Survey – Did you include a question about race? If you didn’t, uh oh.

By Erin Okuno

US-ANIMALS-PANDA-BIRTHDAYWe get them in our inboxes, surveys. They are the love/hate way of gathering information – easy, affordable, and we can say we’ve heard back from the community. Yet the cavalier attitude of easy and cheap surveys needs to stop. I was trained during my college days to think very carefully about survey design and to never put out a survey without doing a practice survey first. As the saying goes: junk questions, junk data back. Unfortunately, we don’t get too many chances to go out into the community to really collect good data, and you better do it right the first time. Getting it right means you also better include a question about race:

Without a question asking about the race of the survey taker, you can’t disaggregate your data. If you can’t disaggregate your data, you can’t tell who you’re NOT hearing from. If you’re not hearing from people and communities of color, what is


A few months ago a state government agency launched a statewide survey to ask people to give input on budgeting priorities. It was heralded as an innovative way to influence the budgeting process which had become rote. The survey was posted online, the organization did their due diligence of having it translated into a few different languages. Since it was a pretty big deal to ask for public budgeting input the survey gained media attention. Out of curiosity I opened the survey link and scrolled through the list of options and dutifully clicked what I thought the priorities should be. Towards the end of the survey I saw they were collecting demographic information. There was an emphasis on making sure they were getting statewide representation since asked about what area of the state people lived, I can’t remember but there might have been a question about rural, suburban, and urban school districts. I think there was a question about how people identified by role—parent, teacher/educator, leadership, etc. Yet there was no question about race.

When I reached out to the organization’s leadership to ask why they didn’t include a question about race I got back a convoluted answer. It said in part: according to national rhetoric there is believed to be lower participation rates if the government is thought to be involved in collecting personal data, thus they wanted to avoid any appearance of collecting personal data. I rolled my eyes when I read that line. Excuses like this are how racism self-corrects to protect itself; underhanded ways of keeping racism alive. This organization has a public commitment to equity and they forgot to actualize it and live it, however I bet this same leader wouldn’t hesitate to use the word equity when talking to the media. This org is aren’t alone in putting out race-blind surveys, just this week a peer organization to them also put out a race-blind survey. Their staff must have traded notes since their excuse was similar.

Why We Ask About Race

It is important to ask about race in surveys because we need to track survey returns to figure out who we are and aren’t hearing from. If we want to make life better for people of color, whether by closing achievement gaps in education or infant mortality gaps, we need to hear from those most impacted by the problems. If I want to close an infant mortality gap I shouldn’t be asking or listening to white people; white people aren’t as negatively impacted by infant mortality as Native Americans/Indigenous and Black/African American people. People of color, especially people farthest from racial justice, must have a say in solution finding and their voices need to rise about the noise and din of a crowded data field. A race-blind/neutral survey that doesn’t allow for the disaggregation of survey results will distort the data in favor of white people.


A better survey design allows survey collectors to disaggregate the survey returns by race. This disaggregation is important for multiple reasons. First, as you’re collecting surveys you can gauge who you aren’t hearing from. If you’re not hearing from a certain demographic you can double down on outreach and hopefully nimbly adjust to seek more input from whoever is missing. I once ran a family engagement survey and noticed we were missing input from East Africans. There are a lot of East Africans in our survey catchment area but they weren’t being reached by our traditional survey collection methods. Mid-way through our survey collection I reached out to a Somali colleague and hired her to help me with survey collection. Had we not been tracking our returns by race there is a high probability we wouldn’t have had any surveys from East African families in our survey pool.

It is also important to disaggregate the survey results. Race-neutral surveys don’t allow you to pull out the results of people of color. When we disaggregate we can also target resources with more precision and adaptively. Such as the data for one community of color might show different trends and the solutions should be different. Such as an intervention for a white student is probably not the right approach for a first generation Hmong student. A race-blind survey doesn’t allow us to get to this level of specificity.

What to Do

If you must put out a survey, please at a minimum include an optional question about race. If you don’t you’re squandering a chance to do something more meaningful with the results. If you do collect race data, then use it! Do the harder work of disaggregating your data and work with communities of color to make sense of the data. And really you should be doing this before you even write your survey, communities of color should be the ones writing the survey, but we’ve already blogged about that and will probably write about that again some other time.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke, C+C, Carrie, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Heidi, Janis, Jennifer, Jillian, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Laurel, Lori, Matthew, McKenzie, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Molly, Sarah, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

Presence isn’t Power — Shifting Power to Create Change

By Erin Okuno

A few years ago I attended the Othering and Belonging Conference hosted by the Haas Institute at UC Berkley. It still ranks in my top three of best conferences ever attended, and it didn’t make the list because of the after-hours networking, which let’s be real that is sometimes more important and powerful than actual conferences – relationship building is important to undoing racism. This conference was great because of the new thoughts generated and the disruption in old thinking.

One of my favorite lines from the conference came from the Rashad Robinson of Color of Change. During one of the talks, he said “Presence doesn’t equal power,” and went on to explain somewhere along the way his organization realized just turning out people and having a large social media presence didn’t matter. Having a social media post viral with millions of reshares and likes or turning out thousands of people at a rally are all great but they don’t equal the power to push for change. Power comes with using that presence and energy to build a movement, disrupt and have people take actions.

Presence is important and sometimes presence is action. Such as I am reminded of the story of how El Centro de la Raza in my adopted city came to be. In the 1972 Roberto Maestas and other local activist took over the El Centro building declaring by their presence that the community needed and deserved a community gathering site. By being physically present they galvanized each other and their power grew and they eventually were awarded the building. Their presence was intentional and part of a broader movement to uproot racism against people of color and to establish a physical place for the Latino community and other communities of color. Today El Centro’s presence is a comfort to many in the community. They provide housing, preschool education, and so much more from their perch on Beacon Hill. Without their presence in the community, there would be a power vacuum.


Artwork from Amplifier

What isn’t Power

On the flip side too often I see people trying to claim that just showing up is enough. Showing up is important. Systems and power holders see fear in numbers. Thousands of people showing up at a rally helps to convey a sense of urgency and importance, but we need to remember a one-time mass show up of people power doesn’t change power dynamics. Mere presence without intention and in isolation of other efforts doesn’t lead to change; put more simply a one-off action doesn’t have the power behind it to create change – sustained efforts and building a movement gain results.

Dismantling structural racism takes more than posting on social media and showing up at rallies and meetings. Showing up one-time at a rally or posting an article about a topic is a one-off, a one-time presence will gain you exactly one-wokeness point. One-wokeness point doesn’t buy enough to unearth the layers of historical history, oppression, or even begin to unpack the racism that we are all charged with undoing. You’ll need way more wokeness-points to make changes.

Shifting Power

We need to use our presence as people of color and allies to disrupt and create a new counterculture. These new disruptions and countercultures have to be rooted in who we are as people and communities of color and built to withstand racism and to undo the historical legacies of slavery, oppression, of stolen land, and assimilation.

In order to shift from presence to power we need to remember the things we’re asking people to do are gateways to deeper engagement. Such as why are you posting something on social media, is it to share out information or is it to engage with people on a deeper level. If you want to engage people on a deeper level, then your presence needs to be felt more deeply as well – are you then doing the deeper work to build a deeper relationship with them to talk about the topic of the article.

Some ways to move beyond presence:

Learn about what you plan to attend—If you are attending a rally do the deeper work about learning about the topic, and learn about it from a poc perspective.

Learn what it means at the national level, state and local levels:

If you attended the rally protesting the separation of migrant families read about the topic in national newspapers (i.e. Washington Post, NY Times, Wall Street Journal, foreign papers).

Next, learn what is happening in your state and city – on immigration in Seattle recently a local immigrant lawfully here with a Green Card was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, you can also learn what organizations are working on the issue and work to support them.

Finally, think about what it means for your sphere of influence. What conversations do you need to have to disrupt and be a powerful ally? On immigration, have you contacted your lawmakers? If you run an organization or work with kids do you know what policies are in place if ICE shows up? Can you help families create emergency plans? These steps equal power to make change, not just power to be seen.

You can use this same format for almost any topic – homelessness, education, literacy, maternal justice, disabilities, etc. When we shift from simply showing up to thinking more critically about our individual roles in disrupting racism this is where we shift power for good.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke, C+C, Carrie, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Heidi, Janis, Jennifer, Jillian, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Laurel, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Molly, Sarah, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

White Allies — What Desserts are You?

Editor’s Note: For the second week in a row, woohoo, we welcome back white ally Carrie Basas. This blog post emerged out of a late night online conversation when we both should have been writing other assignments.

By Erin Okuno and Carrie Basas


Dessert and flower table centerpiece [photo copyright: fakequity, do not use without premission]

It is summer and we’ve had several serious posts so it is time to talk about something a little less serious — DESSERTS! Don’t expect a lot of how-tos, let’s make things better, or really anything serious out of this blog post. This is in jest and good fun so don’t get all crumbly like a dry cake.

Snowflake cookie— We’ll start with an easy one. Are you a snowflake cookie, pretty to look at and pretend to be cool, but as soon as the conversation gets heated in talking about race the frosting on you melts into a white glob of stickiness.

Oatmeal cookie with raisins— You enjoy being crunchy and healthy. You talk about health justice for POCs and community gardening, have a few friends who are POC, but in the end, tend to gravitate toward fairly safe and sometimes boring choices. If we were throwing a culturally responsive potluck, you’d show up with some more oatmeal cookies or a kale salad. For talks about race, others need to come to where you are— the middle.

Trifle cake— You understand race, equality, and like to have woke-offs to prove how down with the people you are. But you forget that people are complex and issues don’t come in neat packages or layers. The term intersectionality and multiplicity of identities are too much for your taste buds to handle. Stop thinking in layers and mix up that cake to get a more delicious bite; equity work requires us to think in complex ways and not in layers/silos. 

Berry Chantilly cake— You’re covered in a thick white coating of whipped frosting. You ooze luxury and deliciousness (in cake form only— no cannibalism). When people think fancy, they think you. And how could they not? You can be found at all the big fundraising events. Inside is another delicious layer of white cream between layers of white cake, you bring in people of color and display them like diversity bits into your cake. Remember diversity isn’t equity, sticking people of color into an all white environment doesn’t yield equitable outcomes, equity takes harder work and sometimes means baking a whole different dessert. (Unrelated trivia: Chantilly cake originated in Hawaii at Liliha Bakery.)

Creme brûlée— When race comes up, you’ve got a bit of a hard exterior. It’s been a bit burnt, shall we say? You started out all sugary on the outside but apply some heat and you were cracking. Deep conversations about race feel like a spoon has been jammed into that thin exterior. You’re soft inside. We know. Unlike the snowflake cookie, you can stand the fire. It’s just not where you want your whole time to be and if you feel the heat, you’ll turn it back on others. Do what is right and soften that hard exterior, get to know people who are different then you, break that shell and share a little about yourself and let others see your soft-sweet creamy insides, but remember your job is to mostly listen.

Fortune cookie— You’ve got it, or so you hope. Now, you’re on a mission to tell others how to be woke and equity-fancy. If we asked your white friends, they’d say that you have an extensive collection of multicultural cookbooks AND you tell them often about how they need to do better for racial equity, as they are eating something you made with fair trade chocolate. We love this advocacy but don’t avoid doing your own work by handing out overly simplified social justice warrior one-liners. If it fits in the cookie, it ain’t equity — equity is harder to achieve and doesn’t fit on a little slip of paper.

Magic bars— Think of people dumping everything and everyone together and hoping they come to some tasty resolution without any hard work or difficult stirring. Is this you? Mix in a few choice terms like equity, diversity, gender-neutral pronouns, but really when we ask you to take a stand or for an opinion, you just spout more -isms without substance.

Cake donuts— Like a plain ordinary everyday cake donut you don’t pass yourself off as an expert, you sit dutifully in trainings and engage just enough to be engaged, but when forced to rise up and confront racism you’re hollow like the donut hole. As you sit through the diversity and equity trainings start to engage and do some deep thinking. If you need to do more deep thinking find a poc owned donut or coffeeshop and buy yourself a donut, sit down and reflect on what you learned. If you want to buy yourself another donut this time eat it while reading a book by a poc author and invite a few friends (poc or white allies) to discuss it with you (don’t make your poc friends do all of your thinking though).

Vanilla soft-serv (twist optional)— You are coming in hot with all of these equity words. Or should I say cool and smooth? The words are flowing so fast that it’s hard to keep you from hitting the floor like some ice cream soup that we’ll clean up at the end of this discussion. Engaging is good but pace yourself. Be aware of how much space you’re taking up or risk running over the edge of the cone of community.

So, what’s the ideal dessert? Just like in life there is no one ideal. The good news is you get to taste your way through race, equity, and diversity work, lick a little frosting along the way, and occasionally get a stomach ache from eating too much. Take some time to savor the lessons you are learning, explore new desserts including from communities of color, dig deeper and learn important food history, how food is colonized and decolonized, and how food stories relate to the present and future. When you do this we’ll be a richer and more connected community, and you can put away those snowflake cookies for some true poc-homemade desserts.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke, C+C, Carrie, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Janis, Jennifer, Jillian, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Laurel, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Molly, Sarah, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

The Genealogy of My Passing

By Carrie Griffin Basas

Editor’s Note: We welcome back white-ally guest blogger Carrie Basas. This week Carrie shares how disabilities isn’t a static state of being. We need to evolve in our awareness and thinking about disabilities, disabilities inclusion/access, and disabilities equity. She drops a new term on us, woke crip, read more below.

Larsen’s Syndrome beget hip dysplasia which beget unsuccessful attempts to pin my hips which beget traction of my infant body which beget hip replacements during law school which beget fragility.

Thirteen days ago, I became more disabled. Someone recently asked me the story of it, as if knowing how it happened might provide some insights into preventing its trajectory. “I fell HARD. I tripped over this weird sandstone ledge in my foyer. My toe got caught. I went over on my left side. Really nothing dramatic.” I joked about how lackluster my story was, but landing on a 16-year-old hip replacement that is constructed from wire, titanium, plastic, and a cadaver bone is complicated.

I was in excruciating pain. I got up from the floor that night only to go to the ER the next morning and again two days later, to spend a day in the hospital advocating for my admission after an outside expert in my condition (who only treats children) said it wasn’t a choice to remain at home—that I could crack further and also that I was at risk for blood clots. The hospital couldn’t decide if I had a fracture, if I should weight bear, if I really was in pain. When I said that I didn’t know how to get around the bathroom safely, that my pain was a 7 or an 8 on that beloved and meaningless pain scale, that I couldn’t walk the way I had with a cane—that I really couldn’t walk at all, they asked me what I wanted: A rehab facility? (Synonym: nursing home.) Admission to the hospital? For what? Didn’t I have a wheelchair at home? Didn’t I live in an accessible house? Did I work? Full-time? Really?

Becoming more disabled isn’t something I know how to do. There is no wheelchair-accessible house or trauma coping kit issued at birth or injury. My body doesn’t hurt or matter less because I started disabled.


Picture of learning how to transfer from a sofa to a wheelchair using LEGO. Photo from Carrie Basas

I have an incredible community of beloved “crip” (reclaiming cripple) friends. They showed me via LEGO models how to transfer safely from my sofa to a wheelchair without getting a rim lodged in my posterior. They organized a meal train. They distracted my restless child who is about to have surgery of her own. Wonderful members of Fakequity did, too. People came out and I love them for it.

Ironically, all of those friends answered a question that had come up in a disability training that I had just done the day before my fall with public health officials: “But I’m not getting it—why wouldn’t you try to be more normal rather than accept disability? What’s the benefit?” I stammered some answer then about community and the impossibility of me being normal like the person asking the question—and how a lifetime of being told that the holy land was where I could walk unencumbered had just made me feel inadequate. But I’m much better at saying these things than living with these things.

I tried to stay on top of work. It distracted me from feeling diminished self-sufficiency. I reached out to the organizer of a legal conference where I was set to present. I reiterated that I’d be there, except that I needed to know about the accessibility. His answer involved coming in a secondary entrance (synonym: service entrance), calling catering to allow me to use their elevator, waiting for a temporary ramp to be installed, and then sitting in front of an audience as “the expert” when I was expected to stand. Basically, show up and feel like you’ve been dehumanized and infantilized and then give them a great PowerPoint, ok? This was an audience who had never anticipated or intended that people like me would be there.

I believe that what came out next to my family, as I sat in my friend’s borrowed granny scooter, was an expletive that I’d be embarrassed-proud for my daughter to say at school but teachers might not enjoy. And after that:

“This is ridiculous. I’m not presenting in spaces where no one has looked for a baseline of accessibility. I’m tired of conforming to other people’s comfort.”

My husband, not disabled but POC, joked that I was suddenly “crip woke” in my impending boycott of offers to speak in inaccessible spaces.

In the past, I would have dealt with it. For example, when I showed up this spring to present about IEPs at a hospital, I faced a set of stairs to the presenter’s area. I grumbled loudly but I didn’t walk out. That didn’t seem professional. I’ve always felt beholden to making others feel comfortable about my disability—to diffuse their awkwardness with humor or acceptance. I appreciate people who are trying to get disability. Other times, though, I am reminded when I’m the only disabled person in a space, that my presence is a surprise and that I occupy a tenuous position. Be nice or reinforce that my people are unrealistic and angry.

My friend, who had LEGO-educated me, heard my rant about access and said: “That’s a good starting point. Maybe we need you to lose some vision and some hearing.” Yes, maybe I do.

My conference host was embarrassed and admitted, no one had come with a disability before and he never thought about it even though the topic was disability. Could I just tell him if I was coming? He assumed that I was bringing someone to be with me all day to help me. I have a fragile hip but not a round-the-clock work assistant. I can take care of myself if I can come with my new-fangled equipment. No, I don’t have someone coming with me. Some people with disabilities do have attendants to support their health needs. That does not diminish them. Just because I was more disabled than the last time he met me didn’t mean that I was issued a helper or that I needed one. I said all of this in a much nicer way which amounted to a terse laying out of my concerns and a polite “no thanks,” along with suggestions for non-disabled speakers.

Even my description above shows how difficult it is to accept—and shamefully so in my “woke crip” state—that I have internalized and accepted so much rampant ableism. I conformed my body and needs to what was presented to me because I often had the privilege of making it work, of taking on that burden myself. I made walking with the least amount of equipment my goal. I can say that’s a way of being functional in a world designed without people like me in mind. And that’s true.

But I can also say it makes me complicit in enforcing what desired normalcy looks like—and not just with disability. To struggle with accepting the here and now is to also advance attitudes that say white is better, male is better, English-speaking is better, gender binary is better . . . because aren’t those identities “easier,” too? Don’t they conform to the circumstances—both access and attitude—that we find ourselves in today? And don’t they also tell those of us who are not those versions of “normal and acceptable” that we don’t matter as much? And we’ll be rewarded—just not right now—when we become those things? The destruction of ourselves isn’t worth it.

Carrie Basas works in education advocacy and formerly in civil rights law, specializing in disabilities rights. Formerly she was a law professor impressing upon law students the importance of understanding race and its impact on people. Carrie has a MEd in Education Policy, Organizations and Leadership from the University of Washington. She earned a Juris Doctorate from Harvard Law School and an Honors B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Sociology/Anthropology from Swarthmore College. However, her biggest claim to fame is some of her fashion weekend wear while hanging with her family and dog and bunnies.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Aimie, Ali, Annie, Brooke C+C, Chelsea, Clarissa, Edith, Elizabeth, Evan, Janis, Jennifer, Julie Anne, Kathryn, Kari, Kelli, Kirsten, Kristy, Lori, Matthew, Michael, Megan, Miriam, Molly, Selina. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support.

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 (desktop version). Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.