What we lost – gentrification part II

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Don’t Displace the Southend yard sign from got green

A few weeks ago, I wrote about gentrification and how it shows up in little and big ways. After writing that post, Heidi suggested we take a little tour of what has been lost due to gentrification. We could take a tour of the neighborhood and point out places that were once there and now are big boxy buildings.

  • Viet-Wah Grocery Store
  • Inay’s Filipino Restaurant and Kusina Filipina
  • Imperial Lanes Bowling Alley – while this wasn’t POC owned losing it meant losing a big part of poc culture in my neighborhood
  • Head Start programs – United Indians of All Tribes and Mount Zion
  • Yasuko’s Teriyaki – this was my college teriyaki spot, right below my dorm with a plate of rice and chicken for about $5.
  • LEMS Bookstore, a community Black owned bookstore
  • African American and Black churches

When we lose POC businesses we lose a part of our community’s soul. I asked friends what has been lost because of gentrification. I thought they would have named businesses that closed, old houses no longer there, or other physical places. Instead, people mentioned a sense and feeling of losing culture and soul. These losses for communities of color extend beyond losing beloved restaurants and gathering places, it is a loss of identity and community.

My friends mentioned missing a sense of safety and easy living among people who are sturdy and not fragile. Another friend mentioned how she misses having neighbors who weren’t nosy. She said her new neighbors call the police for petty things like fireworks, cars parked for longer than 2-days, and they post their disgruntled thoughts on social media versus working to build tolerance and a sense of community.

If you want to see more of what we’ve lost, check out the Istagram and Facebook pages for Vanishing Seattle. Other cities may have similar social media feeds.

We need to do more to hold our communities in place – it is that simple.

I attended the Washington State Budget & Policy Center’s Budget Matters symposium a few weeks ago. It is a great event to nerd out on tax policy made more understandable. One of the panelist mentioned that unequal tax policies are aiding and accelerating gentrification. She talked about how internet companies, like the large one that smiles everywhere, didn’t collect state sales taxes for many states, while small mom-and-pop businesses collected and shouldered unequal tax burdens. Guess who is still smiling. Read this report on how reforming our ancient, unbalanced, and unjust tax code can advance racial equity.

When we lose critical mass of lower income people, especially people of color, we change as a community. We lose diversity and the empathy we develop by being in proximity to people who are different from us, this in turn makes us better thinkers and problem solvers.

Government policy, philanthropic support, and better governance practices could help to keep families in place. Housing policies that only focus on increasing housing units and not looking at supporting those with the highest barriers to housing are missing the mark. Such as for undocumented families and others without social security numbers or credit scores, the barriers and burdens of securing long-term housing is really hard to find and the cost to get into the unit is often out of reach for families.

We can build better solutions to support keeping our communities together and thriving. We just need to create some new ways of thinking so we don’t lose what makes us great. Greatness isn’t found in the homogeneity of Whole Foods and Starbucks. Greatness is found when we are a thriving and diverse community that takes care of each other.


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Navigating Consent and Allyship — Disabilities Justice

This week we welcome a guest post by Tracy Timmons-Gray, a white ally, to share more about disabilities justice. 


By Tracy Timmons-Gray

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Art by Madalyn Harbert on Amplifer “For the Women’s March in 2017, Amplifier held an open call for artwork and received over 5,000 submissions in just eight days. All of the pieces advocate for the rights of women, immigrants, black and brown and queer communities, people Native to the land, and the Earth itself. Fifty of those works were selected for a touring exhibition called Hear Our Voice.”

At work during an affinity group meeting, I shared a story from back in college where a close friend offered me assistance. We were in our college café, and I was standing by the counter, squinting up at the menu hanging on the far wall. As someone with low vision, menus posted on walls are normally my unreadable enemy. My friend knew this, and while I stood there, she offered to read the menu to me. I replied that I didn’t need assistance that day as I was wearing my (very large, very magnifying) glasses instead of my less powerful but culturally more accepted contacts. She replied, “Oh, I didn’t even notice.”

I stood there kind of stunned. Having a physical disability means that you pretty much are always “noticed.” I turned to her and in that moment, felt a startling feeling of true acceptance. My friend accepted me no matter what shape my body was in, and I appreciated her for offering assistance as a default, even if it was unnecessary in that moment.

That’s a nice story, but it’s also one that can cause confusion. What came up in another meeting that week was another story from someone who attended a conference. They recounted a talk by a disability justice advocate at the event who said, “Don’t assume what people need. Don’t offer assistance without permission.” When my colleague heard my story, and then reflected on what they heard at the conference, they felt unsure of what to think.

I see where that disability justice advocate is coming from. For instance, it’s wrong to go up to a blind person you don’t know and take their arm to assist without asking. Or to start pushing someone’s wheelchair or mobility aid without their permission. (Touching someone’s mobility device is like touching someone’s body. It’s an extension of their body. It’s also important to not touch people’s support animals.)

These dueling messages can lead to confusion, and can cause a mental “freeze,” which can stand in the way of being an ally to others.

To help break down that freeze, here are some general principles on how to navigate around situations where you think you would like to offer assistance, but are not sure how. I welcome other recs as well if people want to share their thoughts.

1- The Bus Principle

You’re on a crowded bus. You have a seat. Someone gets on the bus. They are a person who is A) appearing pregnant B) carrying a small child C) using an assistant device like a cane or walker D) carrying heavy grocery bags E) is an elder F) is otherwise appearing like they could appreciate a seat on this crowded bus.

The ally thing to do? If you are in a place (mentally/physically) where you can offer your seat, the ally thing to do is to offer the seat to them.

What happens next? They may take the seat. They may refuse. They may give you a perplexed look. They may avoid looking at you. They may thank you. They may skirt away from you. Whatever the response is, it’s acceptable to offer your seat to someone else.

Offering assistance in general is similar to this crowded bus scenario. 1) Look for signs that assistance might be welcome. 2) Offer assistance. 3) Accept the response that you get negative or positive.

Second analogy: Looking lost

Sometimes you’ll see someone looking at a map, appearing lost. It’s acceptable to say, “Hi. I’m familiar with the area. Would you like any assistance with finding something?”

If they say yes, it’s okay to offer assistance. If they say, “No, I’m good.” Then feel free to politely say, “Cool” and walk on your way.

Both scenarios, bus and map, are about consent. That’s a crucial part of allyship when it involves helping someone directly. Does the person who you are asking want your help? Sometimes you won’t know that unless you ask.

Even in my college story, my friend asked if I wanted assistance first. (It would have been weirder if she just started rattling off the menu to me unprompted.) She asked for consent to help. I said no to the help, and we went on our way.

How full is your gas can?

One thing that affects your ability to be an ally and to receive allyship from others is the state of your own “internal” self. Or to use the Bill O’Brien quote, “The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor.” Another way to think about it is the spoon theory, but that is a theory/practice reserved for the disability community specifically.

If you have a full gas can– meaning your internal self is feeling pretty good and solid:

– you may offer assistance, and someone refuses or even gets pissed off at you, but because of your current state (full gas can) you are able to not take it personally and move on.

– someone offers unnecessary assistance to you, but your internal gas can is full, so you may be able to offer a light response like, “No worries. I’m good,” and not be leaden down by their unprompted offer.

If your gas can is low– you had a bad day, you’re tired, you’re hungry, 15 people that day offered you unprompted unnecessary assistance and you’re feeling frustrated. Then:

– your response might be different to the 16th person offering unprompted assistance. Your response might be angry, or you might walk away without saying anything.

– Or you’re the person on the other side of the action- your offer of assistance to someone is rebuked, and because of your low gas can at that time, you feel even more awful, or feel frustration towards the person you wanted to assist, or feel like you shouldn’t try again in the future.

How we provide and receive allyship can be affected by where we are at that moment. That’s not a bad thing or good thing- it’s just something to try to understand, and because it’s not static, we have to “check-in” on ourselves regularly.

If you’re not up for receiving allyship, that’s cool. If you are feeling unable to provide allyship, that is also a reflection of your current state.

The next step is to just understand why you feel that way, and if your goal is to provide allyship to others, to self-interview about what it would take to help you get there.

 


Along with often riding crowded buses, Tracy Timmons-Gray serves as Associate Director of Community and Programs at the Collective Impact Forum. She identifies as a person with disabilities (low vision), queer, and a passionate but mediocre karaoke singer.


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Gentrification – Even the rats are gentrified out

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Yard sign “Don’t Displace the Southend” by Environmental Justice organization GotGreen. Check them out at gotgreenseattle.org/

Kate Spade and Teslas

I had a moment this morning where I found tangible signs of gentrification. I know my neighborhood is rapidly gentrifying but I wasn’t expecting to physically touch the gentrification. If I have a few minutes and I’m legally parked I’ll stop in my kids’ school to tidy up the lost and found. Today, I hung up a cute pink Kate Spade coat in the lost and found. This is a school with about a 50% free and reduced lunch rate, a high percentage of English Language Learners, and strong Latinx and Asian immigrant communities. When did Kate Spade invade our lost and found? As I was leaving the school a Tesla pulled up to let their white child out. I’m not surprised to see a Tesla, but it made me mourn a little knowing the Tesla and Kate Spade are tangible signs that the neighborhood is rapidly changing.

There are many lists on the internet of how to spot gentrification. Some of the lists are funny, other mournful, and most them have truth laden in them. In the interest of adding to the lists already out there here is another list:

Strollers – strollers that cost more than my brother’s first car are seen at the library storytime.

More stop signs and traffic signals – When my grandma was still alive, she would point out where the first traffic light was on Kauai. That is old-time gentrification, and I see the same in my neighborhood when the stop signs pop up, the no-parking signs are abundant because of construction.

Who’s on the train – Light rail is now filled with white people on phones and earbuds. No one looks up, faces all glued to blue light of the screens.

Bougie ice cream stores – Two high-end ice cream shops are now in the neighborhood where I work. The cost of an ice cream cone cost more than a gallon of gas on a good day.

Kombucha on tap is the new flannel shirt. Breweries are the new version of Asian karaoke bars.

Dogs everywhere. Stores have doggie water dishes and free milk bones.

People take pictures of Black and Brown kids in the neighborhood and post them online without permission versus saying hello or simply acknowledging their presence.

Eating on the sidewalk. CiKeithia said she knew DC gentrified when people started eating on the sidewalk on bistro tables.

PTA events serve alcohol and their auctions raise enough to buy a modest house but not in the neighborhood of the school because it’s already gentrified.

Spice level adjusted – Near my office is a Thai restaurant my team likes. The spice level there was strong, previously a 1 star was like a 5 star. After a Seattle Times review of the restaurant we noticed the 1 star spice was really more like a 1 star at other places, white-ified the spice level. We mourned the spice level change.

The rats are gentrified out of their former living situation. A friend shared ever since a new apartment building went in she hasn’t seen a rat – even the rats were gentrified out.

Gentrification is more than the physical places we create. Gentrification is about refinement and the feeling of comfort. What would it look like if we all practiced a bit of anti-gentrification in the interest of preserving our sense of community? This doesn’t mean we bring the rats back to their former dwellings. What would it feel like if we acknowledged we acted like we are guest rather than in spaces to take them over and colonize them? We need to remember in most Western countries we gentrified Indigenous spaces. As guests in new spaces we don’t barge in and take over, we are polite and respectful, our survival depends on upon being gracious.

The desire to change a space is an act of gentrification. There are times and appropriate places where we need to make improvements to places to make things safer and improve quality of life, but we need to ask who’s benefiting. Changing housing patterns that allow more wealth into neighborhoods means displacement for longtime communities of color. The benefits of gentrification often won’t be felt by communities of color. Being a guest also means you invest and are helpful in building supporting what is already in place. As a guest you don’t go in demanding your host make changes to their house to accommodate you; you try to leave a light footprint and to be helpful to what is already there. The same for us as gentrifiers – invest in the local economy and not insist things change for your benefit. Shop at the local poc owned businesses, buy your coffee from the poc coffeeshops not Starbucks, volunteer at a school with a high concentration of students of color, share what you have, listen to the community that was there before offering your opinion. If you’re not hearing something maybe that is also a clue and don’t assume silence means people don’t care, it could be it isn’t the fight the people before you were willing to focus on. Take some time to learn from the community before you rush in to change things.

Special thanks to my friends who contributed their gentrification ideas to this post. Many of the examples came from them.


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Easy versus Hard

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Photo of Ieshia Evans, a black women in a flowing dress being arrested by three heavily armored police officers in Baton Rouge

Tension

A few weeks ago I went to yoga for the first time in months. It wasn’t hard to get to yoga, but it took a lot of intentional steps to get myself, two kids, and all our gym gear out of the house on a Saturday morning. Once we got to the gym and everyone was squared away, I went to my yoga class. Since I hadn’t done yoga in a really long time it was hard. The tension in my body was more acute. I also noticed I had to purposefully move and sit and hold awkward positions for the tension to slowly melt away.

As I held a long-deep-twist and had to breathe deeply since it hurt, I thought about how in undoing racism work we have to contort ourselves, our minds, and sometimes our bodies to release tension and move beyond the tension of racism. What I reflected on during my hour on the yoga mat is I can’t release my tension without acting. Like social justice movements, we don’t create change by sitting still and being comfortable.

Easy vs Hard work

I believe anti-racism work is hard work, and it should be hard. There are times when some of the actions are easy. Such as it is to go to the bookstore or library and to pick up the latest Ta-Nehisi Coates or Ibram X. Kendi books, listening to NPR’s Code Switch, or even asking a question in a meeting. It takes a little bit of planning, maybe some intention, but overall it is easy. The same for attending a training or lectures. It takes intention, pre-planning, energy and resources are expended, but overall I’m guessing no one put their body on the line, no one was forcibly challenged to do something, and there was freedom of choice – choice to stay or leave.

As we do our work to undo racism, I am struck by how easy we want to make racial equity work. My friends and colleagues joke about how people say they want “the checklist.” The checklist is the magical checklist on how not to be racist, how to be an ally, how to not think but just do. This week I was reading evaluations from a meeting and a white person wrote on their eval they wanted more conversation prompts – in other words, they didn’t want to have to sit and grapple with what the real conversation should have been. They were also probably a little lost and overwhelmed and because of this uncomfortable with their uncomfortableness.

I was also thinking about which movements have a lot of white allies who show up and which ones don’t. When it is easy and there is a critical mass of white people it is perceived to be easier to be an ally. More people show up to those movements and expect to be accommodated. It is easy to protest when the protest has the backing of elected officials through resolutions and class credit is granted. Many of the marches, protest, and rallies I’m thinking of took a lot of effort to put together and helped to move movements forward – Pride, Womxn March, MLK Day marches, March for Our Lives, etc. People attending these marches and rallies were still relatively safe. The movements very much needed and moved our collective work forward.

It harder to show up for Black Lives Matter, Murdered Missing Indigenous Womxn, supporting Latinx immigrants at the border and our Muslim relations, and other poc led movements to put bodies on the line when police and other state-sponsored ‘security’ forces (e.g. police, military, etc.) are present and violence could be incited for the same actions. I acknowledge I’m a hypocrite here since I often do not show up at protest movements. I have no excuse other than to say I am complicit in taking the easy route at times.

Releasing the Tension

Doing harder work allows us to release more tension. We should make ourselves uncomfortable and that looks different to different people. Some people call it having a growth mindset. There is no checklist, no anti-racism lecture series, tithing or donation making that can get you out of doing the harder work of being anti-racist.

Ibram X. Kendi calls it giving up the addiction to racist ideas. Giving up on something we’ve known our entire lives is hard. It takes a lot of deeper thinking and reflection and unlearning the things I’ve been taught and know. As an example of how hard it is to unlearn something say the ‘th’ sound with your tongue behind your teeth, it should be easy and unconscious if you are a native English speaker. Now try to say ‘th’ but do it with the tongue in front of your teeth. It probably feels very unnatural and sounds more like ‘da.’ This sound formation was taught to you and embedded into your brain. Unlearning it would be hard and take repeated sessions with a speech therapist or others to remind you to correct the sound. The same for unlearning racism that is embedded in all of us.

Still Stuck – need to add some tension to your life?

If you are really stuck on a place to start here are a few prompts to think about — I’m givng you the cheat sheet but you still need to think:

  • When have you done something hard or challenging related to race – What made it hard or uncomfortable?
  • When was the last time you supported someone of a different race? Did you expend power, privilege or make a sacrifice? Were you being a martyr or savior?
  • What is a habit or default you go to that could be shifted to be in solidarity with pocs?
  • Reflect on where you’ve spent your time and money – were these purchases in ways that support pocs liberation and justice?

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How we talk – shifting language

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Artwork from Amplifier Art by Nicolas Lampert

A while ago Jondou and I had a conversation about terminology. We were text-chatting about how social justice terminology changes and flexes, can call in or create hierarchies, and how being inclusive means being wordier, but that is ok. It is the social justice gymnastics we do.

Our conversation included thinking about the phrase BIPOC – Black Indigenous People of Color. It is a newer term, growing out of people of color. It is a way to make Blacks and Indigenous people more visible and to not lose the voice in the collective poc efforts.

As we chatted Jondou and I talked about how does phrasing build solidarities or does it create hierarchies. The term people of color was a way for the poc/non-white community to be seen together and to be equals and hopefully in more just relation with each other. The question we asked ourselves (over text) is does that really happen? Are we all equals when we say poc and alternatively does BIPOC create hierarchies and competition within our communities? I mentioned how several Black colleagues have shared they prefer the term BIPOC or Black and Brown people because they feel more visible with that terminology. I also said as an Asian with many privileges this is one shift I can make to be an ally.

Jondou mentioned how in his work he specifically calls out the queer community by saying Queer and LGBTIA+ folks “because there are people who want one designation and refuse the other” and it allows for people to seek and define their own justice.

While these sometimes create for wordier phrasing it is important to allow people to be seen how they want to be seen and defined. Creating space and seeking just relationships means we listen and take our lead from others.

Othering On Purpose

A few years ago, I was fortunate to attend the Othering and Belonging Conference run by the Hass Institute at UC Berkley, hosted by Prof. john a. powell (doesn’t capitalize his name). He is the grandfather or father of targeted universalism and researching othering and belonging. One of the keynotes I distinctly remember was by African American writer Melissa Harris Perry. She took many of the concepts we had spent the past few conference days learning and tossed them aside in a good way.

My lesson from her talk was there are times it is ok to be othered, if it is by our own design and choosing. I think of terminology and defining who we are as an exercise in purposeful and intentional othering, in different words self-determination. There are times we as communities of color can be in solidarity with each other and allow our language to be united. There are also spaces and times when we want to purposefully be seen differently and we need to understand this is what people need to be in more just relation with each other and it is ok to create this space and redefine the terms of engagement.

I also took away the lesson sometimes what is right for one person isn’t right for others. Belonging may not be what everyone wants – sometimes we want to stand aside to either create space for others, or to innovate and create. Innovation and creating new ways of seeing the world and each other. When we allow ourselves space to more fully see Black, Indigenous, and Brown people we are creating our own justices and opening ourselves to new ideas and thoughts that change us for the better.

My final lesson is social justice movements are always changing and shifting and language has to shift with it. We need to have the conversations and evolution to be current. Don’t get too attached to whatever terms you’re using, they will change again and most likely for the better. My other final half-lesson is if you’re ever unsure about what terms to use, first listen to pickup on how others are using language, and second if you’re still unsure it is ok to politely ask how what phrasing people prefer.


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Data Disaggregation, Let’s Taco About It

Editor’s Note: This week we host a piece by Carlos Sánchez Huizar who explores Hispanic/Latinx disaggregated data. He writes about two of my favorite topics — disaggregated data and tacos. As a quick reminder race is the broader group and ethnicities are the smaller groups under it. After you read this post, revisit this post about Asian disaggregated data


By Carlos Sánchez Huizar

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Photo by TJ Dragotta on Unsplash

According to the American Council on Education (ACE)’s Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education report (2016), “as the U.S. population increased, the nation became more racially and ethnically diverse” (para. x). So, what does it mean to have a nation that has grown in diversity? On the positive side, it means you get to decide whether you want tacos, Korean BBQ, or a gyro for lunch. Beyond food, how much do we really know about the diversity of our nation? Let’s take the Hispanic/Latinx[1] population as an example. According to the 2010 Census, the U.S. has a total population of just over 3 million, of which 16.3% are Hispanics/Latinxs. Besides being the second-largest racial-ethnic population after white, ACE concluded that Hispanics/Latinxs, “had the largest increase in their total share of the population, increasing from 11.1 percent in 1997 to 18.0 percent in 2017” (ACE, 2016, para. 1). In other words, over a span of 20 years, Hispanics/Latinxs have had a 6.9% population increase. Do you think tacos represent the entire 16.3% of this population? The answer is unequivocally, no. Empanadas, arepas, and pupusas are also representative of the Hispanic/Latinx community and just as good as the tacos from your favorite lonchera.[2]

The wide range of Hispanic/Latinx food is mirrored by the significant and growing population of different communities among Hispanics/Latinxs in the U.S. In fact, the 2010 Census has reported of the 16.3% Hispanics/Latinxs, 10% are Mexican, 1.5% are Puerto Rican, 0.6% are Cuban, 0.5% are Dominican, 0.5% are Salvadoran, 0.3% Guatemalan, 0.2% Honduran, and the list continues with Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Argentinians, Bolivians, Chileans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Venezuelans, Spanish, and other Hispanics/Latinxs. These data point out the increasing diversity is not only happening across racial groups but also within them. Beyond capturing within-group diversity, how is this detailed data collection significant?

The U.S. Census has stated that race and ethnicity data collection is, “critical to policymakers who use the information to make funding decisions that affect educational opportunities, assess equal employment practices, and ensure equal access to health care for everyone” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Data collection enables one to answer relevant questions and evaluate outcomes. For example, how are educational gaps affecting the Hispanic/Latinx community? As diversity increases, equity gaps for ethnic sub-groups become more difficult to follow. Data collection gives us the opportunity to identify these gaps in people, school systems, and districts. For instance, data disaggregation——the breaking down of large racial categories into smaller ethnic sub-groups——shows us although the majority of Hispanics/Latinxs living in the U.S. are Mexican, only 9.93% (ACS, 2011-2013) of Mexicans have obtained a bachelor’s degree compared to 50.9% of Venezuelans who represent 0.1% (ACS, 2011-2013) of Hispanics/Latinxs. In other words, data disaggregation is allowing us to better understand and track the complexity of racial heterogeneity——diversity within racial groups——as well as the educational disparities among ethnic sub-groups. Data disaggregation gives us the ability to distinguish which ethnic groups within the Hispanic/Latinx population need more attention and resources. Understanding the disparities between ethnic groups is critical to making decisions that are socially just.

As the use of data disaggregation becomes more common, engaging community leaders and constituents, as well as data experts—in better data collection (adding more categories to race-ethinic categories)—is fundamental to advancing equity in education. In other words, those who know have the responsibility to teach those who do not know. It is important for marginalized communities to be part of data dialogue, as they:

[H]ave the critical context expertise that can lead to meaningful insights and provide critical input into the design of social change effort…communities of color directly to unearth the root causes of inequalities and source potential solutions to authentically unpack the “why” behind disparities revealed by disaggregated data (Arias, 2015, p. x).

In order to develop initiatives for more equitable educational opportunities, work must be grounded in the use of data disaggregation and the participation of communities; community-based organizations, districts, state agencies, and data experts. Data disaggregation helps us understand the circumstances of our population. It offers the opportunity to revise our educational infrastructure, as well as inform policy makers on decisions grounded in equity. In brief, disaggregating data offers a more precise approach to identifying differences between ethnic sub-groups.

What are the next steps in the data disaggregation movement?

First, the discussion about data disaggregation must expand beyond those who hold knowledge (e.g. districts, data experts, policy makers, etc.). Not only is data disaggregation as a discussion necessary, there is a need to amplify the significance of data disaggregation as a common practice across communities, in schools, and within families. Next, inequities cannot be addressed if they remain unseen. Thus, we must re-evaluate the collection and use of data. What is the landscape of data? How can it be improved? Finally, we have to apply the findings that emerge from using disaggregated data to address actual gaps. It seems like a complex and tedious process, but it may not even be as complicated as topping off your taco with the right amount of cilantro, onions, limón, and salsa. It requires some commitment and attention to detail, but you will soon be able to garnish your own tacos and arrive at a solution with a bit of practice.


Carlos Sánchez HuizarCarlos Sánchez Huizar is a graduate student in the MA in Student Affairs Administration at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling.

[1] Not all Latinx(a,o) identify as Hispanic and not all Hispanic identify as Latinx. Hispanic/Latinx as a term acknowledges ties, changes, adaptation, invention and reinvention of different ethinic generations within the group.

[2] Food-truck/taco-truck


References

American Council on Education (ACE). (2016). Educational Attainment of Adults Ages 25 and Older, by Race and Ethnicity: 2017 [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.equityinhighered.org/indicators/u-s-population-trends-and-educational-attainment/educational-attainment-by-race-and-ethnicity/

U.S. Census Bureau (2010), Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin: 2010.

Sebastian Arias, J. (2015, April 14). “Working with Communities to Advance Racial Equity and Eliminate Disparities”. Livingcities.org. Retrieved from https://www.livingcities.org/blog/812-working-with-communities-to-advance-racial-equity-and-eliminate-disparities


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Farthest from Justice

ErnestoYerena-WeWhoSeekJustice

Art from Amplifier Art, artist statement: “We all deserve a decent life. Every day, We the People Michigan educates and empowers people across the state to demand the change they wish to see — by starting with effective community organizing. In 2017, Amplifier partnered with Chicano artist Ernesto Yerena to create imagery supporting We the People’s mission in uplifting and mobilizing the working class for a better future. Yerena’s artwork, which aims to provoke critical thinking, is based off portraits shot by Arlene Mojerado and encourages solidarity amongst all Michigan residents in the fight against oppression and injustice.”

Happy start of the school year or almost start of school. For those who are done with school and don’t have students in their lives, welcome back to the increased traffic and lack of parking near school buildings.

This week I decided to write about the term “farthest from justice.” I’ve used it in other blog posts and Seattle Public Schools includes the phrase “who are furthest from educational justice” in their newest strategic plan. As time goes on I’ve heard the phrase used by many others and it makes me hopeful we may achieve educational and other forms of justice. As the person who offered up the phrasing for inclusion in the strategic plan, I want to offer up what the phrasing means to me. I recognize over time phrasing morphs, meanings change, is watered down, or co-opted – it is the nature of language and allowing space for more progressive thinking. This is my attempt to clarify the phrase and to push others to think deeply about what farthest from justice really means.

Basic Definition of “Those Farthest From (Racial) Justice”

If you don’t have a lot of time (aka TL;DR) this is the basic definition of those farthest from justice: Defining who is the farthest from having their needs met in a particular situation and centering the work and solutions on ensuring justice for them. This means practicing racial equity by sharing power and control, and centering their wellbeing and comfort. (Read Heidi’s blog post on the topic .)

Another way to understand this is we need to use an intersectional focus. Intersectionality comes from law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. She describes intersectionality as a way to look at how race, gender, class, disability, and other individual traits and characteristics overlap or ‘intersect’ and how we should take this into account when considering policies, practices, and life. Crenshaw came up with the term as it relates to the legal system, over time the term has moved outside of the legal realm.

When I originally wrote the term “those farthest from justice,” I wanted to convey we need to acknowledge our group and individual privileges, use intersectionality views, and to center those who are the most hurt by injustices. It was meant to capture a feeling and thought with fewer words. When I write those farthest from justice I hope it invites people to think about who is really the farthest from whatever form of justice we need to reach whether it is person-to-person justice, racial justice, educational justice, environmental justice, and so forth. Racial justice is the underlayer for all other forms of justice – we can’t achieve educational, environmental, criminal justice, etc. until we achieve racial justice.

Who is the Farthest From Justice?

I hope the phrase also invites people to pause and really think about who is the farthest from justice. In almost every situation Black and Brown people are furthest from justice, and if we look more closely we can find women, children, people with disabilities, people who are persecuted because of religion, immigrants, people who don’t speak the dominant language, etc. who are further from justice than the broader group. This is what I’m hoping the phrase those farthest from justice invites us to do, to dig deeper, realize our privileges, and to act in ways that drive towards equity.

I also hope it reminds us those farthest from justice can shift, change, and require vigilance to being open to change and shifting as needed. Those farthest from justice today might not be the same group in a few weeks or months as situations change and hopefully as interventions work and move people closer to justice.

How to Recognize People Farthest from Justice

Recognizing who needs to be prioritized takes practice. It also takes recognizing our own privileges, practicing humility, and developing analytical skills as it relates to race.

Privilege

In recognizing our own privileges we need to remember we are in privileged positions. The act of defining needs and priorities for others is a privileged political move. We are defining for others what many have fought for the right to define for themselves. To be seen is a gift or not, to be judged as worthy of need and attention also means someone is defining what others may want to have seen. Use your privilege carefully and with great humility.

Humility

Practice humility by seeking to learn and pledging to support communities who are farthest from justice. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a policymaker who was trying to convey a sense of humility. I wasn’t buying it, especially when she said, “I’m making sure I listen to people of color,” but kept talking and wouldn’t act with the new information she was learning. Humility isn’t just about listening it is about being humble in accepting what you don’t know. It is also about seeking out information and using that information and privilege to center those farthest from justice by sharing power and control.

Analytical Skills

Recognizing people farthest from justice takes deep analytical skills. Being able to read data, know what questions to ask, figure out what information you’re missing, and being able to recognize nuances within data and the stories data is telling you is important to understand how to recognize those farthest from justice.

 


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三酸圖 – Three Sours — My Own Retelling, Part II

Editor’s note: Last week we shared Part I of Jondou Chase Chen’s Vinegar Stories. Here is the second and final part. This is a longer than normal post, but I wanted to publish it as a long piece so you can read the final two stories together. Be sure to read part I and reflect on how all of the stories go together.


By Jondou Chase Chen

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Photo of a small wave of ocean water by Ahmed Saeed on Unsplash

Mythical

The easy way to describe in English the way I am talking about vinegar and water would be to call it “metaphor work.” This is only superficially true, though. Again, growing up, I heard countless cultural references to the natural world as instructive for how I was supposed to live my life. Through college and into my career, I gained a reputation as a person who explained things through story and example. One of my colleagues even gave me the name “Mister Metaphor.” When I asked why, they explained, “You always have a metaphor for everything. Even if I don’t agree with your metaphor, it always helps me to understand how you see whatever it is that we are talking about. Is that cultural or something?” I replied that I wasn’t sure, and promptly called my mom to ask. 

I still remember being surprised when my mom responded, “What’s a metaphor?” At that point she’d been in the U.S. for over thirty years attending graduate school, volunteering thousands of hours in her children’s schools, and writing and translating hundreds of articles in English and Chinese for school and church newsletters. I knew my mom knew what a metaphor was. Was she toying with me? Was this my grandfather asking me what I saw in the water? 

I responded with, “You know, it’s like when you …” and proceeded to offer a technical definition. Unsatisfied with my answer, my mom sighed and said that she would think about it.

She called back the next day and said, “Yeah, okay, we use a lot of metaphors.” 

Her tone signaled something was off, though, and I asked her what she was thinking.

She responded, “In English, you use a metaphor or a simile to describe something, right?” 

“Yeah.” 

“So it’s a description.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, what we do isn’t just describing something in a superficial or temporary sense. We are trying to say something deeper. It is about the whole situation. What we are saying is supposed to guide how you understand and how you respond to what it is that you are talking about.” 

As she said this, I recalled a time a few years earlier when my mother witnessed me paying attention to someone in our community. She casually commented, “Why does that person spend so much time on the way they look? You know, we have a saying, the prettiest rose has the sharpest thorns.” 

I retorted, “So what are you saying, Ma?”  

“Be careful.” That was it. 

As I reflected on this memory from the past, my mother continued, “I tried to do some research. Instead of saying ‘metaphorical,’ I would say ‘mythical.’”

“Mythical?” I asked, surprised. 

“I know, I know. The dictionary says myths are supposed to teach you something about life. It is still not the right word. It is English. But you know your Old Mama’s English is not very good.” And she went back to whatever it is she was doing. 

And so did I. 

Troubling Water 

In my facilitative practice, I extend Bruce Lee’s directive by asking people to use water to describe their experience of race and racism and talking about race and racism. In linking water to life, I lean on and share my own cultural way for seeing, speaking, and being in this world. In teaching classes that are often 50-60% Asian and 80-90% students of color overall, this has provided a familiar framework or an accessible entry point for many through which we can better understand our own lives and experiences. I am often asked, and it is often assumed, that what I am asking people to do is metaphor work. I wince when I hear or even find myself saying that it is. I have tried a number of times to explain my conversation with my mother, but upon receiving blank stares back, I’ll acquiesce and say, sure, call it a metaphor if that lets you do the work. 

After people have described their own water, I then ask them to consider what it is that they want their water to be or do or how they want to feel in the water. Next, I ask what does it mean to be in community or relationship with people whose water differs from yours. In what ways can we acknowledge and hold different water? In what ways is our water shared? In what ways, though, do our institutions, organizations, and communities center only some water and some people? In what ways do they try to homogenize people’s experience of water? When does this result in further colonization and erasure? When does this result in further exploitation and appropriation? 

Depending on how quickly the groups I facilitate take to this water work, I offer a model before or after people provide their own answers. I share my experience of growing up by the Pacific. Despite living thousands of miles apart on different continents, my family has always called this ocean home. It nourishes us. It holds us. It keeps us humble. Swimming in its waves from an early age. I was taught to recognize the power of the water – both the danger and wonder of it – and understood in countless ways, that water is life to quote the Standing Rock Sioux. 

The two most dangerous elements of the water, I learned, were myself – if I entered water I wasn’t prepared for – and others – and especially those that entered the water they weren’t prepared for. During the summer, this latter challenge was realized in the form of tourists who would enter the water in large numbers, often not appreciating their impact on water traffic and their own limitations in the water. In swimming around tourists, I learned to be weary and to always be on the watch for people who might knock into me on the next wave or who would get in too deep and then potentially pull me under when I offered to help. 

In sharing this model, I am sharing my lived experience of being in relationship with water. I am naming how this shapes how I engage with race and racism and talking about race and racism. This is especially true in “progressive” spaces where many want to enjoy the water but place this desire and their own comfort and discomfort above being in just relationship with the water and with others in the water. I share this truth to signal that I’m aware of the risk of swimming in mixed spaces and I want others to be mindful as well. Water is life, and water can take life. My cultural, ethnic, and racial identities are so much of what gives my life meaning, and racism can be and has been painful to the point of death for people of color. 

Indeed, I have had to learn to be prepared for how real and immediate these traumas can be surfaced in this water work. I recently co-lead this meditation with a community partner in a space with a number of community organizers, educational leaders, and academics of color from across the U.S. While I knew some folks well and everyone knew at least a few of the folks in the room, many people had only just met. We came with the common cause of sharing and co-designing new strategies for family and community leadership in education. Given this, I offered the water work as an example of our local efforts, feeling quite confident, too confident really, given how many times these conversations had been generative in other spaces with other folks. 

Pressed for time and because I was humbled to be in a group with so many leaders of color, I didn’t offer my own model this time or my comment about water work being so much more than metaphor. This was my mistake. While folks reflected quietly and began sharing in small groups, I assumed that the water was working as it so often had. When we began our large group share out, however, I realized that I wasn’t prepared for this water. Some group members shared about how the questions felt off to them because of the water crises in their communities, crises that could be directly linked to systemic racism. Others talked about how the questions felt inappropriate because of the sacred place water had in their cultures and that disregard for their rights to water had trivialized and traumatized their relationships with it. One person kindly sought to synthesize what was happening by saying, “What we can clearly see is that the places where we come from shape how we’re responding to these questions!” 

Rushed for time, I wasn’t able to regain my balance until later. I wasn’t able to name that I experienced these responses as powerful answers to the questions people were protesting against. In describing their water, they lifted up both its importance to their cultures and communities and how racism has violently impacted these cultures and communities. I wasn’t able to do this because I was also stuck under the weight of my own pain in that moment. I felt caught in wanting to push back that each of these critiques was made on the explicit or implicit assumption that we were asking for only metaphor rather than the myth. I wasn’t able to emphasize the power of myth-making, of the swirl of real lived experiences and deeply held cultural beliefs spun into learned lessons and practiced meaning. And for myself, I was caught up in my own process of mythmaking, having noticed that none of these critiques came from people who shared our Asian cultural framework, and I wondered if this was another moment where non-Asian people of color see us, read us, and react to us as if we were white. 

Reflecting back, I’ve continued to marinate on that moment. I’ve thought about the ways that our individual and collective waters were troubled in coming together and having to rely on unexplained English to share of ourselves with each other. That as a group of people fluent in English we still needed to translate our cultural ways of being with each other, and how I, and perhaps others, forgot this. How vulnerable do we have to be and how much risk do we have to undertake whenever we do this? And this pain wasn’t new to me then or even now as I have continued to ask these water questions and found the language of “metaphor” to regularly return to others and even to my own lips while facilitating. This is how the colonized tongue gains power through our coerced commonality. I need to remember the importance of translation and interpretation even in presumed fluency and shared cause. But I am also left wondering if this extra work only adds to the trauma we are left with in the wake of racism, if it is a necessary part of the resisting white supremacy, or if in these moments we can find healing and even joy in the labor of building solidarity? 

As a facilitator, I’m still processing the vinegar of this moment. I’ve tried to sit with all the pain, my own and that from other communities with whom I seek to be in just relationship. I’ve thought about how I wished I had facilitated differently or been able to get others to listen to me differently. I’ve shared this story as an example of how much pain and power we bring to this work and that even in the healing and liberation there will be dynamics and processes like this. This is the water and the vinegar. This is not wordplay for the sake of illustration. This is myth-making where English words must be recognized as inadequate fill-ins for the words that each of us carry in our own languages. This is storymaking for the sake of deeper understanding. This is vinegar tasted in a multitude of ways. This is the possibility of listening, life, and justice more deeply realized. 


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三酸圖 – Three Sours — My Own Retelling

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a multi-part post about stories, listening, and reflection for social justice. There are stories within stories in this so settle in with a cup of tea and give it a read, then reflect, and read it again. Like a good vinegar the taste and depth change over time. Enjoy. -Erin


By Jondou Chase Chen

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Photo of three small cups and saucers. Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash

An old Chinese story tells of a time when the Buddha, Confucius, and Laozi were in deep conversation and came upon a jar of vinegar. They paused their debat * ahem* discussion to each take a taste. The Buddha went first, tasting the vinegar’s sour acidity, next frowning, and then sighing. Confucius and Laozi laughed, and the Buddha looked up and said, “I thought you were my friends, why are you laughing at me?” 

To which Confucius and Laozi responded, “Because you are the Buddha and of course you would frown and sigh as you believe life is suffering that must be resolved.” 

The Buddha laughed and said, “Yes, you are right – we must acknowledge that life is suffering to then free ourselves of it. You do know me!”

Then Confucius took a sip of the vinegar, scowling at first before a look of epiphany came over his face. The Buddha and Laozi laughed, and Confucius turned to them and said, “I thought you were my friends, why are you laughing at me?”

To which the Buddha and Laozi responded, “Because you are Confucius, and of course you would scowl and then look excited as you believe life is a challenge to be solved.”

Confucius exclaimed, “Yes, you are right! I was designing what to do next to make the most of our situation. You do know me!”

And finally, Laozi took a sip of the vinegar, not making any facial expression for a while before the subtlest smile came upon his face. The Buddha and Confucius laughed, and Laozi completed the circle, “I thought you were my friends, why are you laughing at me?” 

To which the Buddha and Confucius responded, “Because you are Laozi, and of course you would seem to respond not at all until you found contentment.” 

Laozi smiled just a little more, “Yes, you do know me! The world is ever changing and so must we to find stability and peace.”

Memories

I remember this story growing up and passing by it any number of times. As a child from a closely-knit Taiwanese-American family, I just figured it to be another one of the sayings and stories I would hear from my elders. I couldn’t appreciate its meaning or how much of a northstar it would be in my own cultural, racial, and social justice identity development. Nope. 

In AP Art History during high school, I memorized what I needed to about that same artwork and moved on as quickly as possible. I strove to avoid the stereotype threat of “Confucius said” platitudes or assumed expertise that my classmates would seek me out for. Absent from my thinking was any analysis around why this was one of the few pieces of non-Western art that we studied or why I was rushing to return to the never-ending Western canon. 

I sat with the tale a bit longer in college when I took a class on Confucian Humanism for my single non-western history requirement. It was there that I realized that whenever my family claimed to be quoting Jesus and the Judeo-Christian Bible, the morals they were pulling (e.g. honoring our parents and there being a season for everything) were more often than not the same as the Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist traditions that our family had practiced for centuries longer. This gave me pause and a wry smile as I filed it away as a point to raise later when resisting my parents righteousness. Yet again, my reflections fell short as I couldn’t yet see that I am part of a multigenerational tradition of understanding and subversely preserving our Asian selves even as we are constantly pressured to submit to Western influences. 

A few years later as a young teacher, a non-Asian colleague gave me a copy of Benjamin Hoff’s Tao of Pooh to try to connect with me. I did find some resonance as I sought to better understand my own name story (the Dou in Jondou is the same as the Tao in Taoism). And at the same time, I was finally awakening and increasingly aware of the ironies of cultural appropriation. Why was it okay for White Americans to talk about Confucius but not Asians trying to be American? I didn’t mean to ask this question rhetorically, but my own self-doubt and guilt at not knowing my own culture made it so. If this White writer could know my own culture better than I did, then how could I claim it to be my culture at all? This is a diabolical aspect of imposter syndrome: that we can feel like imposters no matter where we go and who we try to be, even in our own spaces and not just in dominant cultural contexts. 

Discouraged, I dove deeper into my work and what seemed further from my vinegar tasters. I would prove my worth through my work in social services, education, and community organizing. It was in these spaces where people offered me challenging words or stories, and I learned the importance of asking, “How would you like me to hear you right now?” This ran counter to my urge to solve their problem as quickly as possible, for wouldn’t this prove my effectiveness as a practitioner? It took me time, including my work in therapy and in men’s groups, to recognize that I didn’t need to find a solution to every situation. I’m not always going to be the answer, try as hard as I might. Many times, people wanted just to have someone recognize and hold their pain. Other times, people wanted to hear that they are not alone and things are going to be okay. Even though I had no conscious awareness of it, my vinegar tasters had followed me and took up residence in my ears and consciousness.

Possibilities 

This idea of allowing others – and especially those with socially targeted identities – to determine how I heard them took on even deeper meaning when I moved to Seattle five years ago. Seattle was home to Bruce Lee’s first studio and his tomb site still garnering flowers, food, and donations from visitors each day. In contrast, my parents never enrolled me in any martial arts class, arguing that I was big enough to take care of myself and also being leary of Western treatment of martial artists. I also couldn’t go through a year of school without someone, generally white, asking or assuming I knew martial arts. I was asked for lessons, offered impressions, and goaded into schoolyard fights because of this trope. Growing up, I couldn’t and wouldn’t touch Bruce with a ten foot pole. It was only as an educator that I developed a soft spot for martial arts films and their spinoffs with many a colleague asking to borrow my copy of “Shaolin Soccer.” Coming to Seattle, my appreciation for martial arts and Bruce Lee went one step further and came full circle when I heard him say, “Be water, my friend.”

In Lee’s words, something resonated deeply. Again, I had never taken a martial arts class in my life. I also had grown up only hearing about Bruce Lee’s brawn and not his brains. Why were his words so familiar? In a moment not unlike realizing that my parents’ Jesus was deeply Asian, I came to understand that it was these same traditions that served as the philosophical framework for martial arts. And in Lee’s description of water as fluid in its form, I saw a mirror of my own understanding of my life, my work in listening to others, and my own storytelling. 

I remember growing up, walking along the shoreline with my grandfather, and he would always ask me, “你看到了什麼?What do you see?” I remember at first thinking this was a game, where my goal was to say as many things I saw in, on, or surrounding the water. Then when I ran out of things to say, I thought that this was some sort of puzzle with a single right answer. I finally learned that my grandfather was asking a question that anyone living by the water must ask every day and sometimes every moment. What the water is, can be, and brings into our lives might be stable from moment to moment. It can also change in an instant, and our responsibility is to be ever vigilant to those possibilities. As I grew older, I remember going to those same shorelines with my friends, checking with the water conditions to determine what we would do that day – swim, snorkel, spearfish, kayak, surf, or more. 

In the same way that the water and the vinegar allows for different possibilities, so too does sharing stories, both in the telling and in the listening. This has been especially true for me in social justice spaces. When people in targeted identities chose to share their stories, of pain, of resistance, of calling for solidarity, I need to be mindful of what ears I am listening with. When am I to listen with the Buddha’s ears, sitting in the suffering and needing to acknowledge it before seeking to resolve it? When am I to listen with Confucius’ ears, seeking to develop a solution to the challenge in order to aid the speaker? And when am I to listen with Laozi’s ears, giving space to the story and appreciating and amplifying its truth without bringing attention to myself? How can I be the most powerful listener by holding these three possibilities – and seeking out other possibilities as well – whenever I listen to others?

Vinegar Tongues

These questions also hold true for when I share my own stories. I tell stories for any number of reasons. Sometimes, it’s to check in with those who care about me, to let them know where I am in life and journey. Other times it’s to illustrate a point as clearly as possible or to move my listeners in a very specific way. And still other times, I am seeking to ask a question or to complicate how we understand or navigate a situation or some body of knowledge. It is this last intention that brings up the vinegar tasters for me. Yes, there are those moments where the most basic storytelling is required, i.e. to demonstrate that social injustice exists. At this point, though, I don’t know any amount of storytelling that will move those who have already refused time and again to believe us. In fact, the more powerfully I attempt to tell these basic stories, the greater risk I run of putting my own and my community’s systemic oppression on display – retraumatizing my fellow community members and invoking pity and guilt rather than learning and action from dominant culture listeners. It has been my need to push back against such responses, that has driven much of this self-reflection around how I want to be heard – to be the vinegar that shapes the taster rather than vice versa. 

As such, I would rather tell more nuanced and more complicated stories that move those who already believe to a place of deeper understanding, more powerful analysis, and more precise actions. For years, I have told the story of playing at the park with my cousins one day when I was eleven or twelve. An uncle came to pick up those he could fit in his car – a new white car with golden trim and lettering – leaving the rest of us to walk back to our grandparents’ home. I raced to jump in the car and to claim a seat, only to be chastised by my younger cousin, that uncle’s son. “Dou! Don’t you dare get in this car with those dirty shoes! This is a Lexus. Do you even know what that means?” I remember feeling deeply embarrassed for being called out, and even more embarrassed because I didn’t know what a Lexus was. This story has worked well for years, highlighting how social class can even penetrate families and often does. 

To raise up another dynamic, though, I then add that my desire after feeling that surge shame was to turn around and punch my cousin, tapping into the toxic masculinity and adultism that urged me to flip the power paradigm to get back at my cousin. The story is no longer as neat and tidy as it was before. I’m no longer an obvious victim of social injustice. For the work that I am seeking to do with my story, though, I have hopefully increased the real-ness of my experience by bringing in multiple intersecting identities and demonstrating one way that hurt people can use their hurt to hurt others. This way of social justice spaces are so often unsafe and painful because of how we internalize the pain we’ve experienced.

This the power of vinegar, to bring out different responses in different people and at different times. To be our most powerful selves as listeners, as storytellers, and as change agents, what does it mean to tap into all of these ways of being in relationship with each other and the broader world? What does it look like to recognize our sensemaking of this world and its systems is always done through our cultural frameworks including my own of connecting with the elements and the spiritual and physical world around me. 


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Ableism Kills Slowly or Quickly — Prioritizing Disability Access and Community

KateDeCiccio-HelpMeSaveLives

Artwork by Kate De Ciccio from Amplier. Womxn in a wheelchair, words: Help me save lives Gun violence almost took mine

Editor’s Note: This week our nation saw too much gun violence driven by racism. To my BIPOC community — please take care of yourselves and one another. I chose not to write about it this week as I have nothing new to add to the conversation. Doing so would only add to the echo chamber of rhetoric instead of action. My action this week to fight the violence is to be an ally to the Disability Justice community; an area I need to learn more about, and I think makes me a better ally and member of the BIPOCs community as well. 

We welcome back now a regular guest writer to Fakequity, Carrie Basas. Carrie is a white ally who frequently writes for us about disability justice. Carrie recently told me about how she attended a funeral by Zoom (teleconferencing) and how being intentional with the design-led to more inclusive results. I’ve invited her to expand on this conversation and to talk about ableism.


By Carrie Basas

Last week, I attended a memorial service of a queer, disabled, Latina mentor who was killed by the healthcare system. Her insurance denied her the $2,000 medication that would have ended an infection. It chose, instead, to pay over $1-million in healthcare costs that were effective only in ending her life. My friend was a fierce, compassionate advocate. She fought to dismantle discrimination against disabled parents. She highlighted how assisted suicide devalues disabled lives. She protested cuts to Medicaid. If anyone could have survived incompetence and ableism, it would have been her, but it’s not that simple. That scares me.

My community created a Zoom video call option for the memorial, which was inclusive on many levels. Those of us not in Denver watched the livestream, complete with ASL interpretation. There were captions in the video call. Remote participation also brought our community together in ways that wouldn’t have been possible given people’s disability-related barriers for travel, including the economics of it for our largely poor community. I was reminded that I can stop being so anxious about access when my people are in charge of it. We don’t always get it right for one another but I rarely see someone shamed for asking for it for themselves or others.

Contrast that experience with other conversations that I’ve had lately outside my community. I say “disability justice,” particularly accessibility or inclusive design and find:

  • People get very emotional and defensive.
  • Non-disabled people start protecting one another, sometimes even soothing one another.
  • There are loud sighs, the verbal equivalent of “Not this again” or “I’ve been very busy.” Sometimes, people skip the sighs and just say those things.
  • People point out how much they have already done and wait for a thank you. 

Sometimes, non-disabled people defend their participation in perpetuating access injustices and barriers to belonging by claiming it wasn’t their intent. These are folks that might be very woke about other issues, yet, when it comes to disability, there’s just something different about the conversation. Systems reinforce oppression and those that control them do, too, whether or not they intend it. We should know this from even the very bad diversity trainings we’ve attended: impact is a better metric than our retorts and excuses that we aren’t haters. 

Why is recognizing ableism as systemic and structural so difficult? I see too many organizations equating “doing disability” with optional. Over twenty-percent of the U.S. population has disabilities but when our community expects non-disabled people to fight for access and belonging for us, then we are seen as rallying for fringe, self-serving issues. 

Why can’t we see that how we communicate and meet, where we hold things and how we talk about those differences have important impacts? Once we mangle an access justice conversation into whether or not a non-disabled person has good intent, then the next agenda item is questioning the disabled person’s intent and reasonableness. When we hide behind good intent, we are not only defensive but also shaming and silencing of disabled people for expecting to be part of communities. Separate is not equal. Lobbying to be treated with the same level of respect shouldn’t be a condition of any relationship, professional or personal.

Recently, I’ve stopped thanking people profusely for making things accessible. I realized that I was getting irked when people looked at me waiting to be thanked. I used to be effusive but now if I sense smell that they are looking for it because they see their accessibility efforts as heroic or good deeds, then I am reticent to thank them. I’m withholding gratitude for people honoring my lived experiences after I’ve had to ask them to do so a few times. Quietly, I’m sincerely grateful to others for not disappointing me but there aren’t many premade cards for that holiday.

Why have I gotten to be such an ingrate? I’m taking my lead from BIPOC organizers that I respect. I doubt Erin would go up and thank someone for not being such a big racist today. And I’m pretty sure my friend wouldn’t have sent heart-shaped notes to the doctors who doubted her bodily wisdom and honored their professional brilliance and immediate costs, instead. It comes down to being in a respectful and justice based relationship

When you decide to work toward disability justice, you can no longer operate under a charitable mindset. When you work to be anti-ableist and anti-racist, for example, you chip away at all the exhausting, relentless labor that disabled BIPOCs carry daily. Doing that means you’d be really offended if they baked cupcakes in your honor and handed you a trophy. 

You do it because that’s what needs to be done and not by the people most marginalized by access injustices. You take some of the load because it’s your turn and it’s right– and we have every reason to expect it from you. We should not have to ask you with multiple “pleases” and “thank yous.”

I perform a dizzying dance of self-accommodation in my life (e.g., arriving at inaccessible meetings 30-45 minutes early to figure out where to park, moving furniture around, sitting close to the front, limiting my liquids as to not test your bathroom accessibility, self-regulating disappointment, rubbing myself down with your grandpa’s ointments). I try to make my access without needing non-disabled people to help because they are often disappointing and make me feel more vulnerable and alone, intended or not. I’m a person with a history of being excluded, acted upon, patted on the head, patted down, talked down to, stared at, shunned, and infantilized.

So often disabled folks feel like we have to go along to get along because it means keeping our jobs, reputations, supports, or healthcare. We are dependent on non-disabled people’s good graces to let us in or let us stay. We are told that our lives are judged as worthy or not by charitable non-disabled people who “see beyond our differing abilities” (ps: please, never use that phrase). These kinds of attitudes are ableism. Ableism in its clearest form kills people in my community. It wasn’t just one person.

What does everyday ableism look like? Absolving yourself from your impact, defaulting to intent and thinking “I didn’t mean to exclude people with disabilities.” Seeing disabled people as less than other people; we hurt and love just as much as others. Not realizing that you see our requests as annoyances and not wanting to realize that. I have this little voice in my head from others who told, showed, or reminded me that people like me aren’t often let into non-disabled spaces. It’s a privilege and honor; I’d better be grateful. This is ableism and oppression; as a society, we can do better than this.

The next time you plan an event, host a meeting, engage with others ask yourself what you are doing to create a space welcoming of people with disabilities. Access is a start to reaching towards disabilities justice.


Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Adrienne, Aimie,Ali, Aline, Alissa, Amy, Amy R., Andrea, Angie, Anh-Chi, Annie, Annie G.,  Ashlie, Ben, Brooke, Brian, C+C, Calandra, Carolyn C., Carolyn M., Carrie, Carrie S., Casey, Chandra, Chelsea, Chicxs Happy Brownies, Claudia, Cierra, Clark, Colleen, Crystal, Dan, Danya, Darcie, Dean, Debbie (x2), Denise, Denyse, Donald, Edith, Elena, emily, Erica (2), Erica R.B., Erin, Evan, eve, Freedom, Greg, Hannah, Heather, Heidi, Heidi and Laura, Heidi S., Jake, Janis, Jean, Jennet, Jennifer M., Jennifer T., Jessica, Jessica G., Jessie, Jillian, Jody, John, Julia, Julie Anne, K.T., Kari, Karen, Katheryn, Kathi, Katie, Keisha, Kelli, Kristen, Kristen C., Kristen D., Kumar, Laura, Laurel, Laurie, Lisa, Lisa C., Liz, Lori, Lynn, Makeba, Marc, Maria, Matthew, Maura, McKenzie, Megan, Melissa, Michael, Michelle, Mikaela, Mike, Milo, Minesh, Miranda, Miriam, Misha, Molly, Nathan, Nathan H., Nicole, Norah, Norrie, Paola, Patrick, Priya, Rebecca, Risa, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, SEJE Consulting, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie O., Stephanie S., Susan, Tana, Tara, Terri, and Vivian. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support. Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

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