The Week a Bad Thing Happened, and the Good that Came After, and the Challenge for the Week that Follows

Earlier this week I was mugged; I’m fine – a little buss’ up, but fine. I won’t go into the details since they don’t really matter. What matters is the ‘equity story’ that comes out of it. Heidi (of the fakequity team) suggested sharing the story because it happened and the story didn’t end with “I was mugged.”

One Incident in One Place
I was mugged on a gorgeous sunny March afternoon on a route I travel often. My neighborhood is great, we have our good and we have our challenges. I love being able to walk to the park, the library, grab a bite to eat at the local Mexican, Vietnamese, or 9198231Chinese restaurants or a sweet from the Japanese, or Filipino bakeries. I love seeing the new affordable housing going up a half-mile from my house. I loved hearing from a colleague how a neighboring community is embracing a tent city that is moving in. At their community meeting instead of “we don’t want homeless here,” or “we’re worried about crime, trash, intoxication and drugs” as happened in other neighborhoods, the community’s biggest concern was “How do we get the [tent city] residents hot water? They need hot water!” Taken all together these are the things that define the character of my community. While it is true my neighborhood probably has a higher crime rate, higher poverty, and lower  education and health outcomes, do they define us – no. We don’t excuse the crime and we work hard to build stronger communities rooted and glued by culture, diversity, and relationships.

In racial equity work we have to remember one incident or one story doesn’t define a community. It is easy to think what we hear and see on Facebook, in the news, in rap songs, or hear from friends of friends is true. If I believed what I read on Facebook from our neighborhood group I would think my neighborhood is overrun by crime, off-leash dogs, and new houses (code for gentrification). I’d also believe everyone in my neighborhood was English literate, since US social media is predominately English based – I know this isn’t true and it is evident whenever I’m out grocery shopping, at the library, or in a school.

Writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” I’m not sharing details of the robbery because I don’t want to perpetuate stereotypes of my neighborhood, Asian victims (for the record I don’t think I’m a ‘victim’), or the person who robbed me. These details are for me to know and for me to process my own biases against and challenge myself to redefine. Stereotypes, biases, and incomplete stories are antithetical to racial equity work, they allow racism and injustice to continue. Instead we need to do the harder work of digging in and spending time building strong relationships that can question stereotypes and push us to evaluate the stories we tell ourselves.

Relationships First
I’ve been fairly open about being mugged. It happened, it sucked, and I needed a few things from my community such as – if you saw my purse dumped please let me know, if you needed to reach me use email since I didn’t have a phone, and I lost my wallet so lunch was on you. The response I got back was amazing. Friends, neighbors, and colleagues have been great. They sent messages checking in, a friend made me laugh when she correctly noted the robbers were probably disappointed to find random gummy bears in my former purse, and offers to help replace lost items. At some point I will return these favors, because I want to and because this is how we do things– we take care of each other, not because of a quid pro quo formula. Community building and racial equity work happens quickest and best when we spend the upfront time building personal relationships.

My Challenge and Your Challenge
My scrapes and bruises are still there, but will eventually go away. I can thank my friends for ensuring my headspace is fine. I’m fine because I had a strong community around me who made sure I was taken care of. Now they can worry about others.

Who I am worried about are the kids, overwhelmingly kids of color, in our community that slip through systems. I’m worried about the immigrants who may be a victim of a crime but may not report it because of a language barrier or they don’t feel they can trust government. I worry about families who are stressed about housing, food, and medical cost and as a result their children feel the stress. I worry about the little and big things that allow racism to continue. These are the stressors that also define our community.

My challenge and your challenge is to get our racial equity work right. We have to take care of each other AND we need to extend ourselves to take care of someone else we may not know or easily see. Challenge yourself to call out racism. Challenge yourself to analyze a piece of data and figure out who’s story and what story is it telling. Make a new relationship or invest in a community different than your own. Maybe these steps will help a kid, especially a child of color, feel connected, stay in school, and be more securely rooted—for me this is what equity work is about. Be safe and thanks for all you do.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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