solutions to use in your next survey or focus group to “check-in” with the community on whether those strategies resonate and can realistically arrive at solutions. This makes people feel that they were heard and that action steps and solutions are being developed to move forward in the process.
  • Report back, follow-up and follow through. Similar to the frustration of repetitive engagement – a huge peeve is when agencies never follow up on the status or results of what was done with the feedback. Or don’t follow-through on a request or action item. It’s this cycle of inaction that further disillusions communities from participating in surveys, focus groups or community meetings and advocacy. A must-do when executing a community engagement plan is to always build in time post-engagement and advocacy for reporting back to community members. Use the names and contact information collected (hopefully you did and you should if you didn’t) during engagement to reach them and inform them on the status, next steps or results of their participation.  The simple action of hearing back from an agency and knowing what was done with their feedback or how their participation made an impact shows respect for that person’s time, builds trust and a deeper commitment to civic engagement.

These “reminders” and recommendations are no means exhaustive and this list can be lengthy. Community engagement is about getting out there, getting to know people, listening, hearing, taking action and following through. The individuals that you talk to are not going to be your first and last point of engagement so make that effort to foster and grow that connection. Above and beyond community engagement, it’s always about building relationships and supporting spaces where impacted communities lead and self-define the types of services and policies that they benefit from; and implement in partnership with other agencies and institutions.

Posted by Cherry Cayabyab