Dear Community, I’m Sorry

Last week Heidi and I co-wrote a post about the tools we have available to us to resist and transform our work. The tools include: time, truth telling and belief, money, language, and love. As we move into the lunar new year, I’m going to use the Year of the Rooster as a chance to restart and to think about what I love about my community and how we are strong. Before we enter the new lunar year I have to say I’m sorry. Admitting wrong and apologizing are a form of love or at the very least self-humbleness.

Dear communities of color, especially kids of color, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I don’t spend enough time with you. I’m sorry I take time and energy away from being with you to spend in long meetings talking about ‘systems change,’ policies, and things that will only bring marginal changes to the community.

I’m sorry we live with political bullying from the president down to local government. I’m sorry I can’t protect people of color from budget cuts, damaging policies, and from politicians who believe and like listening to themselves more than they believe in you and me. I’m sorry we have to sit through meetings and listen to elected officials drone on and on because they like to soapbox, hear themselves, and whitesplain.

2016-11-11 09.13.01.jpgI’m sorry for the graffiti that says “Fuc* Donald Trump.” (I’m sorry the f-word is spray painted where children can see it.)

I’m sorry because of the racism I confront at work I bring it home and it shows up as annoyance, a questioning of you, or power plays.

I’m sorry because I work and live in a transactional world of ‘holding the line’ on policies and budgets, or trying to make small gains because people tell us we’ll never get what we really want for children of color, we are afraid or too realistic to dream bigger and have a vision for transformational racial justice. To be honest I don’t even know what transformational change looks like, I have no brain space left to think about bigger change.

In a not-apology-apology I’m sorry if my dark humor offends you. Being kind and nice all the time takes a lot of mental energy so I go to the dry humor.

Colleagues of color and allies I’m sorry if I sent you an email with only a half-thought and crappy grammar because I was too rushed or hurried to give it the attention it deserved. You deserve better and when I’m not spending time and energy writing a seven-point response in an email war I’ll do better.

Children of color, I’m sorry we elected public officials who don’t understand race and why it isn’t about them as adults. When you’re a little older and can comprehend words like “those children” and “inadequate resources,” and concepts like inequities or systemic racism I’ll share the emails  with you so you are better prepared for the truth-telling you’ll need to do when I’m too infirmed and bitter to do this job.

While I can’t undo the wrongs (sorry, I can’t singlehandedly undo systemic racism), I can deploy my ‘tools’ of resistance better; this is how I’ll atone for my list of offenses and attempt to make reparations.

2017-01-26-14-07-16Heidi (of the fakequity team) shared in the new year she wants to work on “truth telling” and being bolder in telling people, especially white people, what she wants them to hear versus toning down her message to make it more palatable to them. CiKeithia (also of the fakequity team) plans to spend more time with people of color. I wholly encourage this since it means she will be available to us more. She’s already modeling this by helping an immigrant colleague prepare for a talk with philanthropist next week. For me my tool of resistance is to practice more gratitude. I’ve blogged about it before how easy it is to get jaded and annoyed. Just this week I muttered “I’m so annoyed with whiteness,” and I didn’t mean the color. I am trying to practice more gratitude, courage, and slowing down to say thank you and to have casual conversations with people of color.

Maybe through these intentional acts of resistance we can begin to undo the list of things I’m sorry about. I love our community, especially how forgiving they are. I love that we can often stand together and we call each other out. I also love the celebrations, especially the food on lunar new year’s. I’m hoping someone will make some nian gao (Mandarin) or nin guo (Cantonese); last time I made it wasn’t as good as the one the aunties make so I’ll just hope an aunty will share some. I’m in love that my kiddo who is in a Chinese immersion program is teaching me how to introduce myself in Mandarin so next Monday when I’m at work with a group of Chinese speaking parents I can at least attempt to introduce myself in their native language, it is an attempt and hopefully they will be forgiving. I also hope they forgive me that they speak Cantonese but I learned how to say hello and my name is in Mandarin (I’m trying to also learn the Cantonese, but the tonal differences are mushy in my brain). I’m thankful and grateful to all of our fakequity fighters, keep on fighting.

I’m sorry for the lack of brilliance tonight. It’s been a long week and I don’t have anything left to think about. Next week we’ll be in the Year of the Rooster and maybe brilliance will return in a lunar new year red envelope, I’m accepting red envelopes if anyone wants to send some my way.

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Posted by Erin

Tools for Resistance in the Age of *rump

resistance

Today is inauguration day for President Donald Trump. Many are upset, angry, grieving, and riddled with anxiety about what will happen as he takes office. Mr. Trump ran his presidential campaign with pomp, machismo, and promoted hate, sexism, and divisiveness. As he becomes the forty-fifth president we, Fakequity Fighters, need to transform our work. We need to evolve our work from being transactional to thinking about resistance and growth. The last election proved we can’t keep doing the same thing hoping for transformational large scale results.

We’ve been thinking about what are the tools we have at our disposal to find new ways of thinking, working, and most importantly resisting the pull back to white supremacy. First, we need to understand our current reality and how dominant white culture and white power is in our society.

Think of all the books in your childhood school library, or if you have a child in school think about their school library. How many of those books are by authors of color? Imagine if we removed all of the books written by white people, how many books would be left? Most likely the library would be pretty empty. Now do the reverse, remove all the books by authors of color. Would you notice? Would majority of the library be empty, probably not. White perspectives and whiteness are so ingrained into our lives and systems if  we eliminated them the systems wouldn’t exist.

Mellody Hobson explained this concept in her Color Brave TED Talk. She asks: “Imagine if I walked you into a room and it was of a major corporation, like ExxonMobil, and every single person around the boardroom were black, you would think that were weird. But if I walked you into a Fortune 500 company, and everyone around the table is a white male, when will it be that we think that’s weird too?”

We need to resist thinking these things are normal and be uncomfortable with them. People of color’s perspectives and presence are often seemed as optional, elective, or used as tokenism or ‘inspiration porn’ — “look at that person of color who overcame hardship and is now the model.” If we lived in a truly racially just and equal community or country, the system wouldn’t be able to function without communities of color, it would pause until it righted itself and got back into sync with all of its parts — everyone is valued and vital to functioning as a whole.

The reality is none of us are outside of this systems. Some people have the privilege and choice to ignore the system and pretend it doesn’t exist. Some people have created pockets of resistance, by centering people and communities of color, but these pockets are still operating in a dominant society. These pockets of resistance are important since they ‘hold the line,’ but to get to transformational change we need white people to reallocate their tools.

Tools come in many different forms. There are physical tools and resources — hammers, computers, money. There are also tools we often overlook as thinking of as tools — language, truth/belief, and love/empathy. These tools can all be used to support communities of color or used to uphold white supremacy and systemic racism. Tools can be shared, redistributed, or hoarded. How we reallocate tools allows us to transform our thinking and our systems. It also reminds us we need to be mindful, vigilant, and active in undoing systems that oppress. We’ll talk about five ‘tools’ we all have at our disposal.

Money

Money is an important tool. It is also one of the easiest to understand and reallocate. We use money to buy food, purchase comfort items, support causes we care about, and we can choose to accept money from different people. Much like the library example, if we pause to think about where we spend our money are we using our money to uphold white systems?

When we slow down and spend our money in more intentional people of color focused ways it is harder. We can’t just default to ordering from Amazon Prime, or stopping by any coffee shop. Maggie Anderson and her family spent a year shopping exclusively at Black/African American owned business. It was her way of using money as a tool to reinvest in the African American community. She shares how challenging it was and how important it is to spend money in communities of color.

Mindy, our amazing colleague who is wickedly fast on a computer, started a map of coffee shops and happy hour places around Seattle that are owned by people of color. Please add to it, we want to see it grow and have businesses across the country. 

Time

Where we choose to spend our time also says a lot about what we value. As an exercise we ask people to audit their calendars — look at whom and where time is spent. Are you meeting spending time with people you like and are easy to be with, or are you building new tools for yourself by hearing from others who challenge your thinking, including people of color. Time is a tool, like money, how we allocate it says a lot about our values. Challenge yourself to diversify where you spend your time and how you spend your time. As a first easy activity related to time, pledge to use your time reading one author of color this month, you’ll probably find it time well-spent and you’ll learn a different viewpoint than mainstream media will give you..

Truth/Belief

Who do we believe is a powerful tool. Much like language, how and who we share our truths with and whom we choose to believe can reinforce or dismantle supremacy. Do we choose to share or cower to power dynamics. In the coming four years we’ll need to be vocal and show up, don’t be silent. We’ll need to share our truths no matter how disruptive they are. And we need white people, and fellow people of color to believe when someone says something about their racialized experience. Don’t tone police them by saying “that isn’t racism, it’s being anti-social,” or “the policy says this, so it couldn’t have happened.” Instead acknowledge the lived experience being shared and be thankful someone is trusting you with their truth, no matter how hard it is to hear.

Love (empathy, compassion) as a Tool of Resistance

Love and connection are not something you can just acquire. Too many people want to “drop into a community of color” and then believe that empathy will be immediately developed. Relationship building doesn’t happen in a visit or two.

In this story Heidi shares, she’s modeling truth sharing, allocating time, and sharing love: Earlier this week I took one of the youth I ride bikes with to the MLK march in Seattle. He shared a story about volunteers dropping in and usually just as quickly dropping out of the bike club. He told me he never invested in relationships with these volunteers because he knew they be gone just as soon as they came. After two years, I finally can say I have a genuine relationship with this youth. He trusts me and tells me about his family, his schooling, his dreams, and his peer relationships. I also care about him and issues that affect him in a way that I didn’t before we developed an authentic bond and connection. He joked that my partner and I are like his other moms. And that it’s funny to think of a Mexican kid with two Asian moms. But this connection across race shouldn’t be an exception.

Language

Language is a tool that can be used for inclusiveness or divisiveness. We saw during the election how language was used to divide the country — to ‘other’ people who aren’t part of the mainstream – gays, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, and too many others. Language was used to say if you’re with them, you’re against me and America. Instead we need to use language to affirm and be inclusive.

In order for language to be used as a tool for transformation we need to think beyond just providing language access (i.e. translations) to non-English speakers, to thinking what would our systems look like if we valued all languages equally. How great would it be for dual-language and immersion schools as a norm, to seeing documents written in Spanish and other languages with crappy Google translate English so English only people know what our communities of color contend with, or similarly having events conducted in languages other than English and English only speakers have to use translation headsets and understand how hard it is to participate. When we un-center English, we create space for different views to emerge.

Getting to Tools for Transformation

It is really hard to remember these are tools we can share, reallocate, or hoard. We need to slow down and transform ourselves so we transform our work into new models of being. In a future post (nag us to write it), we’ll share some examples of what these new models can look like.

Go forth and be part of the resistance by wielding your tools properly.

Elected Officials Need Racial Equity Training

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As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about advocacy and the responsibility of elected officials. I’ve been thinking about who’s elected officials are accountable to and who’s voice they hear and the privilege it takes to speak up. I’ve concluded we need to do two things, 1) agitate more and remind elected officials they are accountable to all of us, especially people of color, and 2) the systems in place to hear from communities of color need to be changed.

Reichert.pngEarlier this week I decided to email elected officials from my state, Republican and Democrats, to tell them I want to see the Affordable Care Act continued in the new Presidential administration. Advocacy organizations (including mine) preach how important it is for elected officials to hear from community members. I figured I better do as I say and write to my elected officials.  I sat down at my laptop, looked up U.S. Representative Dave Reichert’s website, clicked the contact tab, filled in my zip-code and hit a roadblock. Because I don’t live in his district I’m blocked from emailing him via his website. I’m calling Fakequity; stalled by a technology barrier.

Putting up false barriers to hearing from people outside of a circle of influence, in this case constituents, means an elected official is only hearing from their own echo chamber. Elected officials represent all of us– including people outside of their zip-code boundaries, and they are expected to vote for the betterment of a country, city, school district, etc., not just their immediate districts. In fairness to Rep. Reichert this screen-out system of allowing emails from outside a member’s district is endemic to all of the U.S. House websites.

Equity work means we need to evaluate what barriers are in place preventing us from hearing diverse thoughts, especially from marginalized communities of color. When I asked friends and colleagues for advice on how to reach elected officials other than going through their websites I was told to call or write letters. I know I can call, as an introvert I prefer to write. I decided I’m going to pull out a booklet of Star Wars postcards leftover from a bygone fundraiser and to literally handwrite my messages — quaint isn’t it, good ol’ mail. Another friend said when she was a Congressional staffer the more unusual the messages were remembered, #AdvocacyTip. I have a lot of privilege in being able to pick up a phone and expect to be understood and heard. First, I have a cellphone with more than enough minutes on my plan to make all the calls I want and I can afford the postage it takes to send a postcard or letter, I am fluent in English, and I am a citizen. Many others cannot claim any of these privileges, which makes it harder to be heard. People most impacted by legislation and systemic barriers are our neighbors who do not have the privileges of owning a phone, being fluent in the dominant languages of our systems, or are afraid they will be persecuted if they speak up.

Barriers like a zip-code block on a website may seem innocuous, but the racial equity ramifications are there and need to be acknowledged. In legislative districts that are primarily white, tools and systems that screen out or block out voices unintentionally cause white voice echo chambers. This causes entrenched views and concentrates power and privilege versus redistributing power back to communities.

200 Hours of Racial Equity Training

Elected officials, no matter if they are port commissioners, school board directors, city council, or a U.S. Senator or Representative are elected by a few, their districts, but they have a responsibility to all of us. Though I don’t live in Congressmember Reichert’s district I live in his state and his vote will reflect on Washington, not just his narrow district; the banners under FOX News and CNN don’t say Rep. Reichert from Issaquah, if it did most people outside of the state wouldn’t know how to pronounce Issaquah, instead it says Rep. Reichert from WA.

Elected officials and their staff need to have intensive understanding on the impacts of race in our systems. Every elected official, no matter the office, should have to take a minimum of 200-hours of high quality racial equity training of some sort. If they are expected to govern and make decisions in the best interest of all people, then they need to understand that decisions made impact people of color differently. Two-hundred hours may sound like a lot, but as Heidi (of the Fakequitty team) reminds me, it is less than an internship. Watching all the episodes of Grey’s Anatomy would take your more than two-hundred hours (currently 281 episodes). And really 200-hours is a pittance compared to the amount of time it takes a student of color to catch up because their schools are underfunded because of institutional and systemic racism.

We need to demand elected officials undertake ongoing racial equity training and continue to learn about race and its impact on society. The decisions they make, no matter as a school board director or as the President of the United States, have racialized consequences. Every vote impacts people of color in some way, we need to start shifting the systems of governance to ensure decisions have positive impacts and don’t reinforce systemic racism.

When I meet with elected officials or their staff I’m going to ask what trainings they have done and what personal work they have done around understanding race. It they say they have worked to understand the impact race has on people, I’ll thank them for putting in the effort and look forward to a deep conversation about race and its impact on our communities. If they haven’t I’ll slip them Heidi’s contact info and the fakequity website and say start here. I hope you’ll join me in asking elected officials what thinking and work they have done to understand race in America and how it impacts the way they govern, collectively we can hold all elected officials accountable and see changes happen for communities of color.

Posted by Erin

Race Neutral = Institutional Racism

Welcome to 2017. I am welcoming in the new year with a heavy heart. A few days ago Al Sugiyama, a leader in Seattle’s Asian American community died after a fight with cancer. I didn’t know Al exceedingly well, but I learned so much from watching him over the past two years. He was a regular presence at the Asian Pacific Directors Coalition (APDC). When Al was there I knew, I was watching a master at work. Watching Al I learned how vocal, and at times gentle, we must be in standing up for communities of color. Al would speak pointedly and plainly to whomever the guest speaker was. No matter if it was the Police Chief, Superintendent of Schools, or a Department head, he would let them know the API community is here and growing, we are strong, and we must be taken seriously. He was also gentle in his own pointed way. He coached many of us by reminding us to show up and take our work seriously – show up on time, dress appropriately – no jeans, you never know who you might run into, speak up and call BS for BS, and to fight the fights that need to be fought. Above all be proud of belonging to the API community. Thank you, Al – you will be missed.

Stop the Race Neutral/Blind Processes

8e4246cf01dfee75d266ae6565e6a9a8Over the holiday break Heidi and I were emailing each other, one of the topics we delved into was why race neutral approaches need to end.

Before the break Heidi joined me in a budget presentation my organization hosted to learn more about the looming budget cuts facing the school district. The cuts will be huge and have an impact on every student and educator. Even though Heidi was a participant, she dropped some serious knowledge reminding us the tools used to develop the budget and the way the meeting was formatted come from a dominant culture framework. We were speaking in English and with baseline knowledge of budgeting processes – automatically these tools or modalities benefit some in the room more than others. English speakers can participate faster than non-English speakers and those who understand budgets and have knowledge about the school district are also able to participate more fully. Our job was to slow down and help everyone understand the meeting and participate fully.

As we listened to the budget presentation it became clearer we needed to push for transparency in who will benefit by the decisions made. Decisions made without thinking about race benefit white people. Systems default to preserve the status quo, which currently benefits white students. The status quo hurts students of color, it allows decisions to shift funding, resources, and voices away from who needs it the most. It isn’t good enough to have isolated efforts targeting and looking at racial equity, we need to actively work to embed race conscious decision making into every decision point.

Race neutral processes happen when we don’t think, talk about, and document who will benefit from a decision, a practice, or a policy. Race neutral or race blind processes perpetuate institutional and systemic racism. It is easy to use the words and say “We ran this through the equity filter,” like we’re running something through the dishwasher or the coffee filter – input in, equity out. It isn’t that easy. An equity filter or using an equity lens takes deeper analysis and work to understand.

Racism Isn’t New, Fight Racism by being Conscious of Race

Racism and its ilk (e.g. sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, etc.) aren’t a new phenomenon. It is so tightly ingrained into our systems and ways of thinking we operate in it everyday. Mainstream and dominant culture doesn’t actively teach against these principles. We are taught about the civil rights movement, we celebrate heroes and holidays, but we aren’t taught to sniff out and spot fakequtiy and racism. When we call these things out we’re often slapped down and told to leave things alone – preservation of the group and the system requires us to ignore racism and things that make people uncomfortable.

A race conscious approach requires us to acknowledge racism exist in our organizations AND it is our jobs to actively undo institutional and systemic racism. It is ok to feel like crap when realizing we work in and may even be perpetuating racism in our work. What isn’t ok, is to ignore it and to continue working like normal. We need to acknowledge racism exist in our work and to use a race conscious approach to changing things to drive towards more racially equitable solutions.

How to Have a Race Conscious Approach

To undo institutional and systemic racism, we must talk about who race and power dynamics. After our budget meeting I talked to a few of my coalition partners of color. One partner threw his pen on the table and said “I’m so frustrated, the decisions have been made. What do they want a rubber stamp from us?” Another partner had a similar sentiment saying students of color and the schools they attend are already under resourced so simply ‘holding the line’ isn’t enough to make gains.

Power shows up in situations such as this when we allow white echo chambers to make decisions for people of color. As Heidi pointed out at the start of the budget meeting the tools we use dictate the results we get – the budget is written in English, those with the ability to advocate easily and effectively are heard and prioritized in the budget, technology is used to share information (who has access to technology, don’t give me the bull-shit story everyone has smart phones – no they don’t), etc. A race conscious endeavor forces us to look at who we are hearing from, what are we doing to diversify voices, and to think about racial outcomes of the overall system.

Communities of color need to start demanding transparency in who is benefiting from decisions made. We also need to critically analyze decisions to determine if they are right for our communities. Too often white advocates will say a decision is based on ‘equity’ but it benefits white children more or the opportunity cost (i.e. money/time/resources spent on one ‘equitable’ action prevents greater gains in other areas) is too great.

Students of color can’t wait for the ‘right time,’ ‘right conditions,’ or wait for seconds. We need to start demanding systems think about long term outcomes and use a race conscious approach, anything less is fakequity and reinforces institutional racism.

Posted by Erin