Guest Post: The million-dollar question: am I a catalyst for change?

Editor’s Note from Erin: We welcome a guest post from Lilliann Paine from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. We’re excited to have a fresh point-of-view, and one from outside of Washington State. Much of racial equity work includes diversifying who we hear from, so thank you Lilliann for sharing your thoughts and broadening our views outside of Washington.

paine2016There is a high cost along with the toll of emotional labor that comes with being a catalyst for change. I am learning to “speak up and speak out” without losing myself. There are moments when I protect myself with silence. There are other moments when I do my damnedest not to succumb to the bulling of elitist elders and privileged peers. At this point in life, I want to learn and practice being more strategic.

It’s not easy being the first “anything.” Legacies are sustained intergenerationally, or so my elders say. However, if each generation speaks a different language and there are no translators, how does the work get done? How are legacies passed down? A generation frustrated with potential is the result of it all; how can change be promoted when it is not understood?

I am also the beneficiary of the Chapter 220 program, a state led solution to de-segregate public schools. From kindergarten through high school, I was shaped in an environment that wasn’t always fair or just. Consequently, there were few people who looked like me. As a Chapter 220 student, I learned to navigate spaces that were racially isolating, while simultaneously helping to change the spaces just by being present as part of the counter-culture—being the opposite of what the dominate counterpart considers to be the “other.” My Chapter 220 experience prepared me for the real world—academically, socially, and professionally. This is important to know as the lens through which I am interpreting my lived experience.

When I became aware of power structures and the role I played in maintaining them, I wanted things to change. I encountered some moments that required me to add up the cost of daring greatly, you may experience them too:

1)      You will be called names – described as feisty, being intimidating, threatening or practicing relational aggression.

2)      You will be misunderstood – Reyna Biddy said it best: “soon you’ll realize that many people will love the idea of you but lack the maturity to handle the reality of you.”

3)      You will experience isolation – everyone wants to be radical until they see what it actually entails.

4)      Elitist Elder Syndrome, aka bad mentor of a certain age and generation – a) they will make you feel small for having big ideas; b) they will exhibit the psychological defense mechanism of projection (“I was just like you when I was your age therefore I know exactly what you are going through and what you need to do”); c) they will exploit – take advantage of rather than develop your skill set; d) they will undermine you by taking your ideas to be their own; e) render you invisible or make you hyper-visible out of their fear of being replaced or forgotten.

5)      Your lived experience will be discredited/disrespected/devalued.

Living every single day with institutionalized racism and then having to argue its very existence is taxing. I should not be expected to speak on behalf of people of color everywhere. I should not be the barometer of racism.

My academic training is in public health. Once you opt into public health, one does not simply opt out, but leads and leads daringly. My public health experience has a foundation in community building. I convened groups that service “the economically vulnerable and disenfranchised” with a collective interest in reducing infant mortality. I helped to push the urgency for change around how individuals and organizations think about health and social determinants of health. I have the honor of amplifying the voice of communities with whom I have a shared lived experience, while being a resource to my academic peers and colleagues.

A few things to consider when you are a catalyst for change:
1) A heightened sense of emotional intelligence, empathy and capacity for collaboration as it relates to our concepts of inclusion, diversity and equity is required of you.

2) You can’t do this work alone. Alicia Garza #BlackLivesMatter Co-Founder said it best: “Co-conspiracy is about what we do in action, not just in language.” Black Girl Dangerous paints a perfect picture of the difference between taking action verses performance.

3) Professionally, academically and socially do not create cultural exceptionalism dynamics. I don’t know how many times I’ve been hit with “you’re different than the others,” or “you make for a great ambassador,” or even been straight out called a token! The benefits of creating a pathway to success and equitable representation outweigh the tokenism of tasteful diversity.

4) As a person of color, I have to remind myself that I have to care about people, not for them! I’ve been put in environments where it was an unspoken rule that I protect people from their ignorance, whether it is willful or not around racial justice. Cultural awareness is like a virtue!

5) Allow people to do their own research! Or be prepared for the emotional labor it will take to build capacity on an individual level before creating change on an organizational or global level.

I accept that racial injustice/battle fatigue could be a medical diagnosis and that self-care is a form of self-love. Folks in informal and/or formal positions of leadership must come correct about social justice work. This work cannot be viewed as a burden, but a clarion call to be the change you want to see. Justice does not come without consequences.

Posted by Lilliann Paine, is a public health advocate. She says: Public Health is my life! I have held various positions in the health field, having worked in local government, academic settings and the healthcare systems. I have advocated for equity, justice and fairness. I am energetic and cordial, yet grounded with a work ethic that is guided by integrity and productivity. Myers-Briggs: ESTJ (Extraversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judgment) – I flex from Sensing to Intuition; Thinking to Feeling. I’m a CoreAlign Alum: Speak Race to Power Fellow.

The views I am expressing are my own and do not reflect any past or current institutional affiliation. I am positioned in age between Gen X and the Millennials. I’m on the older end of the millennial spectrum. I was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin! I grew up in a city with poor health rankings, unabated poverty, seemingly intractable unemployment and deteriorating urban core beset with socioeconomic disparities that challenge the best thinking for place-based solutions.

Guest Poet: You Don’t Even Know Me

We’re excited to share a bonus Fakequity post. Dillon Prevo is our first guest writer and poet, and our first youth writer. Dillon is a middle school student and wrote this as part of a class assignment. Thank you Dillon.

By Dillon Prevo20160907_081149

I’m calm in your class
I listen to the rules
I’m big
I’m mixed
But I don’t look that fit
Music is my thing
Science goes by like a dream
But it doesn’t bother me too much
When I get a B
You know
I’ve been wondering lately
Trying to figure out just how it could be
That you’re around me so often
And still don’t know a thing about me
You see me on TV
Catching a 20 yard TD
Then you change the channel
And you see me there again
I’m a doctor
Helping a sick person
The police say I’m a bad person
But at the same time
My friends think I’m doing something right
When I reach in my pocket
You think I’m grabbing for a knife
But I’m just grabbing for a candy bar at night
I’m wearing big T-shirts
To hide from that one fact
But you still say to me
I’m really not that fat
You know
I’ve been wondering lately
How we’re close knit like scarves
But you don’t know a thing about me
I live right next door to you
We say “hi” all the time
You say you like when I play my drums
But you really want me to hush
I walk down the street with my dog
You think it’s aggressive
Just because I’m black
All it wants is some love
But you shun it
Then turn your back
You’re walking down the street
With your baby in hand
Grip as tight as a python
I’m walking towards you
My phone yells at me
I pick it up
You think I’m gonna hurt you
I think you’re gonna hurt me
But yet,
We pass peacefully
I’ve been wondering lately
Trying to figure out just how it could be
That we’re around each other so often
And still don’t know a thing about me
I’m hanging out at your house
You say
“Yo fam, wanna play some B-Ball”
But I just wanna chill
You’re wanting to get lit
When I just wanna sit
You call me slow as a slug
I think you’re just being a bug
When I’m at practice
You’re telling me I suck
But I’m pretty happy getting on B team
You’re only friendly to me
When we’re alone
You know I’ve been wondering lately
How you are around me so much
But still don’t know a thing about me
Last night I had a dream
That I was flying in the sky
People were waving like I was a king
No one was checking their bags
Gripping their children with their long veiny hands
The sun was smiling at me
The planets, spinning like Frisbees
Spaceships wooshing past me
Tiny planets on my left
Big ones on my right
I see myself in in pre-school
Playing with my blocks
The nostalgia hits me like a soft rock
I see myself in peace sleeping by the teams of geese
I see myself hitting someone
Then getting sad
Because of that one golden rule
Now I’m running
Fast as Usain Bolt
I see myself in the future
Shaking the hand of the crown
I see myself with my son, Will
Wondering how well off Will will be
But now night turns to day
I return to my still body
But just lay
As I wake up
I try to remember
The bright summer day.

Dillon Prevo is an 8th grader at Washington Middle School. He lives with his family and their dog Zoey in south Seattle. When he’s not at school or on the ultimate frisbee field, he enjoys reading and playing video games.


White Fragility – No, it is Using Power to Hoard Emotional Attention

white-fragilityI just finished watching the final presidential debate. What was that? I need another beer.

According to one report, Republican candidate Donald Trump had around forty “fleeting interjections.” You know the little jabs, such as “such a nasty woman.” For reference, Secretary Clinton had less than five fleeting interjections. That was even a new record for Trump. I’ll save policy commentary and thoughts about why there is widespread support for Trump as a presidential candidate for another post. Tonight, I want to focus on why just calling his behavior “interruptions” or “fleeting interjections” masks what is really happening. It creates an audience that tolerates and comes to expect that type of behavior as typical, or at the very least see it as acceptable/accepted. What would happen if journalist and media framed that behavior as “rudely mansplaining” or “unpresidential behavior.” Even if Trump doesn’t or won’t stop, we stop sending the message that this is acceptable behavior.

I don’t believe there is “neutral” terminology, especially in the realm of racial equity. By using terms that appear more “neutral” or less triggering, what we are really communicating is we are comfortable for white superiority and white people in power. A racial justice speaker I highly respect said, we need to stop talking about racism, and talk more about “structural racialization” because talking about racism shuts down conversations.”

Who shuts down when we talk about racism?
I’ve started talking about both structural racialization and systems of white supremacy and racism, as a way to have audiences get used to hearing different terms. Participants don’t have to agree or even use the terms white supremacy and racism, but I do ask them to acknowledge and create a space for how others frame these conversations. When we continue to use language or approaches that make white people in power feel comfortable, we uphold the systems we hope to dismantle and continue to (unintentionally) center whiteness.

If we don’t work hard and stay vigilant we default to centering whiteness. Here is one example from my own work I noticed a couple years ago. I work hard to share books and resources that are written by people of color; I want to intentionally raise the narratives of people of color. With books, it is fairly easy to know if the author is a person of color, but with articles, it not as easy and often takes extra time to conduct some internet sleuthing. When I started searching for the authors of recent racial equity articles I was sharing and recommending, I found most of the authors are white. Yes, even in the racial equity field most of the authors are white. If I stop to think about who has access to publishing and media this shouldn’t come as a surprise, even on the topic of racism white people have a louder public platform.

Too Much Emphasis on White Fragility
Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of emphasis on white fragility. I appreciate the term brings an awareness to a phenomenon that is all too common in conversations about racism. Yet, one of the unintended consequences is that this new trendy term has created another way to continue to center whiteness in conversations about racism. Don’t get me wrong, understanding whiteness as a social construction is an important part of understanding racism. The thing is systems default to centering whiteness, and the focus on white fragility has given some white people and white institutions the ability to continue to center whiteness under the banner of racial equity. I’ve heard of numerous organizations that are giddy about the idea of talking about white fragility and happily dedicate a lot of resources to a white facilitator to come talk about it. My question is if your organization is serious about racial equity and dismantling systems of racism, why aren’t you giddy about hearing from people of color, you know the ones most directly impacted by racism? Are you paying consultants of color fair rates or rates that compare to white facilitators? The idea that white people need to hear about racism from another white person is the very system that we are trying to dismantle. I also understand whites need to do their ‘own work,’ but be careful in doing your own work you’re not perpetuating the same system of inequities that got us here.

We need to start talking about concepts like white fragility in terms that more accurately describe how the behavior is upholding racism. White fragility isn’t a state, it actually is a chosen action/reaction. We all realize that white people aren’t really fragile, right? The system just treats white people as if they are fragile. The system is set up to value white folks feelings more than the lives of people of color.

Here are a few draft suggestions to move racial equity concepts that center whiteness to more descriptive terms that move us closer to racial justice.

  • White Fragility = Hoarding of Emotional Attention
  • White Defensiveness = Refusing to Believe People of Color
  • White Guilt = Stalling Until I Feel Better 
  • White Silence = I Don’t Care Enough to Say Something 
  • White Tears = Please Feel Sorry for Me Too

If you tell someone, they are “displaying signs of white fragility” they might just be a little embarrassed and the shrug it off. But if you tell someone, they are using their privilege to “hoard emotional attention” they might pause to reflect on their behavior and make adjustments, especially if they are really a true ally/advocate for racial equity.

Posted by Heidi Schillinger

Calling Out and Calling In, we need to practice both

pandaHi, I’m going to ask for a little forgiveness with this week’s post. I need to get to bed at a reasonable hour, midnight, I had a migraine today and sleep is what is needed to recover. I didn’t proofread the post very well. So if you are an early reader try to ignore the odd sentences.

I’m listening to First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign speech at Southern New Hampshire University. In many ways her speech broke out of the usual campaign stump speech and instead she called out bad behavior, and called in the audience to use their voice to say what they stand for. I’m not going to get into politics or breakdown this election. I will instead write about how we need to be bold and call out when things aren’t racially equitable or even equal.

Oh those Meetings
A good majority of meetings I go to a list of group norms, agreements, values, or practices will be generated. They often have words like “We agree to: Confidentiality, stepping back and leaning in, practice best intention, silence cell phones, etc.” Even within the meetings I run we put out table tents with the Color Brave Space meeting format Heidi created and we borrow and model our meeting on. The intention of these values is good – to create a standard and accountability practice for us to use.

However, I don’t think we’re particularly good about living these values in ways that create and promote racial equity. Too often we continue to default to the same practices and power dynamics we always do. The same people speak or speak first, set the agenda, control the clock, and we don’t stop to call it out. We all need to get better about slowing down meetings and recognizing when we fall into these familiar patterns.

Recently at a meeting I hosted we opened up the meeting inviting people to abide by the Color Brave Space principles. One of the points says: “Notice Power Dynamics in the Room.” Power shows up in who speaks, who disengages, who gets emotional, and in our word choices. At the meeting our presenter, an African American/Black, asked the group a question. An African American well-respected woman, answered and gave feedback. After she spoke, a white man followed up to add to her statement. The presenter stopped and asked the first person to answer how she felt about having her comment followed up on. She said “I felt like he was using his power to change what I said.” The interaction made many uncomfortable, but it was in the uncomfortable moment that learning happened. The presenter was bold to follow up and hold everyone accountable to the Color Brave Space principles and creating space in his presentation to dive headfirst into looking at how power dynamics play out. This is something we need to do more – slow down and check in with people.

Calling In
The term ‘calling in’ means we can’t always be mean and call out people – the scorched earth method of racial equity work leaves a lot of victims in its wake.

In the video clip of First Lady Michelle Obama she called in people to stand with her and to take a stand against bigotry and women-hating. She asked people to use their power as voters to women and girls need to be seen and valued. We all need to do this, to call in and invite allies to share and stand with us.

I need to get better about calling in people to support racial equity work. The more I do racial justice and community building work, I find myself getting more bitter, tired, stressed, and jaded. This isn’t a great formula for wanting to partner and build relationships with people who don’t have the same world views or are starting their journey on racial equity. Calling in and asking people to learn alongside me is a better long term strategy and it takes intentional slowing down and patience. I also recognize as people of color the burden often falls to us to be in the role of  educator which is taxing and tiring, but maybe if we invest time on the front end in the long term we will see better results.

I also need to call in partners to share the burden. It is easy to want to be seen as the champion for racial equity, we get invited to sit on too many task forces, to share our opinions, sometimes we get invited to cool events and we get to meet amazing people. All of this is fun but we need to share and invite people along otherwise we’ll burn out. We need to build a movement which means sharing. We need to share access to information and meetings, we need to be patient and kind in explaining why things need to change, and we need to be generous with forgiveness.  This doesn’t mean we stop calling out bad behavior, but it means once we call out, we also call in people to change and join in the movement to create more inclusive and welcoming communities for people of color.

Prioritize Equity? I Don’t Know What that Means.

Before we start, let’s talk about voting. If you aren’t registered to vote stop reading and get registered to vote. Monday, 10 October is the last day in Washington to register to vote by mail or online, in-person voter registration accepted until 31 October.

I’ve been reading Congressman John Lewis’ book March Part 3. In the graphic novel he shares how African Americans in the 1960s stood in line in the scorching sun with no water to register to vote. They were threatened, harassed, and belittled for wanting to vote. 1960s was in the lifetime of many in our friends, neighbors, and elders. Voting is how we have a voice in systems and government, we need to use our vote. is offering these cool reminder postcards. Sign up for a pack of postcards and mail them to someone who might need a reminder to vote.

No to Equity-Pretty


Um no, don’t study equity. Learn about the experiences of people of color.

In graduate school my speech professor said “People don’t have issues, they have problems. Stop using the word issues.” I feel the same way about equity. We don’t have equity; we work toward equitable solutions. Let’s get more precise with our language and stop verbally dancing around and trying to make our language equity-pretty.

“It’s the Equity Factor” NOT
Every few meetings I’ll hear someone say “we need to pay attention to equity,” “it’s the equity factor,” or I read this on a political rally sign “prioritize equity.” When I hear these statements I screw my face and feign a sneeze to cover my inadequate poker face. The sentiment of these statements are correct we should prioritize equitable strategies and we should pay attention to the outcomes of inequitable practices. And there is no such thing as an ‘equity factor’ (we’ve already blogged about that).

We need to be more precise in our language around race and racial equity. When we speak in generalities we don’t confront the real problems and the solutions are harder to find. First can we agree to stop saying equity, and be more precise and define the equity we’re talking about – say racial equity, or whatever form of equity you’re talking about – gender equity, socio-economical equity, etc. I once gave a presentation to a room full of wanna-be-philanthropist. I kept saying equity and they gave me blank looks, I finally asked “What does equity mean to you?” One bold person said “financial equity, as in we make money.” I regretted asking the question.

Let’s break down how to be more precise with the three statements above:

  • “We need to pay attention to equity” – translated into more precise language: We need to pay attention to institutional and systemic practices holding back people of color, or We need to pay attention to racist practices allowing institutional and systemic racism to prevail.
  • “It’s the equity factor” – becomes: There isn’t an ‘equity factor,’ there are barriers for people of color.
  • “Prioritize equity” – Prioritize people of color.

Many times we speak in coded language around race because it is safer and easier to use words such as diversity, equity, and to talk about everything but people of color. When I rewrote the statements they also became more pointed and used people of color, racism, and barriers – all words that make some people uncomfortable. Sometimes we have to be uncomfortable in order to fix problems.

What to Say and Do Instead
A few months ago I attended a session around cross-racial coalition building. During the day we met in our self-identified racial groups to caucus. During the report out each of the racial caucuses presented what they wanted other groups to know about their race group. Two of the underlying threads that ran through all of the caucuses was people of color want to be seen, and we want people to stop making assumptions about our experiences. My personal take away was each racial caucus wanted to feel a sense of belonging to each other and accountable to each other including in our language.

Instead of talking about equity, talk about people of color. People of color want to be seen, not grouped into an ‘equity’ bucket. Systems and dominant white culture are uncomfortable talking about race in explicit and clear terms. My buddy Kirk and I were joking that people still want to whisper when we talk about race, hushed tones “he’s the Black man,” or “she’s the short one with dark hair, maybe Asian.” Kirk said “We’re adults we can say Black, we can say Asian, and White.”

When we use precise language we see people and we can use our words to create solutions that hold us accountable to each other. In the examples above when we have clarity with our racial language the solutions to inequitable problems become clearer. Such as we identify who is part of the problem. Institution or system that should be named and are able to hold them more accountable to working toward equitable solutions. We can also use language to call out racism. Calling out racism is a good thing, despite the cringe factor. When we call out racist practices we can help to undo-the practices that allow racism to prevail. And precise language around race makes visible people of color.

Take down all of your signs that say “Prioritize Equity” and change them to “Prioritize People of Color.” Rewrite the workplan and eliminate the column that says “equity” and start writing in strategies that put people of color at the center of your work.

Posted by Erin Okuno