Whose in Power and Power Racial Equity Rangers

soupThe 1990s and 2000s were all about diversity efforts. Diversity committees were as common as Seinfeld references or Power Rangers for the Millennials. Somewhere along the way people realized diversifying organizations wasn’t enough and added the term diversity and inclusion. Today we are recognizing inclusion isn’t enough, we have to pay attention to power and call out power dynamics.

Power shows up in many different ways, the basic concept is who is in control. Such as who is in control of the agenda, who’s speaking and not speaking, who is in control of money and resources, who controls decision making. Power is all around us – such as right now at home I have the power of the remote control and I want to watch Grey’s Anatomy, not Frozen for the 600 time.

The Numbers
Recently, I was at a meeting with many notable community leaders of color. At one point I did the silent count, the one that always happens – how many pocs are in the room, it is something I unconsciously do then becomes a conscious thought. I count to see if the ‘numbers’ are there, to see if I am alone or with others; am I alone or in the safety of others who may have similar lived experiences. In this meeting I noticed pocs were in the majority. We had the numbers, including many white allies, and we had a cross-racial and cross-cultural group. Yet I also noticed while pocs were in the majority, we were still having to push a racial equity agenda because we were operating in a dominate society framework, in this case a government process. We had to jump through procedural hoops, justify our asks, and prove our requests are justified. I slipped a note to a friend saying “Majority pocs but still the same conversation.” She nodded, while we had the numbers we couldn’t impact change quickly enough because of power dynamics.

It isn’t enough to invite a diverse group of people to a table, we need to be aware of power dynamics and work to redistribute power as much as possible. At the meeting I was surrounded by so many leaders that have helped to shape Seattle, yet because we were working on a project on behalf of a government body the power dynamics were still present — we knew our place was to give input on someone else’s plan, call out where things could be stronger, and push for incremental change. We weren’t there to propose anything too radical or not politically feasible, we had the power to propose such ideas but we knew ultimately it wasn’t going to happen so why spend time on ideas that would eventually get vetoed. It was exhausting, but at least we had the numbers to share the burden.

Who’s Table – Redistributing Power
Diversity isn’t enough, in the meeting I mentioned above pocs had the numbers, but we didn’t have enough power to change the power dynamics. We understood we were participating in someone else’s process and brought in to give feedback and suggestions, but ultimately we didn’t have decision making power. We had a lot of other forms of power – access to a very select process, proximity to power, ability to influence but not control. All of this is to say sometimes we need to change power dynamics to get different results.

Last year my organization ran a large survey project to look at family engagement. In that project we worked to try to distribute power and other resources, we also used the value of building trust. We actively worked to redistribute power and resources. Such as parents and partners wrote and edited the survey questions, we shared funds using an equitable model (not equal funding) to make the survey work possible, we opened up the process and allowed partners to shape their survey collection methods versus a very prescribed methodology. We got more buy-in and better long lasting results because of our open process. I also feel I have better and deeper relationships with some of our partners because they saw our organization as a trusting partner.

power-rangersPower Racial Equity Rangers
Can we all become more attuned to power dynamics, like a modern day version of the 1990s Power Rangers? We can become the Power Racial Equity Rangers and wear colored tight and masks, just like the TV version. Maybe not, bad visuals, but we need to be like the TV Power Rangers in fighting for justice, in this case racial justice. We need to get better about sharing power in its many forms, calling each other out when we hog and take up too much power including resources, and we should acknowledge sometimes power is stepping back and saying I don’t need something if it means we can share with others.

I hear the Power Rangers are making a come back, I hope they share the secrets of their powers as a way of redistributing their powers so I can stop sitting in meetings where I’m in the majority but still part of a dominant landscape.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Things that are Effed Up

Heidi is biking and this means we won’t nag her about equity and analyzing power, community engagement, and all of the stuff that makes this blog fun. CiKeithia and I are left to our own analysis of race, equity, and power. So this week you get a little less social work niceness and more calling b.s. as b.s.

This post isn’t for you if you want deep understanding about race or a power analysis. This week’s blog post is full of things that are effed up. If you don’t like crabby-cranky and blunt blog posts, click out and peace out until next week when Heidi is back to help give us some balance and perspective. Heidi, I have a beer waiting for you — a really big one, so come back, the blog needs you.

A List of Things that are Effed Up:


Picture credit: deviant art, the panda scream by ringtailmaki

A ‘brain trust’ formed around serving English language learners and everyone speaks English as a first language? That’s Effed Up. Really? We’re going to talk about learning English with other English speakers?

Staff at an organization wrote ‘diversity’ into their values, yet a white senior manager changed the word to ‘respect’ because ‘diversity’ is too ‘loaded.’ That’s Effed Up. Yo, Senior Manager: Your uncomfortableness with the word diversity is your problem; we’re not here to make you comfortable, you’ve been more-or-less comfortable your entire life. What do you want some chardonnay to make your ‘diversity’ statement sound better? Quit with the tone policing.

Having a training around race, diversity, and equity and having a white person argue the statistics presented are not valid in this scenario. In other words, he didn’t want to acknowledge race is a problem. That’s effed up. Dude, stick out the training, you might learn something. Show what you’re learning, not what you already know– we don’t need know-it-alls.

Being invited to review a grant process and analyze it for ‘equity’ from an organization that has a racial equity theory of change, but has never shared a dollar with community groups closest to communities of color. That’s effed up. Really, you’re going to ask for more, but not bother to build relationships or share – no thanks.

Listening to a friend who tells me her son being called a terrorist because he’s an immigrant. He’s in elementary school and now has to defend himself, his culture, his heritage, and his faith. Effed up.

The marketing department emailed a staff person of color asking about the languages spoken in the Somali community. The poc staff person isn’t Somali and only speaks English – was she supposed to know any more than a white person is expected to know? That’s effed up. Do your own work, instead of emailing use the same computer to ask Google what languages Somali’s speak, or better yet get out of the building and meet some people in the community.

An intermediary organization keeps inviting poc organizers to meetings as “thought partners,” without offering compensation. This same organization spent thousands of dollars hiring outside racial equity consultants, several of the consultants were white people. They don’t know how to think their own thoughts around race, or they don’t listen to their consultants and community partners.  Stop spending money on large consultants and pass that through to smaller poc organizations. That’s effed up!

Listening to an excuse from a white person. Her organization couldn’t focus on racial equity until now because they are just now stable enough to tackle race. That’s effed up. Couldn’t it be focusing only on one narrow segment of society (whites) contributed to the almost near death of the org in the first place.

What to Do About it?

Normally in the Fakequity blog posts we try to offer some solutions or some tips. This week I’m not going to do that, my heart isn’t into it. This week I’m sitting with the effed up feeling and letting it linger for a moment. This week, I’m tired. I’m tired of having to think critically about race and ‘helping’ white people, and some pocs, validate their thinking or ‘gently’ tell them they are wrong. When things are effed up, I don’t bring my best self. I get annoyed and I don’t want to be annoyed, so instead of being annoyed I’m going to just sit with the effed up-ness and say ‘its effed up.’ I can’t fix it all and it’s not my job to validate, fix, or think for others.

Tomorrow, after some sleep, I’ll put on my game face and go back out and do what I’m ‘supposed to do.’ I’m supposed to listen, politely wait for a break in the conversation, then ask a probing question to redirect others to understand race a little more thoroughly and thoughtfully. I’m supposed to sit in meetings about regulations, grants, and policies and say “tell me about your community engagement plan… do you have one? Let’s figure it out…” I’m supposed to spend time with white allies in evening meetings to plan or watch board meetings, even though I long to be home with my own kids. I’ll keep doing it because I can’t figure out how to undo the effed up-ness without doing what I’m supposed to do. Maybe the week after and the week after will be a little less messed up and I can stop doing what ‘I’m supposed to’ and start doing something that nourishes and feeds my relations more.

Tonight, I’m going to let this sit in my brain and in my heart a little longer and be sad for a moment – there is so much to be sad about. Tomorrow it will be better – cause it always is, cause we always have hope, and we have each other.

Posted by Erin Okuno, with help from CiKeithia Pugh

Back to Basic: Equality, Equity, and How to Spot the Differences

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Analogy: While all of these LEGO fish are equal size, one might need something different to achieve the same prosperity.

Today we’re going to look at the difference between equality and equity. And because this is the Fakequity blog, we’ll throw in some real life examples. Sorry bro (as in my real-life bro) no infographic or web-comic since those take a little longer to develop, you’ll actually have to read.

Equality versus Equity

A few weeks ago I was playing a matching game with my two kids, they are three years apart which makes finding a game we can enjoy more challenging. My older kid has a strong sense of fairness and doesn’t understand or fully empathize his younger sister can’t play at the same level. My older one caught me helping the younger and said “Hey! No cheating!” I shot back: “It’s not cheating, it’s [age/development] equity [when I help], we’re not practicing equality.” He gave me a look of annoyance and went back to playing, he’s seven so I’m sure most of the conversation was lost on him. Even I’m surprised I reflectively gave him that answer, might as well start his social justice education young.

Most people understand what equal looks like – give everyone exactly the same thing, cut a sandwich in half and you have two equal parts, order two milk teas and they mostly have equal amounts of boba tapioca balls. Equality has its place, there are times when equal is the right thing to do. When we are in meetings giving everyone equal speaking time ensures we are all heard, or we set a meeting location equally between people to equally inconvenience everyone, or giving equal funds to two identical organizations is fair.

Equity is very different than equality. Equity takes more practice to understand and achieve. My favorite definition of equity is from Junious Williams who shared it when we were on a panel together at PolicyLink’s conference. He said “I go back to my law school definition of equity: What will it take to make a person whole?” I like this definition because it allows us to think imaginatively and roots us back in the sense of giving differently to different people which is at the heart of what equity work is about – changing systems, processes, and allowing people and communities of color to say what is important and what is needed to make ourselves and communities whole.

Don’t Confuse Equity and Equlity or I’ll Throw a Pen at You

Here is where it gets tricky. Equity has also become the latest buzz word, so it gets thrown around and misused all the time. Here is an example: “…school librarians have founded a Library Equity Team over the last few months. They plan to work together to demand a $10 per student budget for every school in Seattle.” Can you spot the misuse of the word equity? The Equity Team wants to demand $10 per student regardless of race, social economic status, etc. This demand is actually equality because it is demanding the same for every student. If they had said they are demanding a base rate of say $3 per student, and an additional $7 for students in schools with higher rates of free an reduced lunch (code for students of color), Title 1 school (again code for students of color), etc. that would be equity. Equity work is harder than trying to achieve equality. In the example above it is easy to say we’ll demand $10/per head. It will be harder to try to figure out which students need more or less.

I sometimes fall into the trap of equality versus equity too, so easy, so enticing like halo halo, a Filipino sweet treat, that is easy to drink and mysteriously disappears just like equality work. About a year ago I put together a project budget and set aside $5,000 to provide stipends to five partner organizations. I was planning on giving them each $1,000 to make it fair and simple, but in the long run the results don’t last. I had a moment of clarity while running off my halo halo drink; giving each partner $1,000 each was equal, some of our partners were better resourced, were serving fewer children, others had student populations that needed more services, etc. I went back to the group and explained the dilemma and asked if we could switch the system to ‘just request what you need upfront and we’ll work together to allocate the funds.’ In the end everyone’s requests were fully funded and the total ask amount was $5,000 – it is neat when things work out that way and the results are actually sticking because the group gave each other what we collectively needed.

In communities of color we have to pay attention to the nuances of equality versus equity. If we give every community of color the same, we screw over our smaller communities of color. For instance, if we give all ethnic and language based organizations the same stipend amount, we screw over smaller communities which may have more needs because they are newer to the country, have smaller donor bases, less political power to advocate for themselves. As communities of color we have to go into these situations looking for the overall good, which sometimes means saying we will take less to give more to communities who need more. An example is taking a pot of money and saying every community will take a base pay of XX% and smaller communities will get additional funds because they have more needs, higher overhead cost, and less ability to fundraise. This is what equity looks like – again harder to do, but the right solution.

One final thought about equity, every few meetings I hear someone say “It’s the equity factor…” and I want to throw a pen at them. There is no such thing as the “equity factor,” that is code for saying it’s about race or some other judgment we want to make. Be clear in your communication and don’t say equity unless you really know what it means – don’t make me throw a pen at you across a meeting room.

Posted by Erin

Invest in Coalitions, They Work

Before we start I want to honor the passing of Bob Santos. Uncle Bob was one of the Four Amigos or Gang of Four (Asian, Native American, African American, and Hispanic/Latino), who modeled how to work cross racially and cross culturally. The Four Amigos united communities of color and shaped Seattle into the city it is today – a place many of people of color call home and feel connected to because our cultural bonds are intact and we’ve held on a sense of place. While I didn’t know Bob, I know I wouldn’t be where I am without his work. I will do my part to honor his legacy, although I will have to leave the karaoke singing for which he was known to others. Rest in peace and power.


Original Thinking
I recently took a trip to my home state. While packing I grabbed the book Original by Adam Grant and threw it into my carry on – beach reading right? Nah, I finally cracked it open on the flight back when the kid hogged the tablet with all of the downloaded shows. In reading the book, which wasn’t about race or equity, I started thinking about how to apply the ideas to racial equity work. Several chapters in I had the thought “we need original thinking around race in order to change” (albeit this wasn’t a wholly original thought, many others have thought it before). The old and current systems aren’t working for communities of color. We need to nurture and undo traditional power structures that stifle ‘new’ thinking and doing.

In the book the author talks about groupthink and how it kills original/new ideas. I agree, I see it all of the time when working with government agencies and larger organizations. Where I don’t see groupthink happening as much is within coalitions centered in communities of color (it does happen but I see it less). I might be biased here since I work for a coalition centered in communities of color, but I can say with certainty the conversations that take place in our coalition meetings happen because we center our work in communities of color and we talk about race.

Well attuned coalitions bring diverse people together, building towards a common purpose and goal. Divergent thoughts are allowed and explored so we can emerge with better results and a more united front. In other words, the policy work or end product has more equity built into it because more people of color have a chance to weigh in, play with the idea, and the outcome is a more original idea, not a boilerplate product coming out of a monolithic group. While it sounds easy, in reality it is harder to do. It takes a lot of time and energy. Timelines are blown, we have to slow down and redo work to get it more right, coalition work gets messy, people’s feelings sometimes get hurt, we have to report to superiors that work is delayed, but in the end the work is right.

How to Get a Coalition Right – Stopping the Echo Chamber
Coalitions centered in communities of color serve as places where communities of color can emphasize our collective values over the procedural rules that continue to hold us in boxes and uphold institutional racism. As the author of Original (the book) shares, “Rules [procedures] set limits that teach children [and adults] to adopt fixed views of the world. Values encourage children [and adults] to internalize principles for themselves.” When we talk about our values around community, culture, and race we’re getting to the heart of who we are and the type of community we want to create for ourselves. This is so much more interesting than talking about the things talked about at so many mainstream task force meetings.

Focusing on values versus procedures is hard for people who are used to movement and action. Constantly doing versus asking why we are doing something different or trying something new is a way we uphold institutional and systemic racism – the doing without attributing it to values keeps the same broken actions from repeating itself. As an example, why do we constantly send out online surveys to ask for opinions? We can say the value is to hear back from the community, but is this how the community wants to be heard – on paper asking pre-scripted questions, probably not. This type of opposition may be more keenly heard within a coalition than in an insular meeting.

Investing in Coalitions
Investing in coalitions can happen in so many different ways. One of the best ways is to join a coalition – invest time. If you have to give something up to make time for coalition work, look at your calendar and decide which meetings are white/mainstream echo chamber meetings – in other words which ones are a chorus of the like-minded and you’re not hearing anything new. The people at the ‘echo meetings’ may be great but you can still see them at lunch or at happy hour. Instead invest in coalitions that are making a difference for communities of color — open doors to a great supporter, bring new people into the coalition,  for our white partners and allies attend to your white coalition partners so their needs are met (outside of the coalition meeting) and they don’t overshadow the coalitions values and focus. Coalitions take work to sustain and thrive. The end result will be better returns on your investment of time and energy than going the old easy route.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Entitlement BINGO – Social Justice Edition

entitlement bingo Social Justice Version .jpg

Social justice work is taxing, which means we need to have a little fun and call out fakequity in jest. Today we give you the next Entitlement BINGO card – Social Justice Edition.

In our collective work around social justice, racial equity, and community building work the Fakequity team has heard these excuses, lines, and witnessed these actions many times. This is our way of saying if you see yourself on the board, we aren’t calling you out. Many of us have committed these fakequity sins. In order to get closer to racial equity we need to grow and learn how to spot fakequity so we can stop fakequity and get to equity.

We offer this BINGO card in good spirit. We do not recommend leaving it lying around with people’s names on it. No one wants to see their name in a square on this BINGO card.

Some suggestions on how to use it:

  • Take the topics and start conversations about how privilege shows up in our social justice work
  • Use it to debrief a meeting asking attendees to talk about how power showed up
  • If you are leading a meeting share it at the beginning of the meeting to remind people of behaviors we want to squash

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

PDF Download here: entitlement bingo Social Justice Version.
Entitlement BINGO — All About Me.

Posted by Heidi, with manini (little) help from Erin