People of Color Behaving Badly

By Erin with help from Heidi


Art credit:

The Fakequity team has been tossing around the idea for this blog post for several years. Over time we’ve collected stories of people of color (pocs) behaving badly. While there is a general code of not undercutting or talking shit about other pocs or airing problems unnecessarily, sometimes we have to be able to talk about problems if we want to fix them. I’m also attempting to write this in a way where I’m not calling out individual people, but more general behaviors and patterns.

To our white allies a few things for you to keep in mind: I’m hoping you don’t read this and use it against people of color, that just isn’t cool. If you are ever tempted to use this against pocs, think about what is your role in causing bad behaviors. Many times, it is the white power structures and white built systems which leads to the bad behaviors and pit communities and people of color against each other, create scarcity models, power plays, etc. We need allies to work to undo racism which will lead to less bad behavior by all.

The disclaimer we always give… These examples were collected over time and are not attributed to individuals. Collectively the fakequity teams have decades of experience and have seen and heard a lot. If you think it is about you, it isn’t just about you, but maybe you should ask yourself if you perpetuated some of these things in the past and more importantly what you’ll do to not do it in the future.

Bad Behaviors

PoC Know it Alls

No one likes a know it all, and really a poc know it all isn’t any better. Just because you’re a poc doesn’t give you a free pass to be a know it all who needs to be at the top and use information as a weapon against other pocs. Being a poc doesn’t mean you understand every poc experience. And being a poc doesn’t mean others have to grant you some magical status because you’re a poc. I’m not saying you don’t face racism or others have unfairly used the 31 flavors of oppression (h/t Kirk for the phrase) against you, but like everyone else you don’t get a poc badge that allows you to be a know it all. Playing into this dynamic is a reinforcement of systemic racism.

PoC Entitlement

This one is a callout to my Asian sibs (trying not to be gendered here). As Asians we are pocs and we face racism and all sorts of crap. At the same time, many of us have learned how to navigate society and have a lot of privilege. With that privilege comes a sense of entitlement. Let’s keep that entitlement in check.

Just being an Asian doesn’t mean we should do things that give us or our kids an advantage over others, especially over other pocs who may not have the same access, information, or ability to navigate systems. Instead of fighting to get yourself or your kid a special privilege, use your influence and push to make this a reality for others who may not be able to advocate. This is one way you can work on centering people who are more impacted by racism.

PoC Spokesperson

Like the poc Know it All, the PoC spokesperson is equally annoying. Speaking up and using your position as a poc to proclaim a position on behalf of pocs isn’t cool. PoCs aren’t a monolithic group.

I’ll give a concrete example– standardized testing. People of color, just like white people, fall on both sides of the debate – some feel it is an important way to gauge if students are learning, others believe standardized test are harmful and shouldn’t be used. Listening to just one poc voice or spokesperson on this debate is shortchanging all of us. There are leaders of color who can use their positions to say testing is bad, and there are leaders of color who believe standardized testing is necessary to exposing achievement and opportunity gaps. If we listen to just one poc spokesperson what part of the debate are we missing? You can find this in almost any debate or topic – yes listen to pocs and work to diversify the pocs you hear from because poc experiences and thoughts vary.

If you are a poc spokesperson, please watch your messaging and say “I don’t speak for all pocs, I am here to represent [fill in the blank].” Own your privilege of speaking and don’t squash others who may feel differently than you– create space for multiple truths.

PoC Fighter and Grandstander

The poc fighter is the person who blames and shames everyone, white people to other pocs who aren’t ‘woke’ enough. Some people call this bullying behavior. The poc fighter likes to be right, and needs to let everyone around them know they are right. I get it, my day job is to fight injustices and inequities, if I didn’t fight I would suck at my job. That said sometimes as pocs we need to fight and sometimes we need to turn off the instinct to fight and build relationships to help people understand where we’re coming from. This doesn’t mean we have to become their mentor or teacher or bffs – not unless they pay us for this service.

The poc grandstander falls into this category too. The grandstander is often passionate and has a lot to say. They will stand up and give a very long statement proclaiming their position on a topic and reiterate the injustices they faced or try to rally people in ways that center themselves. The line between sharing a point and grandstanding is a fine one, we should never silence someone. That said make your point and allow others to share their points. As Heidi wrote in the Color Brave Space norms, show what you are learning, not what you already know.

Poc Keeper of the Status Quo

This shows up as the poc who doesn’t want to rock the boat, either wants to move fast to keep things moving while other pocs want to slow down or vice versa, asking for more data, etc. Many Asians and other poc leaders, because we were acculturated and told to assimilate to reach our positions and status, may fall into wanting to keep things as is which holds everyone back. It doesn’t give you or other Asians a special status by maintaining the status quo. This is feeding into systemic racism. Instead, we should use our positions and power to changes that make it better for other pocs too. Change is hard but in the end it is better than being stuck in a racist crappy system.

PoC Manspaliner

The poc mansplainer is very much like the white manspaliner. It is ok to not speak, it is ok to turn off the need to be overly masculine. Poc women can speak for ourselves. Thanks for explaining things again, but we’re cool, I understood things the first time.

We also need to change the culture where boys of color can learn how to be ok too, we don’t need them to always be strong, gendered, or masculine. Mansplaining comes from a culture of having to show off and prove something; this is isolating and I imagine it isn’t easy for men either. Like I mentioned earlier from the Color Brave Space norms, show what you are learning, not what you already know. Learn with the community and work to create a community where we all belong.

As a personal note, I apologize if I do any of these. I probably have and probably will in the future. I’ll try to be better, and hopefully with some grace and kindness from my community you won’t kick me out for sinning on these.

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Slowing Down to Show Up

By Erin Okuno

cny7Lunar New Years and Tết (Vietnamese New Year). Lunar New Years is a really big deal to many Asian communities. In Chinese culture, it is customary to hand out red envelopes with money. It is also bad form to work on Lunar New Years, so if you scheduled a meeting with me on Lunar New Years please feel free to hand out red envelopes.

Its been a few weeks since I’ve written. The writing break has been nice since it allowed me to slow down and read what Heidi and Jondou have written which I greatly enjoyed. Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on what it means to slow down and why we need to do this to achieve equity. Often I’m working with the pressures of external timelines – grant deadlines, legislative and policy schedules, school calendars, two-hour street parking limits, etc. These timelines are there for reasons and they keep us moving forward which is important. At the same time, I’ve been thinking about what is the fakequity I need to stop perpetuating with timelines if I’m going to achieve personal equity and justice.

“This is what it means to slow down”

People who know me in real life, know I’m a classic introvert. I’m also an introvert in a job that requires me to be an extrovert. When I’m extroverting, I find it taxing and after a while my brain and my soul goes into overdrive trying to process and eventually, it screams “Abort! Get me out of here.” For me this is the equivalent of fast-food engagement – lots of people fast without a lot of substance. I can’t find equity in fast-food engagement.

Several weeks ago, I was watching Jondou facilitate a group. He started the meeting with a check-in question. I don’t remember the question and in some ways the question itself isn’t important. What was important was taking the time to slow down and connect with each other. In listening to people answer the prompt we really took time to connect with each other and to have deeper and more meaningful conversations. We saw each other as people, not as roles in jobs or not as the object of an interaction. We took time to listen to each other and reflect. Because we took time to reflect and take space to listen to each other we connected differently. At the end of that meeting CiKeithia said something that stuck with me “This is what it means to slow down,” she went on to say how it felt good to slow down and reflect and listen, fast-food interactions wouldn’t get us to deeper soulful conversations.

Slowing down to build a relationship meant I attended to a relationship that will sustain me for the long run. In some measures I am penalized for taking this time, it means I stay up late to catch up on email and filling out my timesheet that was due three days ago. It means I will probably say no to some other invite to sit in a meeting because I need that time back to do something else. But slowing down means I am more deeply connected to someone and that sustains me.

How to slow down

When we slow down we attend to different power dynamics. Power is all around us and use of time is one way power shows up. CiKeithia often says “Agendas are only suggestions,” meaning we have agendas, but really if we need to take more time on one item then we should. Too often dominant society tells us we need to abide by time schedules that force us to skip the “getting to know each other” phase, but how can we work towards common goals unless we understand how people are seeing the common goal.

There are many ways we can slow down to create more space for equitable practices. At meetings I facilitate I sometimes call them relationship building questions. I often give a prompt question and try to relate it to a personal experience and invite people to talk about race as they answer. Today I used this prompt: “What is a holiday or a celebration that is meaningful to you or your family? How is it a reflection of your culture?”

Another really important way to slow down is to force people to slow down to check for meaning or to stop bad behavior in meetings. When I facilitate meetings, we use the Color Brave Space meeting format developed by Heidi. We read them out loud as a group and talk about a few of them. I often acknowledge as the facilitator I have a lot of power and one of the powers is to stop or slow down a meeting if I feel we need to attend to power dynamics, if conversations are drifting away from the common goal, or if I think we need to get out of a loop of thinking. Slowing down is a way to disrupt problematic dynamics and to keep us focused on moving forward together. Stopping or slowing down also is important for leveling power which allows for greater participation.

Enjoy your slow down. This is one simple way we can all help to fight fakequity and maybe achieve some personal justice and equity.

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Creating the Justice We Need: When Fakequity Isn’t Enough (Part I)

By Jondou Chen

I can only remember one author of color that any teacher assigned me to read from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It was Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was twelfth grade English. I was initially thrown off by the narrator’s voice, needing to sound out each word, sheepishly recalling my experience as an English Language learner. Dubious at first about this writing style so different from Austen or Shakespeare or Steinbeck, I soon found myself smitten by the protagonist Janie. I appreciated the description of a community and culture that differed from that of the majority of my white classmates, and saw a mirror in what it meant to make sense of the world as a person of color.

College was marginally better, although retrospectively I still cannot believe how deep my internalized oppression was. Seeking to flee a racialized stereotype, that as an Asian I had to be a STEM major, I couldn’t remember any other students of color majoring in history, where I managed to read DuBois and Confucius. Again, I was moved by how much these texts resonated with me, but I had little time to do more as I was so focused on memorizing history “facts.”

That’s right. 

I thought being a history major and “good” historian was about memorizing as many facts as possible. And this wasn’t because I didn’t have a “good” history education. I took five AP social studies classes in high school. I attended a prestigious university. I knew about primary and secondary sources. But what I thought mattered most was to memorize as much as possible from these sources. And what if sources had facts that didn’t align with facts from other sources? Ha! I saw through that trick question and believed that my job was to memorize and restate both sets of facts. Synthesizing ideas? Restate the facts. Developing my own thesis? Restate the facts. And somehow I still graduated with honors – even as I gratefully passed on writing a thesis after professors discouraged me from writing one because they didn’t believe I was capable of developing my own ideas. How did I still earn honors? By taking extra classes where I memorized even more “facts.” Some time in the future, I’ll write more on this experience to unpack how this story highlights the model minority myth, the failure of my formal educational experience to teach critical thinking skills, and also how this embarrassing saga might have actually been protective in some ways because my college history department wouldn’t have been able to handle a self-realized and politically conscious Asian American. 

Instead, it wasn’t until I became a social studies teacher that I was confronted with what history actually is. It began with the impossible task of selecting what history to teach to my students given that we didn’t have enough time to cover everything that I might possibly and supposed to teach according to state standards. It was catalyzed by the need to make history real and relevant for my students in a way that honored their own histories and power to be historymakers. In teaching at a diverse school with a history of political activism, I couldn’t justify teaching a history based on “I memorized it, so you need to, too.” I couldn’t teach the story of global colonialism from the perspective only of western colonizers, but needed to imagine possibilities to teach about the vibrant cultures challenged and oppressed by colonialism and from which also came survival and ongoing resistance. I was able to present more historical figures of color to my students, and I have been able to continue this as an instructor in alternative and higher education.

Yet something was still missing for me. As much justice as I sought to do for my students, I wasn’t always doing justice for myself. Sure, I benefited from reading what I gave to my students, but I also needed to ask myself, what is the justice that I need? What is it that I need to read for myself and only for myself? In leading educational equity work for the past fifteen years, I have told the story of my own schooling countless times. I have shared about how much the “best” education denied me the opportunity to see authors whose identities or experiences reflected my own or other folks of color. But when asked by listeners what books do I wish I had read and if I had done anything to seek justice for myself, I had nothing.

20171119_144745And so this past summer, I gave myself the justice – the assignment and the gift – I needed by setting out to read 50 books across the year – 50 books for myself and for no one else. I looked to book awards and Facebook lists and personal recommendations for my choices. I read collections by individual authors as well as academic texts and young adult novels. The majority of my books were fiction, and I’ve been surprised by how much reading fiction shaped my dreams at night, more so than even my work! In the end 46 of my books were by authors of color, with the other four being deeply shaped by communities of color. I am deeply indebted to the Seattle Public Library for its collection of audiobooks on Overdrive, graphic novels on Hoopla, and ebooks on the Kindle apps. This allowed me to “read” during my commutes on the light rail or biking along Lake Washington, while cooking dinner or out working in the garden, and in many cases to hear the texts in the authors’ own voices.

Through this process, I’ve come to appreciate that injustice is real. Fakequity is real – both Fakequity as people attempting to create “excellent education” without real equity as well as Fakequity being the ability to critique these attempts. And yet to work toward justice, noting and calling out Fakequity is only the beginning. We must also lift up our communities and our cultures, our resistance and our resilience, and we must find time to build the world we want as much as we bring down the oppressive systems of this current world. From these texts, I was inspired by all that has come before and that continues being why the struggle is real and worth it. And while I don’t plan on stopping reading, witnessing the brilliance of these writers and artists has inspired me to spend more time collecting my own stories and ideas in writing. For all the folks who follow us on Fakequity and enjoy learning and commiserating with us here, let’s remember to celebrate and build as well the justice that we need.


In case you’re interested, here’s my list.  I’d share most of these titles with folks to read to diversify their reading lists and also to broaden our understanding of how justice – educational and social – can differ by individual, community and culture.  (I’ve also added to those texts read aloud by the author and that are available (for free!) from Seattle Public Libraries – all of these texts are available from SPL).

  1. Daniel Alarcón, The King Is Always Above the People
  2. Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian ***
  3. Julia Alvarez, Before We Were Free
  4. Carol Anderson, White Rage
  5. W. Kamau Bell, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell ***
  6. Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
  7. Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do
  8. Keith Chow, Jeff Yang, Parry Shen; Secret Identities & Shattered
  9. Lenora Chu, Little Soldiers
  10. Sandra Cisneros, A House of My Own ***
  11. Matthew Desmond, Evicted
  12. Junot Diaz, Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Who
  13. Louise Erdrich, Four Souls
  14. Louise Erdrich, LaRose ***
  15. Louise Erdrich, The Birchbark House
  16. Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum
  17. Louise Erdrich, The Porcupine Year
  18. Louise Erdrich, The Round House
  19. Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
  20. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
  21. Eddie Huang, Double Cup Love ***
  22. Eddie Huang, Fresh Off the Boat ***
  23. Geronimo Johnson, Welcome to Braggsville
  24. Paul Kalanathi, When Breath Becomes Air
  25. Michelle Kuo, Reading with Patrick ***
  26. Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
  27. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
  28. Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth
  29. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, March (Volumes 1, 2, and 3)
  30. Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver
  31. Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  32. Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs
  33. Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
  34. Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers
  35. Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You
  36. Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
  37. Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
  38. Sonia Nozario, Enrique’s Journey
  39. Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
  40. Maria Qamar, Trust No Aunty
  41. Phoebe Robinson, You Can’t Touch My Hair ***
  42. Erika Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
  43. Valerie Smith, Not Just Race Not Just Gender
  44. Angie Thomas, The Hate You Give
  45. Héctor Tobar, Barbarian Nurseries
  46. Desmond Tutu & Dalai Lama, Book of Joy
  47. Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples; Saga
  48. Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing
  49. Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad
  50. Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints

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Super Bowl Edition: How to talk with people about racial equity using sports analogies

By Heidi Schillinger

This weekend is Super Bowl LII. I’ll be rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, in case you care. I am feeling very bitter about the Seahawks not making the playoffs and that one team who shall not be named being in the Super Bowl again. Sorry to any Fakequity Fighters out there who root for that team. While my sister tries hard to get me to pay attention to college women’s hoops, really the time between the Seahawks and the Seattle Storm is a long dry sport watching period for me. By the way, if you are thinking, Seattle Storm? They would be the WNBA team in Seattle. Yes, Seattle has a basketball team and I am a proud season ticket holder. Go, Storm!

Wearing Seahawks jerseys at a work event.

Okay, so while advertisers are bombarding us with Super Bowl ads, let’s harness that energy and talk sports analogies and racial equity. You know, because I have the unique ability to make any conversation into one about racial equity and racial justice. Does that qualify as a superpower? Besides someone recently told me I need to write funny blog posts too. So, if you hate my attempt at mixing racial equity and humor, you can blame Vu. [Side note, be sure to ask Erin about that one time I had us both in Seahawks jerseys facilitating a meeting. She might even be able to show you a picture. Erin’s note — picture found and posted, I looked so young, that was just three years ago pre-fakequity blogging.]

I am going to write these analogies like a “Dear Fakequity” column. All sentiments are real, but the letters are made up. Any resemblance to you is an intentional coincidence. If you have a real “Dear Fakequity” question send it to Erin at She will answer it between episodes of Queen Sugar. These are meant to be useful but cheeky, and not necessarily very deep. So take them with that disclaimer.

Dear Fakequity,

I have a friend who says that they are inherently a good person, who loves different cultures and races, and treats everyone equally, so they don’t need to focus on “racial equity.” How can I approach a conversation with them?

Speechless in Seattle

Dear Speechless in Seattle,

When you say, “you have a friend” does that really mean you? There is too much (contradiction) to unpack here in a word limited blog post. But let’s jump right to the big picture and use a football analogy here. I love football. I respect the game. I even know a little about the rules and players, (but don’t quiz me). Here is the thing loving the game, respecting the players, being knowledgeable about the rules, doesn’t mean I can get on the field and play football. We are done here.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

My coworkers are upset that we have an equity and social justice initiative. They said all this talk of race is making worse, that nothing was wrong and now this initiative is stirring up trouble where there isn’t any.

Stirring Things Up

Dear Stirring Things Up,

I saw this poster recently that had the MLK quote, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” This might be a good starting point, but they might think this is stirring things up too. So let’s try using a basketball analogy. Roll with me here. Or maybe bounce with me here works better. I was recently watching the University of Washington vs. Washington State women’s basketball game with my sister. I noticed there was a new line painted in key. Since my sister keeps up on changes in the game more than I do, I had to ask her what that new line meant. If you’re curious it means offensive players can’t get called for an offensive foul inside that line. I reflected on all the changes the game of basketball has had over the years. I started playing organized basketball when I was six years old and had a short-lived career through high school, but since I started playing the game has added a shot clock, a three-point line, constant changes to the over and back rules and jump ball rules, just to name a few. Even a classic game like Basketball evolves and changes with the times. What about trying to be like the game of basketball?

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

After getting asked to sit on my fifth interview panel at work this week, I think I might be the token person of color my organization wants to put on display. I’m not getting extra pay, and this is not a part of my job description, but I secretly like to use my biases for good. Is this wrong?

Biases for Good

Dear Biases for Good,

If one day you are fed up with being tokenized and decide to let a long string of swear words out as you resign while slamming doors, our Fakequity community will totally understand. I also have some good support groups to recommend or would be happy to buy you a beer or two. In the meantime, I am totally for using biases for good. Let me explain using a soccer analogy (or what the rest of the world calls football). Bear with me, I know very little about soccer. I once experienced grown adults screaming, “I’m Sounders ‘til I die” loudly all night, so that is about my only credibility here. My other credibility, I am using that word loosely here, comes from watching my young nephews and niece play. One cold night a few weeks ago, I noticed that soccer referees are positioned on different places of the field. One is there to observe the whole field, but two assistants are positioned along the sidelines looking for when the ball leaves play. This is how I see using biases for good working too. I am guessing that your experience as a person of color in your organization helps you see things that others on the panel don’t see, and this is a good thing. If fact, I would try to advocate for finding more people of color to help you use your biases for good, since we all know “people of color” is way too broad of a category to even begin to capture all the unique ways we might be able to see the field or evaluate a candidate. While you’re at it, you could work on rallying your white allies to make more systemic changes to the process, like not tokenizing, compensating, etc. but that is a longer letter.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

My organization is really focused on the individual level of addressing racism in our organization. We are constantly receiving training on things like implicit bias, cross-cultural communication, etc. I feel like something is missing. Any advice?

Left Feeling Individually Empty

Dear Left Feeling Individually Empty,

Your gut feeling is not the sign of the flu. But I am in no way qualified to give medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional. Your organization is on the right track but might be missing the whole field. That line was the set up for my track and field analogy. I am more qualified to talk about track and field than give medical advice. I high jumped and triple jumped (yes, that is a hop, skip and a jump) in college. Focusing on the individual level of addressing racism is like all the individual events in track and field, but at the end of the day it is also a team sport. I could win my event, but as a team we might still loose. Looking at how the whole team performed was equally important as fostering individual athletes. A good team and coach know, they can’t just foster individuals and neglect the team. It sounds like your organization, and many others, are overly focused on the individual athletes and ignoring the team (or systemic) aspect of addressing racism and creating racial equity. Oh, one more thing, you might also want to share a past Fakequity blog post, We can’t train our way to racial equity, with people in your organization.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

I tried to use some of your sport analogies to talk with people about racial equity and they were offended because sports have so much racism, classism, and sexism. What do you say to these responses?

I Tried

Dear I Tried,

Well, I tried too. I would try the good ol’ rule of improv, “yes, and.” Yes, sports are not exempt from the racism, sexism, and classism that exists in our society at large. Native mascots, gender pay chasms, lack of accountability for things such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, just to name a few. And, we can both acknowledge those things and recognize that many people relate to sports. Talking with someone in a way that they already understand is like using your bilingual language skills. It could be that this is not the language of the people you mention. You could always try using Reality TV analogies.

Team Fakequity #15

In closing, I would like to mention that I made it through a whole blog post about sports without mentioning cycling. Well, until now. But if you miss my cycling analogies you can either a) buy me a beer; b) attend one of my workshops; or c) read any of my past blog post.

Go, Philadelphia Eagles!

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