Want to Close Achievement Gaps, Close the Relationship Gap

Earlier this week I spoke at Launch’s luncheon. Launch is a fabulous organization providing preschool and out-of-school time care with an eye towards supporting the whole child and family. A colleague asked if I could share my speech, so here is an edited version.

What I want to talk about today is relationships and why relationships matter.

In my job, I focus a lot on relationships. I’m fortunate to work for the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition. SESEC is a community based coalition of nonprofits, schools, parents, and allies focused on closing opportunity and achievement gaps and doing it WITH communities of color. As a coalition, we use a racial equity lens and we work to deepen and widen the network of support for our students.

Our SE community is diverse. If you walk around neighborhoods in SE you’ll see and hear kids doing their thing – taking part in robotics programs, speaking in Somali, Chinese, and Spanish – maybe even simultaneously on the playground. You may also see Launch teachers walking their preschoolers in matching Pepto-Bismol pink or neon orange t-shirts on field trips to the Wing Luke Museum, or walking to the library for storytime.

These things show our community is strong and resilient in the face of poverty, having to figure out how to deal with the under-funding of schools, and supporting families who are stressed because of threats of deportation. Because we have a strong community we can face these challenges and better protect children.

One of the ways we do this is by listening to our community, especially families of color. A recent project was a community wide survey on family engagement with schools. This survey was unique, it wasn’t like the surveymonkey links we get over email. Our community owned it and drove the entire survey process. We asked ourselves what is the value of the survey, and we landed on trust. At every step or when we got stuck on questions the design team asked “How is this building trust with the community?” We worked hard to live this value and check ourselves against it.

It was an amazing survey process. We gathered over 600 survey results, primarily from families of color, it was translated into ten languages and offered oral interpretation if needed, and the results are being used in so many different ways.

I want to share with you one finding, how families like to receive information.

Launch Luncheon

As you can see there are huge gaps in the bars. White families prefer email, while families of color prefer in-person communication or phone calls. Seattle Public Schools is now 54% students of color, which means these results are magnified and will continue to grow if we leave them unchecked.

The data from the survey tells an important story. This slide is demonstrating a relationship gap, which translates into opportunity and achievement gaps. If we can’t communicate effectively we aren’t going to close achievement gaps.

Many times, we default to what we know and what is easy, such as email. This is fakeqeuity – fake equity. Fakequity is taking the easy route. How it plays out sounds like this “We translated the email into different languages, they should have read it…” or “we don’t have time to make personal calls or schedule meetings.” These messages place blame, instead of stopping to examine why there is a communication and relationship gap.

Email is a one-way passing of information. Even if it is translated cultural nuances are missing. As an example, when we were working on our survey translation a Somali partner said:

“This isn’t a Somali survey. You took an American survey and translated it, that doesn’t make it a Somali survey. We speak directly and we ask open ended questions.”

This feedback was critical, we changed course and worked with our Somali partners to collect survey results differently. Many of them used interviews to collect stories. In one case a Somali parent who was collecting surveys went door-to-door and was invited in for tea and through that relationship they talked and prayed about their hopes and frustrations with their children’s education.

When we shared this data with families of color many of them said the data resonated. They saw themselves in the data and understood the results. As an example, some of our immigrant families said receiving information in-person and via phone allows them to ask questions, an email or flier doesn’t allow for this relationship building.

So, what does this mean for our schools and for all of us today? It means we need to slow down and take time to build relationships. Relationships are the glue that holds our communities together and it gives us the empathy to want to create change.

One of the reasons I am a fan of Launch is I see how they want to build relationships. From the moment, I drop my child off we are greeted with a warm hello from Ms. Florence. I also see Launch investing back into the community. They are at community events and supporting the schools they are in. When Beacon Hill International School rebuilt their playground Launch staff was volunteering. These relationships make change possible. When Launch, staff saw the data on how families like to receive information they used the data to reshape how they interact with families, focusing more on in-person and family engagement. We need more people pushing for change.

We also need more people to be brave and kind in talking about race, racism, privilege, hope, and community. We need to be able to talk about these things the way we talk about the Seahawks. They aren’t taboo topics, as we saw from the data snapshot, race is impacting outcomes. By being brave and voicing what we believe about race we change the narrative. When we talk about race, we can begin to change. Not talking about race allows the status quo to continue hurting all students, including white students and students of color.

Students can’t wait for slow incremental change. We need to extend our relationships and begin to ask hard questions of ourselves and of our schools.

Your work and my work is simple and hard at the same time. We need to pay attention to race. We need to notice how race and relationships show up in our everyday interactions and in our systems.

Systems are what are left when everyone leaves the room; it is the policies, the practices, and the relationships that either drive us toward equity or maintain the status quo.

Pay attention to elections and ask candidates hard questions and hold them accountable when they are in office. Strong relationships help us remember what we are accountable to and why.

This is also why it is important to grow relationships beyond our comfort zones. I hope you’ll extend yourself and get to know someone outside your comfort zone. These new relationships will deepen and widen the networks of support our kids need from us.

Thank you.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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What are you reading and watching

Before we start if you’re not busy next Wednesday come join me for lunch at the Launch luncheon. I’m speaking at this fundraiser and super excited to support this great organization. Launch provides child care and preschool services and they do it with a spirit of inclusiveness and relationship building. See you at lunch.

harukiEarlier this week a colleague of color, who is interested in learning more about race, asked if I knew of any good textbooks or places to go to learn about race. I sort of chuckled, hopefully it was only audible in my head although I’ve been told I don’t have a poker face, and I said “well, you can’t really read just one book, it is more about diversifying media and perspectives overall.” To understand race and what it means to people is to remember there are multiple truths to every story. Diversifying what we read or the media we take in is one way to learn about race.

I have two focus areas for myself this year: first is to practice more gratitude, and the second to be aware of how much energy I put into English-only speaking spaces. This year I’m aiming to try to take in more media from non-English sources (translations and interpretations count). As a monolingual English speaker and reader I know I have a limited view of the world because my world is filtered through an English only lens. As an example, there are some cultural nuances I will never catch on to by only understanding English. Mindy, my colleague, is fluent in English and Cantonese. She recently explored some of the roots of Cantonese language and said there are many words in Cantonese that have literal translations. Such as the word troublemaker, 搞屎棍 (gaau si gwan), literally translates into “poop stirring stick.” I’ll never look at a toilet brush the same way, or use that word in the same way again.

My personal challenge this year is to read more books and articles from people of color, especially books and media from non-English speakers. If you have any suggestions of good books, movies, or online videos from non-English perspectives please let me know, please note I will need translated or subtitles since I’m not ambitious enough to learn another language right now.

Because I couldn’t think quickly enough when my colleague asked what reading and media I recommend, I’ll answer the question here. This is my recommended list of reading and media.

News and Blogs

  • South Seattle Emerald: Marilee Jolin, the Executive Director of the South Seattle Emerald, recently visited with an advocacy and policy cohort I help to facilitate. She shared the Emerald’s vision for diversifying news. The Emerald is a great South Seattle resource and they prioritize running stories from South Seattle residents, which includes a lot of people of color. I enjoy their coverage and seeing so many different perspectives shared. If you aren’t in Seattle purposefully seek out your city’s version of the Emerald
  • Nonprofit With Balls: We have to give a shout out to our friend Vu Le with nonprofitwithballs.com. While Vu’s focus is on nonprofits he often interweaves communities of color perspectives into his posts.

Facebook and Twitter Newsfeeds

I get a lot of my news from online resources, especially social media because of this I try to make sure I am following a wide and deep range of people and organization’s on social media to get different perspectives. Here is my short list of feeds I find thought provoking:

  • Equity Matters– Heidi does a great job of posting articles and writing short explainations of why they matter. She also does the extra work of looking for articles by authors of color to promote different narratives versus just mainstream media.
  • The Atlantic – while this is a mainstream liberal news organization, I enjoy their diverse topics and focus on race. Especially when they have writers of color featured, such as Ta Nahesi Coates
  • Colorlines
  • There are many others, too many to list.


Here is a list of books I’ve read and recommend, most of them by authors of color. There are quite a few kids books on the list since I read to my kids and well I needed to put kids books otherwise the list would be sparse since I don’t read a lot of IMG_20170306_200343adult books these days.

  • The Underground by Colson Whitehead
  • When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson
  • March by John Lewis
  • Thunder Boy by Sherman Alexie
  • Peach Girl by Raymond Nakamura
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (I’m on page 7 and so far I like it, yup recommending a book after only 7 pages, feel free to judge)
  • Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh
  • Visas for Life by Yukiko Sugihara
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  • At the Same Moment Around the World by Clotilde Perrin

To give you an idea about how important it is to seek out diverse check out this infographic by publisher Lee & Low. If we pickup books that are easy we default to reading books by white authors. More interesting infographics by Lee & Low here.

I’m looking forward to hearing what you would suggest as ways to diversify media. Let me know what you recommend and I’ll put it on my list of things to read, watch, or listen to.

Posted by Erin

More thoughts on Language for Racial Equity


Last week we wrote about dual language programs and the value of them. I’m happy to share my partners from OneAmerica reported the bill to expand access to bilingual education for Washington’s students (HB1445/SB5529) have passed BOTH chambers of the legislature budget committees with bipartisan support. The next step is to get a similar bill passed out of the Senate. To lend support to this effort please join OneAmerica’s mailing list.

This is the second part of last week’s blog post. Heidi (of the fakequity team) sent me detailed notes and thoughts about dual language and how language factors into racial equity. This is how our conversation went. “Hey Erin, You wrote a good personal narrative about dual language programs. What happened to all of my notes?” “Yeah, I couldn’t fit in all of your detailed notes. Sorry.” So to make sure Heidi’s good thinking and notes are shared with the blogosphere here are Heidi’s ramblings and thoughts about language, race, power, and learning with more personal narrative by Erin.

Assimilation and The Price of Assimilation

“Lastly, let us not forget that the eradication of our Native languages not only brings about spiritual and cultural loss, but the elimination of our languages has been central to colonial and genocidal efforts. The colonizer wants us to forget that we are originally free peoples who had our own forms of governance, spirituality, ways of living and languages. Eradicating our languages is a means to eradicating who and what we are as Indigenous peoples.

 “Teaching an Indian youth in his own barbarous dialect is a positive detriment to him. The first step to be taken toward civilization…is to teach them the English language.” -Commissioner of Indian Affairs John D.C. Atkins, Native language Survival & Revival

Language is one of the ways people of color are told and forced to assimilate into mainstream cultures. In the United States that meant Native and indigenous people were forced to give up their languages and in many cases children were forcibly removed from families and sent to boarding schools where they were reprimanded, including physical punishment, for speaking their Native languages. Across races this legacy of forced assimilation, and English only is now deeply embedded into our society, workplaces, and education systems. We no longer see losing home languages as an act of cultural genocide, but one that is just the “way we do business.”

The normalization of English only practices (whether conscious or unconscious) means the original colonizers have succeeded with their original intent to forcibly assimilate through language elimination. Monolingual English speakers and systems almost always make non-English speakers come to their turf, on some occasions wander out of the English only castle (translation and interpretation), but rarely spend time in spaces that are using other languages as the tool of power. Because they don’t want to and don’t have to give up that power.

Cost of Assimilation

Language assimilation and loss were and still are the ultimate tool of assimilation. Because language holds cultural insight, perspective, and value taking away a home language takes away these connections. Forcing or using only English defaults us to being limited to thinking and tools that benefit the colonizers.

Defaulting to an English only framework places people who speak a different language than English at a disadvantage, we are always trying to fit into the American/English speaking framework because we are using someone else’s tools.

“Thinking in English leads to thinking and acting like the colonizer.” – Native Language Survival & Revival


As an international transracial adoptee, I [Heidi] see how much value is placed on “economic security,” learning English to be able to survive and hopefully thrive in America. There is lesser concern about the “cultural loss and separation,” and even with economic security, adoptees still face trauma from adoption, racism, and cultural loss. For adoptees who want to reconnect with their country of birth, and biological families loss of language can create retraumatize or create new trauma because there is no sense of belonging – not belonging in the adoptive culture, but not having a homeland to return to. Language ease makes you feel comfortable in the US, but seeing yourself mirrored in society makes our birth country’s a place of comfort until we open our mouths.

In immigrant and refugee families loss of language can create gulfs between family members. Parents or grandparents who continue speaking their mother tongue and children who may be English only cannot connect with each other. Or the power dynamics are reversed when a young child who has to translate for their parents. This disconnect is taxing within families and can create trauma within families. Programs such as dual language programs that help students maintain and continue to grow in their home language are wonderful bridges and helps children develop racial pride.

Language as a Tool for Racial Equity

Language is a very tangible way to move closer to racial equity. When we design for two or more languages we default to hiring different people, using different cultural norms, learning different history, etc. We intentionally slow down and begin to see our work as more complex and inclusive.

“Guajardo is acutely sensitive to the critiques voiced by Alvarez and others. “Without the infusion of culturally appropriate, culturally relevant approaches, I think that we don’t touch the spirit of the region,” he said. At one point, he was interrupted by a phone call; someone from the MBA program was looking for a course taught in Spanish to fulfill a breadth requirement. He pitched a Mexican- American studies class. “Stephanie would be great for the MBA students,” he told the person on the other line. “She would turn [the business students] upside down with all kinds of Chicano studies stuff that they would do well to know.” – Inside the Nation’s First Bilingual University

Racial equity work is about creating relationships with people different than us so we can begin to have expanded world views. Language and ability to use language as a tool to make this happen is important. Erin recently took her kids to the public library and there was extra space in the Spanish language storytime. Her daughter loves storytime, so much so they have to have play storytime at home. Yet during the middle of the Spanish storytime the kids asked to leave because they ‘didn’t like it,’ they couldn’t understand what was being said, but they could follow along, but they stayed. It was important for the kids to not be at the center and it was ok they didn’t understand. Learning empathy and how to struggle with language is an important part of developing racial equity skills.

In a final thought a friend shared this thought: “I dream in Somali and think in Swahili. If I take time to answer you, know that my brain is trying so hard to translate my multi-lingual syllables in your English language.” English is her fourth language which she forced herself to learn to survive life in colonized world. “I love and appreciate folks with deep accent. I often want to hold them upon hearing their accent.. it shows they are rich in language and culture. That I’m not alone. That they come from another world just like me.. and their courage speak for itself through their accent. Diaspora. Immigrants. It’s so beautiful I have no words for it.” 

By Heidi Schillinger and Erin Okuno

Hell Yeah to Dual Language Programs


Over a hot pot lunch my partner and I started talking about the dual language program at our kid’s school. Our kid is in elementary school and is fortunate to be an immersion program where he spends half the day learning math and science in Chinese and the second half of the day learning English language arts and social studies in English.

What made the conversation interesting is he hadn’t thought about who the program is designed for. At our elementary school two-thirds of the students are students of color, including a large percentage who are Latinx and Asian and the English language learner (ELL) rate is 46%.

While cooking our hot pot I explained the benefits of the program and how it really works to ensure students of color, especially students who don’t speak English as a home or first language, benefit from spending half of the day in their home language students. Children who are native Chinese or Spanish (the two languages at our school) are at a language advantage for half the day. In their immersion classrooms, they are maintaining their home language and able to be fluent, versus the typical school model where ELL students are expected to assimilate and learn in English.

As a parent, I see the advantages of these programs for student learning. Having a quality dual language program is giving my kid a way to connect to his racial and ethnic background. While he’s part Chinese American the Chinese language is lost in our family, we don’t speak Chinese. Learning Chinese at school gives him the ability to connect with his cultural background and explain nuances of his self-identity that only language can give him. The dual language program has also helped to ensure my kid is seeing teachers of color in his classrooms. Had he been in a traditional school I couldn’t count on this since the current teaching workforce in Washington state is 92% white. All of this is important to ensuring he and other students of color are seen and understood in their schools.

As we continued to cook our  lunch my partner admitted he thought dual language programs were for middle class families who wanted their children to have the advantage of learning a second language. While there is an element of truth there, dual language programs should first cater to and center their offerings to students of color and English language learners, this is racial equity. Placing dual language programs in predominately English speaking neighborhoods or allowing programs to gentrify away from their target languages is fakequity.

Why Learn Another Language

Language is a tool that can connect or divide us. When I’m facilitating I try to be conscious of the languages represented in the room and to remind myself and others we as English speakers/readers hold a lot of power and there may be times when we need to slow down to allow for full participation from everyone. In the US (and many other countries) we center our work and lives around the English language. As an interesting exercise, I recently sent out an invitation for policymakers to join me at a gathering with Chinese immigrant families. In the invitation, I added a note reminding attendees to request English interpretation since the families speak Chinese and we want to center the work on their needs first. Interestingly none of the policymakers requested an interpreter, meaning they all speak Cantonese or they assume an interpreter will be provided. Assuming interpretation is provided centers their comfort with English even though Cantonese is the dominant language of the families participating.

Learning another language is an important way to break down barriers and to practice empathy. Thinking about my kid’s education I can see him working to learn and understand another culture and language. I also saw a huge sense of pride when he taught me how to introduce myself in Mandarin for a work meeting. He took great care to correct my tones and praise me when I got it right. I hope his classmates who are Chinese language speakers are feeling the same sense of pride when they are in a position of being ‘the expert’ in the classroom.

I still remember the moment when I realized my kid’s dual language education was sticking. We were watching the movie The Martian, there is a brief scene where the actors are speaking in Chinese. The kid, who was probably about six at the time, said “I know what they are saying,” and explained the scene. It wasn’t a word for word translation but accurate interpretation. In that moment, his dual language education created a new dynamic that connected him to the world in a new way a language filter was removed. I look forward to having more moments like that but with real people, not just movies, because connecting and understanding are at the core of racial equity work. I also look forward to watching the shift away from monolingualism and creating a new norm where multilingualism is valued. As several friends have said “Hell yeah” to dual language programs and “If I could make it so, every kid in Seattle would be in an immersion program,” these are the new norms and values we need.


Currently our partners at OneAmerica are advocating and pushing a bill in the Washington legislature, HB1445/SB5529, to expand dual language access. Please join their efforts by contacting your legislators to let them know why language access and dual language programs are important to you. Please also think about what this means for our Native and Indigenous languages. Policies such as these can support language and cultural preservation and evolution which in turn fights cultural genocide. Supporting dual language programs also benefits  our Deaf and Blind colleagues and neighbors who speak and read American Sign Language and Braille. Take a moment to write to your elected officials to push for dual language programs. MomsRising is collecting stories about multilingualism, hurry and share your story before this link closes.

Additional Resources:

By Erin Okuno, with help from Heidi Schillinger and Roxana Norouzi

Is Your Equity Work All White?

This week has felt like a fire drill or actually a real fire. In Washington state, a DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) young adult was detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). This is a big deal because while many of us knew eventually DACA protection would be tested, we are now realizing an even newer reality. This and other ICE raids across the country have left many immigrants and refugee communities shaken and worried about their lives and welfare. A colleague shared an undocumented family told him they make sure only one parent is at home at a time in case there is an ICE raid, this way their children will be able to stay with the other parent should anything happen. Another colleague told me the youth she works with are stressed out and worried about losing their parents. In the nonprofit world, we’ve been scrambling to meet community needs. Today at my coalition’s monthly meeting I had a request to save time to talk about what is happening with the ICE raids and what we are doing as a community to get information out. Other partners are working to get legal information and Know Your Rights trainings out to families. All this reacting is leaving little time to do other important work, but we must continue to get the rest of our work right so we can make progress and continue to build on the assets of our rich communities of color, especially our immigrant and refugee communities.

Equity Teams Silosgreen-balls

Last week I was in a meeting listening to people talk about a rubric (fancy term for a grading scale) on how to grade their racial equity teams. The teams wanted to see a chart where they could measure themselves and to benchmark progress. I sighed, racial equity work isn’t like getting a grade and saying “we’re passing! High fives!” Racial equity work is more about the process and journey and actions not about giving ourselves a passing grade, there is always more to learn.

I sat there and half-heartedly listened to the white organizers chatter on about how some teams were doing well and how others were stuck. Midway through the conversation I realized they were having the wrong conversation. They were talking about equity in a whiteness-bubble. These equity teams will never achieve transformational changes because it is mostly white people talking about “equity;” I put equity in quotations because I don’t think they were even talking about racial equity since race was hardly named, it was implied but rarely called out. Their conversation about race was centering whiteness and talking about what they saw as important. Allowing whiteness to pervade conversations about race is a form of power, a power to control the narrative and the stories that are told which often frames the solutions we seek.

The organization is mostly white, approximately 90% white. Listening to white people try to undo racism by only talking to white people, is like watching a silent movie expecting to learn spoken language. Their conversation about race was centering whiteness and talking about what they saw as important. Allowing whiteness to pervade conversations about race is a form of power, a power to control the narrative and the stories and the solutions we seek.

The other problem with majority white groups working on racial equity is it allows white people to default to their bad behaviors. At a different meeting, I sat in on a table session with a majority white group looking at data. The table dynamics could have been scripted: white dude got all defensive and tried to justify and blame people, white woman said “I try really hard to smile extra big to the Spanish speaking family. I could say ‘hola’ in the morning, but then I can’t say anything else,” the lone person of color had to fight to be heard at the table. Defaulting to these usual behaviors doesn’t help to undo racism, in fact it plays into racism’s hand. Diversifying people in the room and working to level power dynamics holds white people accountable; white people shouldn’t hoard emotional attention, they are accountable to people of color and balancing the group dynamics will force this accountability.

Stop Talking to Only White People

We need to force open tables and invite in people of color. People of color have different lived experiences and truths than white people. As people of color we have amazing assets and stories that need to be acknowledged and welcomed in. Our assets will help to provide the solutions to the problems faced by communities of color. Our stories will frame the way we see the problems and how we go about solving them. As I wrote about in the introduction about the current political climate many of our nonprofits working with communities of color are scrambling to serve our communities, we do this because we have to and because we hear from people who are being impacted by the presidential actions. If we only listened to white people we wouldn’t be able to be an asset and ally to our communities. Now we need white people to get out of their white bubbles and to start listening and sharing the burden of undoing racism.

Listen to Our Stories

About a year ago, an African American parent told me “I can’t sing your song until I learned my own.” This phrase is so true in racial equity work, while we must open up and listen to each, white people we need you to learn your own stories and songs. I need you to learn about race and what race means to you. Step back and listen to people without breaking down, without getting defensive or tone-policing us. When you listen and then stop to process on your own, you’ll realize the gift of stories and richness we as people of color are offering you.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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Anger=Love, Build Relationships

Valentine’s Day is coming up next week, a day dedicated to thinking about love, happier things, and candy. You may think we’ll blog about love, nah that’s for a traditional blog. This is the fakequity blog so instead we’ll write about something different, anger and resentment. Anger is a form of love, if we didn’t care about something or someone we wouldn’t get angry or resentful. My friend and I have a text conversation about anger and resentment. It started about two days ago, and we’re still going back and forth. One of the things we’ve realized is anger comes fast and dissipates. On the other hand resentment lingers, can grow, and is tied to feeling wronged with an element of righteous indignation. I’m a very flawed human and I resent a lot of things. Such as I resent evening meetings where I’m invited to be a community representative but don’t have a real role other than to sit there absorb information and legitimize someone else’s process. I sit through these meetings wondering why I’m there and resenting giving up an evening binge watching the newest season of Voltron on Netflix.

Talking about race and racial equity can easily get emotional. In my text conversation with my friend we went back and forth about whether emotions such as anger and resentment are a choice or if they are instinctual and impulsive. I am working with the belief we can control our emotions and make choices about going to a place of anger and resentment, or the opposite love and understanding.


picture by bodhijesitsnatchesthepeach

As part of my own racial equity work I’m trying to be more conscious of allowing time to unpack emotions. It is hard to calmly and rationally talk about race when someone arrogantly says “I went to the training on white fragility and I wasn’t as defensive as the other guy. I’m all good on this race thing.” Those types of comments make me want to jump across the table or throw my pen at them, instead I sometimes sit there and stew and let anger build. I’m envisioning Yoda from Star Wars scolding me saying something like “Anger, To fear, leads, Fear of white supremacy taking over.” I know I should ascertain where the belief is coming from, but this takes a lot of emotional energy. Sometimes I’ll just write the person off and avoid them for life adding the experience to my list of resentments.

Avoiding people and the topic of race isn’t a healthy formula for creating urgency and change. Taking the time to talk and build relationships that further cross-racial connections is necessary to undoing anger and exploring how to undo personal and systemic racism.

To fight anger and resentment around race we need to spend time building stronger relationships with people of color. Relationships force us to confront things about ourselves and others. Getting to know people who are different then ourselves allows us to check our biases, tendencies, and forces us to expand our viewpoints. Tonight, in a meeting a white colleague said “I’m a white person, as a white person I had to realize I had blinders on. I couldn’t learn about race from other white people, I had to open the view from my blinders not put on another pair of glasses. I had to expand my blinders outside of just white people.” It is easy to resent and get angry at people we don’t know, but when we know people we’re more willing to build tolerance, love, and we change our beliefs.

Do Not Tone Police

Please do not use your relationships to tone-police people’s anger. Tone policing is when we criticize how a message is delivered or downplay the emotion (often anger) versus acknowledging the experience or feelings expressed are true for the person expressing it. It is sometimes ‘correcting’ someone else, or dismissing their anger or experience ‘it couldn’t be that bad…,’ or saying something like “I’m a white person and I experienced the same…”

Author and Buddhist scholar and writer Thich Nhat Hanh explains the concept this way in this quote from the book Anger:

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

In a mutually reinforcing relationship we listen to each other and when something doesn’t feel right we ask more questions to build a deeper relationship. We can take the time to introduce to share stories and to remind people they don’t have to solve problems alone.

Love, because we can’t be a total downer

This Valentine’s day I hope you challenge yourself to build a new relationship with someone outside of your comfort area. Anger and resentment form more quickly when we don’t understand each other.

For me I have a lot of really great relationships with people of color. These relationships feed me and make me feel whole. But I am realizing a lot of the relationships I have are with English speaking people. As a monolingual English speaker, I allow this language privilege to prevail in my relationships. I need to invest some time and energy into figuring out how to get out of my English only rut. For a start I better practice learning how to introduce myself in Cantonese for a parent meeting with some Chinese families in a few weeks. Learning how to say hello and my name is the least I can do to prepare and to break out of my English only bubble.

Post by Erin

Rage in the Right Direction

Before we start I want to highlight a project. While I make fun of hashtags all the time I started one #CongressNeedsLoveLetters. Take a moment and send a postcard to a Representative or Senator and tell them what you care about. We need to be vocal,  practice resistance, and show gratitude. More information here.


“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they. Do not go gentle into that good night.” Dylan Thomas

This poem was shared at the memorial service for Al Sugiyama, a beloved Asian American activist. The speaker reminded us Al did not go gently, he fought and raged against racism and cancer until his end. In this current political climate we must continue to rage in the right direction.



picture credit: AJ Dimarucot

It’s only been a week since our last blog post and so much has changed. Last Friday, 27 January 2017, after we posted our blog post, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven primarily Muslim countries. Suddenly people who were legally allowed in the United States were no longer allowed to enter the country, despite having legal clearance to travel and in some cases reside in the United States. It is noted the ban is supposed to “keep America safe,” but in reality the policy is targeting people and prejudice against Muslims. It is akin to Japanese American citizens being rounded up and put into prison camps (a.k.a. internment camps) during WW II; once was legal became illegal because of a political action playing off of fear and intolerances. The ban has affected many, and has made many people afraid of what might happen next. Protests happened all over the country. Immediately after the ban was announced a protest started at Sea-Tac Airport, a larger rally on Sunday evening as well, and around Seattle smaller acts of resistance are sprouting up.

Slow Down

We need to slow down and ask is our rage directed in the right places or are we doing things to feel like we’re doing something to do something, versus fighting for rights, to rage against injustice, and to bring visibility to hidden problems.

Earlier this week I was at a school for a meeting about race and equity. One of the agenda items was a grassroots welcome rally movement at schools where parents and students would hold welcoming signs, the principal had reservations. On the surface, it sounds like a feel-good-nothing-bad can happen sort of event, but the cringes by parents of color were telling. Crowds of people holding signs doesn’t always send a welcoming signal to people of color, and immigrant families who may not be literate or fluent in English may not understand what the rallying is about, worse they may feel targeted or ‘othered’ by the rally. A Facebook event page grew and had comments for the event and a vocal minority saying, whoa slow down. The tone policing from the do-gooders to the people saying slow down was classic, telling, and obnoxious.

Parents of color asked online and in person why do we need signs saying #WeAreAllImmigrants, We Welcome ALL Families, We Love Diversity, and I Love my Immigrant Neighbors. The messages of showing up in unity between white people and others sends a silencing message. This quote from the blog Black Girl Dangerous explains why: “‘unity’ pushes a violent doctrine of sameness. It allows for individuals in positions of relative dominance to set agendas that more marginalized and disenfranchised individuals and communities are dogmatically expected to follow.”

I’m cringing at these messages because they are coming from a dominant white perspective of wanting to affirm people of color. It is white people saying “I see you, person of color/refugee, and I like you.” I don’t want my kids to learn to seek out white people affirmation. I want my kids to authentically feel like they belong to a community, not through some artificial event where white people are in control and want to be seen as doing good. I also want my kids of color to earn validation, not be given it because of misplaced energy and rage against President Trump’s asinine executive order.

I get the need to rage, the feeling is palpable. The messages of do something, resist, and fight are out there. To our white allies please realize raging in the wrong way comes at a greater cost to communities of color than you may realize. As people of color we spend a lot of time nicely or pointedly explaining how damaging or hurtful these “I want to be a good white person” actions and messages are. People of color also spend a lot of time dealing with white anger, tears, fragility, or defensiveness when white people feel hurt because people of color are rejecting their efforts. This isn’t a good use of time or energy. This is energy we could invest into communities of color, rather than dealing with white-do-good emotions. It must be exhausting for white people trying to uphold the illusion of being seen as good and then expending emotional energy resisting people saying no thank you to the illusion. I see the exhaustion and relentlessness white people feel around fighting to be seen as doing good, if you need permission to stop please give it to yourself. And please stop fighting people of color who are telling you to listen.

White people, please stop doing things to say you did something or to post to social media, stop doing things to affirm people of color, stop for a moment and collect yourselves. If you want to be helpful stop and learn about race. Stop and invest time in building relationships outside of your bubbles.


One way you can constructively rage is to learn. We all need to continue learning about race and how it impacts our lives and upholds the current systems and led to the craziness we’re in now. Instead of placing your rage in doing potentially more harmful things, put that energy into a constructive activity:

  • Become conscious of who you are listening to, break out of white echo-chambers.
  • Take in media from people of color.
  • Spend authentic time with communities of color – don’t creep and try to buddy up to a person of color on the bus (that’s just weird).
  • Make a long-term commitment to volunteering with a poc embedded organization, research carefully so you’re not joining an org just serving pocs. Please do not parachute in and then leave or think you’ll change and save people.
  • Focus energy on undoing systemic and institutional racism, for an easy activity take part in the #CongressNeedsLoveLetters campaign mentioned up top.
  • Listen to people of color when they push back it is for a reason and seek to understand those reasons.

Gentleness and rage, we’ll need both to survive the next few years.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Dear Community, I’m Sorry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you like Fakequity, please subscribe. There is a subscribe box in the right hand sidebar. You’ll get posts emailed right to you email inbox. Make Friday a Fakequity Friday.

Posted by Erin

Tools for Resistance in the Age of *rump


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

Love (empathy, compassion) as a Tool of Resistance

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

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


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

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

Getting to Tools for Transformation

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

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

Elected Officials Need Racial Equity Training

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

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

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

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

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

200 Hours of Racial Equity Training

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

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

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

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

Posted by Erin