What Resistance Looks Like

By Erin Okuno

I’m back from a week-long road trip taking me from the Puget Sound to the Rocky Mountains. It was a great trip and I learned a lot along the way. It also made me appreciate how people and culture are rooted in place and how it can help to feed our resistance to whiteness. I wanted to write this post because it is time to focus on something positive; my past few blog posts have focused on heavy topics so hopefully, this one gives us some levity and in the words of Star Wars Resistance: “The Resistance Will Not Be Intimidated.”

To me, resistance comes in big and small acts. Resistance is standing up and marching and rallying and having a public display of actively resisting something, such as the recent rallies at ICE detention centers. It is also the small everyday acts of making choices and choosing racial justice. Resisting whiteness is a form of resistance that helps to build our racial and cultural understanding and tolerance.

Indigenous Place Names

IMG_20180810_111320A while back while on a different road trip I stumbled upon an article from YES! Magazine where Native hikers are reclaiming indigenous places by using geotagging and inputting Indigenous place names. As I wrote about before many of the places we know by today’s names are named by white people. Before colonization, Indigenous people had names for places and sadly many of those place names have been erased from our vocabulary and history. In personal and powerful acts of resistance, they are reclaiming history and place by making Indigenous place names known. On my road trip, I saw signage showing Indigenous names of towns and cities prominently displaced. It was a great reminder that I was on Indigenous land and we were guest on their land and at the very least I should learn about the history of their culture and place from the Indigenous perspective.

Ordering Lunch in Missoula

IMG_20180808_131446.jpgDuring our trip to Montana, we spent a few days at a very white campground in Missoula. While that wasn’t the highlight, the highlight was stumbling upon the weekly “Out to Lunch” festival at Caras Park. I ordered lunch from a Thai pop-up stand. While ordering the proprietor asked: “Where are you from?” This question is often fraught with layers of microaggressions, but from her I knew she was excited to see another Asian. We chatted and she told me how she immigrated from Thailand 20-years ago. Her daughter was there and I asked if she speaks Thai, which she does. It was a nice moment of being “with my people” in a land where we are rare– 1% of the Missoula population is Asian. In that moment we resisted the siren call to blend in and give-up important parts of ourselves, we resisted blending into the other 90+% of whiteness.



While packing for the road trip I had to choose carefully what to take. Four people, plus camping gear in a Honda Fit was a tight fit. The reading material I chose to take along was an important consideration knowing we would be in places without access to wifi and I had to limit how much reading material I could pack. I chose a book by a poc author to try to work on my Summer Book BINGO card. My reading books and material by authors of color is one important way I actively resist whiteness everyday.

While we were on vacation my kid saw on the map the IMG_20180808_105406Missoula Public Library and made us stop in. I didn’t fight his request since the library was air-conditioned and I was amused he wanted to go to a library on vacation. While we were in there he found some history books to browse and was bummed he couldn’t check them out. Resistance is watching my kid find books that interest him and talking through the material from a racialized standpoint. He’s making critical choices about information to take in and believe and he is developing his own resistance mindset. As a side note, I found these shopping carts by the door, shopping carts at a library – genius!

Museums – So many museums

MVIMG_20180807_141423.jpgAs one does on road trips we stopped by museums and cultural centers. One of my favorites was Sqelixw-Aqlsmaknik (The People’s Center), a cultural center of the Salish, Pend d’Oreille and Kootenai tribes.

We also stopped at other museums and cultural centers. A few made points of highlighting people of color histories in the region. It was also at the museums where I encountered blatant racism. While standing next to a display on Japanese Concentration Camps (internment camps) an old white-bearded dude said to his white companion: “Those Japanese were [are] bad, but not as bad as Obama.” He meant the statement in both the past and present tense. My passive act of resistance as a Japanese American was to give him the side-eye and to move to stand next to him. I don’t think he noticed but it was my way of making my presence known to him.

More Signs of Resistance

Back in Seattle, I found more signs of resistance. Elections have been happening all over the country. I’m excited to see Ilhan Omar’s campaign for Congress. Ilhan is poised to become the first elected immigrant from Africa and the first Somali American in Congress. Knowing we have a president who is hostile to immigrants and actively pushing policies against Muslims and women, having Ilhan Omar in Congress will be an important voice for many of us regardless if she is ‘our’ representative. More locally women of color are running for office: Senator Rebecca Saldaña is running for re-election to Washington’s legislature, Debra Enteman is running for the state House, Pramila Jayapal for Congress, and so many others. For the women of color reading this I hope you will consider running and serving – there are many offices, commission seats, and boards that need to be filled—representation matters.

MVIMG_20180815_153607.jpgOn Wednesday, I joined several teacher candidates for a few hours. My co-panelist was an African American, 30-year veteran family support worker, listening to him talk was a joy. Investing time into this panel was a form of resistance, I could have chosen to put my time elsewhere but spending time with the students gave me the gift of listening to Gerald who works daily with homeless students, families of color, and so many others. He resists allowing people to stereotype the students, he fights systems and prejudices, and most importantly he ‘sees’ kids who need to be seen. If we all worked just a little harder to see people of color we’d all be better off. Walking out of the school I stopped to admire student artwork of people of color, resistance through art is one of the oldest forms of resistance.

Resistance happens all the time and we need it to continue. Sometimes resistance is labeled as ‘troublemakers’ and annoyances (remember the good-guys in Star Wars are known as the Resistance), but they make a difference. I hope you’ll take some time to actively notice and applaud the resistances you see happening. Maybe with enough resistance, we can create a force that overthrows racism. In one last Star Wars Resistance quote: “The Light — It’s Always Been There. It’ll Guide You.”

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

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

Our very own Korean Drama: Part 2 – The Results

By Heidi K. Schillinger

Are we bio sisters? What does the DNA say? I had several people tell me they are waiting for this post. Wanting to know the results of our DNA tests. I guess that means people read the first post. It also gave me (positive) peer pressure to write Part 2. If you missed Part 1 of the Korean family drama, read this post first. To sum it up, the first post captured musings, thoughts, and feelings as two of my sisters and I waited for the results of our DNA tests to learn if we are biologically related.

results are ready

Episode 11: The Reveal

After my first insufficient sample debacle, Marki, Unnie, and my niece Carrissa, were impatiently waiting for my second sample results. We promised to wait to open our results all together, and my lack of saliva held things up.

We scheduled a video chat the evening I received my results. And, my nerves bubbled all day long. There was no going back once we opened these results. Was I ready? Not really. But I am famous for jumping in and working out the details later.

After dealing with misplaced passwords (Marki), too many feeling questions (Heidi), and jokes about if I am part chicken (Unnie and Carrissa), we opened our reports.


The first report we found was this one –


After a quick scan, there was silence and some disbelief. According to this first report, there are no close family relatives in the 23andMe database. Wait? Does this mean none of us are related? Not even Marki and me? I must admit to having a brief moment of feeling very alone in this world. Crushed and alone. I know intellectually that family is created, but it was hard to fight feelings of disappointment. Unnie had the best reaction. She questioned the validity of the test and insisted we should take the test again in Korea, as she would only trust Korean tests.

Pause. Silence. Nervous laughter. Disbelief.

Leave it up to our smart niece, Carrissa, to question if we were looking at the correct reports. After a little Google digging, she discovered that we needed to change our privacy settings and allow our results to be shared. And then, boom there it was in black and white, and purple. We are indeed biologically sisters. Whew! Relief. Joy. Love. Validation. Relief.

DNA relatives

Episode 12: We told you so.

Both Marki and Unnie said their Part 2 reflections are, “We told you so.” That is it. Enough said according to them. But I, of course, have a few more words.

Episode 13: “Proof” and Legitimacy

I have been reflecting a lot on what it has meant to me to have “proof” of my biological family, and “proof” I am ethnically Korean. Two very different things, and both complicated. There is too much to unpack in this post, but I will share this. Legitimacy. As an international transracial adoptee, feelings of legitimacy are haunting. People have questioned if I am legitimately Korean, because I didn’t grow up culturally Korean. For a long time, I questioned if I could call myself legitimately Korean. What I have realized is that being Korean is a spectrum of diverse experiences, including mine – despite not fitting into the dominate narrative of what people believe is Korean. I am Korean. I struggle with gaining a greater sense of legitimacy through a DNA test. There is a lot of racist history wrapped up into this notion. Yet, I recognize that feeling. The internalized racist narratives of identity politics are deep and real. I am not immune to these societal messages, despite working hard to try to counter the narratives. Someone in my life asked me if I would still identify as Korean if my DNA results revealed I am mostly ethnically Japanese (or something other than Korean). It was an interesting question to ponder, and I found I do have a significant portion of Japanese ancestry too. In fact, my sisters joked that I am the least Korean of the three of us.

The questions of legitimacy flow into my connections with my biological family as well. Curiosity was the greatest driver of this DNA exploration journey. But I would be lying if I didn’t also admit, I wanted “proof” that Marki and Unnie are irrefutably my biological sisters. Both because there are people in our bio family who don’t believe, and because there is a year and half gap in my life that has been like a missing puzzle piece. Lately, I have been overwhelmed by all the stories that I have heard about why we were given up for adoption that are now sinking in as real. Before I kept them at a slight distance. In some ways disconnected from me. More just a story than part of my story. Some of these stories fill missing holes. Some of these stories create new holes. In many ways, this journey has brought answers and in other ways this journey has created many more questions and extracted tucked away emotions.

Episode 14: Language Matters – the Power of “Really” and “Real”

If I had one ask of you all, it is to be conscious of the language that you use around both identity and family. One of the most powerful ways I have internalized that I need “proof” to be legitimately Korean or legitimately family comes from the ways people use language. Consider what, even unintentional, messages are sent when you ask, “Are you really Korean?” Or when you ask, “Have you found your real family?” I would ask that you believe me when I say I am Korean. And, hope you understand my real family is the one who raised me. And, my biological family is the one who shares my DNA.

To be Continued. . .

This is not the end of our Korean drama, just opening a new season of episodes. Much appreciation and love to my sisters, Marki and Unnie for allowing me to share our story. I am grateful to have you as my sisters, both as a created family and as DNA family.

Thanks for allowing us to share our family story. In the wise words of Erin, “family stories like this are important to understanding how [identity, including] race is shaped, politicized, and increasing our racial literacy. Personal stories increase our understanding of the world and how race is shaped, mutable, and how we build compassion for each other.”

If you are interested in our unedited reactions to learning our results, you can watch it here. It is a bit long, but you can see for yourself the hilarity of misplaced passwords, wondering if I am really Korean or part chicken, and other random jokes.


Talking About White Supremacy without Using the Words White Supremacy


Artwork from Amplifier by Yocelyn Riojas

I got a little help with tonight’s blog topic. Lilliann challenged me to write about white supremacy without using the words white supremacy. My other friend Kirk then said, “but why tho.” I see his point, we need to name bad behaviors so we can speak truth to power and label them to disarm and increase white people’s racial literacy and tolerance. To bring both of these thoughts together in one, hopefully cohesive, blog post I’m going to list out ways white supremacy shows up in our everyday work lives that often goes unnamed.

First, let’s do a short primer on what is white supremacy. Many people, especially white people, see images of white supremacist such as the KKK, cross burnings, Confederate flag, and in modern times the white nationalist movement. Yet this one view of white supremacy is incomplete. White supremacy isn’t just a group of people behaving a certain way, it is also a set of beliefs and attitudes that allow white people to feel superior and demand actions that cater to their needs first. White supremacy is almost never named and because of this, it is an underlying way societies and communities organize that favor whiteness.

Back to Lilliann’s challenge to write about white supremacy without naming it, here is a list of ways white supremacy shows up but not always labeled as white supremacy. One of the reasons the challenge came up is many times as soon as we name white supremacy white people shut down and stop listening and processing. When this happens the conversation is stalled and white supremacy continues to reign. Below are examples where white supremacy happens but is rarely named.

  1. White dude complains loudly and vocally about having to go to diversity training. White supremacy shows up because as a white person he feels he is exempt from having to talk about and think about race. This same white dude will become defensive or sullen white dude in the training either saying “prove it to me,” or refusing to participate using his white power to focus on him versus learning about others.
  2. White business in Chicago that trademarked “Aloha Poke” and is enforcing the trademark and telling other Aloha Poke businesses to cease and desist using Aloha Poke. If you know anything about Hawaiian language and culture the word Aloha is ubiquitous as Hawaii itself. How dare a white guy feel he can ‘own’ (colonialism and a form of supremacy) the word Aloha.
  3. Who controls the giving and the resources, white people. There is no accountability to communities of color. Some foundations do better, some are woke, but overall as an industry and practice philanthropy upholds white supremacy yet we rarely ever name foundation’s as practicing white supremacy. Can you imagine telling the head of a large foundation that their foundation was practicing white supremacy, say goodbye to that multiyear general operating grant.
  4. Only talking about race when around people of color. I have a friend who is white passing and can easily navigate white spaces and poc spaces. He said the conversation changes when pocs are in the room, all white they rarely talk about race. Supremacy at play by not having to think or talk about race unless forced to think and talk about race.
  5. Talking about white fragility instead of talking about racism. Why are you focusing on whiteness instead of the real issue of racism? Supremacy at play, ability to control the conversation to what is more comfortable for white people.
  6. Saying All Lives Matter instead of saying Black Lives Matter. Need this one explained? Supremacy shows up by the dismissal and erasure of Black people. This is also how anti-Blackness shows up in liberal “we’re good people with Black friends” spaces.
  7. Talking about Trump but not talking about his racialized views and policies.
  8. This one isn’t work related, but I’ve seen it come up several times in several parent groups. Cosmic Kids Yoga. I cannot stand Cosmic Kids Yoga – cartoon themed yoga isn’t yoga. A perky blue jumpsuit wearing white women has taken an indigenous practice and stripped it to suit her needs and make a profit. Moana, Trolls, and Star Wars themed and narrated storylines with ‘yoga’ moves is stealing yoga from its indigenous Indian roots. Call it stretching, movement, anything but yoga and I’ll stop ranting, I’m not against teaching kids yoga even by video, I am against a white women stripping yoga of its roots for profit. White supremacy taking what you want when you want and not caring who you stole it from.

I didn’t quite rise to the full writing challenge of not naming white supremacy, but I hope you can now spot more easily how white supremacy behaviors show up in our everyday life. Some may argue some of the examples I used should fall under different terms. I won’t argue with them since naming things is an activity that white society makes us do too. In poc spaces I’ve been in we just talk story and share how annoyed we are with the way it but being able to name white supremacy is one of many ways we have to chip away at it.

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

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


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

By Erin Okuno

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

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


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

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

Why We Ask About Race

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


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

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

What to Do

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

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

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

Presence isn’t Power — Shifting Power to Create Change

By Erin Okuno

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

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

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


Artwork from Amplifier

What isn’t Power

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

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

Shifting Power

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

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

Some ways to move beyond presence:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Allies — What Desserts are You?

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

By Erin Okuno and Carrie Basas


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Genealogy of My Passing

By Carrie Griffin Basas

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does a vibrant democracy look and feel like?


We the People Are Greater than Fear, art from Amplifer by Shepard Fairey

Last Friday I was debriefing an event with Jondou and he mentioned the phrase a “vibrant democracy;” it now seems so long ago. As we talked Jondou mentioned how our project progressed from an event featuring a single voice to a series of events featuring many voices. This conversation was before the news that Supreme Court Justice Kennedy plans to retire allowing Trump to nominate the next Supreme Court Justice, most likely swinging the court conservatively. It was before the latest mass shooting in Maryland in a newsroom killing five truth-seeking journalists, and before the Supreme Court ruling allowing the Muslim travel ban to stand. Last Friday was now ages ago. In a week the term vibrant democracy has taken on a new meaning and new heaviness.

We weren’t the first to use the term but it is one that sticks. It is hard to feel the word vibrant applies in our current state of national and local affairs. Today I posed the question “What does a vibrant democracy look and feel like? How will you participate in a vibrant democracy?” to colleagues of color. They all stopped and gave me a look of “huh?” After a long pause, a friend said “We haven’t had it [a vibrant democracy], so I don’t know what it feels like.”

I’ve preached on this blog – vote, run for office, testify before your school boards, call your elected officials, etc. While I preach these actions I also know they are slow-moving ways of bringing about change, they are hard to access and not always available to all people, and it is still privileged activities to participate in. I don’t know if they are enough to feel like we have a vibrant and equitable democracy, but it is currently our way of being heard in our systems.

As my colleagues and I talked through what it means to be in a vibrant democracy I mentioned many conservatives finally feel like they have a vibrant democracy where they are seen and heard, where they are in control of the national agenda. The problem isn’t with the agenda swinging from one side to the other, our current problem is how marginalizing and how polarizing our conversations have become. As my friend CiKeithia said we’ve lost what civility looks like in conversations involving politics, race, and government.

“Do we need to create new forms of democracy?” How will you participate in a vibrant democracy?

Another colleague said it best when she said “Do we need to create new forms of democracy?” We talked about what it means to have democracies rooted in our common humanity, where we can include and in many ways focus on the needs of our most marginalized neighbors, sisters and brothers.

A vibrant democracy has to be more than just one vote, one person, one action. We need to recreate and newly-envision what it means to have a democracy that isn’t tied to privilege and oppression (everyone feels oppressed in some ways, time to step away from oppression politics). John Adams wrote, “Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself.” A new vibrant democracy also can’t be about denouncing the current regime, it has to be in response to the justices we need from each other — together, not just what the loudest want.

It is hard to envision what hasn’t been done. I’ve thought long and hard about re-envisioning what racial equity in education could and should look like. I almost always come up with a blank since I’ve ben trained and currently work to stop bad-policies from happening; it takes different muscles and brain power to think of new ways of working. While visioning and listening to others can be hard, we have to do it, without it we will re-create something that doesn’t work.

New forms of democracy need to look, feel, and act differently. When I say they need to look, feel, and act differently I really mean that, maybe they should also taste differently too – a little sweet, a little bitter, and savory. The experience of a new democracy needs to be so different we recognize it as new and be willing to suspend judgement just enough to give it a try.

It needs to be inclusive of people of color and practicing intersectionality– focusing on people farthest from justice. Democracy can be more than just people voting and calling elected officials. A vibrant democracy needs to take into account histories of poc exclusion from participating in government and work to undo those embedded structures in access to government and democratic processes. A vibrant democracy needs to be about supporting people to participate and not about navigating systems to participate.

We also have to be willing to ask questions such as why we exclude people, such as felons from voting, they have the greatest stake in voting in justice minded elected officials. We should ask why do exclude non-citizen immigrants from voting? Why do we place such a high premium on tying voting to homes and places – intellectually I get it, vote where you live, but as gentrification pushes people of color out does this notion of being tied to place still hold true or do we re-envision a new meaning of one vote.

Vibrant communities are tied to vibrant democracies can we get ourselves there is the question. We can’t keep using the same methods, definitions, and practices if we are to see a new way to building. Tonight I don’t have answers on what a new democracy means, but I do know our current version isn’t shining as brightly as it could. For now we have to do the bare minimum of creating a new democracy – we vote, we get others to vote, we resist, we see the humanity in each other, and we keep on being – all of this is needed as we work towards a more vibrant and just democracy.

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

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

Six Consequences of Not Addressing Racism

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


Artwork from Amplifer, by Jess X Snow

Last Saturday my organization hosted a half-day Summit. Our Summits are a time for us to hear back from the community, spend time unpacking interesting information and thoughts, and charting our way forward. For this event, the group decided to explore what our histories look like. Not textbook histories like WWI, civil rights movement, etc. We took a more nuanced look at how our personal histories inform our futures. One of the questions Jondou and our group came up with is forward-looking, but informed by our past (slightly edited): “What will be the consequences if we do not address racism and injustice?”

We live in a society where the consequences of racism are with us. Here is a short list of consequences of not addressing racism. But before we all get too depressed and stop reading after number one, I’ve also included possible ways to disrupt racism and create better futures for ourselves, pocs and white people. As a side note, these weren’t answers that came out of the Summit, these are my thoughts on the prompt.

One. We will cease to exist. If we do not address racism communities of color, our ties to place such as South Seattle, our ways of life will no longer exist. Forces such as gentrification and displacement will go unchecked and our communities will no longer exist as we know them, we will be systematically erased.

Disruption: Exist, simply existing and holding space for communities of color to authentically be ourselves is important. Jondou shared a story of how his family and another multi-racial family had a picnic in a park and how good it felt to be together and holding space despite the gentrification around them. For white allies do your part, allow community groups to use your space to meet (discount or gift space to poc led and embedded groups), invest money into poc embedded organizations, shop at poc owned businesses.

Two. Whiteness continues. Unchecked racism means we cater to and assimilate into white norms. Many people of color consciously or unconsciously cater to and assimilate into white norms, it is how we need to function to not get beat down every day. This is racism at work in an underhanded and slight way.

Disruption: Call out whiteness. Calling out whiteness can be as simple as saying “I would like to invite a poc to answer the question first. If they pass that is fine, but having a poc answer first will allow us to center people of color’s thoughts.” Calling out whiteness can also be looking at where we need to focus on pocs, such as who is represented in data and is that dataset hiding people of color.

Three. We follow noise vs. substances of issues. Racism thrives on noise and echo chambers. Not to minimize the current injustices and atrocities facing families separated at the border – it must stop, but there is so much noise in the debate. Today’s noise in the news cycle about it is the coat Melania Trump wore which on the back said: “I Really Don’t Care.” Don’t get me wrong it is offensive, but if we’re focused on that noise and not paying attention to the substance on how the hell ‘we’ as a collective society allowed families to be separated to begin with is where racism thrives.

Disruption: Focus on the substance of an issue and listen to what people of color are saying. Take time to dig deeper and figure out where the systemic issues around race play into a topic.

Four. Colonization mentality runs rampant. If we leave racism uncheck modern day colonizing forces, such as wealthy people and their companies will seep in and change our ways of thinking and being, just like in all of the teen dystopian novels that are on summer reading list (e.g. The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc.) where we all comport or have to conform to other’s norms.

Disruption Four. Learn about colonization and work to undo it. Colonization sounds like this gigantic force that overtakes communities. It can be that way and it can also show up in smaller ways, learn about it. Watch this short video about Standing Rock and how settler colonialism shows up. (Thanks to Heidi for sharing the video.) Work to undo colonizing tendencies, start small by learning the Indigenous place names for where you plan on traveling or where you live. Such as I learned that where I live in Seattle used to be known as the green-yellow-long-spine, I need to dig deeper to learn more including the actual Duwamish place name, it takes a bit of work but through the effort I’ll learn something new.

Five. We become less healthy. Unchecked racism has already changed the way many communities eat. Native Americans and Indigenous people have lost traditional foraging and hunting grounds, the salmon runs that sustained them since time immoral are now decimated. If I also think about health in the global sense of the word food and connections lead to healthier societies. In communities that are more tightly bonded, even if they are poor, their health outcomes are greater, people report they are happier and live longer. Racism thrives on isolating people and creating enemies where they didn’t exist before. It thrives on finding weaknesses and exploiting the weaknesses to create a sense of othering versus belonging, when this happens we all become less healthy.

Six. We stop aiming for better and we stop dreaming. Racism is great at reminding us to stay in our places. It hurts whites and people of color when we do this. A few weeks ago in a planning meeting Jondou put up the prompt “How will we know when we have educational justice? What will it look, feel, taste, smell, or sound like?” I honestly said I couldn’t think of an answer because I spend so much time trying to stop bad policies and practices from happening I don’t spend time envisioning a better future. Perhaps I’m also afraid I’m inadequate to answer that question which is a function of racism too, who has the right to define our futures?

Disruption: Start dreaming by listening. Listen to people of color and don’t dismiss what we have to say. You may not agree but check your biases and do your part by listening without dismissing, and examine without defense.

We have the power to combat racism every day. It isn’t hard but in the spirit of Color Brave Space we have to be kind and brave in calling it out and acting to correct it.

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

Can Foundations Achieve Equity?

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

By Erin Okuno, with thanks to Heidi Schillinger

“Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” — Martin Luther King Jr.


Student artwork: “We believe in fighting apathy.” Taken at Ingraham High School, Seattle. Photo by Erin Okuno.

I’ve been mulling over the question of philanthropy and foundation’s roles in equity for several weeks. Working in the nonprofit sector most of my jobs, including my current job, have been funded by private philanthropy. At the risk of pissing off an entire sector and any future job prospects we have to talk about foundations, philanthropy, and racial equity. Many foundations and the philanthropic sector are having or starting to have conversations about their role in advancing racial equity. This is a welcomed change from the “we know best” savior mentality, and power lording over nonprofits. Even with these burgeoning conversations we owe it to those we serve to have the broader conversation about foundations and equity.

If you ask me today if foundations can achieve equity, my answer is no. The current practices and landscape of foundations and the philanthropic sector today does not allow foundations to be equitable. They can adapt their practices to be more equitable, but overall the way philanthropy is currently practiced falls into either providing access to money or programming our way to equity.

Can We Achieve Equity through Inequity?

Jondou Chen, a fakequity partner, is fond of asking the question “Can we achieve equity through inequitable means?” Many of the foundations existing today came about because of private wealth of some sort. Much of the private wealth generated in the United States was through exploitative means of people of color. Through policies such as slavery, underpayment of pocs, red lining, state sponsored practices such as inadequate funding of schools, opportunity hoarding, and other societal practices that favor white people. Wealth and opportunities benefited white people and allowed for wealth accumulation over time. Philanthropy has become a benevolent way for white people to feel ok about their wealth and to work to redistribute it, and at the same time it is also another way for white people to benevolently control the destinies of people of color. Put another way, it is a way for white people to incentivize and reward organizations who can code switch, model off of whiteness, or reward white problem solving for communities of color.

In a slightly off-topic but related story, I once spoke on a panel to mostly wealthy white people who were learning about philanthropy. I kept using the word equity and the philanthropist kept giving me weird looks. I finally stopped and threw a question to them. I asked “How do you define equity?” A bold person said “you mean like financial equity where you build wealth through investments.” In that moment I realized we were having two very different conversations and two different starting points for understanding equity. Since then I’ve become more clear about defining racial equity and not just using the word equity. It also crystallized that white controlled philanthropy has a very different starting point for understanding the impact of their role in undoing racism. In that room there was a skewed balance of power that tipped to the philanthropist because of wealth, being in a collective setting, and control of the agenda. I also wonder if they were ready to think about how their giving upholds or dismantles racism — they probably weren’t ready since I was standing between them and a buffet lunch on real china not paper plates.

In the book Unicorns Unite how Nonprofits & Foundations Can Build EPIC Partnerships co-authored by my friend-colleague Vu Le, the authors write that foundation’s money is for the common good. Once money is put into a foundation it ceases to belong to the person who placed it in the foundation. Yet, even with this belief and practice, many of the foundations existing today consciously or unconsciously practice white-biases and even white supremacy.

Whiteness shows up in who is on the board and staff, how the grant priorities and guidelines are put together, in the processes for distributing funds and the metrics used to measure success.

On a practical level I understand how these practices emerged and the demand to use money wisely. And yet we must acknowledge the inequities and unconscious racism embedded in the philanthropic system. Philanthropy wasn’t designed for people of color’s ease of navigation or access, and it definitely wasn’t designed for poc wellbeing or comfort, including for pocs working in philanthropy.

Who has Power and Control

Whether we acknowledge it or not foundations and philanthropy have a lot of control and power over agendas and nonprofits. Some of the power is used for good and some of it misplaced. When a foundation wants to make a shift or prioritize a new way of working they will signal that shift in their giving and if nonprofits who rely upon those dollars want the money to continue doing their work they have to comply with the shift. Sometimes the change is appropriate and it modernizes nonprofit practices. But when these changes are forced upon a community and without community voice to help shape the change that is how fakequity happens.

The nonprofit sector emerged to fill the gaps that government, individuals, and others can’t fill. We don’t like seeing hungry kids, unhoused people, animals being abused, or racism run amok – the nonprofit industry (it is an industry) chooses to act. We do it because we want to see change, but in order for the change to be equitable it has to be led by the community and those most impacted by the change – not driven by an outside agenda dangling a carrot of payment. This at the heart of Jondou’s question “can we achieve equity through inequitable means?”

Foundations, as we know them today, aren’t designed to share control and power. They are designed to have an agenda and to fund organizations that align with their agendas not a community of color driven agenda. The current model of foundation giving, even pooled giving or poc centered giving, doesn’t allow for this. Pooled and poc centered giving is still built off of models of white-philanthropy, so while foundations and funds centered on poc voice and experience are more equitable they still adopted many of the practices (e.g. grant guidelines, applications, contracts, etc.) and are accountable (i.e. IRS tax structure, laws governing nonprofits, etc.) to whiteness. If we are to achieve racial equity and racial justice we have to believe communities of color should be in control of our own destinies and build a structure centered on pocs, not rebuilding off of whiteness.

Foundation’s Can do Better

In order to do better we need to change. Jondou shared this quote from poet and activist June Jordan “We are the ones we have been waiting for.” We can’t wait for some outside force to bring about the change.

Since we probably won’t see a wholesale change to the philanthropic sector I will leave you with some questions to ponder:

  • Riffing off of the Martin Luther King quote at the top, is your foundation/giving looking at root causes of inequities for people of color?
  • Who is defining the request for proposal? Is it being informed by what pocs want to see funded? Have pocs been given the space and resources to think and redefine what a radical solution could look like?
  • Is the foundation’s board and staff willing to slow down and acknowledge the biases, power, proximity to other forms of power, and inequities it holds?
  • Is the foundation willing to share power and control and undo structures that favor dominant culture?
  • Borrowing off of another Jondou question, is the foundation willing to ask “What are the justices our community needs from us, and how can we be in a just relationship with each other?” Acknowledging both the giver and receiver have to have a more balanced role with each other.
  • Is the foundation willing to change, does it have the courage and humility to change? Will the organization let go of past practices, people, relationships that no longer fit a new vision? Is it willing to put resources into building new relationships and willing to go slow to build trust and put money towards trying new ways of giving?

If we can move foundations to being in more just and equitable maybe I’ll come around to believing foundations can achieve equity.

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