Amazon HQ2 – Prosperity or Pain for your communities of color?


Amazon Seattle Campus aerial photo

This week’s post is diverging from the normal talk about race, equity, and nonprofits. I’ve been loosely following Amazon’s request for bids as they decide where to build a second headquarters. HQ2, as it is called, will be “an equal” headquarters to their Seattle headquarters and have a projected 50,000 jobs, and generate a bleeping-lot of money. All of this sounds really enticing to many cities. Many news articles have picked apart the deal, I’m not smart enough to do that, so I want to explore what this means to Seattle from a race and community-level perspective.

As cities are wooing the company, I hope the communities of color in those cities understand what they are in for. I don’t have the answer on what it could mean but I can share what I’ve noticed over the past few years of living and working in Seattle. While I’m not a Seattle native, I’ve been here for close to twenty years. I’m also an Amazon consumer using the company to buy everything from a gigantic bucket of emergency food for the impending earthquake (did that two weeks ago while procrastinating over writing the fakequity blog post) to the book Roly Poly Pangolin. I’ve seen Seattle change over the past twenty years and have also watched Amazon’s and other tech generated growth changed the landscape.

The growth of tech companies in Seattle brought prosperity and generous wage jobs to people working in the region, but that prosperity isn’t shared. In this 2014 article on the diversity of Amazon, not surprisingly the majority of Amazon’s workforce is white males. It goes on to say Blacks and Latinos make up only 4% of manager positions (each), Asians make up 13% of the workforce and 18% of managers. Native Americans aren’t even mentioned. To be fair this is a tech industry-wide problem and Amazon isn’t alone in being a white-male dominated workforce.

I did some quick online research and found an average annual wage of an engineer or technical manager, rounded to about $110k, at Amazon can fund about half of my nonprofit for a year. That is a lot of money concentrated into an echo-chamber of white-tech workers. I don’t fault them for making the wages they do, but without an income tax (WA is one of the few states in the US without an income tax) there isn’t a mechanism to redistribute wealth and share prosperity. I also wonder if those at the bottom of their wage ladders receiving a fair, livable, and growth wage? A new study out of the University of Washington School of Social Work shows a family of four needs to make $76,000 to live a no-frills life in Seattle; this is far beyond the $15/hr. many in Seattle have been aiming for. Is Amazon investing in their bottom wage employees of color to ensure they can stay in Seattle and have career ladders jobs and can they reach a salary job that allows them to fund half of my nonprofit?

Is the Criticism of Amazon Fair?

A friend posted on her Facebook page this article: Amazon earned Seattle’s hostility, which details wage disparities caused by the growth of the tech sector in Seattle. The post opened an interesting conversation about what Amazon has done, both good and bad, to Seattle. Amazon absorbs an unnatural amount of blame for everything, a sample of things uttered and heard by me: too many Amazon lunch shuttles in Seattle’s International District blocking all the good parking, too much-wasted cardboard from all of their shipping boxes, gentrification and displacement, and the Instant Pot craze. Others asked if the overall criticism fair.

Amazon has done a lot to help Seattle grow to where it is today. The South Lake Union neighborhood where many of their offices are looks drastically different because of their company presence. Back when the company was starting they worked out of Beacon Tower on Beacon Hill in an old VA hospital. They also made a generous gift to Mary’s Place, a homeless shelter, offering them permanent space in their new Seattle headquarters. All of this is great and I still can’t ignore what Amazon and other companies are not doing to support communities of color. It isn’t Amazon’s fault and at the same time, it is.

Seattle’s communities of color have been hit hard by the growth of Amazon. African American friends share stories about how they know once they sell the family home in the Central District (a historically Black/African American neighborhood) they know they will never return because they are priced out. One family event — a job loss, a death or illness, a house fire – sends families of color fleeing from the city because they can’t hold on and stay in the city due to rising rent caused by the influx of new workers who need places to live. Yet leaving means giving up a precious network of support from schools, organizations, and friends. Is the Amazon’s fault no, but yes. The wealth generated and concentrated in the hands of a few have caused displacement and gentrification and other hardships.

The philanthropic giving Amazon has done is has been on their terms to benefit their interest. The bold and generous gift to Mary’s Place is wonderful, and it is safe. As a city we need more support for unhoused people and it will help people of color. But at the same time, I look at that gift and think “of course the donation went to Mary’s Place, a historically white led organization who looks and sounds like them,” it was a safe place to make a gift. Where is the support for an organization like Chief Seattle Club, a Native American organization supporting many Native Americans experiencing homelessness? Other news articles talk about how Amazon supports Great, makes sense supporting the pipeline of getting kids interested in computer science. While is led by a poc, when I looked at their staff pictures I had to scroll a lot before seeing pocs – so again supporting good work, but on their terms and to organizations that look and sound like them. Another friend said their giving appears very transactional, not a great way to aim for systemic change.

Be a Good Neighbor and What the Next City Should Prepare for

If Amazon and their staff want to be good neighbors I hope they will open themselves up and understand how they are changing communities. The growth they have generated has been at the expense of communities of color. What will the company do differently to be a good neighbor and not just ask what is in it for them and their shareholders? A shared vision of growth must include what is good for communities of color and allowing communities of color to have self-determination.

Some might be asking what does Amazon have to do with self-determination of communities of color. This quote by Ijeoma Oluo helps to explain what I mean: “Look for where your privilege intersects with somebody’s oppression. That is the piece of the system that you have the power to help destroy.” The privilege of working at Amazon (and many other tech companies) comes at a cost to communities of color. The land Amazon sits on belonged to Native Americans, as we saw earlier Native American’s employment demographics weren’t even reported. The list of ills can go on and on. Communities of color need to have a say in how solutions to these problems can be found. Amazon has the power and responsibility to be part of the solution.

In a conversation with an Amazon employee, the person said government/policymaking has a responsibility to take care of housing and education and Amazon shouldn’t be blamed. I agree but I disagree, part of the solution finding has to be Amazon and their network to push policymakers and to generate the public will to change and to do it with communities of color.

Where is Amazon calling for tax-reform to share prosperity? Where are they on supporting organizations closest to communities of color? Their voice is absent from community level conversations. I could keep asking questions but I think I know the answers on where Amazon stands or doesn’t on social justice.

To the next city lucky enough to win the bid to host HQ2, good luck. To our sisters and brothers of color out there, stand strong and start organizing so Amazon doesn’t happen to you.

Posted by Erin Okuno

This blog post started as a reply to a Facebook post. Thank you to Annie for the original post.

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

No thank you, I don’t need your gifts

Late last Sunday before I headed to bed I checked Twitter and saw early reports of the violence and rampage in Las Vegas. It wasn’t until morning that I understood the carnage. The shooter, Stephen Paddock, armed with multiple assault rifles shot out of a 32-floor window into an open-air concert. He killed 59, and injured over 500. Puerto Rico is also trying to recover. Their disaster was a devastating hurricane. Please take a moment and remember the national and international context we exist in and how we are somehow all interconnected.

panda noWhite people, please stop giving. Every few weeks I’ll be in a meeting and someone will say “we want to give…” and I tune out. The act of giving can feel noble, but only if the gift is wanted and well received.

Communities of color often have what we need to solve our own problems. We don’t need programs from the outside, or outside experts to diagnose and tell us what is wrong and how to fix it without really understanding the community. We also don’t need access to programs that weren’t designed by our community.

I get it, people want to help. It is hard watching others suffer and people are compassionate. We see a problem and our instincts are to say “I’m smart I know how to solve this problem,” or “I know someone who knows how to fix this,” or “if they do this it will make things better.” Before you try to bring some program that will teach children how to meditate or some family engagement program that worked in some other community slow down and ask are you making the offer for you or for others.

This is the opposite of extraction, it is inserting yourself into a community and centering your solution. Like I just wrote, yes we want to solve problems. We can’t let things stay as they are. Problems like the achievement and opportunity gap need to end, economic instability, climate change impacting pocs, gun violence, infant mortality, and so on disproportionately impact people of color and we need to find solutions to the problems. What we don’t need though is for programs and projects to happen to us.

The problem with thinking we can import programs and projects and believing they will succeed is we need to really consider is it racial equity. Most likely it isn’t racial equity. Racial equity isn’t about giving a community access, or thinking we can give and gift our way to equity. True racial equity is about creating space for solutions to emerge from the community and resourcing people of color to test these solutions and allowing grace for people to learn from the successes and failures.

Turning Inward

One of the best lines I’ve heard recently about how to practice racial equity is “communities of color turning inward.” Often someone will want to come in and bring a project or program to a community and expect communities of color to want to embrace it. They may even be ready to face skepticism from communities of color and will be willing to tinker with the project design but overall the project or program is controlled and designed by others. If we are truly practicing racial equity communities of color embrace our own gifts and we create our own programs that center our needs first.

A few years ago, I heard professor john a. powell speak at a gathering of funders. I heard a line from him saying: “communities often have their own solutions, but they may not have the resources to solve the problem.” Interestingly the white people in the room heard the opposite, that communities don’t have the solutions or the resources. I operate under the basis that we have the solutions within our own communities and when we listen to each other solutions arise. Mainstream and dominant systems often want to import solutions and believe they will work. Bright and shiny objects and programs look appealing and easier than doing the harder work of listening to the community and working together to design from scratch a new solution to a problem.

We don’t need program plopped down on communities, we need to transform spaces that allow programs and projects to emerge – this is racial equity. Transformation doesn’t have to be some grandiose thing with fancy lighting and a soundtrack, it can be simply resourcing a community to have a conversation where they can share what is and isn’t working. Most likely at some point in the conversation the community will start to generate solutions. These solutions may look very differently than what others have in mind.

Turning inward also means decisionmakers must be ok with letting go of control. Our job is to hold the space, build trust within the community, and to offer the resources needed to make a community driven program happen. Sometimes this means suspending our desires and our predisposed solutions which can be really scary, especially if it means we’re staking our reputation on it as well.

How to create more racially equitable solutions

Center Communities of Color – Communities of color need to spend time talking and generating solutions. Help to make this happen by paying for the convening, donating space, offering to pickup refreshments, setting up and cleaning up the room, etc. When communities spend time talking and generating ideas solutions will emerge. Starting with conversation is an important way to make sure the solution is coming from the community that is most impacted.

Listen to what communities want – Often we know what we know and we want to share it. In Seattle Detective Cookie’s Chess Club is well known in S Seattle. Detective Cookie is a local police officer who provides a chess club to students. She said when she first started she asked the kids what sort of club they wanted she expected them to say basketball, hip hop, etc., nope they asked for a chess club. She helped the kids make it happen and today it is wildly popular. We need to do more of this where we suspend what we think a solution may be and be ok with pivoting to do what the community wants. It is hard to let go of our preconceived thoughts, but in the end the community generated solution will be right.

Gifts – I started this post by saying we don’t want your giving, that is only half true. We want your gifts and giving, but we want it without all of the strings and weird stuff that can come along with it. We don’t need cumbersome financial obligations, restrictions and requirements, etc. If you believe in the work then resource it and trust the community. If for some reason it doesn’t work out than consider it an investment in learning so we can make more informed decisions in the future.

Create conditions that build trust and allow the community to control the program and project – One of the ‘gifts’ you can give is starting with trust. Trust is necessary to building a good program and project. Trust is often earned through actions, so take some actions to check your power and use your privilege to center communities of color.


Posted by Erin Okuno

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


A very short look at racial anxiety

This week’s post will be short. My work team and coalition just wrapped up a third event in two weeks and one more to go on Saturday. All of the events are great and changing our civic landscape in positive ways, but it means I haven’t put a lot of thought into what to write about this week. Apologies too for this posting a little later than normal. I thought it posted early this morning, but it hadn’t. Here it is and have a great weekend. P.S. If you will be at the El Centro de la Raza gala on Saturday please say hi. And to our friends and colleagues observing Yom Kippur, G’mar Fatima Tova.


Tonight, my organization hosted a talk with professor john a. powell (he doesn’t capitalize his name). I’ve written about his work before and want to return to one of the themes. He speaks often about othering and belonging. During his talk tonight, he answered a question about being able to name our anxieties and how they show up.

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t experience anxiety on some level. It is a part of living to experience anxiety. We can’t control everything and many times anxiety is produced because we have to rely on others to make our way through the world. Prof. powell shared a slide saying as diversity increases in our country, so does anxiety and racial resentment.

I hear this anxiety a lot when I am in meetings with people not accustomed to talking about race. During the start of the meeting when we do community agreements and I mention we need to add a community agreement about being clear with our language around race, equity, immigration status, etc. people start to shift in their seats. They nod and may say “that is a good one,” but I’ve broken the unsaid rule around talking about that thing that we don’t talk about. I named a fear and heightened their anxiety because talking about race is now elevated. This is also why people, whites and pocs, dread mandatory diversity training, cultural competency training, race and social meetings, etc. All of a sudden people are forced to talk about what they only want to talk about in private in hushed voices.

When we name our fears, we can begin to unpack them. If we let them simmer in the background we end up with a broken narrative that leads to what Prof. powell calls breaking behavior, meta-narratives around anger, fear, othering. Trump is very good at this narrative: Those Mexicans will take your jobs, they are bad very bad people, etc.

When I see people of color come to my coalition’s meeting I feel a different vibe. People begin to unwind because they know they can talk about race. As a colleague of color said, “I don’t have to defend my existence.” We create this space by centering people of color first and by inviting honesty and naming our fears and anxieties. I don’t always get it right in this space either and there are many times I trip over my own words and thinking, but there is more grace to do so because we’re used to talking about race. I do my best to create a space where we can be brave and talk about race and trip and pick ourselves up together. This is how we create a space of belonging and not othering.

Some quick ways to open up conversations about race to help people become comfortable naming their anxieties. The more we normalize constructive ways to talk about race the greater our change of naming fears and anxieties.

  • Use the Color Brave Space in meetings, create the expectation you’ll be talking about race
  • During introductions or icebreakers introduce prompts related to race
  • Model how to talk about race by talking about it
  • Create a space for talking about race, some non-threatening ways are start a group where you all read an article or book by an author of color, or watch a TED Talk or movie by a person of color. This will help to create a habit of acknowledging race.

There is a lot more to look at on this topic, but it’s been a long week and I still have a few more work events to go. If you have questions or thoughts about this topic please email me at

Posted by Erin Okuno

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

Are you recreating the power systems you’re fighting to undo?

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while, in some ways it is the second part of the blog post on power. Often in our work, we do what we know and maybe adapt it a little to make it more equitable and more community oriented. However, when we do this we need to ask ourselves are we aiming for transformational change or are we just tinkering. When we think about transformational change we’re creating something new versus taking a known process and making it more poc friendly. The danger with trying to make a current power structure and making it poc friendly is current power structures suck. They are oppressive to many including those on the top, the person at the top has to work really hard to maintain their status, and the people on the bottom are constantly fighting for power.

penguinsIn this video, with penguins, we can see current power dynamics of white hierarchy and white supremacy, and it also shows the danger of flipping the hierarchy putting pocs on top. When we flip the hierarchy, we’re adopting the principles and values that have oppressed people of color. In the video, it makes the point we need to work to create a system where we all have a turn in the center—much like how penguins take turns being warm in the center.

In our nonprofit, government, and business work we need to make sure we are redistributing power more justly. One of the problems of adopting the current hierarchical power structure is a select group is in control and not representative of the community that needs to be centered and focused upon. In communities of color, we can also fall into the trap of using these power dynamics to unintendedly uphold white supremacy or allowing the power dynamics to create wedge issues or divide and conquer strategies, all of which benefit white people more than communities of color.

Instead, we need to turn inward. As communities of color we can figure out our own solutions and we can act in solidarity with each other. Solidarity, like the word equity, has different meanings for different people. I am using the definition of we show up together, we do our ‘work’ as communities of color to work through differences, understandings, and show up in ways that unite us. We also take turns and never throw another community aside to move one community ahead of another. We must work together to achieve justice for communities of color – not just one community but all. We also need to do our work to uplift and focus on the most marginalized within our communities of color – disabled, LQBTIA, undocumented immigrants, immigrants and refugees, youth and seniors. To get to solidarity means we check our egos and be mindful of our power-base and use it in ways to redistribute our collective power across the community. (This definition may not be technically accurate. I haven’t researched solidarity and maybe in a future post I’ll contradict myself, humbly call this ‘learning forward.’ My colleague Jondou Chen also talks about the difference between interest convergence and solidarity which is fascinating and deserving of its own blog post.)

Creating a New Structure

Instead of adapting old structures and trying to adapt them to become poc friendly, we need to toss those out and create new ways of working which will look different. As an example, we can’t just take a traditional process and appoint a poc chair, or recruit pocs to a workgroup and think we’re reaching racial equity, the power structures stayed the same and it is just more diverse which isn’t helpful.

What is more helpful is resourcing groups (e.g. providing money, opening networks, space, etc.) to communities of color who are already working deeply with people of color. Many times, we’ve come up with ways of working in solidarity with each other, often informally, and we can get things done without the drama that comes with having to create formal structures that dominant society uses (i.e. leadership roles, timelines, etc.).

In communities of color, we need to take the time to build relationships with each other and build trust amongst each other. This is how we create new power networks that can withstand outside forces demanding we adopt power structures that don’t work for us. It is tempting to fall into the habits of a dominant culture, but we have to remember that is how we create ‘othering’ versus a collective sense of belonging.

Do and Don’t

Don’t expect communities to operate in known power structures – Do we really need to appoint formal chairs? Or can we be ok with having more people involved and evolving ways of working? Projects can still have things like a point person for interfacing with outside people such as funders, but do you really need to ask the group for a board list, chairperson, etc. If you want to understand if the group is inclusive of the communities they serve, ask that question and ask about who and how decisions are made.

Don’t expect things on your timeline—Timelines need to be fluid to allow evolving work and new power structures to emerge.

Do – Be flexible and allow grace as groups figure out new ways of working. It can be frustrating to watch a project and wonder if it will ever emerge because things look messy from the outside. But remember dominant culture took hundreds of years to create this mess pitting people against each other, you’all can afford a few months as we figure out our own ways of working.

Do – Test new ways of working together. We have to be willing to try new models of working together. Communities aren’t static and we have to find new ways of centering communities most impacted by racism. This means we slow down and try new strategies and let power dynamics continue to evolve and shift.


Posted by Erin Okuno. Thanks to Heidi Schillinger for sharing the penguin video.


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

Leave the Comfort Zone for the Danger Zone

Before we start, we’re pausing to hold in our thoughts the school shooting near Spokane Washington. Harm and violence at a school, a place of safety, is tragic. To our colleagues in Spokane, we are holding you in our thoughts.

mavericThis has been a marathon meeting week. I’ve been in all-day meetings for most of the week and my introvert self is ready to find my hidey-hole and settle in with Netflix and headphones. One of the reoccurring themes from these meetings is how uncomfortable white people get when they are asked about why they aren’t talking about race. In more than one meeting I noticed white people getting defensive, then shut down the conversation when asked about race. I’m accustomed to listening to unsatisfactory answers and knowing my job is to ask and sit through these conversations.

“My community was shamed…”

My favorite line from a meeting this week came from a white person*. The person mentioned the organizers should proceed with caution and be sensitive because the community they (gender neutral to protect my integrity) represent was recently reported on in the news in an unfavorable light, “my community was recently publicly shamed… .” I cringed when these words were uttered. I thought “maybe they should feel a little shame, they aren’t innocent.” I also thought it took a lot of audacity for the person to suggest we need to tread lightly because a white community can’t handle being uncomfortable and they need special treatment.

This line also shows how much power white communities hold onto their comfort and how far they are willing to go to maintain their positions in communities. Being called out was a grievance and the language used was “don’t do that again to us,” and “we’re protecting our turf,” and “don’t let this happen again.” This behavior is what professor john a. powell (he doesn’t capitalize his name) calls as breaking. It ‘others’ people, saying you’re not one of us, and comes from a place of anxiety around diversity and the meta-narratives, leadership, and organizations around it.

In that moment, the white leader could have been an ally and acknowledged their community experienced a sense of anxiety and the change needed. Prof. powell writes “Anxiety isn’t necessarily good or bad. It’s just there,” it is what we do with the anxiety – do we channel it to understand and bridge, or do we use it to break our communities?

As our communities change many of us, white people especially, need to learn to be ok with being called out and called in. There are many white people expect to be catered to and expect “the benefit of the doubt,” that pocs assume their best intent, and “hold safe spaces” for white people. All of these cater to a sense of making white people ok and not asking them to feel any negative emotions such as anxiety and shame. But when we assume best intent and allow safe spaces to prevail it is only safe for one group. History doesn’t show that white people’s best intent is good enough. Was best intent used when white people created exclusionary policies?

“I went to the Danger Zone”

danger zoneCiKeithia and I have a new joke called #dangerzone. It comes from my kid butchering the lyrics to the Top Gun anthem “Highway to the Danger Zone,” my kid sings it “I went to the Danger Zone.” Before or after hard meetings we’ll text each other #dangerzone. As people of color we enter danger zones all the time – meetings where we’re one of the few people of color, there to be the ‘strong voice for equity,’ or even just walking on the streets in mostly white neighborhoods. People of color don’t have the luxury of saying “that didn’t feel good, so I’m not going back into the danger zone,” if we did this there wouldn’t be very many places to go.

White people need to be learn to be ok in the danger zone too. If you never enter the danger zone you’ll stay in a bubble of whiteness for fear of being shamed or having to feel something. It is a learned skill around functioning in the danger zone and being ok with a little anxiety and other emotions.

How to Make the Danger Zone Less Dangerous

Of course, I don’t want to shame and blame people around race. Shame doesn’t go far and people shut down. I do want people to experience race and to think about their actions and how their responsibilities to make danger zones less dangerous, shameful, and to encourage people to act.

Some ways we can work towards change:

Build relationships – When we build relationships the danger zone is less lonely and there is more bridging.

Stop centering whiteness – As an example of how easy it is to slip into this pattern at another meeting a white speaker kept saying “non-white communities.” I finally interrupted or disrupted and said “Please say what you mean, communities of color. When you say non-white you’re centering whiteness again.” A small language change that makes people of color visible.

Watch who is speaking – While watching a council meeting I took out my phone and started timing how long elected officials spoke. The meeting was dominated by white women who kept speaking and wouldn’t stop. We should all be conscious about how long and often we speak.

Facilitate for PoC safety – Facilitators and meeting organizers need to make sure they are actively disrupting whiteness and inviting people of color in. Using the Color Brave Space facilitation guidelines helps with this.

Leveling power with high maka-maka people – High maka maka is a term from Pidgin English to denote people with status and power and who may need extra preening. It is important to level the power dynamics and remind people why they are there, which may be to hear from the community not to showcase what they know. A few months ago, I helped to organize a meeting between immigrant parents and policy makers. We attended to the power differential by telling the policy makers they were there to hear from the parents not to share their agenda. The policy makers were being given a gift of personal stories and insights and they needed to honor the stories by listening. This short reminder changed the meeting tone to one that centered the families more.

Let’s stop with the danger zones and help to create more spaces for learning and relationship building.

*I was in meetings or watching meetings with many white people this week. If you are trying to guess or think it was you, relax many people have uttered similar lines.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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

Talking About Race without Talking About Power is Useless


#defendDACA, artwork from, open source art and messages.

Since I last blogged Trump repealed the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) which allowed over 880,000 people to live more humanely and participate in our community more fully. As an action please sign this MomsRising petition calling on Congress to stand with DREAMmers. Please support organizations and individuals working to protect, defend, and push for progressive changes. My suggested list includes OneAmerica, Colectivia legal del Pubelo, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Neighborhood House, and 21 Progress (all of these organizations are poc led). Beyond financial resources, please take a moment to learn about what organizations in your neighborhood are doing to support DREAMmers and immigrant communities most impacted by this decision, immigrants will be here long after Trump so let’s keep the support going.

I’ve been thinking and reading more about power and how it manifests in our work and lives. In the United States, we are conditioned to believe and aim for equality. What this means for power is it is an off-limits topic, we consciously or unconsciously, believe we have equal chances of attaining our dreams. We hear phrases like “education is the great equalizer,” and we believe in ‘equal access.’ Due to power dynamics, we are never really equal. We can’t undo racism without talking about and understanding power.

In our current world view race and power go together, like hand-and-glove, fish and chips, and sometimes like oil and water. If we think about who currently holds formal and informal power we see patterns of whiteness. White people are in positions of formal power – they are over represented in government, business, public sector jobs, etc. By default, in informal settings, white people still hold on power. I’ve gone to many meetings with white people who should be my peers but they exert more power than they are due. It shows up in who is talking and where they sit, whitesplaining, or I have to sit through tantrums because a white person is unhappy when challenged and see an action as power being redistributed away from them.

I started reading Eric Liu’s book You’re More Powerful Than You Think, A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen. I’m only on page 56 so I haven’t fully gotten into the book, but it is giving me some good thoughts on how power needs to be attended to. In the opening chapter Liu defines power as “capacity to ensure that others do as you would want them to do.” Liu lists several main sources of power: violence, wealth, state action, ideas, social norms, and numbers. He goes on to say conduits of power come from institutions, organizations, networks, laws, and narratives. Borrow his book from the library or buy it from an independent bookseller to learn more.

When we think about the main sources of power, there are very few that allow for people of color to positively express our power. Currently social norms default to whiteness, wealth is concentrated with white people, ideas are monetized or acted upon by white people (wealth and networks to decisionmakers are more visible to white people). Violence and state actions are used intentionally or unintentionally to hold people of color down. Before you give up and stop reading there is hope.

When we acknowledge power dynamics, especially racialized power dynamics, and work to rebalance them we shift power. Liu touches upon shifting power dynamics in his book. Organizing is one way to build power, labor unions are good at using the power of their membership and numbers to shift power.  In the community organizing, I’ve been involved with we often use narrative to shift power. Community voice and stories are used to challenge and call out societal norms that default to whiteness. As people of color become the majority in our country it is important we work on coming together in ways that recognize our collective power when we act in solidarity with each other.

We all have the power to shift power dynamics to benefit people and communities of color as well. Earlier we blogged about Color Brave Space, facilitation guidelines Heidi developed. When I facilitate I use these to focus the meeting on people of color. The act of focusing our meetings on people of color is an important way for me to exert my positional power to focus on people I care about. While it may make people including myself squirm to acknowledge my positional power I must do so if I want something to change, not acknowledging or using it appropriately means the system will default to what is easy which is currently centering whiteness.

For societal norms to change we must acknowledge how race and power work. When we understand how power shows up we can begin to shift it. Here are some simple steps you can use to begin to understand how power works in everyday life:

  1. Who is speaking – Start paying attention to who speaks at meetings, in conversations, etc. What are the racial and in some cases gender dynamics?
  2. Decision making power—Do community members and people of color have decision making control? Do they need to seek final approval from a governing body?
  3. Privilege—Access to networks, materials, financial resources, information, etc. What steps are taking place to redistribute these privileges?
  4. Disengage—The power to disengage from uncomfortable conversations or work is an important form of power. Impacted communities cannot walk away from unsafe or uncomfortable situations, yet those with power can often abandon projects, strategies, programs.

The more we can name and see how power the better we are at having it shared. There is more to think about this topic so share your thoughts on the topic by commenting on the Facebook thread or emailing In a future post, we’ll unpack power dynamics more.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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White People: What Kind of R*cist are you? Take this 8 Question Quiz

White Folks, Do you need everything to be about you quiz 

what-do-mean-we-have-a-quiz-todayConsidering it is the Friday before a long weekend and Erin is taking a nap and eating at buffets, I decided I am going to be a little cheeky. And, if cheeky is not your thing, feel free to stop reading. Also, if you find yourself wondering if an example shared here is about you, it’s not. Well, it’s not specifically about you, but these are all things I see or hear on a fairly regular basis in my racial equity workshops. We’ll see if this post gets past the chief Fakequity editor.

 The last time I had a conversation about race. . .

  1. I don’t have conversations about race. I just see everyone as human.
  2. I shared all the POC books I’ve read lately and invited people to my book club and an upcoming lecture. (If you don’t know what POC means, answer #1. POC=People of Color.)
  3. I focused on listening to and centering POC voices.

When someone confronts me about my white privilege, I say. . .

  1. It’s not my fault! I can’t help that I am white.
  2. But I am a good person. I volunteer with at-risk youth and went to the BLM rally. (If you don’t know what BLM is, then answer #1. BLM=Black Lives Matter.)
  3. This is really uncomfortable, but I’m going to lean in and listen.

When I saw the news about Charlottesville. . .

  1. I retweeted 45’s comment about there being blame on both sides.
  2. I thought thank God, I live someplace where that doesn’t happen.
  3. I sent money to a Community of Color embedded organization doing work in Charlottesville and didn’t feel the need to tweet about it.

When I see a white person cry in a racial equity training, my reaction is. . .

  1. Anger and then I would state in a loud voice, you are oppressing white people.
  2. Cry too and sit with them and offer tissue.
  3. Have compassion, but not allow the conversation to shift to centering whiteness.

When asked for a commitment at the end of a racial equity training, my answer is…

  1. Pass or I’m only here so I don’t get fined.
  2. Increased awareness, I’m going to read more articles and books.
  3. [Insert specific daily action] that leans into discomfort, is explicit about race, and works to dismantling systemic racism in your organization.

The “suggestion” I write on my evaluation at the end of a racial equity training is . . .

  1. You’d be more effective if you didn’t shame and guilt white people.
  2. Next time please focus on more than just race. I grew up poor and you just ignored my experiences with oppression.
  3. Thank you for helping us talk specifically about race. I wish we had more time.

I took this quiz because. . .

  1. Someone sent it to me, and I am really offended and about to start trolling them and this blog. I’m pressing “Hide post” or “Hide all posts” on Fakequity’s Facebook page. (We take no offense to this, bye Felicia.)
  2. I wanted proof I’m not racist. I plan to share my results on social media.
  3. I read the Fakequity blog every week.

My honesty level with this quiz was. . .

  1. I was honest, and my honest response is that this quiz is an example of “reverse racism.”
  2. I wasn’t really honest, but I chose what I thought should be the “right” answer. And, now I will share my results on social media along with my results showing I am part Native American.
  3. I was honest and now I’m going to print out a copy of this quiz and place it on some of my coworkers’ desks.


Mostly #1 Answers: Why are you here? I am guessing you didn’t really actually make it to the end of this blog post. You’re so uncomfortable with race that you can’t even read this blog post. You always need to be comfortable and centered. Pretty much everything always needs to be about you, your comfort, and your feelings.

Mostly #2 Answers: You might be a “self-appointed ally” who is more focused on looking good than addressing systemic racism. Your racial comfort is only on your terms. You really want to not be centered or comfortable all the time, but habits are hard to break. You still manage to make racial equity work all about you, your actions, and your comfort.

Mostly #3 Answers: I don’t believe you take it again. If you take it again and your answers are still mostly #3 then keep up the good work. You are comfortable being uncomfortable in racial equity work. You manage to slow down and consciously work to center the needs, comfort, and ideas of people of color. It is not all about you. But if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I really believe you.

By Heidi, with input from CiKeithia and J34. Chief Fakequity Editor says Heidi and CiKeithia should write more.

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Reflections from South Korea: Whose Megaphone are We Amplifying?

IMG_3778I’ve spent the last month exercising self-care and middle-class privilege; getting off the grid in Mongolia and riding my bike up the East Coast in Korea. I have a lot of stories to share but for most of these, you’ll have to meet me for happy hour. Before I leave Korea and submerge myself in the constant noise of the U.S. media, I wanted to share some perspectives from the Korean Peninsula. And, if I’m being honest, I owe Erin a lot of blog posts, so I’m trying to take advantage of some renewed energy while I have it.

This probably would have been a more timely blog post a few weeks ago, while North Korea still dominated the news, social media feeds, and many of my text inquiries from friends and family. But the news of explicit White Supremacy in Charlottesville has overtaken the news of North Korea. Still, I think there are reminders I want to preserve and share while I’m viewing U.S. news from outside the country.

This is not going to be a sophisticated post about the geopolitical and historical context of U.S., North Korea and South Korea relationships. This is more of a personal narrative and perspective sharing as a Korean-American who just spent the last two weeks in Korea, including riding my bike all the way to the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). I fact, I rode my bike all the way to where the road ends (for civilians) near the North Korean border.

I started riding from the city of Pohang, about 250 miles south of the border. As I got further north the signs of militarization were more evident. I saw things like beaches fenced off with barbed wire, look out stations with military personnel with machine guns, barriers that can collapse into the road to prevent tanks moving forward, and of course, soldiers. The area just near the border felt like a ghost town; eerily quiet, peaceful, and undeveloped, especially in contrast to the crowded beaches and beach towns just a few miles (or rather kilometers) south.

IMG_3779This militarized reality is not new. Technically the Koreas are still at war and have been for over 60 years. South Koreans (and North Koreans I am guessing) have lived with this precarious situation for multiple generations. Over the past 20 years, I have seen friends and family members who seem to have grown accustomed to the carefully choreographed dangerous dance that happens on a regular basis between the Koreas. In most cases, life goes on as normal, especially in Seoul.

Since the noise from the U.S. media was really loud, bolstered by 45’s constant inflammatory tweeting, I decided to informally poll and ask friends and family in Korea if they felt particularly scared about the situation with North Korea. Most said they didn’t really feel any different, although some did mention that 45 is making things worse and unpredictable, without consideration for Koreans or the Chamorro people of Guam. My Korean cousin is in the military and stationed near the border, and his wife said things aren’t too different. Contrasting the recent situation to one two years ago (in 2015), when shots were being fired between the Koreas and their family had a “go bag” ready to head for the bunkers.

Whose Megaphone are We Amplifying?

All this context is to help offer a perspective from the Korean peninsula that appears to be in contradiction to the noise coming out of the U.S. In the rapidly moving environment of social media, could we be contributing to sharing narratives that enhance 45’s platform and perspective; imperialism, colonialism, and militarization? Could we be amplifying the very voices that we hope ignore? Could we be getting tricked by a dangerous game of “squirrel” that takes our focus and energy off dismantling systemic racism?

I’m a deep thinker, which is one of the reasons I can’t use twitter, it moves too fast for me. I know it serves a purpose, but even in the twitter-verse, or for me the Facebook universe I’d like to remind myself to ask these questions before sharing and posting news related to race and systemic racism.

Am I being performative? Am I looking for ally cookies or a social justice badge?

Fakequity has blogged about this before. Are we doing things to say we did them and to show we’re paying attention and in-the-know? It doesn’t hurt to be up to speed on current events or even the latest local gossip, but not everything has to be for show. Racial equity work isn’t about being seen and performing, it is about reflection and figuring out when to use your voice and when to step back and allow other voices to emerge.

Is this the narrative I want to share? Whose voice and perspective am I amplifying?

45’s voice is loud. In the position of power, he holds he has a huge microphone and a press corps trained to analyze his every word. But that doesn’t mean his voice should overshadow other perspectives. I work hard to make sure the articles and voices I promote and share are authentic to the story, such as finding people of color perspectives for articles or videos. White people interpreting a racialized incident doesn’t help to bring a new narrative forward, it might be adding

Who is the audience? For white people? For people of color?

Being in Korea I saw the difference in perspective. I was out of the American-white media bubble. The news there is different. Have you ever looked at the difference between BBC Worldwide and BBC America same company but they reprogram their content for a white audience. Same can be said of Al Jazera and other media companies. Locally look at the difference in content between The Seattle Times versus local media such as the South Seattle Emerald, Globalist, and ethnic media.

Othering versus Centering

Again, being in Korea I saw the difference in story narratives. In America, the press centered and focused on 45’s message and voice. They also othered Korean American voices. Very few media articles looked at what Korean Americans and other people of color, including Pacific Islanders, had to say about the topic.

It is important to remember voice makes a difference and we all have to be intentional about how we choose to use our own voice and who’s voices to share and amplify.

By Heidi Schillinger

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Stop with the Messages of Condemnation — Tell me What You’re Doing


Sign: “All We Wanna Do is Break the Chains Off” from Freedom School Seattle Day of Service and Action event in Rainier Beach. Photo by Erin Okuno

Five days ago, on 12 August, violence erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia. White nationalist and white supremacist marched in protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The rally was one of the largest white nationalist protests in recent history. The night before at the University of Virginia white supremacist marched carrying torches, yelling “white lives matter” and “blood and soil.” Images of defiant white men holding flaming torches filled news feed and scared many. The next day Saturday brought more violence as a car was used as a weapon. Heather Heyer, a white woman there as part of a counter protest, was killed and many other injured.

Trump responded with a controlled statement about the violence. He condemned the violence and called for unity. Many felt his statement didn’t go far enough condemning white nationalist. On Tuesday, he went off-script blaming “both sides” for the violence. We won’t unpack why that is problematic here since many others have done so in other news analysis.

Today many people of color are feeling tired. We know this routine:

  • Something bad happens to People of Color.
  • It explodes over social media.
  • Rallies are organized. Elected officials, organizations, and companies make statements about how we must stand together in unity/solidarity/community. This week they also condemned the violence and messages of the white supremacist.
  • White people go back to business as usual.

I’m not trying to make light of the evil and hatred that happens to pocs, especially to our African American/Black, Latino, and Indigenous kin. I am trying to make a point that something has to change and messages of unity and condemnation are becoming meaningless.

Stop with the Messages of Condemnation – Stop Centering Yourselves Again

The problem with these statements and rallies is NOTHING CHANGES. Messages of condemnation and support are a different form of white silence. This is the formula for a statement of support/denunciation:

“The [fill in the blank crappy event] was harmful to [impacted community]. We call upon all Americans to stand together in this time of trouble. [We believe statement.] We [fill in the blank org/company/elected official name] won’t back down.”

The problem with the current crop of statements, especially around the violence of this last week, is they don’t point to action and changes. Or in some cases, especially statements from elected officials and companies, they call upon others to act. The deflection of responsibility and pointing to actions they are taking is a less egregious form of white silence. It is saying “look at me, I stand with you” but I’m not going to make myself uncomfortable in the process, they are saying I’m innocent and I don’t have to change. The statements say “I see you,” I want to affirm you, I’m a good person for noticing racism, I am doing things on my terms where I don’t have to challenge myself. White people have the luxury of being silent the status quo allows white people to deflect responsibility.

I don’t want to read another statement about how much you care. Show me and prove you care. Make yourself uncomfortable and act. If you wonder why people of color don’t trust white people and historically white led organizations it is because white people don’t always act. My colleague Amber Banks studies trust and how it is formed. Through her research, she found actions are necessary to build trust in communities of color.

Doing Something Uncomfortable

Before you write a statement stop and think about others. Ask yourself are you issuing a statement to make yourself look good, feel good, and feel like you are doing something that challenges you and your organization? If you are putting forth a statement to point and acknowledge a moral injustice save your time, I don’t want to read it. What I want to read and see is how you are using your power, influence, and privilege to disrupt whiteness and the current dynamics.

While we may not be able to single-handily stop the white nationalist movement, we all have a responsibility to force institutional and systemic racism to change. We also have to remember actions will look different for all of us. An African American colleague and friend she said she’s been stepping back and practicing self-care. For her, this is uncomfortable because she normally engages in work around race, but right now she needs to focus on her own well-being. As an Asian American, I told her part of my work is to realize my privilege and to pick up some of her work so she can safely and comfortably practice self-care. For our white allies, your job is to find your own ways to disrupt whiteness in your jobs and personal lives.

Personal actions are important and we need to act in ways that make us uncomfortable. If we stay comfortable it means we’re not pushing, we’re not thinking harder, and we’re not challenging ourselves to disrupt the current situation. I would rather hear about what you and your organization are doing to protect, uplift, and center people of color than hearing how you condemn the actions of others.

Here are some actions you can take instead of just saying you condemn white supremacy:

  • Work on being ok with conflict – Healthy conflict is needed to disrupt and challenge people’s assumptions and actions that favor white people.
  • Center communities of color – Focus on communities of color and allow them to take the lead. This means checking your assumptions, timelines, and desires for a project and allowing the community to say what they want.
  • Condemnation – If you still feel the need to condemn an action then do it and do it the full extent of your powers. For corporations and nonprofit back it up by saying what you will do – are you organizing and mobilizing in a new and different way, are you willing to refuse to do business with the offending party, etc.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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We Should Strive for Transformation — short version

IMG_20170803_134341.jpgAfter the presidential election that allowed Trump into office Heidi and I had a conversation about what does racial equity transformation look like. Sitting in a Mexican restaurant in Beacon Hill (Seattle) she explained how we need to stop tinkering around with little changes and strive for transformational change. As I munched on my cactus and cheese dish I told her I was at a loss for what transformative change would look like in the racial equity work I do. I spend so much time fighting for smaller changes there isn’t a lot of brain space left to dream bigger and figure out what racial equity transformation looks like.

Tonight I was reminded of this conversation as I listened to Washington State Senator Rebecca Saldaña at the Rainier Valley Corps (RVC) graduation. Senator Saldaña reminded us about the need to aim for transformation in our work. As I listened I remembered the conversation I had with Heidi.

What is Transformation

Transformation in racial equity work is f-ing hard. Like I said earlier so much of my work isn’t in the transformative space, I’m doing things to hold the line on bad policies, working on inclusion and improving access, or doing things to just get by. These actions are important, but they aren’t transformative.

Transformative work focuses and centers on what communities of color and the most marginalized need to thrive. Transformative work requires us to be creative and to think boldly and to have the audacity to try new actions.

How to get to Transformation

At the RVC graduation tonight I was reminded about what transformation could look like:

  • Transformation means honoring the past, acknowledging root causes of racism.
  • Focusing on and centering our work on communities of color.
  • Sharing control and focusing on who is comfortable, no one group should be unfairly burdened, we all take turns.
  • Transformation creates a sense of shared belonging.
  • Investing in communities of color.
  • Cultivating leadership from the ground up.
  • Thinking beyond one’s self and also beyond our own affinity groups. Transformation means we acknowledge and work to understand everyone’s shared experiences.

There is a lot more to say about transformation and maybe you have some ideas. Feel free to drop me a note at At a later time, I’ll write more about transformation. This week’s post is purposefully short. It has been a great week with some celebrations and a lot of work, so it is off to bed I go. See you all next week.

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