Stop Saying We’re Winning, We’re Not

Before we start, if you’re not paying attention to the battle for the internet, you should. The FCC has proposed changes that will eliminate net neutrality. The short version is ending net neutrality will create more of a digital divide by creating more of a market based system where you pay for what you need, sounds good but if you are poor or a small business it is hard to compete with people with faster internet. If you care about ending racism, you should care about freedom of information and who has access to it. Rise up and get mad about Net Neutrality, link to the FCC comment page, enter code 17-108.

I’m torn between writing this post and writing something about being thankful because it is Thanksgiving weekend. Alas, this is Fakequity and we rarely do what is expected.

Last week I attended a policy-wonk conference. It was interesting and a great way to learn more about federal tax policy, meet other colleagues, and learn some new things. I learned a lot of new acronyms like EITC (earning income tax credit) and terms like Con Con (look it up) that make little sense to non-wonks. The wonk-factor was high at this event in a good way.

Several people mentioned how different this conference felt than the year before. The 2016 conference happened right after the presidential election that elected Trump. It sounded like a collective mourning and shrouds of darkness hung over the event. This year we didn’t kid ourselves that things were rosy, but the light was peeking through despite being in windowless hotel conference rooms. There was ‘fight’ in the room, I was waiting for someone to play Rachel Patton’s Fight Song as an anthem.

During one of the plenary panels, several speakers said: “We’re winning…” The multiracial panel talked about how we stopped the Republican’s attempt to squash the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. Others talked about success at multiracial organizing and bringing white rural people along. It was interesting and inspiring and an important shot of go-go juice, but a third of the way through the talk I wrote myself a note “Are we really winning?”

I may be standing alone in the corner in the policy-wonk land, but I don’t think communities of color and the progressive movement are really winning right now. We may feel like we’re winning but we’re just slowing down bad stuff from happening. Our causes are in defensive mode and we’re responding. We’re doing a great job at slowing down crap from happening, but I hesitate to call this winning.

Holding the Line

Last year at the Washington State Budget & Policy Center conference I dropped into a panel discussion with Dr. Ben Danielson. Dr. Danielson is a local legend for his work at Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic. While on the panel his co-panelist talked about the defensive policy moves we would have to take after the Trump was elected. The panelist talked about steps to save Apple Health for Kids (state medical insurance) and rural versus urban politics. These were important points, but nothing really stood out until Dr. Danielson answered a question and said something along the lines of “I’m worried we’ll hold the line and we won’t make progress.” This honest sentiment resonated.


Artwork from the National Portrait Gallery Struggle for Justice exhibit. Photo by Erin Okuno

Holding the line and fighting to keep what we have is important, but does this come at the expensive of working for more? People and communities of color are already behind. It is important to protect the gains we’ve made, but if we’re not pushing for more we risk staying behind. We need to be honest about where we are and the gains we’ve made. We also need to believe we are entitled to more. By declaring we’re winning we’re putting blinders on to the fact we are wasting a lot of energy fighting for things we already fought for. If we weren’t forced to save healthcare, we could use that energy to work for some greater achievement.

Be Bolder

A few months ago, I was working with the Chinese immigrant community and my colleague and friend Jondou asked the parents a simple question “What are your dreams for your children?” People who work with Asian immigrants are probably chuckling a bit, in the Asian community we don’t talk about dreams. We may talk about aspirations, but not in the terms of dreams. One of the participants answered this question thoughtfully by saying “I don’t even know my own dreams.”

It is hard to dream when you have been told to stay inline and to be grateful for what you have. The message mainstream America tells people of color is “You too can achieve this dream if you work hard.” But what mainstream America doesn’t explain is how racism works. The American dream is also just that, a monolithic American dream, don’t dare to want something different than that dream or to ask for more, or to question if the resources and tools are there to achieve the dream.

Jondou shared with the group “I think one of the ways that…racial inequality happens is when people can’t even dream anymore. We’re so busy looking for a translator that we can’t think our own thoughts.” Many of the parents we worked with said their identities as Chinese people weren’t recognized by the school system. They didn’t have aspirational dreams to share because they were caught up in asking the school system to provide little things many of us take for granted. They were asking for basics like interpreters, to making sure their children weren’t misidentified as needing special education services when really the child didn’t understand English, and to be seen by the school system. I hear similar stories out of other communities of color. It is hard to dream when you’re worried about physical safety – is it safe to walk home from a neighbor’s house past 10.00 p.m., is it safe for your African American teen to walk your sweet pit bull at night, do you dare to dream about college for your child when your kid is constantly told they need to behave differently to stay in class.

This is how systems tell us to stay in our place and we call little things wins – Yay we got an interpreter today, never mind the bigger dream of changing the system so we have bilingual teachers and education for all. We are too busy fighting for things that should be provided. When we speak up to demand what we should be entitled to it we’re told we’re being too forward, too audacious, too outlandish. The subtle message is we should be more reasonable, shut up and be grateful for the pittance of wins. So yes, we are winning, but we’re not winning fast enough to stay caught up.


My resolution in 2017 is to practice more gratitude. The challenge for me is to remember gratitude doesn’t equate with settling. As an example: I’m grateful we saved health care, I’m still annoyed we had to fight that fight.

Join me in celebrating the wins but continuing to call out fakequity. I will share what I am thankful for as it relates to winning and holding the line:

  • I am thankful for the policy wonks who wonk-out and provide the data needed to prove we’re winning and how we’re not winning. At another time I’ll blog about how you need to wonk-out with activist to breakdown silos.
  • I’m thankful for people like Dr. Ben Danielson who speak truth-to-power and brave being the lone person on the panel saying nope, we’re settling for less than we deserve. There are many of you who model this — thank you.
  • I’m thankful to the families who showed up and stayed in the uncomfortable space of talking about their dreams. In American terms they “leaned in,” which trust me doesn’t translate well into Chinese or other languages.
  • Thankful to the people who feed me both literally and figuratively.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.


We Can’t Train Our Way to Racial Equity

Erin is gone on a “work trip” and told me it’s time to write this blog post that I promised weeks ago. In true Heidi fashion, I need to start off my post with a disclaimer. I make my living as a racial equity consultant and most of my work comes from requests for trainings. So, it might not be in the best business interest to criticize the core service of my business, but here it is. I too am learning to undo the ways I uphold systemic racism and support white supremacy. Change, reflection, and applied learning are values I strive to model in my own journey towards racial justice. This is one of my “show what you’re learning, not what you already know” moments of living the Color Brave Space norms.

Training is NOT the destination


Heidi preparing for a training

I now realize many mainstream organizations are approaching “training” as the destination for their racial equity work. This realization and discomfort are affirmed through employee surveys, where overwhelmingly the most common response to what their organization is doing to advance racial equity is training. Believing we can train our way to racial equity is fakequity.

There are two fundamental reasons training cannot be our destination. First, paraphrasing the Racial Equity Tools definition, racial equity is when race is no longer a predictor of outcomes. Training does not guarantee disparities by race will be eliminated. In the article, The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy, the author defines the system we are trying to dismantle as one that protects white comfort, white control, and white confidentiality. Training also does not guarantee these systems of white supremacy will be undone or even disrupted. As our friend at Nonprofit AF writes, racial equity is about money and the ability for communities of color to have power and control over how money is spent to address racial injustice. Training does not guarantee money will go to communities of color to fight racial injustice. (Sidebar, I know you will continue to conduct training so please ensure you are hiring facilitators who are people of color. Hiring white facilitators because it makes mostly white participants feel more comfortable continues to center whiteness.)

The second reason training is not the destination is most organizations have staff who are starting at such varying and disproportionately low skill levels. Having participants at such varying skill levels makes conducting an effective workshop almost impossible. I use language learning as a parallel cognitive skill. Imagine you were trying to teach a Spanish class to participants who don’t know any Spanish, who know some Spanish, and a few who are fluent in Spanish. Then imagine the expectation was that after 8 or 9 hours of training everyone will be fluent. We are setting ourselves up fail. We are creating a false sense of progress that upholds the very system we are working to dismantle.

Relying mostly on training continues to give whiteness the benefit of the doubt

A predictable pattern of systemic racism is giving white people the benefit of the doubt while requiring people of color to show proof and evidence. This double standard plays out in who organizations hire and promote based on a perceived potential. It plays out in requiring people of color to prove or show evidence of racial discrimination before we are believed.

Relying mostly on training to achieve racial equity continues to uphold this double standard. People of color are required to know how to navigate white systems before we are deemed “qualified.” Yet through training at mainstream organizations, mostly white people are disproportionately invested in and seen as having the potential to learn strategies to achieve racial equity. Going back to the language analogy, we are trying to train people to speak Spanish in a few hours, when what we need right now are fluent Spanish speakers.

Moving beyond training, addressing racialized POWER

  • Hire for Racial Equity Skills – Hire people already fluent in understanding systemic racism and strategies to achieve racial equity. This should be a required, not just a desired, qualification. At the very minimum, stop hiring people who don’t believe systemic racism exists.
  • Promote based on Racial Equity Skills – Like hiring, racial equity skills should be viewed as a required qualification. This means developing and using job performance “metrics” reflective of this requirement, and of course having evaluators/supervisors with high racial equity skills as well.
  • Design for Racial Equity – One of my favorite examples to share is the behavioral economics study that looked at different rates of organ donors in Europe. What the study found is the opt-in or opt-out form at the department of motor vehicles had the most influence over rates of donors. We currently have an opt-in approach to racial equity, when what we need to design are programs and process that default to racial equity. Erin wrote Luck Doesn’t Create Equity – Good Design Yields Better Results back in 2015, it is still one of my favorite blog posts.
  • Put your Money Towards your Racial Equity Values – We need to do a better job of tracking where our money is going. Often people get uneasy when I tell them I consciously try to spend money at businesses owned by people of color (if you haven’t seen our open source POC business map, check it out). If I asked you, do you want almost exclusively to support white businesses, the answer is usually no. But if we are not consciously thinking about it, we probably are supporting mostly white businesses. That is what the default system is designed to do. Be transparent with your money, how much is supporting white businesses, white staff, white consultants and how much is truly being directed at poc businesses, poc staff, and poc consultants?
  • Change Decision Making Tables – Decision making is connected to money and resources. Who sits at the final decision-making tables for how money is spent, invested, or how staff time is used? If these tables have been and continue to be disproportionately white this is systemic racism at work. If you continue to justify why and how these tables can’t be changed, this is paternalism upholding white supremacy.

What would you add to this list of ways we can work towards racial equity beyond training?

Making training more effective

I’m realistic, you’re still going to spend time and resources on training. I will also continue to train, as it does allow me to get my foot in the door of many organizations that would otherwise never have these conversations. Before you jump on the training bandwagon, check out this past blog posts on how to make racial equity training more effective. Here is a hint, all or mostly white groups discussing racial equity is a recipe for fakequity. We need to stop treating racial equity trainings like 8-hour degree courses, and start viewing them as continuing education opportunities. Here are my commitments. What are yours?

  • I am committed to taking on more projects that help people change organizational practices and processes to address racialized power.
  • I am committed to supporting organizations to find ways to have training be one, but not the only, strategy to work toward racial equity.
  • I am committed to facilitating racial equity workshops among people of color, as we also have work to do and often this work doesn’t or can’t happen when whiteness is overwhelmingly present.

When you see me next, feel free to ask me how I am doing on my commitments.

Posted by Heidi Schillinger

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Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

Equitrend = Equity+Trendy

Today is Veteran’s Day. Thank you to our servicemembers and Veterans.

Earlier this week a colleague joined my organization’s advocacy and policy cohort to talk about her advocacy and community organizing journey. It was a rich hour-and-a-half conversation and we easily could have spent all day listening to her stories and wisdom. In my notes from the meeting I wrote: “know yourself, like really know yourself.” While this is easy to understand and theorize this line, it is harder to live and practice. Along with this premise, another friend suggested as a blog topic to talk about people who use equity as a way for self-promotion because it is trendy or they can be the expert in it. These two topics go together in a strange mashup.

Believing and understanding racial equity is a personal journey. It takes a lot of introspection, grappling with personal privileges — we all have some form of privilege, and understanding your personal why is part of the journey. Equity is the in-thing and conversations around race are at the forefront of many organization, the reasons for wanting to practice equity can’t be trendy or be used for self-advancement without understanding your personal reason for practicing equity.

Equitrend = Equity+Trendy

trendy panda

Trendy equity panda shirt

Equity is trendy. Organizations have equity teams, big organizations have departments on org charts charged with paying attention to equity, and people throw the word out at meetings all the time. Maybe the next phase of popularity will be Woke-departments.

If you have colleagues who want to jump on the equity trend but you are skeptical is ask them if they have a personal definition and a personal reason for wanting to engage in the work. This is a simple but loaded question since you’re asking about their value systems. I remember being at a luncheon with an ethnic business association and the presenter used the word equity. One of the audience members earnestly asked what does equity mean, because she came from the financial sector and thought of financial equity. The presenter couldn’t answer the question succinctly and stumbled his way through it. My colleague kept hitting my leg in disbelief during the answer, the presenters desire to be on the equity-bandwagon was falling apart as we ate our delicious dumpling soup.

Fail Specatarily with Others

We need to be willing to fail at race and equity conversations, maybe not as publicly as I just wrote about, but we need to be willing to fail and be willing to reflect on our failures. I’m borrowing a concept from Ray a friend who is an art teacher. He blogged about creating a culture of failing spectacularly. Very few people want to fail at race conversations and as a result, we have a culture that refuses to confront the impact race has on our country. Instead, we need to find people and create spaces where we can fail at the conversations and be honest and let go of conceptions about how to be ‘right’ at race conversations. I have multiple people who keep me in check and humble me when it comes to talking about race and other forms of identity that I can never authentically live. I ask them to invest in my learning and in return, I hope they know I am part of their squad-care too.

What to do

My friend asked for strategies for helping people understand that equity isn’t about them. There are times when I’m losing my patience and want to say “yo, you’ve been talking a lot and your equitrend analysis don’t make sense,” or what I really want to say is “you’re all spun up like a tighty whitey, let go of some of that white supremacy bullshit.” I can’t really say these things and expect to be effective instead, I try what a colleague calls “call in and call out” strategies to re-direct the conversation. I’ll also admit at times I just give up and sit back and watch to see how things play out.

A more positive strategy is to take people out of their normal environments and to tell them to shut up and listen to others. Take people to visit a school in a different neighborhood, take them with you on a site visit to a youth or senior program, take them to lunch with you with more woke people and tell them their job is to just listen. When you take them out point out the subtle differences they may not notice – such as at a youth program point out who is doing the talking in the classroom, talk about the history of the neighborhood and who currently lives there. When we confront the differences, we begin to see things differently.

If a site visit isn’t possible create spaces for deeper conversation. Talk about a TED-Talk related to something you’re working on and ask some probing questions about race. Ask what is the last book or article they read by an author of color and how it informed their thinking, if they can’t recall reading anything by an author of color explore why that is (hint talk about systemic racism and how whiteness is not normal).


Take time to engage and reflect. This will help you understand your personal why.

Posted by Erin Okuno

The Effects of Structural Racism are NOT Normal

That’s Not Normal, Stop Thinking it Is

Last night I had a dream-not-quite nightmare, I was in a work meeting with all-white people. I remember the feeling of anxiousness and being afraid of the group. I also dreamt I was holding a baby, but as it turns out I really was holding my not-baby-baby; she has sneaked into my bed and was trying to ‘snugga’ (snuggle). As I was holding the dream-baby I tried to make sense of this all-white people meeting and what they were talking about; I gave up and just held the baby awkwardly and in real life fought for more space on the pillow. In the dream, all the white-people were ok with being in an all-white people meeting.

The feeling of wondering why everyone else was ok to be at a meeting of all-white people is what Heidi (of the Fakequity team) describes as a byproduct of structural racism. We often don’t think twice about why whiteness pervades our society and we’re conditioned to accept and normalize it.

20171020_084046.jpgAs an example, last month I went to the Board Source Conference. They made a big deal about talking about diversity and race in the opening session, provided scholarships to cover the cost of attending to local leaders of color from organizations with budgets under $500,000 – our nametags publicly declared our charitable acceptance by saying “Scholarship,” and they featured sessions talking about race. Yet even with all of this, it was still a conference geared towards white people. The subtle signs and legacy of structural racism were prevalent. I sat through a plenary session with an all-white speaker panel. Many of the sessions were race-neutral or when the speaker introduced race it sounded like an unexplored afterthought. Few others at the conference seemed to notice these signs. Jondou (also of the fakequity team) calls it “knowing what you know what you don’t know.” Most people at the conference didn’t know the conference was catering to whiteness.

Another example is too often Native Americans are left out of data presentations and few stop to ask why. Because of structural racism towards Native American, they have become data-invisible. This effect of structural racism shouldn’t be normalized, instead, we should call out why we aren’t including Native Americans in the dataset, even if it is to report zero participation. By making a small shift to include the race category of Native American/ Indigenous and seeing n/a or zero reminds us we have a responsibility to change the results from zero to something more representative of the community.

Whiteness Isn’t Normal

We’ve been conditioned to believe whiteness is normal. In Melody Hobson’s TED Talk she says “…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?”

Whiteness isn’t normal, it is the offspring of structural racism. Part of this legacy of structural racism is a complacency and acceptance into thinking whiteness is normal. Heidi provided these examples of ways structural racism is normalized or excused: “There aren’t enough teacher of color,” segregated communities because of red-lining housing practices, board and leadership of organizations that aren’t diverse, elected bodies that aren’t representative of the people they serve, city and street names honoring white people versus using indigenous names for areas, etc.

Structural racism holds down people of color by normalizing whiteness. My wicked smart colleague Paola Maranan taught me: “Racism is always self-correcting, it works to preserve itself.” Structural racism plays out in our systems is in accepting the status quo, continuing business as usual, and not questioning why things are the way they are. We also tend to marginalize, silence, or label people who call out the need for change. The excuses sound like this: “we tried to find people of color but they aren’t qualified,” “it will take too long,” “that is too drastic a change, it is rocking the boat,” “we provided interpreters and went to their community but no one showed up.” When we let these excuses go it is allowing structural racism and a white-dominated system continue versus questioning what structures or activities were undertaken to get to different results. We have to train our brains to spot structural racism and we must be able to develop ways to call it out and correct the imbalance.

How to Do Better

Training ourselves to see the effects of structural racism isn’t hard, just start questioning everything. You may annoy your colleagues and even yourself, but after a while it works.

Ask Why – Somewhere in the vastness of the internet I read an article about asking why. The writer said to ask why three times. Why are those racialized results the way they are? Why do I feel funny about it? Why is that ok? It doesn’t have to be those three why questions but asking why several times forces us to dig deeper.

Train your brain to look for what is missing – Structural racism limits what we can see and what is presented to us. When we start looking for who is missing it is easier to see. Such as in my example above about missing Native Americans in data, start looking for who is missing and ask why don’t just accept the data as is.

Slow down — Slowing down is important in figuring out what doesn’t feel and sit right. In meetings and especially if you are facilitating, slow the meeting down to think. You can say “I’d like to check for understanding on ___,” or if I’m facilitating I may have people pause to think then write down or draw what they are thinking as a way to process and not just allow talking to happen.

Slow down and recognize people and land. In gatherings recognize the host of the meeting and say thank you for hosting the event, especially if being hosted by a community of color. Recognize we are on Native American land and say so.

Don’t be paralyzed, Take Action – Racism thrives on the status quo, inaction, and nuance or excuses. We have to actively work to correct what racism hands us, and we have to fix the systems that gave us those results. Sometimes these actions are making data corrections, being more inclusive and actively seeking new voices, or calling out what isn’t normal. Do something, don’t just allow things to stay the way they are.

Finally, keep learning and pushing your edge. We all have to keep learning about racism and how it shows up. For me I’m aware of some of my blindspots around things I don’t know. I know I don’t know a lot about poc disabilities and this isn’t natural it is because our society isn’t designed to be inclusive and we force people with disabilities to work harder to participate. My job is to learn more and not be ok with what dominant culture says is normal around disabilities. I have many other things I need to learn so stay tuned so you can learn with me too.

Posted by Erin Okuno, idea and examples from Heidi Schillinger. One day Heidi will have to write another post on this same topic from her perspective.

Fakequity Fridays: If you subscribe to the blog, thank you. Please check for the most up to date version of the post. We often make grammatical and stylistic corrections after the first publishing which shows up in your inbox. If you would like to subscribe there is a sign-up box on the right sidebar – start your Friday with a little fakequity.