Why we Need to Stop Using the Word Minority


Pride Asia Event in Seattle, photo by Erin O.

Before we share this week’s post, I want to say Happy Pride Week in Seattle. This year’s theme is The Future of Pride, a fitting theme.

I’m writing on a plane heading home from a week in Boston. It was a great week, even with the East Coast dress code (no slippas and Aloha shirts) and bias against West Coast time difference (7.00 a.m. start times– brutal). I spent the week with about a hundred talented and brilliant people from various sectors, working to make their cities great. One of the most interesting parts of the trip was hearing how people talked about their communities and the different problems different communities face. There is a whole blog post about how our problems are all the same and different, but that one will come at a later time. Being in Boston with peers from across the nation highlighted the differences in language we use and subtleties of perspectives.

In my writing and speaking I use the term ‘people of color,’ or abbreviated to PoC or if I’m lazy poc. Language changes and evolves over time. Just a few years ago we used the term minority to refer to what are now known as people of color, or one or two generations before my grandparents were called Jap as a commonly accepted to reference to Japanese, now it is a derogatory term. We need to pay attention to language and how it is used and preferred by communities of color.

To read about the history of the term people of color, here is Wikipedia’s page. No term is perfect and the term people of color has a history some may agree with and others will disagree with. That said it is still time to stop using the term minority and currently the popular term of choice is people of color. Until our language evolves again I want to see us phase out minority in favor of a people centered approach.

Stop Saying Minority
Throughout the week I heard people use the word minority to refer to people of color. I also saw people give me puzzled looks or a raised eyebrow when I said people of color versus minority. Language changes across regions and sectors, and we need to stop using the term minority no matter where we live, work, or play.

The word minority is problematic. At one time there might have been a minority group, as in fewer people of color, but those trends are rapidly changing. Across the nation few communities are untouched by demographic shifts – let’s face it our cities and communities are becoming more diverse and our language has to shift as well.

Quickly people of color are becoming the majority, hence the term minority no longer fits. Some call it a Majority Minority, which is ironic like the former Starbucks campaign #RaceTogether (get it, if we’re racing we’re not together). In the 2014-15 school year Seattle Public Schools students of color made up fifty-four percent of the student count. Schools are often a harbinger of change in our cities. The term minority does not adequately capture the changing student count, nor the collective need to shift educational experiences for children of color. It also doesn’t acknowledge the growing family base and collective base we have in communities.

The word minority denotes a minority or smaller status. As a person of color I’m not smaller nor  lesser than another; I may be shorter but my voice has equal status. I have the same rights as others in my community, not more or less but equal. The term minority is pejorative; we do not need to justify our status or make ourselves smaller to fill a label.

People of color are the majority or will quickly become the majority locally and nationally. As such we need to recognize the collective power and diversity in our joined experiences. The term people of color or communities of colors puts the emphasis back on people and communities. The term minority allows us to fall into an amorphous blob of otherness; we cease to be people and communities. In many ways we fall into the background.

We are In this Together – We need to Be a Majority
Changing language from minority to people of color also needs to include the notion of we are in this together. As people of color we are the majority and we need to support each other. We need to work together and build coalitions that push for change as coordinated ‘people.’ We need to do the cross-cultural and cross-sector and cross-cause work to be united.

Moving from a minority status into a majority count gives us a greater presence and a greater need to be seen as a unified voice and support for each other. As an example Heidi shared the words of Sonja Basha, a speaker at the Seattle Orlando Shooting Vigil: “The Muslim community and the LGBTQ community are not separate; we mourn together. I am Muslim, I am queer and I exist. The fact that I exist does not erase the fact that you exist.” Our existence together will bring greater prosperity to all, it also slows down or stops divide and conquer strategies to separate us by racial and ethnic groups, sexual identity status, or to be ‘othered’ in other labels.

Heidi also points out “Even in ‘majority minority’ school districts or cities, people of color may be the numeric ‘majority’ in the community, student and family population, but it is highly unlikely that they are the ‘majority’ of the power holders; teachers, administrators, school board members, funders, etc. This plays into the false dominant society narrative that we are all ‘equal’ in power, or will have the exact same experience if people of color held majority of leadership positions on a board or in an organization.”

Language Makes a Difference
Language makes a difference in how we see ourselves and how we see each other. One of the lessons I re-learned this week is how language helps to frame problems and helps us understand problems and see solutions. How we identify and frame a problem the labels we attach to it can positively or negatively frame a problem.

The collective term people of color doesn’t take away from our individual races and ethnicities. In my interpretation it doesn’t dismiss our histories or individual cultures as African American or Black or Latinx or Asian Pacific Islander or Native American or Mixed Race or however you choose to identify. It is a way to say collectively we matter and we collectively want to see an end to institutional and systemic racism. The term people of color is meant to say as poc we have shared experiences not common to whites, which sometimes involves racism, power grabs, or the reverse beautiful and joyful experiences because of our cultures and communities. Put another way, my experiences as a Asian-Japanese American adds to the collective experiences of being seen as a Person of Color, there are many times when I want to be part of the collective and to share in the joys and the heartaches.

When we speak with honor and acknowledgment for people of color and use language that sees us as people we are seen and heard. As Heidi wrote about last week in talking about love and emotions in our work, language can either evoke love or be used to tear us apart. Let’s choose to use language that sees us as people, communities, and in positive ways.

For some interesting videos on race and what people are saying check out these videos by The Seattle Times: Under Our Skin.

Posted by Erin Okuno, with liberal quoting from Heidi Schillinger

Love is a feeling. Love is a choice. Love is action.

3918713The Fakequity team wants to acknowledge the horrific mass killings at the Pulse Gay Nightclub in Orlando earlier this week. 49 mostly Queer and Trans People of Color, and disproportionately Latinx (with nearly half with ties to Puerto Rico) lives were taken. Too many lives have forever been affected by this unimaginable and preventable event. Let us remember their names, lives, memories, and the preciousness of space where people can be their whole, uncensored selves. We also want to support our Muslim friends and family who during this holy month of Ramadan, are yet again being targeted, ‘othered,’ and asked to bear the burden of the actions of one individual who professed to share their faith. And, for our queer and trans Muslim friends, we want you to know we see you. In the words of Sonja Basha, the speaker at the Seattle Vigil on Sunday, “The Muslim community and the LGBTQ community are not separate; we mourn together. I am Muslim, I am queer and I exist. The fact that I exist does not erase the fact that you exist.”

Erin told me no one is going to read a blog post on love. This is one time I really hope she is wrong. The odds are probably in Erin’s favor. Love, and emotions in general, don’t seem to be a hot topic in dominant society racial equity conversations. Most people I work with want a framework, definition, tools, practices, and data. In fact, I can’t ever recall someone asking me to support them in exploring love, emotional connections, or empathy. But really, aren’t emotions the real fuel for our racial and social justice work, even for white allies?

This post about love is a reminder to myself to stop intellectualizing everything and embrace the emotional parts for this work. I had been thinking about writing this post before the mass murders in Orlando. But that horrendous event served as yet another, too frequent reminder that we need really figure out how to move our racial justice work forward with more of a sense of urgency. Maybe more than urgency, I have been thinking that it is a sense of love and connection that is really missing from my work.

For people who know me, writing about love is a little (ok, a lot) out of character. I’m not usually one to talk about emotions. Not to get too personal (I guess if we are talking about love we really should be getting personal), but I really think one of the ways I’ve dealt with issues related to my being adopted has been to shut down and try to “control” all my feelings. It is easier to intellectualize an understanding of the choices that my biological mom/family made, rather than to feel the sadness, anger, and rejection. Those feelings suck, and I’ve been socialized to not be the “ungrateful adoptee.” I’ve been socialized well and “rewarded” for controlling my feelings and make things more “comfortable” for people in power.

But the question that has been keeping me up at night, is at what cost? What has been the personal cost of suppressing emotions in my work? What has been the cost to people of color? Even, what has been the cost for white people? Have I been upholding systems of racism by not working to bring the emotional, often messy parts of this work into dominant society spaces? Sometimes, I want to make excuses that as a women of color, my presence in those spaces is tenuous at best and bringing up emotions such as love is the quickest way to get shown the door. While there is probably some truth to that feeling, it should not be the excuse or pass that I use to exempt myself from digging into this hard, uncomfortable work.

So these are some of the commitments I am striving to integrate into my life and work.

Love is a Feeling
I want to remember love is a feeling. Love is about caring, connection, and empathy. Love as a feeling means I am connected to people impacted by racism (and other oppressions). If we are working toward educational racial equity/justice, our work will be much more meaningful, real, and urgent when we are actually emotionally connected in our everyday work. It is easy to criticize others, but I know many people doing work around racial equity who don’t have appear to have meaningful, real, and authentic relationships with people of color. How can we be working together for racial justice when we are not even connected and we are not really even talking with each other? I am just as guilty of living in a bubble, and am committed to working harder to build intentional relationships with people impacted at the intersection of racism and classism.

My partner sums up love as a feeling much more eloquently; she is the feeler in our family.

“When we think of Love we usually equate it to romantic love, the butterflies, the euphoria, the pangs in the pit of our stomach feeling. It is the one feeling that makes us feel like we can do pretty much anything, be better, care more for someone else other than ourselves. That is an amazing and powerful source of energy and motivation. Best of all, it’s free and there is no limit. You can’t buy it, sell it or steal it, but we all need it and we all have the capacity to give it to each other. Many people try to complicate the concept of love, but really it is just a feeling and a need. It is a feeling that is felt when our need for empathy, compassion and tolerance is being met. This formula can be applied to any type of relationship whether it is between lovers, family members, friends, colleagues, strangers or even sworn enemies. 

Love is the foundation for any relationship to thrive and survive because it connects us on the most biological primitive level. I challenge you to find a human being who would ever refuse to be accepted, understood or cared for in some way. If we make efforts to contribute to someone else’s needs knowing that we also have the same exact needs, imagine the all the possibilities of making our communities and our world a better place for everyone. No wars ever started from giving or receiving love. We reap what we sow, so start planting new seeds of compassion and tolerance for one another.”

Love is a Choice
I want to remember love is a choice. These are three choices I want to commit to making in my work.

Love is a choice to embrace discomfort. This means embracing the difficult feelings and along with the happy ones. The impact of racism is not pretty or happy, or even intellectual. It is emotional, messy, traumatic, and sometimes murderous. If we are doing our work through the true human connection of love, we have to be willing to embrace all the experiences, and not just pick and choose the happy or controlled ones.

Love is a choice to slow down. Earlier today I was locking up my bike in Little Saigon, and smiled at a guy walking past. He then stopped, smiled back, and stuck out his hand and introduced himself. That moment of slowing down almost scared me. But it was a magical moment of connection that ended up being the highlight of my busy day. So many times, I work with people who refuse to slow down. How can we make any significant or real changes to our work, if we are unwilling to slow down?

Love is a choice to NOT make it all about me. I recently watched a video called, “What Our Movement Can Learn from Penguins.” It shows how penguins take turns being on the inside and outside of a circle to keep the whole group warm. I love this idea that sometimes I need to take my turn on the outside for the greater good of the whole community. I, too often, encounter people of privilege who have a hard time taking their turn on the outside. When you’ve always been warm and comfortable it can feel awkward to take a turn on the outside. Almost like a script, the moment people of color begin to tell their truth, there are usually one or two (or more) white people who start saying they feel uncomfortable or attacked. This is that moment you need to make a choice to take your turn on the outside of the circle. For me, although I identify as a queer person of color, this moment after Orlando the Latinx LGBTQ community really needs to be at the center of our responses, along with the Muslim community, and Muslim LGBTQ community.

Love is an Action
Finally, I want to remember love is action. Real and concrete action that is connected to love.

In the wise words of Erin, “hashtags and social media posts don’t change the world, they bring attention but we need people to turn the sentiment into action. Policy and systems change lead to bigger changes than just hearts and sympathy. And, policy work in absence of relationship and love is meaningless. Relationships have a component of love in them, whether love for the person we are working with or love for the community we are working to support. Love is important for sustaining our work. It gives context and truth to the work. Love also holds us responsible to each other.”

  • Love as an action is knowing real names that connect with the numbers we collect.
  • Love as an action is calling your elected representative about gun control.
  • Love as an action is correcting people when they say Orlando is the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, because it ignores our nation’s violent, racist past.
  • Love as an action is being an accomplice more than an ally in word only.
  • Love as an action is giving blood.
  • Love as an action is speaking from a place of love.
  • Love as an action is supporting and cultivating spaces where people can be their whole selves.
  • Love as an action is financially giving to organizations led by people of color and rooted in communities of color, such as Entre Hermanos and Noor.

What does your love in action look like?

The next time you see me, ask me how I am doing on my commitments to love.

Posted by Heidi, with support and contributions from Dr. Christine and Erin

$100 Million Competition, equity or fakequity?

8755593_orig$100-million is an impressive number. It gets attention, has lots of zeroes and the imagination starts rolling when asked how to spend that amount of money. The MacArthur Foundation (the same people who give us an impressive list of Geniuses every year, a.k.a. the list that makes us feel like slackers) is hosting a competition asking people how they would spend that much to solve a social problem. It is great to see the foundation using their funds and not hoarding them. Now the question is will the this project embed the principles of equity into the project or are they going for sensationalism and a media splash?

What is $100-million and Change?
$100-million is a lot of money, like a lot. To give some perspective $100,000,000 could buy:

  • 177 houses at $560,000 (the median house price in Seattle)
  • 5,376 Honda Fit (sticker price is $18,600, I would know since I’m sitting at a Honda shop waiting for my car to be fixed) maybe a few less when you add in taxes, fees, and a few car floor mats
  • Fund a small organization ($200,000) for 500 years, maybe 400 years if we account for inflation

Does anyone really need 177 houses, 5,376 cars, or to be funded for 500 years? Guessing no so can we make sure the money is put to better equitable use. According to the MacArthur Foundation’s 100andchange.org website they want proposals to be bold in looking at social problems and what is needed to create social change. They are also opening it to any problem versus sticking to the fields they normally fund, one news article said this is to help expose them to new ideas from different fields. And they are clear this is a competition, they will hold another competition in three years. It is all very ambitious, news worthy, and I wonder can we get an equitable outcome out of a project proposal and design like this?

My organization probably won’t be competing for and as a result we won’t win anyway, so let’s start dissecting it for fakequity.

Who will apply or compete? We don’t know what to do with $100,000,000.
After the announcement came out I shared it with a few colleagues, if I’m not competing I might as well try to convince others to do so in the chance they win and I can be rich by proximity. Sadly, I doubt anyone I know will apply, and here is why.

We don’t know what to do with $100,000,000. Seriously, when I heard about the amount I couldn’t figure out what to do with that much money. I like money, my organization needs money to keep going and when I worked in philanthropy I liked to give out money. That said I know my organization can’t ethically or responsibly handle an influx of $100,000,000 in the near future. Small organizations who are doing important work and are scraping by would benefit from some transformative funding, but really this amount is so big many small organizations working in communities couldn’t handle a grant of that size.

Several of us on the Fakequity team are taking bets on who will compete and win. Top of the list are large universities and colleges, non-profits that operate more like consulting firms or think tanks, or medical research organizations. I’m not saying larger organizations aren’t racially equitable, I am saying often times organizations working closer to communities most impacted by disparities often understand problems differently and they are often smaller and closer to communities.

Several smaller size grants would be more inclusive of organizations who are doing important work, but not ready to take on $100-million. Right sizing a grant for community’s size and growth is an important way of acknowledging where communities are starting from and need different resources. As Heidi asked for who’s comfort is the $100-million (or really any grant) chosen? Is it for the comfort of the foundation who has to administer the grant or for the recipient? In this case it is for the comfort of the MacArthur Foundation who is trying to be bold and encourage others to be bold with them. One can argue boldness can be found in something as little as $500 or less.

Also thinking about the amount will make the winner a target for criticism. Many will start to question how they re using the funds and if it will be used for good or to perpetuate tired old systems. People will also start showing up with open hands asking for funding.

The list of judges is impressive, like unicorns but nicer and real. I hope they are working in small teams in different parts of the country and using technology to score applications since I don’t want them all in the same place, too many smart equity minds can’t be together in case there is an earthquake.

That said the judges panel is missing age and possibly sexual identity diversity. It is obvious the organizers paid attention to diversity of experience/professions and sectors, race, and gender balance. However, the average age of those listed has to be at least 45-50ish. Often times there is at least a token youth on panels; tokenizing is a whole different problem for a different blog post.

Heidi and I were talking about how cool it would be to have a beer with the judges since they are all distinguished and have long lists of accomplishments behind their names. As we were talking I mentioned I am fine with panels looking a certain way as long as it is called out. If the organizers were purposefully stacking the judging deck for expertise call it for what it is – “Panel of Elders,” (someone will hate I just called them an elder, but let’s face it you earned the right to be an elder), “Judges of Distinction and Accomplishment,” or “Grandeur Jury of Distinction.”

Language Matters
Language in these types of competitions and request for proposals matters. CiKeithia noted the 100andchange.org website is English only, which automatically screens out a huge portion of potential applicants and by virtue ideas from limited or non-English speaking people.

I understand how much harder it is to make information accessible in additional languages. The process slows down and more people are involved because you need translators and editors to ensure the translations are correct. But what you gain is access to a different community that may have the winning idea to ‘fix’ a problem. Using translators and editors also help to ensure the cultural nuances of a project are correctly identified.

Savior Complex
This grant is dripping with a savior complex, people swooping in to solve a problem, maybe not even their problem. Part of racial equity work is acknowledging that communities and people of color often know the solutions to our problems, but need resources, access, and allies or accomplices to support the cause. Communities of color don’t need people to swoop in with money to fix something only to leave after a few months to years. We need partners, allies, and accomplices who will be with us for the long haul and use their positions to influence systems changes.

I hope the $100-million scorers will place a priority and award points to applicants who work withcommunities to solve problems, not do things to them to solve a problem.

Quick Tips and a Re-Cap– Many of these are applicable to anyone running a selection process
Right size your grants and expectations – Yes to being bold and fully funding proposals, but also recognize some of the best solutions may not need an unrealistic infusion of cash.

Diversity comes in many forms—Racial diversity is important because race is a proxy for acknowledging different people have different experiences. When we only pay attention to racial diversity we may miss other forms of diversity such as age, sector, geographic, etc.

Language—Translation and interpretation services open up projects to people with limited- to no -English language skills. Language also includes using cultural brokers to help explain a project and create buy-in.

Savior Complex—Put away the ‘We can solve your problem mentality.” Let’s solve problems together.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Are We Stuck in the Past? Finding Joy in Letting Go, and Adding a Little Salt Along the Way

One of the benefits of sitting through high quality racial equity sessions/trainings is hearing new perspectives on race. At a training my colleague Melia shared this quote: “People are trapped in our history, and our history is trapped in us.” James Baldwin. This quote resonated with her and invited us to reflect on what it means to each of us. As we shared what the quote meant to us, it was interesting to hear different perspectives. I thought about a project Heidi and I collaborated on. We pulled historical documents around race and education in Seattle and used it to frame a conversation around race relations and educational equity today. We asked attendees to caucus by race and to analyze the past. The conversation showed we are having the same conversations around education and race, except with different language, no longer Orientals or Negros, now Asians and African Americans, University of Washington “Minority Students Feel Alienated from Campus,” and so on.

Our Histories Inform How we See the World427523
How we see the world is informed by our personal histories, our community’s history, and the historical narratives we listen to. This means our biases, our networks, our comforts and discomforts are shaped by our histories. As an example, I grew up in Hawaii and one of the reasons I am unable, or maybe I should fess up and say unwilling, to commit to vegetarianism is my love of “local-kine” food, especially SPAM. I grew up eating SPAM and to this day think of it as a treat. My history of SPAM eating, is already passed down to my kids who love a good SPAM musubi. For me expressing my culture and history are interlaced with food, and my taste buds seem to have a bias for SPAM triggering the reward center of my brain.

These histories and legacies inform how we see and think about our work. We all have biases and preferences, in many ways these biases and preferences keep us alive–they help us form communities, keep us away from danger, and keep our brains from becoming overwhelmed with data and inputs. But as we grow in our racial equity work we need to acknowledge our biases and consciously work to change. Biases don’t make us good or bad people, we all have biases. When we are aware of them we can work harder to see past our natural tendencies and be more open to receiving new information.

A Table of Leaders — Diverse but Not Diverse
Not too long ago Heidi and I went to a racial equity conference. Heidi noticed how many of the speakers, especially the ethnic commissioners are all men. I noticed how few times Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and Asians were included in the panel and stage conversations. All of the speakers are leaders and deserved to be heard, but when we don’t unpack our biases we fail to challenge ourselves to think differently and purposefully reprogram ourselves and our work to be more inclusive. This is how history repeats itself and why we stay stuck.

Our work around racial equity is about shaking up the status quo and challenging ourselves to think differently, then working to change systems. We can’t just say “well, that sucks,” and leave it at that. We need to say “that really sucks for [fill in the blank – important to personalize the work], and this is what I’m going to do.” Before we do something or try to fix a problem we need to pause and acknowledge the histories and viewpoints contributing to the problems at hand. I know some are going to say “dude, we spend soooooo much time re-hashing histories, can we move on?” The answer is yes, but we still need to acknowledge how we got here and not let it paralyze us. We need to pay attention to the past so we can create new solutions and hopefully screw up less for the next generation of leaders.

How Do We Change?
Change is a conscious decision. We need to want to change. If you like where you are at and comfortable and don’t want to change, then don’t even attempt to do racial equity work. Seriously, do us all a favor and skip the ‘mandatory’ equity trainings hosted by your organization, stay in your bubble and be content. Change and moving away from what we know is hard and takes a lot of energy. The benefits of changing can be received if you want to, but it means moving past being content and comfortable.

Changing means letting go, like KonMaring your house (the en vogue Japanese way of cleaning and tidying). In the KonMari method you hold each object and ask yourself “does this bring me joy?” If yes you may keep it, if no then it is time to release it. In the KonMari method Marie Kondo (the creator and genesis behind this cult-like cleaning method) says we must honor the spirit of an item, in this case we should acknowledge how our histories and the past have anchored us, shaped our thinking, and now it is time to KonMari a thought/practice/or way of being to make room for new ways. In Japan and in the KonMari method she sprinkles salt on old socks as a way to release the spirit and essence. You may sprinkle salt to release the spirit of an old object or thought holding you back. Go ahead and find an old survey where you only got 2% return rate from people of color and say “thank you for trying survey, it wasn’t your fault for the crappy return rate we had some inequitable practices we are letting go of now,” sprinkle salt and delete. Don’t really sprinkle salt on your keyboard, maybe have a margarita on the side as you KonMari and put the salt there, or in my case a SPAM musubi full-sodium.

Bonus Reading and Viewing
TED Talk: How to overcome your biases, walk boldly toward them, by Vernā Myers
TED Talk: Why I love a country that once betrayed me, by George Takei
Kissing Your Socks Goodbye, Home Organization Advice from Marie Kondo, NY Times