How to and How Not to Hire a Racial Equity Consultant

blue-puzzled-pororo-and-pink-happy-loopy-wavingThis week I spent time with colleagues who are racial equity consultants. I’ve compiled a short list of what works and doesn’t work when looking to hire a racial equity consultant.

Have a budget number and share it – Hiring a racial equity consultant isn’t like hiring a consultant to do your bookkeeping or even hiring a grant writer. Those jobs are fairly routine and they can charge by the hour. A good consultant needs to know the budget and scope of a project so they can give you an accurate quote and scope of work. Good consultants aren’t out to ‘get you’ and over charge you. They need to know your budget so they can plan and give you a realistic sense of how far your budget will take you with them.

Equity consultants in the Seattle area charge in the range of $100-250/hr. As consultants, we don’t have other grant money or other projects funds to defray costs and must charge what we need to live and grow a small business. We also need to cover expenses such as technology (e.g. wi-fi, laptops, printers, etc.), office space, taxes, insurance, retirement, etc.

Be honest about what you can afford. A friend put together a cost sheet for an organization and her contact went on to pick it apart to look for cost savings. That wasn’t a good experience for either side. Be upfront about how much you have and the consultant will be up front of what they can do and what to expect from them.

Don’t expect free – We know many people are doing good work and money isn’t always in abundance, but racial equity consultants can’t work for free either. This is our livelihoods. I also realize someone will ask “Can’t you do pro bono work?” As a consultant, I could do pro bono work, but doing more of the same work doesn’t feed my soul and help me grow and frankly it is tiresome to do more of the same but know I’m not getting paid. With my volunteer time, I want to learn something new and gain new insights and skills.

If you value racial equity work, value it by putting financial resources to it. My friend Kam has a joke about volunteering.  She repeats back to them their same statement with the phrase ‘work for free’ in it: “You want me to work for free doing a racial equity training?” “You want me to work for free analyzing your race data?” “You want me to work for free talking to your white friend who is interested in equity and trying to get a job? Um no thanks, you can talk to them. I’m stopping the personal privilege train here.”

Before I sound too jaded, there are times when pro bono work is appropriate. There are many groups who benefit from pro bono consulting and there are times we’re happy to support volunteer work. My litmus test of where to give my ‘work for free time’ is asking will it authentically support communities of color and what is my relationship with the person asking. If the request will support a community of color and I have a relationship with the person asking I’m more likely to say yes. Heidi uses a similar question screen to decide where to donate her time.

Have a plan – When you contact a racial equity consultant please have a basic idea and plan for what you are looking for. Are you looking for consulting, training, facilitation, or something else? Don’t say “We know we need to get smarter about this equity stuff.” Put a timeline on your plan, when do you want to start the work, is the timeline negotiable, how often do you want to meet or train? Who are you expecting the consultant to work with board, staff, external stakeholders? What is the demographic breakdown of who will be involved? It is best to do some pre-thinking and sketching these things out so you know what you are looking for and requesting when you talk to a consultant. Write it out and share it with the consultant you’re trying to hire.

No RFPs please – Please do not put together a request for proposal (RFP) process. RFP processes are a waste of money and time. I know a few top-notch consultants who refuse to do RFPs because they cost them too much time to respond and when they don’t get the work they are out money and time.

I once helped a friend write an RFP that she didn’t win. On the decline email the organization that put out the RFP said she was the runner up but they went with a different approach. The kicker was, they still liked her proposal and took ideas from it for their project. Not only was my friend out money and time from writing an RFP, her information and thoughts were extracted with no compensation.

Is your work all white? – Heidi has reached the point where she tells groups if they are serious they need to diversify who is in their training. Having only white people in trainings to talk about race doesn’t lend itself well to change. If you have an all or majority white staff and you want to do some racial equity work be willing to pay community partners to join your trainings and be thought partners with you. Read Heidi’s previous blog post about no more culturally competence training.

Ask early – Many of the best consultants are busy people. If possible have a flexible timeline and contact them early in your process. If they say no you may also want to check back with them in a few months to see if they have an opening in their schedule.

Be respectful – Please be respectful of a consultant’s time and intellectual property. If you are requesting an informational interview or a planning meeting before you negotiate a contract please remember this is unpaid time for the consultant. Maybe they are willing to give you their time in the hopes it leads to paid work. A friend told me she once met with a nonprofit three times, 60-min each meeting, not including prep and travel time, and the nonprofit chose another consultant. She felt burned from investing so much time into an organization that hadn’t shared up front they were talking to other consultants as well. The consultant community is small too so if you want a good referral it is important to be respectful to consultants otherwise you might be out of luck overall.

If you don’t have money to hire a consultant there are still things your organization can do – In another post in the future, we’ll unpack this a bit more. For now, I don’t want anyone to say “well Erin said we need to have money and a diverse staff to start working on race stuff so we won’t.” If your organization is serious about deepening its work around race then start.

Some low cost or no-cost ideas:

  • Start a monthly reading club have coworkers suggest an article to read.  Host a monthly potluck lunch to discuss the book or article. If people don’t have time to read suggest a TED Talk and bring people together to watch it together and talk about what they learned.
  • Invite a partner organization to talk about what they are doing around racial equity and how they got started. Be nice and buy their favorite coffee drink and have it waiting for them, or better yet buy/bring them lunch.
  • Cancel a staff meeting and tell people to go out and use that time attending a community meeting in a community of color. Please do this respectfully.
  • Focus your professional development dollars on topics that deal with understanding race, racism, and racial equity. Utilizing the resources you have and targeting them is an important way to start.

Posted by Erin Okuno, thanks to CiKeithia, Heidi, Stephan, and many others for their insights.

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Quit Showing Up So White

white camel

A white camel in Mongolia

We’ve been joking about this blog post all week. We’ve battered the topic back and forth over text message and probably laughed inappropriately during a meeting while reading a text or two.

At various times many of us, including people of color, fall into the trap of ‘showing up’ in unfavorable ways. Sometimes it is a function of operating in systems not designed to focus on people of color, personality differences, or sometimes people are just asses and they like to exert power.

Let’s define showing up.

Showing up means how to do you interact and function with others, especially people of color and communities not typically seen as holding power. Such as how do you act, behave, what energy do you project to others. Another way to think about it is how do others, especially non-dominate communities and people, interpret your behaviors and actions, especially as it relates to race. The crass way of defining ‘showing up’ is how others judge you when you leave the room. Admittedly, some of us are flawed beings who judge and gossip, sometimes we call it ‘debriefing,’ but sometimes it is just gossip.

We brainstormed a short list of ways people ‘show up’ in less than desirable ways around race. If we’re being honest we thought about the most annoying things people do in meetings. Like we say in many blog posts, if you know us don’t get all paranoid we aren’t writing specifically about you, you’re not that special. We see these behaviors in many people and we think it is time to call out the behaviors and remind people to stop.

You cannot distinguish equity from equality. You’ve managed to attend a few workshops and now have a few words to throw out as an attempt to demonstrate you are showing up for racial equity. Your practices continue to promote equality. It is easy to think just because people of color will benefit the strategy is equity, but you stopped thinking and got lazy. If you dig deeper and listen you may realize the strategy serves everyone the same and is really equality which could hurt pocs by diverting resources away from people of color.

You believe your personal stories demonstrate your commitment to ally ship. We’ve heard many of the stories before, something uncomfortable happens and you swoop in and save the day, you’ve suffered too and you can connect, you were unfairly burdened and now you’re down with the cause. You make no mention of how you centered a POC in this situation and instead focus it all on you and your efforts. It is important to connect and to build empathy, but save the story for later. When you talk about it in the middle of a meeting ask yourself are you building a connection or sucking up space and time to put the attention on you.

You expect praise for your racial equity efforts POC’s deal with racism every day. Again, like the personal stories you choose to share, don’t expect praise for interrupting whiteness. This is your work!

You want to talk about everything but race. If we had a dollar for every time we’re asked why we are not focusing on other forms of oppression. Yes, intersectionality is real AND racial equity means we are leading with race.

Your strategies promote access. When pushed to elaborate on your practice actions, you run off the exhaustive list of the languages you have translated your upcoming event flyers. Access isn’t equity, this deserves a separate blog post so we’ll tease you with that one line for now.

You cannot take people of color at our word you need to show your white centered research that has lots of fancy charts and graphs. When we tell you disparities are real, believe us! We gain nothing from reliving our racialized experiences. Do we ask you to justify your white privilege? We don’t tell you to show us the data on how white people are performing well, why do we have to prove the system is holding pocs back? Maybe we should tell you to produce the data on how white people are performing, nah you’d come up with some lame excuse and never do it so we’ll save ourselves from the privilege-oppression-woke-off.

You want to show us what you know NOT what you are learning. Your vocabulary is impressive, high five on acing the SAT, GMAT, LSAT, MSW, MPA, PhD, or whatever letter combo you earned.  This isn’t a quiz, talk to POC folks about what you are learning, don’t show off what you already know. We want to know about your stumbles and how you used those moments to learn and grow. Being open to learning and stretching to accept new thinking is necessary to deepening our thinking about race. Even for people who do this for a living, we still should learn about new concepts and ways of thinking about race. We don’t know every nuance of every community so we should learn from each other.

You respond or interrupt every time a person of color brings up race. Just because someone says something about race you don’t have to feel threatened or show you’re an ally. Not every comment is a personal attack or recognition of you.

In Hawaii we have a term “high maka maka,” the closest English translation is high maintenance with an air of arrogance. If you show up this way, expect us to ignore you or make some comment that cuts you back down. You don’t need to prove you’re better than others. Quit being bossy too. Bossiness is a form of power we can do without. People of color sometimes do this too, we try to one up each other, let’s stop. We all need to check our privilege, stop name dropping, stop trying to prove we belong, and just be cool. If you act all high maka maka the aunties and uncles will put you in your place real fast. The white way of saying this is beware of your privilege and power and humble yourself.

Along the lines of being “high maka maka,” don’t roll your eyes, use jargon, talk down, or think you’re special. You’re not special, you’re just like the rest of us. Being white, or if you are a poc with privilege, doesn’t mean you’re better than anyone else. If you act like you’re better or special go for it, but don’t expect to be invited back or get an invite to the picnic where we gossip and talk quietly about how badly people behave.

This was a long list of what not to do. If you need to know what to do, it isn’t hard, be real, be humble, learn, do your own work about learning about race, go find your more woke peeps where you can be humble and ask them to help you.

Posted by CiKeithia Pugh and Erin Okuno

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What is Trust & Who Has the Power to Define Trust?


Picture by Joel Santos of Eagle Hunter — trust between eagle and eagle hunter in Mongolia

Earlier in the week, I thought I would write about power dynamics, but as life often happens conversations with friends and colleagues gave me a new idea to explore – how trust and power intersect. Too rarely do we explicitly talk about trust. How often do you go into an organization or a board meeting and spent more than a passing reference to trust and power in the context race? We might talk about race, sometimes the word trust comes up, but rarely do we spend time exploring the two together, yet the two are intertwined and have such major implications for how we design our work and move through the world.

Who Has the Power to Define Trust?

My thoughtful and amazing colleague Amber Banks, PhD, studies trust and how it shows up in place-based work. Her topic is much deeper and richer than what I just wrote, so I hope you one day get to hear her speak and read her work. Dr. Amber shared some of her research findings with us and the conversation has left me noodling on a lot on themes and topics. One of the themes I’ve been thinking about since hearing her present is “who gets to define trust?” Another way to also think about is who has the power to define how trust is defined in a relationship? (These thoughts are my own, they are informed by Amber’s thinking, but if I err the mistakes are mine.)

I’m guessing when you read the word trust you can name some attributes to go with the word. Some of the common ones are: walking the talk, showing up, truth-telling, speaking truthfully, familial trust, and reliability. During our conversation, we probed a bit on these attributes and how they were formed as an association with trust. Many people of color linked our feelings of trust to experiences from our own communities, families, and childhood. Our early experiences provide a basis for looking at trust and how we operate with trust as a value as adults.

Understanding the basis of our trust is important to look at who defines trust in a relationship and how we experience trust with others in our community and work. Many times, trust is defined in a normative way and framed from a dominant white culture. Such as in dominant society we are expected to trust power and authority – teachers, law enforcement, elected officials, directors, etc. We aren’t allowed to ask a lot of questions. To question authority is to question the fragile trust in the relationship. In this power dynamic trust is defined and controlled by the dominant culture. Trust and power are exerted downward and not always reciprocated. In this case, trust isn’t being defined on equal terms.

Validating Trust

In order to reach a mutual definition of trust, we need to pay attention to power and create a space for people and communities of color to be able to speak about how we define trust and how we want trusting relationships reciprocated back. There are many times where dominant culture doesn’t know or understand the historical context of how marginalized communities define trust. The narrative around trust is often defined for communities of color and other marginalized communities. If you want to understand this more fully, read about the Native American’s experience with boarding schools or how the African American slave trade happened or the internment of Japanese Americans. Sometimes this narrative of mistrust is used to pit communities of color against each other.

What is missing from this is how as communities of color we validate our own trust in different ways – cross culturally, cross racially, and in solidarity with each other. If people don’t know what trust looks like or how it is experienced in a community it is easy to dismiss or use their power to dismiss the community’s trust base. When communities of color define trust we may be starting from a different place, point, and expectation than our white colleagues. Without understanding this we risk recreating the same dynamic that led to mistrust to begin with.

How Trust Can be Developed

Some of the themes around how trust is built and defined in community context include:

  • Remembering communities of color and our experiences are diverse and often rooted in place as well as race. Trust cannot be formed by using a blanket definition or approach for all communities of color.
  • Trust is developed through action, including repeated interactions. Are people doing what they say, are actions meeting their intentions.
  • Trust is built through “speaking truth to power.” Can we have the difficult conversation in a mutually respectful way and in ways that level power dynamics? For power holders can we recognize and trust in the stories of communities and people of color, disabled, immigrants/refugees, etc.?
  • Do you respect my definition of trust? We must acknowledge trust is defined in many different ways and we need to be able to talk about how we each define trust, including that race, culture, and power dynamics shape our views, thoughts, and feelings on trust.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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Stop Taking and Extracting from Communities of Color


Photo from the movie “The Karate Kid,” Daniel wearing a Japanese headband with his hands out trying to learn Karate from Mr. Miyagi. Mr. Miyagi looking patiently annoyed.

Earlier today I spent time watching Heidi run a racial equity training. As a facilitator and a periodic trainer, I like to attend other people’s trainings to learn new skills and watch how others navigate conversations. Watching Heidi is sort of like watching a really fast-talking Mr. Miyagi (from the Karate Kid for the Millennials who don’t know this movie go look it up). She can break down racial equity concepts and have people practice the basics in new ways. One of the basics she reminded me of is extraction from communities of color. We heard this term and concept at the Othering and Belonging Conference we attended a few months ago. It stuck with Heidi; I don’t remember it but I remembered other important things like lunch and what time we had to leave for the airport.

I’m guessing most of us think of ourselves as good people who believe we don’t take things unfairly. Dominate cultural practices reinforce the belief we have a right to take things in the name of the greater good. Such as we have the right to collect information because if you want to participate you need to at least give your name and address for tracking and accountability. Corporations take/impose their oil pipeline on Native American land in the national interest of commerce and shareholders. Or policymakers and researchers who go into communities of color to do research in the name of progress but don’t return to ensure communities that invested time into the project ultimately benefit — funding runs out, the person working on it moves on, etc.

I see this happening in my work too. White people or organizations will contact me asking for an informational interview or a connection to someone or a referral. I don’t have a relationship with the person asking or the relationship doesn’t feel equal. I wonder who really benefits in the end, probably not me or others in my community. CiKeithia, another Fakequity team member, blogged about this when she wrote No You Can’t Pick My Brain.

Stop Taking Without Investing

Many times, dominant culture, white culture, tells people of color we need to justify our work. We need to prove money is being well-spent, time is well-used, we have community buy-in, and prove we know what we’re doing. There is little tolerance for what the system calls risk-taking or doing something outside of the norm.

The system defaults to having people justify actions with reports written by high paid consultants, hosting feedback and listening sessions, asking for data, studies, or informational interviews. All of these actions take/extract information from communities of color. My colleague Jondou Chen lectures about this as weaponizing data. Data is taken from people and communities of color, with little control over how the data is used afterward. As he defines it people of color are turned into objects, our data is extracted and controlled by others.

Somewhere in this equation, someone is often profiting off the extraction of information. When I say someone is profiting I don’t mean that in just the literal way of someone getting rich, which does happen. Profit also looks like the white person who gets accolades for having relationships with people of color, who gets political points or access to political tables, or who knows the juicy gossip. A white colleague who is married into an African American family and works with the African American community shared: “If I bring an African American colleague to a meeting I get a lot of praise and a nod, my friend gets nothing out of it. If he brings me, a white guy, to his community I’m seen as his liability.” It took me a moment to understand that but once I did I understood what he was saying. Because of histories of colonialism, the taking of land, language, culture, money, etc. by white people/dominant society, many communities of color are reluctant, fearful, and angry at being used again. White people and systems constantly want to take something and not return the investment, it is one of the insidious and unconscious ways power is upheld.

How to Invest, Not Just take

When working with communities of color and other communities further from power and privilege (e.g. LGBTQIA, disabilities, poor, immigrants and refugees, etc.) we need to slow down and spend time building relationships. The number one-way extraction happens is when systems and people in power swoop in and take something from communities of color without reciprocating or it is token reciprocation – hiring local translators, buying food from local restaurants, sharing one-time information, etc. All of this is a good first step but it doesn’t leave the community stronger than before, power hasn’t shifted, nor has an investment been made into the infrastructure of the community.

A better way to invest is to pause and ask yourself are you the right person or organization to lead the work. As an example, a few weeks ago I had to ask myself that same question. I promised someone I’d write a piece for them about a very politically and emotionally charged race related event. However, after attending the event I realized I shouldn’t write it because I wasn’t the most impacted person in the room. While I had valid points if I wrote it the writing would have centered me. The timeline was fast to get the story written and published, and many of us wanted to get the information out because it was powerful. I had to wrestle with my ego, did I want to write the story because it would prove I was being a good ally and prove I cared and was there.

I did what I do when I’m stuck I called CiKeithia and Heidi. They both suggested I reach out and find someone else who could talk about it in a way that focused on the impacted community, which I ultimately did. I had to slow myself down and reached out to a colleague and she said yes right away. Her piece is beautiful and centered her community in ways that no mainstream news report even got close to covering. If I had written the story I would have been extracting the story of another community, filtering it through my lens, and profited off of it by being upheld as a good ally and through the attention I would have gained. This is one reason why I’m not mentioning the event, to do so would be to center and call attention to me being there. I tell this personal story because too often we don’t grapple with the personal emotions or we justify our feelings when we extract from a community.

Organizationally we should grapple with these same feelings and questions. When we take how does it feel to our staff and our communities? It is easy to justify, but how does it feel and how are we building relationships and shifting power dynamics for the long haul?

Questions to think about if you are about to extract:

  1. Are you swooping in for a one-time or a time-limited project?
  2. If you weren’t there how would things look different?
  3. Have you listened to what the community wants? As an example, if the project is on passing a bill does the community really want the bill you’re working on or do they want to work on something different? Such as you say you want to work on environmental justice by planting trees, but the immigrant community wants to gain citizenship so they can vote and influence policymaking.
  4. Are you asking for information (e.g. survey, interviews, focus groups, etc.)? How will the information be used and how will the community have ownership of the final product? How will it be used to shift and level power dynamics?
  5. Finally, ask yourself can you authentically show up in the community again and be received well? If you can’t answer yes quickly then adjust your practices or stop what you’re about to do.

Depending on how you answer these questions you may want to retool your approach to ensure you’re not extracting form a community without also investing.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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Equity Requires Action – Stop Using the word as an Attention Grabber


Photo Credit Moonpig77, Flickr

Several weeks ago, I blogged about the overuse of the word equity. This week I’ll expand on the misuse of the word equity. Lately, I’ve heard the term equity used as a descriptor, as in “it’s an equity problem,” “equity high needs,” or this headline “Soda Tax Will Include Diet Products Because Equity, Say Mayor and Councilmembers.” The problem with these statements is the word equity is misused. It is used as a descriptor and a substitution for other words such as diversity, or equality or parity in the case of the soda tax.

The danger with misusing the word equity without tying it back to a problem is nothing changes. It also leads to overuse of the term equity which makes it harder to achieve racial equity progress.

If you must use the word equity you must do the following:

  1. Describe the root cause and structural barrier to the problem – Example: The root cause of the problem is people of color are losing affordable rent options because of underinvestment in low-income neighborhoods, as gentrification happens communities of color are displaced as new wealth is buying old houses and displacing people of color. To address the structural barriers funding and resources should be devoted to affordable housing measures and tied to culture, language based communities, and focus on historically underserved communities of color.
  2. Define actions to remediate the root causes and structural barriers to inequities.

If you can’t talk about equity in these ways then you don’t get to use word equity. Find another word to describe what you want. Since I’ve recently written about linking equity to a root cause and structural barrier, we’ll focus on the action part of the word equity.

Equity Requires Action

To justify the word equity, you need to demonstrate an action and prove how the action addresses a structural barrier. As an example, I spend a lot of time sitting in on task-force meetings for government organizations and departments. The meetings are often long and drawn out over months. Whenever the task forces are put together and recruitment notices come out there is often a tagline screaming the word “EQUITY,” and language that sounds like this: “Our goal is for the task force to include community members who represent the diversity of the city/state/district/etc.” If I’m being asked to help recruit people from my network I email the organizers and ask what actions they are taking to remove barriers to participation for people of color. In other words, how are they practicing equity in the design of their task forces? My questions include:

  • Are you providing stipends to community members to participate in honoring their knowledge and helping offset time away from other work?
  • Will child care be provided or stipends to cover child care cost provided?
  • Will interpreters be provided? Are documents translated (high quality – no Google or Bing Translate)?
  • Are transportation stipends available if the meetings aren’t held closest to community members?
  • Meals provided if working long hours?

These questions drive towards equitable actions. You can’t just say you want equity without working for it, all talk with no action is fakequity.

Equity isn’t easy, it takes work at thinking about undoing long-held barriers for people of color. A commonly used definition of racial equity is: Racial equity is achieved when race is no longer a predictor of outcomes. … “This includes elimination of policies, practices, attitudes and cultural messages that reinforce differential outcomes by race or fail to eliminate them.” As this definition clearly articulates there is an actionable component of eliminating problematic policies, practices, and beliefs.

The Problem with Saying “It’s an Equity Problem” or “Equity High Needs”

The problem with saying “it’s an equity problem” is we’re not talking about race. The word equity is being used as a placeholder and not tied to actionable steps. It is masking the real problem of needing to acknowledge race but being too timid to name race as a factor in the problem. I get it, we don’t like talking about race because race is tied to people and we don’t want to call out people, we’d rather talk about problems without humanizing them. How different would the statement be if the person said “It’s a diversity problem” or “People of Color are over-represented in low-performing schools.” These statements change the problem and more clearly articulate the root causes – diversity and low performance. These new statements also humanize and contextualize the problem needing to be solved.

As for Equity High Needs, we just need to stop that phrase. Stop using the word equity as an attention seeker. Equity and high needs are redundant, it is describing the same thing. Also, the phrase doesn’t make sense if we think of equity as an action. What action is taking place to modify the high needs schools? Many of us know high needs is coded racial language, so why not just come out and say our Diverse High Needs schools/programs/housing/etc., our Under-Resourced Program serving a High Needs Program, or just plainly our High Needs School/Program/Project. If you must use the term equity here connect it to a barrier and a solution.

Use the Word Equity Correctly

As I wrote before, please stop using the word equity to label everything. Equity isn’t a tagline, equity needs actions to address historical racism, structural barriers, and to bring about racial justice. Unless you’re willing to do the hard work of undoing racism you don’t get to use the word. The word equity must be earned through action, prove it to use it.

Posted by Erin Okuno

If you subscribe to the blog, thank you! Please check the website 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.

Fourth of July — What to read

ed64ac7e756ae0f714c3afbcf528fea3I’m taking a short break for the Fourth of July holiday. For those reading this outside of the United States, the Fourth of July is a big deal in America. We celebrate the original thirteen colonies and colonizers (more often called the Pilgrims) signing the Declaration of Independence and separating from the Brits. We celebrate by blowing things up, specifically fireworks, and although illegal in Seattle people still do them and others complain on Facebook in the neighborhood groups. We also have cookouts as it is known on the East Coast, or picnics as we call it in the west, or in Hawaii we say “ehhh, you like go beach? Auntie and Uncle goin’ be there. We got grinz; mac salad and poke,” or “ehh come over to da house, uncle stay making pig roast.” (Before you have a dirty mental image, grinz means eat or food in pidgin English.)

For this week’s Fakequity blog post I’ve compiled a list of things we are reading and talking about. Please leave a comment, Facebook post, Tweet, or email to tell us what you’re reading or talking about. I love hearing from others and hearing what is going on outside of my bubble.

As much as possible I shared news and articles by people of color. However, some of the articles are by white authors because I couldn’t find any other articles by poc writers on the same topic. I’ve starred the ones that I think are must reads, in some cases I really want you to read them because they are from smaller publications deserving larger audiences or the story is just damn good.

Police Shootings

King County Officers Shot a Pregnant Woman on the Muckleshoot Reservation. Here’s What We Know., The Stranger, October 2016 – Even though this is from October 2016, I’m sharing this because we need to bring visibility to people of color who are systemically killed by the hands of people who are supposed to protect all of us.

Man Killed By a King County Deputy Last Week Was Armed With a Pen, Seattle Weekly—Tommy Le, an Asian American, was fatally shot hours before his high school graduation.

Her Name Was Charleena Lyles, Huff Post

Sacrificing Black Lives for the American Lie, New York Times


Arts and Food

My Sister’s Keeper: A Q&A with Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Roads and Kingdoms “To show that women are underrepresented in the field of photography. Women of color: underrepresented. Women of African descent: underrepresented. Let’s highlight the work that these women are doing all over the world.” Additional article about her work: The World According to Black Women Photographers, Lens blog, New York Times

Why We Can’t Talk about Race in Food, Civil Eats

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors to open at Seattle Art Museum, NW Asian Weekly

What local chefs think about food appropriation, KUOW interview with Edouardo Jordan and Rachel Yang, chefs and Seattle restaurant owners

* #SEAHOMELESS: Immigrant Business Owners and Homeless Share Unspoken Camaraderie, Ethnic Seattle



* Read this: To understand white liberal racism, read these private emails, then listen to this On being the only black man on the Seattle school board, KUOW

Voters Must Turn Out For Seattle’s School Board Election, South Seattle Emerald



Japanese cemetery is Oxnard’s latest vandalism target

White People Will Always Let You Down, The Establishment

Native Americans are getting cheated again by a white president, LA Times Opinion, Letter to the Editor by a Japanese American who was interned at Manzanar


Voices of Native Americans

Since we opened by talking about colonizers we’ll close by focusing on our Native American communities and their views and voices.

* Confronting settler colonialism – Faith Spotted Eagle, Longhouse Media – The camp Faith Spotted Eagle is referring to is Standing Rock

* An Honorable Way of Being, talking about the importance of the canoe, Longhouse Media

Posted by Erin Okuno


Reflections on Charleena Lyles: White People Stop Centering Yourselves

DCs79R6XsAA_FS_Last Sunday, Seattle was rocked by a police shooting of an African American woman. Charleena Lyles called the police to report a burglary at her apartment, two white police officers responded to the call. Many are asking how a call about a burglary ended with the death of an African American woman. Many in the community, especially in communities of color, are demanding that the deaths of African Americans and Black people stop.

The death has shaken our community again. The violent death of anyone, especially a person of color, should make us pause, and the death of an African American by the hands of an authority figure should make us absolutely stop. We need to stop, and white people especially need to stop. We need to stop posting to social media, we need to stop centering white people in these conversations, we need to stop the cycle of systemic racism and white privilege and power, and we need to stop shooting each other. We need to stop with the allyship theatrics, we need to double down on centering communities of color, especially African Americans/Blacks and the intersections of identity — mental health and disability, parenting, poverty, etc. In a conversation about race a week before the shooting a colleague said: “There should be a rule, the first five comments on posts about race [on Facebook] should be by people of color.” How different would the rest of the conversation be if we centered people of color and people of privilege listened?

White People Stop

White people, I want you to stop. Yes, there are times when we ask what you to be an ally, but I also want you to stop making racial tragedies and allyship about you. After the news of Charleena Lyles’ death, white people started posting and started shouting about institutional racism and how our systems failed her. In other words, abruptly YOU showed up and started caring. You showed up and took the focus away from Charleena and the African American community. You became a convenient ally. To your peers and others, it made you look good. And where were you the week before? Where were you in giving up something valued so people of color and other underserved groups can have a seat at the table? Spotting and calling out institutional racism isn’t easy and takes digging deep into looking at root causes and centering communities of color. I’m calling fakequity on your manipulative use of the tragedy. Being seen as an ally feels like you’re doing something, it makes you look good and it isn’t about you, you may even score some woke points. It is time for white people and pocs of privilege to stop and listen to African Americans and Blacks about racism and things that make us uncomfortable. Don’t wait for someone to die before you decide to inconvenience yourself with listening.

I’ve seen on Facebook where friends of color are calling out the injustice in the killing and white people, mostly white males, are quick to defend the police or say, ‘slow down and let the investigation happen.’ This silencing tacit is out of line and again centers the white institution rather than Charleena and her community. It isn’t necessary, white people read the post and reflect on it. You don’t have to agree, your job is to give space for people of color to say what we need to say.

White people, you are entitled to your opinions and stop shoving them in the faces of people who are hurting. We didn’t ask for your thoughts and opinions, we don’t need your whitesplaining. We hear your opinions daily. We live in a society where your thoughts cost people of color lives – sit with that thought for a while. White people, your fragile egos will be ok not sharing an opinion. If you need to talk it out, find other white people who can help you understand why we don’t want to hear about the investigation or why we shouldn’t be outraged. Yes, we often tell you to stop talking to white people, but in this case if you need to process don’t do it at the expense of people of color, doing so sucks up precious air and energy that should go into the healing of a community, don’t make your pain Black people’s pain.

Stop Focusing on You

If you need to do something, then do it, but don’t make a show out of it. Don’t post to Facebook or Twitter how outraged you are and how you are collecting donations, attending vigils, or are incensed. If you want to do these things, do them and do it quietly and reflectively. If you want to invite other people to join you, do so privately and with the intention of being an ally and not being a voyeur or taking up more energy that should be invested into communities of color. If you want to donate, do so but don’t make a big deal about it, save the savior mentality for another cause like trees and rescued animals. If you want to encourage others to give too then ask them through a personal relationship, we don’t need to see you being an ally, just be ally.

At the Othering and Belonging Conference an African American/Black speaker from Color of Change said, “presence doesn’t equal power.” His message was having a presence online, at a march or vigil, no matter how large or how many likes, doesn’t change power dynamics. White people, your existence in this conversation must be about you reflecting on what power you are holding whether knowingly or unknowingly and how you share it. Use your presence to follow the lead of the African American/Black community. Don’t take up their space, humble yourself and follow, do as asked respectfully and with humility. We will all be better when you create space to hear from others.


Posted by Erin Okuno, with thanks to Heidi, CiKeithia, and Minty whom I’ve never met and doesn’t know it but helped to influence this post.


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Guest Post: Representing the Underrepresented in Academia


Editor’s Note: We welcome back guest blogger Lilliann Paine from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She works in the public health field. Check out Lilliann’s first Fakequity blog post about being a Catalyst for Change.

Research is an important part of my academic experience. As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I applied and was selected to participate in the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program. The McNair Scholars Program is one of several TRIO Programs historically funded by the U.S. Department of Education supporting the academic achievement from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education.

**A program supporting academic achievement from groups traditionally underrepresented**

The McNair Scholars Program is where I got my feet wet in the pool of research and scholarship. If not for that research program experience, I would not have the current network of support I lean on…hard. Being a member of an underrepresented group is tough. Being a member of an underrepresented group and an academic is a huge responsibility. I aspire to be more than an inconsequential representation. I don’t want to burn out before my light can truly shine.

As a McNair Scholar, peers with similar aspirations and a shared lived experience, the experience of the traditionally underrepresented, surrounded me. This is a big deal because I’ve only attended Predominately White Institutions (PWI) since kindergarten.

As McNair Scholars, we were equipped to become Doctors of Philosophy—PhD! In fact, the goal was to complete doctoral studies. Through this program, I experienced:

  • A culture of excellence with the prioritization of leadership!
  • We were paired with Faculty level researchers (Mentors).
  • We received GRE preparation (standardized test you are required to take when applying to college).
  • We were tasked with a completing a mini-thesis (asking a research question and finding the answer through literature review and experimentation) with the expectation to defend at the end of our six-week summer program.

The McNair Scholars program is dedicated to preserving Dr. Ronald McNair’s legacy of scholarship and accomplishments. Dr. McNair was nationally recognized for his work in laser physics and was one of the thirty-five applicants selected by NASA from a pool of ten thousand. He became the second African-American to make a flight into space. He was a mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger.

I was motivated to honor Dr. McNair’s legacy. I wanted my life’s work and research to answer tough questions about racism and its impact on health. I had hope that I could break down racial barriers like Dr. McNair and would become a trailblazer just like him!

Along the way, I must have romanticized the idea of leadership and collegiality. In the real world, academia provides an “ascription of intelligence” that requires “sanity checks.” A sanity check is an act of seeking out other POCs to help validate the existence of racial microaggressions to check perceptions of racists incidents.

Lilliann’s Personal Sanity Checks
Is this person an assigned mentor – someone who is telling me something that my boss doesn’t feel comfortable saying to me? Is this person a sponsor –someone who is a powerful advocate on my behalf when I cannot speak for myself?
Am I put in this workplace as a diversity quota? Am I put in charge as a leader with autonomy?
Is this work inclusive? Does the work further isolate those who experience marginalization?
Is this work in the name of equality? Is this work the practice of equity?
Is the goal to build a system? Is the goal to dismantle a system?

As an academic, I consider it a top priority to understand the concept of power and how that is confounded by the social construct of race, gender, and class. Within academia, at times, there is a lack of racial consciousness. Almost like a culture of race aversion—unless you are studying a discipline that explores racial consciousness. It’s important to understand racial fallacies exist and the minimization of racism (aka colorblindness) impacts leadership. Studies have shown that when women and non-whites talk about workplace diversity, they are punished. The desired change I would like to see in academia is a culture shift. The raised awareness and critical analysis of racial consciousness. That is the articulation of power and difference at the institutional level. From my experience as a person of color, I’ve learned that leadership can be lonely. However, when leadership is tethered to exceptionalism it is isolating.

As an emerging leader, I’ve held mid-level leadership roles in my short career. With each job, I was looking for the sense of community I had as a McNair Scholar. As one person, I cannot change an entire system. As I’ve learned more about leading for racial equity, I became familiar with the work of two racial equity practitioners: Gina Gulati-Partee and Maggie Potapchuk. They identified concrete ways change could happen at an institution. Through their experience, they acknowledged in order for an institution to work towards racial equity through their philanthropic investments and leadership, they must shine a light on white privilege and white culture both internally and externally. For me, at the root (within academia) it’s about working twice as hard to get half as much. The standard goes back to white and the concept of whiteness—long term objective is the need to heal from historical trauma and intergenerational effects of historical trauma.

What is the value of a TRIO Program these days? Is the long-term goal for higher education to reach transformative racial equity for students of color? Or is the long-term goal to create conditions for students of color to thrive? Or is the goal to do away with institutional racism?

Over ten years later, I am a champion for health equity, doing the difficult work of finding an alternative path based in the community, to meet health objectives while embracing equity. McNair worked for me! We need to continue funding programs that create a pipeline to leadership within academia, business and the trades especially for those that underrepresented. Our collective futures depends on the success of the most vulnerable and underrepresented.

Stop Calling Everything Equity

stop pandaHave you noticed how everyone is saying “it’s an equity issue.” Every time I hear the phrase a part of my soul grows darker and more cynical. The poor term equity has become the diversity of the 1990s and the equality of the 2000s. Equity is now a popular and overexposed term and people are using it incorrectly. We need to stop labeling every problem as an equity problem and begin to use the word correctly. One way to begin to use it correctly is to link a root cause and identify a structural barrier to the equity problem statement.

Let me break this down into less wonky talk. Often when there is a policy problem or an advocacy group wants to make an ask, someone will say “It’s an equity issue! The poor kids need [fill in the blank] because they don’t have enough [blank]. Everyone, especially poor kids of color, will benefit when we do this [because rising tides lift all boats or when they do better we all do better].” For fun watch the public testimony during a school board meeting and someone, probably a white person, will use this formula as they make their ask. What this statement formula fails to do is make the connection back to race and the racialized formation of the problems. White people (and some pocs) become lazy and don’t do their work around understanding how race is connected to root causes and how it is tied to institutional and systemic racism.

Root Causes and Structural Barriers

If you want to make an ‘equity’ argument do your work to understand how the problem came about. The problems facing people and communities of color and marginalized communities (e.g. disabled, LGQTBTIA, etc.) today are often rooted in past decision making. Peter Senge’s famous line in the book the Fifth Discipline says: “Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions.” Today’s racialized problems can be traced back to decisions made in the past.

Understanding root causes of today’s problems means looking at how problems evolved for communities of color. As examples segregation is a byproduct of red-lining which traces its roots to white people not wanting people of color in their neighborhoods because of fear and elitism, achievement gaps are rooted in how the education was originally designed to serve (white businessmen who spoke English), unemployment for people of color is often tied to education levels and we’ve already established the public school system was originally designed for white people.

In unpacking the root cause of the problem you’re looking at, you might determine the problem you’re working on isn’t really an ‘equity’ problem. Don’t use the equity word because you want to get some points towards the Woke Awards, like the Academy Awards for Wokeness. And definitely don’t use the word equity to get street cred in the Woke Wars, look at me I’m so badass for working on this hard ‘equity’ project.

Once a root cause is determined, look at the structural barriers in place that need to be undone. The structural barriers are the policies, practices, beliefs, and norms in place. Often data can help to identify barriers, and with some solid thinking, the structural parts can be identified.

Stop Calling Things Equity When They Aren’t

Not everything should be called equity. I spent most of yesterday and today working on advocacy around school buses. Many are calling it an ‘equity issue’ because it impacts low-income students of color. While students of color will be dispropriately impacted by the problem, it is a district wide problem. The solutions proposed by the parent activist are not rooted in principles racial equity. The solutions are equality based, spend money to give everyone the same; in this case, spend $2.3m to provide buses for students. It is a misnomer to label it is an equity problem when we’re not also talking about the root causes and the structural barriers students of color are facing around getting to school.

It also annoys many of us when the ‘equity’ solutions presented are not actually equity-based. Providing a bus/book/thing to everyone isn’t equity, that is equality (giving everyone the same). If we look at the root cause of the problem and the structural barriers in place an equity based solution would determine people of color may need and want something different than a universal/same/equal solution.

Equity is Special, Stop Calling Everything Equity

Please, I implore you, to stop calling everything equity. The word equity means something special and let’s continue to let the word be exceptional in decrying its needs. If you need another word to use, then stop and think hard before choosing something to use in its place.

If you need something that will get people’s attention learn how to call out racism, especially institutional racism. There is a lot of that going around and institutional racism could use some labeling and shout outs instead of equity. Maybe by calling out racism, we’ll begin to see more equity based problem solving happen.

Posted by Erin Okuno, hat-tip to Heidi for the topic

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How to Design an Equity Centered Conference

Before we start we need to reflect for a moment on what’s happened over the past week. In Portland, OR, in many ways a sister city to our Seattle, two men were stabbed in the throat and died at the hands of another man who was spouting white nationalist beliefs. During this holy month of Ramadan, I hope we can practice charity, a pillar of Islam, back to our Muslim sisters and brothers.

In our home state of Washington, Jimmy Smith-Kramer, a Native American, was murdered at a campground when he and a friend asked a white man to stop making donuts with his truck. The truck driver yelled hateful words and ran over Jimmy and his friend.

Moral outrage and indignant Facebook posts won’t end racism. I don’t have the answers, I wish I did. I do have faith in our community to bring more progress and not let these hateful crimes become the norm.


I’ve attended a lot of conferences lately and have taken notes about what makes a good event and what annoys me. A lot of what makes a good event has to do with how it is designed. Just putting the word equity into the name of an event or saying the word five times during the introduction doesn’t mean the event is achieving equity.

Before we start I need to own and share my biases. When I see an invite come through my email I try to figure out if it will be worth my time. If I see the word ‘equity’ somewhere in the title I give it extra scrutiny.

As an example, last year I sort of dragged Heidi and our other colleague Mindy to the Governor’s Summit on Equity (or some name like that). The event was focused on equity and there was lots of equity talk, but it was at such a basic level I didn’t learn much about how to deepen my work. I ended up with a lot of notes about what not to do. We still talk about that event and how poorly certain parts of it were designed and how to avoid those literal pitfalls. When I say literal pitfalls, I really mean it someone fell off the stage during the closing session.


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Body language says a lot, photo by a colleague


Lesson One: Clearly describe what the sessions and panels are focused on

Breakout sessions can make or break a conference. Lately, I’ve had more misses than hits on breakout sessions partially because the session descriptions aren’t very through. At conferences, I try to attend sessions that aren’t education sector based so I can hear from completely different speakers and perspectives. The session title and description at the Gov’s Summit was along the lines of Race, Policing and Community Accountability. When the panel started the moderator allowed the conversation to only talk about African Americans and Blacks and law enforcement, an important emphasis but not what was in the title. It wasn’t until the question and answer portion when audience members opened the conversation to ask about what policing looked like with Latino, Asian, Native American and other communities of color that the conversation broadened. Had the description been clear that the focus would be on African American and Blacks we would have known to expect a conversation focused on African American and Black communities and been able to be allies. With the vague description, the question and answer time wasn’t focused and in many ways it squandered what could have been a deeper push and call to action.

Lesson two: Stop with the all-male (white) panels

Sitting with Heidi at conferences is kind of fun. I watch her get annoyed and start scribbling notes in her conference handbook or on her iPad. During two different conferences, she made the remark “people need to stop having all-male panels.” After watching for the power dynamics that Heidi inherently noticed I saw what she meant.


All-Male Panel with a Hoffsome thumbs up

All-male panels, including all poc male panels, cater to the same power dynamics we see in dominant society. This includes one person talking too much, or the panelist don’t allow for dissenting views in constructive ways, or panelist want to show what they know instead of building on other panelist ideas, or they start name dropping and cred-upping (I think that might be a new term, showing off your credentials or trying to over cred other speakers). This website catalogs all-male panels, Hoffsome thumbs up to whoever created it.

Instead of having all-male panels, be inclusive and work to find a woman of color (and other intersectionalities — disabled women of color, LGBQTIA of color, youth or seniors women of color, etc.) to join the panel. Having a woman of color on the panel brings a different perspective and different views on the same topic. If we think back to last week’s blog post about creating Color Brave Spaces, this falls under creating space for multiple truths and stories. By designing the panel to look not only at racial equity but also gender diversity panels look differently and bring different perspectives forward.

Lesson Three: Center and Design for People of Color, White people will be ok without being the focus

I was recently on a call with a national organization talking about their upcoming conference. They described wanting to focus on change but without a deep racial equity focus. Before we ended the call, I said “I’ve been to national conferences where people talk about change without centering racial equity. For the people of color in the room, it is really frustrating to have to sit through race-neutral conversations and know we should go deeper.” I knew my comment wasn’t going to change the outcome but I wanted the organizers to have to sit with that thought. Events planners need to center people of color in the design of the event. White people will benefit from not having an event centered on their needs, there are enough other spaces where we can talk about the needs of white people.

Lesson Four: Go deep, don’t waste time with equity lite

I’m tired of equity lite conversations. I don’t want to go to conferences where we are “scratching the surface” or we can’t use words like “white,” “white supremacy,” or I must watch Race the Power of Illusion again (it is good, but I’ve seen it many times now), or we have to define equity versus equality – these are trainings, not conferences. I want to be pushed in my thinking and not sit there and wonder if the lunch menu will have a decent vegan/vegetarian lunch option.

Going back to lesson three, design the conference for racial equity which means talking about what people of color want to talk about. White people may be a little lost and defensive but they will be ok and eventually catch up to the conversation. White people aren’t fragile, you all are strong so use that strength for good and learn about something other than yourselves.

I want meaningful conversations about understanding race, racism, institutional power, how to undo racism. We all live race every day, let’s be real in having thought-provoking speakers who can address racial equity, racial justice, and diverse and divergent thoughts in productive ways.

Posted by Erin Okuno