Creating the Justice We Need: When Fakequity Isn’t Enough (Part I)

By Jondou Chen

I can only remember one author of color that any teacher assigned me to read from kindergarten through twelfth grade. It was Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. It was twelfth grade English. I was initially thrown off by the narrator’s voice, needing to sound out each word, sheepishly recalling my experience as an English Language learner. Dubious at first about this writing style so different from Austen or Shakespeare or Steinbeck, I soon found myself smitten by the protagonist Janie. I appreciated the description of a community and culture that differed from that of the majority of my white classmates, and saw a mirror in what it meant to make sense of the world as a person of color.

College was marginally better, although retrospectively I still cannot believe how deep my internalized oppression was. Seeking to flee a racialized stereotype, that as an Asian I had to be a STEM major, I couldn’t remember any other students of color majoring in history, where I managed to read DuBois and Confucius. Again, I was moved by how much these texts resonated with me, but I had little time to do more as I was so focused on memorizing history “facts.”

That’s right. 

I thought being a history major and “good” historian was about memorizing as many facts as possible. And this wasn’t because I didn’t have a “good” history education. I took five AP social studies classes in high school. I attended a prestigious university. I knew about primary and secondary sources. But what I thought mattered most was to memorize as much as possible from these sources. And what if sources had facts that didn’t align with facts from other sources? Ha! I saw through that trick question and believed that my job was to memorize and restate both sets of facts. Synthesizing ideas? Restate the facts. Developing my own thesis? Restate the facts. And somehow I still graduated with honors – even as I gratefully passed on writing a thesis after professors discouraged me from writing one because they didn’t believe I was capable of developing my own ideas. How did I still earn honors? By taking extra classes where I memorized even more “facts.” Some time in the future, I’ll write more on this experience to unpack how this story highlights the model minority myth, the failure of my formal educational experience to teach critical thinking skills, and also how this embarrassing saga might have actually been protective in some ways because my college history department wouldn’t have been able to handle a self-realized and politically conscious Asian American. 

Instead, it wasn’t until I became a social studies teacher that I was confronted with what history actually is. It began with the impossible task of selecting what history to teach to my students given that we didn’t have enough time to cover everything that I might possibly and supposed to teach according to state standards. It was catalyzed by the need to make history real and relevant for my students in a way that honored their own histories and power to be historymakers. In teaching at a diverse school with a history of political activism, I couldn’t justify teaching a history based on “I memorized it, so you need to, too.” I couldn’t teach the story of global colonialism from the perspective only of western colonizers, but needed to imagine possibilities to teach about the vibrant cultures challenged and oppressed by colonialism and from which also came survival and ongoing resistance. I was able to present more historical figures of color to my students, and I have been able to continue this as an instructor in alternative and higher education.

Yet something was still missing for me. As much justice as I sought to do for my students, I wasn’t always doing justice for myself. Sure, I benefited from reading what I gave to my students, but I also needed to ask myself, what is the justice that I need? What is it that I need to read for myself and only for myself? In leading educational equity work for the past fifteen years, I have told the story of my own schooling countless times. I have shared about how much the “best” education denied me the opportunity to see authors whose identities or experiences reflected my own or other folks of color. But when asked by listeners what books do I wish I had read and if I had done anything to seek justice for myself, I had nothing.

20171119_144745And so this past summer, I gave myself the justice – the assignment and the gift – I needed by setting out to read 50 books across the year – 50 books for myself and for no one else. I looked to book awards and Facebook lists and personal recommendations for my choices. I read collections by individual authors as well as academic texts and young adult novels. The majority of my books were fiction, and I’ve been surprised by how much reading fiction shaped my dreams at night, more so than even my work! In the end 46 of my books were by authors of color, with the other four being deeply shaped by communities of color. I am deeply indebted to the Seattle Public Library for its collection of audiobooks on Overdrive, graphic novels on Hoopla, and ebooks on the Kindle apps. This allowed me to “read” during my commutes on the light rail or biking along Lake Washington, while cooking dinner or out working in the garden, and in many cases to hear the texts in the authors’ own voices.

Through this process, I’ve come to appreciate that injustice is real. Fakequity is real – both Fakequity as people attempting to create “excellent education” without real equity as well as Fakequity being the ability to critique these attempts. And yet to work toward justice, noting and calling out Fakequity is only the beginning. We must also lift up our communities and our cultures, our resistance and our resilience, and we must find time to build the world we want as much as we bring down the oppressive systems of this current world. From these texts, I was inspired by all that has come before and that continues being why the struggle is real and worth it. And while I don’t plan on stopping reading, witnessing the brilliance of these writers and artists has inspired me to spend more time collecting my own stories and ideas in writing. For all the folks who follow us on Fakequity and enjoy learning and commiserating with us here, let’s remember to celebrate and build as well the justice that we need.

 

In case you’re interested, here’s my list.  I’d share most of these titles with folks to read to diversify their reading lists and also to broaden our understanding of how justice – educational and social – can differ by individual, community and culture.  (I’ve also added to those texts read aloud by the author and that are available (for free!) from Seattle Public Libraries – all of these texts are available from SPL).

  1. Daniel Alarcón, The King Is Always Above the People
  2. Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian ***
  3. Julia Alvarez, Before We Were Free
  4. Carol Anderson, White Rage
  5. W. Kamau Bell, The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell ***
  6. Brene Brown, Daring Greatly
  7. Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do
  8. Keith Chow, Jeff Yang, Parry Shen; Secret Identities & Shattered
  9. Lenora Chu, Little Soldiers
  10. Sandra Cisneros, A House of My Own ***
  11. Matthew Desmond, Evicted
  12. Junot Diaz, Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Who
  13. Louise Erdrich, Four Souls
  14. Louise Erdrich, LaRose ***
  15. Louise Erdrich, The Birchbark House
  16. Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum
  17. Louise Erdrich, The Porcupine Year
  18. Louise Erdrich, The Round House
  19. Atul Gawande, Being Mortal
  20. Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing
  21. Eddie Huang, Double Cup Love ***
  22. Eddie Huang, Fresh Off the Boat ***
  23. Geronimo Johnson, Welcome to Braggsville
  24. Paul Kalanathi, When Breath Becomes Air
  25. Michelle Kuo, Reading with Patrick ***
  26. Jhumpa Lahiri, Interpreter of Maladies
  27. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland
  28. Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth
  29. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, March (Volumes 1, 2, and 3)
  30. Grace Lin, When the Sea Turned to Silver
  31. Grace Lin, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
  32. Karan Mahajan, The Association of Small Bombs
  33. Carmen Maria Machado, Her Body and Other Parties
  34. Imbolo Mbue, Behold the Dreamers
  35. Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You
  36. Celeste Ng, Little Fires Everywhere
  37. Trevor Noah, Born a Crime
  38. Sonia Nozario, Enrique’s Journey
  39. Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Sympathizer
  40. Maria Qamar, Trust No Aunty
  41. Phoebe Robinson, You Can’t Touch My Hair ***
  42. Erika Sanchez, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
  43. Valerie Smith, Not Just Race Not Just Gender
  44. Angie Thomas, The Hate You Give
  45. Héctor Tobar, Barbarian Nurseries
  46. Desmond Tutu & Dalai Lama, Book of Joy
  47. Brian Vaughan & Fiona Staples; Saga
  48. Jesmyn Ward, Sing, Unburied, Sing
  49. Colson Whitehead, Underground Railroad
  50. Gene Luen Yang, Boxers & Saints

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.

 

Super Bowl Edition: How to talk with people about racial equity using sports analogies

By Heidi Schillinger

This weekend is Super Bowl LII. I’ll be rooting for the Philadelphia Eagles, in case you care. I am feeling very bitter about the Seahawks not making the playoffs and that one team who shall not be named being in the Super Bowl again. Sorry to any Fakequity Fighters out there who root for that team. While my sister tries hard to get me to pay attention to college women’s hoops, really the time between the Seahawks and the Seattle Storm is a long dry sport watching period for me. By the way, if you are thinking, Seattle Storm? They would be the WNBA team in Seattle. Yes, Seattle has a basketball team and I am a proud season ticket holder. Go, Storm!

Wearing Seahawks jerseys at a work event.

Okay, so while advertisers are bombarding us with Super Bowl ads, let’s harness that energy and talk sports analogies and racial equity. You know, because I have the unique ability to make any conversation into one about racial equity and racial justice. Does that qualify as a superpower? Besides someone recently told me I need to write funny blog posts too. So, if you hate my attempt at mixing racial equity and humor, you can blame Vu. [Side note, be sure to ask Erin about that one time I had us both in Seahawks jerseys facilitating a meeting. She might even be able to show you a picture. Erin’s note — picture found and posted, I looked so young, that was just three years ago pre-fakequity blogging.]

I am going to write these analogies like a “Dear Fakequity” column. All sentiments are real, but the letters are made up. Any resemblance to you is an intentional coincidence. If you have a real “Dear Fakequity” question send it to Erin at fakequity@gmail.com. She will answer it between episodes of Queen Sugar. These are meant to be useful but cheeky, and not necessarily very deep. So take them with that disclaimer.

Dear Fakequity,

I have a friend who says that they are inherently a good person, who loves different cultures and races, and treats everyone equally, so they don’t need to focus on “racial equity.” How can I approach a conversation with them?

Speechless in Seattle

Dear Speechless in Seattle,

When you say, “you have a friend” does that really mean you? There is too much (contradiction) to unpack here in a word limited blog post. But let’s jump right to the big picture and use a football analogy here. I love football. I respect the game. I even know a little about the rules and players, (but don’t quiz me). Here is the thing loving the game, respecting the players, being knowledgeable about the rules, doesn’t mean I can get on the field and play football. We are done here.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

My coworkers are upset that we have an equity and social justice initiative. They said all this talk of race is making worse, that nothing was wrong and now this initiative is stirring up trouble where there isn’t any.

Stirring Things Up

Dear Stirring Things Up,

I saw this poster recently that had the MLK quote, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” This might be a good starting point, but they might think this is stirring things up too. So let’s try using a basketball analogy. Roll with me here. Or maybe bounce with me here works better. I was recently watching the University of Washington vs. Washington State women’s basketball game with my sister. I noticed there was a new line painted in key. Since my sister keeps up on changes in the game more than I do, I had to ask her what that new line meant. If you’re curious it means offensive players can’t get called for an offensive foul inside that line. I reflected on all the changes the game of basketball has had over the years. I started playing organized basketball when I was six years old and had a short-lived career through high school, but since I started playing the game has added a shot clock, a three-point line, constant changes to the over and back rules and jump ball rules, just to name a few. Even a classic game like Basketball evolves and changes with the times. What about trying to be like the game of basketball?

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

After getting asked to sit on my fifth interview panel at work this week, I think I might be the token person of color my organization wants to put on display. I’m not getting extra pay, and this is not a part of my job description, but I secretly like to use my biases for good. Is this wrong?

Biases for Good

Dear Biases for Good,

If one day you are fed up with being tokenized and decide to let a long string of swear words out as you resign while slamming doors, our Fakequity community will totally understand. I also have some good support groups to recommend or would be happy to buy you a beer or two. In the meantime, I am totally for using biases for good. Let me explain using a soccer analogy (or what the rest of the world calls football). Bear with me, I know very little about soccer. I once experienced grown adults screaming, “I’m Sounders ‘til I die” loudly all night, so that is about my only credibility here. My other credibility, I am using that word loosely here, comes from watching my young nephews and niece play. One cold night a few weeks ago, I noticed that soccer referees are positioned on different places of the field. One is there to observe the whole field, but two assistants are positioned along the sidelines looking for when the ball leaves play. This is how I see using biases for good working too. I am guessing that your experience as a person of color in your organization helps you see things that others on the panel don’t see, and this is a good thing. If fact, I would try to advocate for finding more people of color to help you use your biases for good, since we all know “people of color” is way too broad of a category to even begin to capture all the unique ways we might be able to see the field or evaluate a candidate. While you’re at it, you could work on rallying your white allies to make more systemic changes to the process, like not tokenizing, compensating, etc. but that is a longer letter.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

My organization is really focused on the individual level of addressing racism in our organization. We are constantly receiving training on things like implicit bias, cross-cultural communication, etc. I feel like something is missing. Any advice?

Left Feeling Individually Empty

Dear Left Feeling Individually Empty,

Your gut feeling is not the sign of the flu. But I am in no way qualified to give medical advice. Please consult a qualified medical professional. Your organization is on the right track but might be missing the whole field. That line was the set up for my track and field analogy. I am more qualified to talk about track and field than give medical advice. I high jumped and triple jumped (yes, that is a hop, skip and a jump) in college. Focusing on the individual level of addressing racism is like all the individual events in track and field, but at the end of the day it is also a team sport. I could win my event, but as a team we might still loose. Looking at how the whole team performed was equally important as fostering individual athletes. A good team and coach know, they can’t just foster individuals and neglect the team. It sounds like your organization, and many others, are overly focused on the individual athletes and ignoring the team (or systemic) aspect of addressing racism and creating racial equity. Oh, one more thing, you might also want to share a past Fakequity blog post, We can’t train our way to racial equity, with people in your organization.

Team Fakequity #15

Dear Fakequity,

I tried to use some of your sport analogies to talk with people about racial equity and they were offended because sports have so much racism, classism, and sexism. What do you say to these responses?

I Tried

Dear I Tried,

Well, I tried too. I would try the good ol’ rule of improv, “yes, and.” Yes, sports are not exempt from the racism, sexism, and classism that exists in our society at large. Native mascots, gender pay chasms, lack of accountability for things such as domestic violence and sexual abuse, just to name a few. And, we can both acknowledge those things and recognize that many people relate to sports. Talking with someone in a way that they already understand is like using your bilingual language skills. It could be that this is not the language of the people you mention. You could always try using Reality TV analogies.

Team Fakequity #15

In closing, I would like to mention that I made it through a whole blog post about sports without mentioning cycling. Well, until now. But if you miss my cycling analogies you can either a) buy me a beer; b) attend one of my workshops; or c) read any of my past blog post.

Go, Philadelphia Eagles!

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.

Hey Mainstream Organizations, this post is for you — Do’s and Don’ts

I’ve been thinking about this post for most of the week, which is rare. I normally start to think about the blog on Tuesday in fleeting thoughts and panic sets in on Thursday night. This week I started thinking about it in earnest on Wednesday. This week’s blog post is for mainstream organizations that want to work with communities of color or other underserved communities.

As mainstream organizations, you have different responsibilities and burdens. Nonprofits are meant to serve. Some of you serve children, others save whales, or maybe you believe in preserving the arts. We don’t exist to make a buck and serve ourselves, we are here to provide a benefit to the community in some way.

I am defining mainstream as larger organizations, many of which are historically white led. Some ‘organizations’ may be departments of larger organizations such as universities or hospitals, or large nonprofits. There are many nonprofits that are poc led but still considered mainstream, just having a diverse staff and leadership doesn’t change the way the organization operates or culture and beliefs. All of this is nuanced and use your best judgment in figuring out where your own work and organizations fits.

Here is a list of things to do and not do when entering a community. It isn’t an exhaustive list, but some things to think about.

parachute panda

Do not Parachute in and Land on a Community. Occasionally, I’ll hear of the opening new program that intends to serve communities of color. The organization or program is well-intentioned and eager. Maybe they have a great track record elsewhere and want to expand so they look at where they think they can make a difference. In expanding they parachute in and proclaim, “We’re here to serve!” They bring in their program, their staff, and their ideas on how to solve a problem. They may have token listening sessions, meet with a few community leaders, make promises, but their program is already baked and the goals already outlined – essentially they could pick up their program and put it in any community and in theory it should work. No thanks to this approach, we believe in co-creating projects and programs and letting local communities have control.

You better stay for the long-haul, minimum 20 years. If you decide to open up a program in a community it should be for the long-haul. Mainstream orgs have an overall reputation for coming into communities and when budgets get tight or grant outcomes don’t meet the promises written by the mainstream org they make “a hard decision” to leave. Often the decisions are made in the isolation of an Executive Director’s office or a boardroom with little community input. The community is left burned and scrambling to figure out what to do next. If you are planning on entering a new community think long and hard about your sustainability plan and you better be willing to put a lot of staff time behind being willing fundraise to stay, there is no other option.

Invest in the local community by hiring local community members, including in leadership roles. If you do open, invest in the community by hiring from the community. Pay living wages and pathways for leadership growth. The hiring of local staff should be at all levels of the organization – including in leadership positions, not just the people at the bottom of the org-chart.

If the budget numbers become challenging, you better stay – see point number two. Set the expectation you’ll be there for at least 20-years or two generations. If you are entering a community of color your organization better put some serious staff time into fundraising and sustaining those fundraising dollars. When mainstream organizations enter communities and then decide to leave because they claim they are taking a financial loss I lose respect for them – especially if they aren’t from the community to begin with. I get it, money is never abundant, AND you better do everything it takes, put every card on the table, and knock on every door before leaving. Promises are too easily broken by mainstream organizations and there is little accountability to communities of color or recourse the community can take. Over time this is how communities are harmed. One organization closing isn’t a big deal but after a while, it becomes a pattern of mainstream organizations leaving is how systemic racism happens.

Partner first, no writing grants or asking for money without doing it with community backing. I get it, the funding-chicken-egg problem. Do you approach a community with no money but want to partner to get money, or do you get money then go partner? False choices. You build a relationship of mutual respect first then worry about the money. I’m betting you can find money in a budget for 20-cups of coffee and a few lunches. If you look at my work calendar it is filled with coffee and lunch meetings. I don’t even like coffee, but I hang out in a lot of coffee shops because the relationship building is so important, and honestly it is interesting. Get to know people, listen, and build a relationship of trust, not a relationship of transactions. The money will come when the time is right.

Be present, work to build trust and long-term relationships. Don’t expect the community to trust you, work to earn their trust. Many community members have experienced broken promises, unreliable services, extra burdens to participating, etc. We have no reason to believe your organization will be any different. Earning trust takes time, there are long histories and memories of systemic racism so you can spare a few months to build the relationship. It also means doing what you say you’re going to do and listening to the community, especially when they ask for something different. One of my favorite colleagues is a poc who runs a large multi-million-dollar mainstream nonprofit. Marko makes it a point to show up at many community events. Many of the participants know him and they tell him exactly what they like and don’t like about the programs. He takes it seriously and the organization makes course corrections to meet the client’s requests, and when they can’t he is honest about why. The clients don’t always like the answer, but they respect being told the truth. He also makes sure other leadership staff and board members are present and show-up. When I was on the board I attended a child care picnic, parent meetings, and it made me a better representative of the organization. Sadly, I think many mainstream board members have lost these personal connections and don’t always know who their organizations are serving

Be gracious, kind, and willing to adjust to meet community needs. As a mainstream organization, the burden is on you to be gracious and kind. Communities are under no obligation to welcome you. You may think you have something to offer, but if that offering comes with arrogance, a know it all attitude, or a desire to just come in and take – no thanks. Instead come in graciously and culturally appropriate and be willing to meet the community’s needs, not what you think they need.

By Erin Okuno

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.

If I don’t reply to your email, I’m binge-watching TV

I’m going to admit something I’m neither proud of nor think it is worth hiding. I enjoy binge-watching TV shows, especially those with strong female leads. I didn’t realize this bias until Netflix labeled a suggestion list for me with this title – the creepiness of AI (artificial intelligence) in naming my unconscious biases. Here are some things I learned from binge-watching TV shows.

Law & Order SVU

svuThis was my main winter break binge-watching show. Netflix is slated to remove it in January 2018, so I had to cram in four seasons in two weeks. I did it! If I didn’t reply to an email during this time it was because I was too busy following the cases of Olivia Benson and crew. What I learned as it relates to race and equity: When people say they have gone through something hard we should show compassion towards them. I also enjoyed watching how the SVU team trusted each other and had to constantly rebuild and test their trust within each other. Some episodes deal explicitly with race, sexism, gender-identity, and police-power dynamics, sometimes they get it right sometimes they flub and go with stereotypes.

Greenleafgreenleaf

If you don’t like Greenleaf don’t say anything – don’t you dare ruin the show for me. My good friend Amy told me about the show, and once it hit Netflix and I watched it I was hooked. I downloaded four episodes for a coast to coast plane ride and when I finished those four I was so mad at myself for not downloading the full season. The show is about an African American family and their mega-church. From watching Greenleaf, I appreciated the storytelling and wrestling of family, trauma, and power. It is a great show for watching and thinking about how power is yielded, wielded, and what happens when different characters try to rebalance power. It is all, or nearly all, African American cast.

Queen Sugar

queen sugarThis is another great show recommended by Amy. The show follows African American siblings who inherit the family’s sugar plantation. Again, the show is majority African American actors and in watching the bonus features on DVD I learned the show was directed by women, many of them were women of color – hooray. From Queen Sugar we can think about how history and histories of racism shape where we are today, including the resiliency we have as communities and families of color.

West Wing

Watching the West Wing brings back memories of political days that inspired people to enter public service. It was originally on air before you could watch TV on-demand and flip-phones were cool. President Bartlett didn’t delve deeply into racialized politics; had the show been on today I wonder how they would have dealt with topics like police shootings, immigration, and would they maybe have recast some of the parts to have a more diverse cast. The show also gives us a window back before we had a real-life president who spews racist and sexist content.

Madam Secretary

This is my new version of the West Wing. A show about politics without the craziness of Trump-land politics. This show is very white, oh so white. They have a diverse cast but still white.

Homeland and Spy-Shows

I haven’t watched Homeland or House of Cards in a while. I also have a thing for spy shows, including past shows of Chuck and Covert Affairs, both very unlikely to be real life but that is what TV is for. These are shows deal with spy stuff and secrecy. What you should learn is spy stuff is fine for TV, but horrible to practice in real life racial equity work. That is obvious, but sometimes we should state the obvious. TV shows are entertainment, in real life race and racialized interactions are complex. TV shows can influence and shape our biases towards handling real-life situations, so remember real life isn’t scripted and TV is for entertainment – spying and political maneuvering for personal gain is bad, transparency and community interest is good.

Honorable Mentions of Bingy TV Shows

Heidi and I watched episodes of Dear White People while flying to a conference and while working out in the hotel gym. Dear White People (Netflix) is entertaining and worthy of a mention.

House of Cards binge-worthy but very little redeeming qualities for racial equity work. If I watch too many episodes in a row I begin to think everyone is evil. Same for Black Mirror, I’ve only watched two episodes and freaked out. After those shows, I feel like I need to go eat pho with friends and have them tell me stories about pandas, World Dance Party and other community events, and school board meetings to bring me back to happier times. Did I just say school boards and happier times?

Reality TV – the ultimate reality TV

If you want some good reality TV watch your local government channels. Turn on your school board meetings, city council, and state government channels. They are fascinating and worthy of your binge-watching time. You can watch for how race is talked about, how formal and informal power dynamics are displayed, how information and data is used/wielded/weaponized, who is believed and trusted as messengers, why is public testimony structured the way that it is – is this how we get to racial equity, and if you’re really lucky you may tune in when someone sings their public testimony (this happened at a city council meeting I attended). So much to unpack and realize how systemic racism plays out. Becoming and staying civically engaged is important in creating systems change. Ahh, now I want to go watch a school board meeting before bed.

What are you watching and how does it relate to race, diversity, and equity?

By Erin Okuno

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.

Gentrification and Paralyzes of the Heart

“Imborghesimento del cuore ci paralizza.” The gentrification of the heart paralyzes us. Pope Francis

Ashley-Lukashevsky_wearelov.jpg

Artwork from Aplifier.org, artist Ashley Lukashevsky

Since I read this a few days ago the English translation has been rolling around in my brain. At random moments the thought of gentrification as a feeling and paralysis bounced through my thoughts and I paused to think about what it really means. I couldn’t pin it down until today. While sitting in a downtown law firm I saw several Black men wearing traditional Muslim taqiyahs. I wanted to give them a fist-bump for momentarily un-gentrifying the law firm. Their simple presence in a gentrified space was unexpected, yet so affirming. It was a feeling of belonging even though I had never met them before.

I haven’t read the full papal letter to understand the Pope’s words and intentions. After ten years of Catholic school, I can’t tell you the names of more than maybe two popes, three if you let me count Pope John Paul I and Pope John Paul II. All of this to say I’m not a Catholic or religious scholar. What I appreciate about the line from Pope Francis is he ties gentrification to a way of being and not just an act of moving into a neighborhood. I’m not going to delve into gentrification as it relates to urban planning or place because I’m a novice on the topic. What I do want to think about how gentrification is more than moving into a neighborhood, it is as Pope Francis says a consequence of comfortable living.

More Polite or Authentic

Gentrification at its most basic definition means “to make something or someone more polite and refined.” On most days because of the privileges I have, I am a gentrifier. I have professional access to meetings and in those meetings, I practice gentrification so I don’t get kicked out and lose my access and my livelihood (I like my job and the wages that come with it). In practicing gentrification, I temper my words, saying “we would appreciate if you can share the timeline for transparency,” versus the ungentrified line of “you need to share the timeline because we don’t trust you, we think you’re just going to blow us off.” Or as another friend said, “I’m going to get myself kicked out, I just said ‘this is bullshit!’ in the middle of the meeting.” I am professionally rewarded and live a comfortable life because I gentrify meetings and am able to act politely and refined – all of which Pope Francis warns against. Comfortable living for some is often at the sacrifice of others.

When we practice gentrification of the heart it comes from an inauthentic place. I’m giving you the sanitized version because that is safer. Sanitized and gentrified versions of ourselves allow us to keep our distance and to be polite. Do we want refined or do we want real? When I speak in coded language asking for things politely do I sellout and keep it safe for me, but sacrifice those I’m supposed to be advocating on behalf of? I can argue it both ways in my head — gentrify some and I can stay in it for the long game, un-gentrify maybe we get to a resolution faster — hard to know which is the more effective strategy.

Are you ready to un-gentrify?

For white people are you ready to give up some of your white comfort as your act of de-gentrification? Earlier this week I was in a meeting and a white colleague kept pivoting the conversation away from race. The combative nature and not-so-subtle signs of white fragility showed his paralysis and his fear. On an elevator ride down with another colleague we both looked at each other and asked, “what just happened?” I sighed and said “white fragility.” I explained the person has to do their own work on understanding race and as a result, their heart is paralyzed and in protectionist mode versus being willing to tear apart the manicured whiteness and privilege built up and receptive to new learning.

For pocs, our acts of de-gentrification should be looking at how we change who we are to be more polite or refined for the sake of systems, institutions, and power structures. When we show up and have to cater to whiteness we gentrify and paralyze part of ourselves. For our acts of de-gentrification we need to work to show up more authentically and true to ourselves. We also need to have each other’s backs when we do this. My speaking truthfully and openly means I’m placing trust in others around me to accept and suspend judgment about what I am sharing. We may not agree with each other in the moment but work to build a relationship of understanding and trust with each other. A friend who does research on trust and pocs shared her research which found trust is built over time and when we are willing to show up more authentically, including sharing what could be vulnerabilities.

If we want to work on de-gentrifying physical spaces we also have to work at un-gentrifying our hearts a well.

By Erin Okuno

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.

30 Things to Do and Don’t do in 2018

panda raising hand.jpgWelcome to 2018! I hope the year is starting out great. This time of year is ripe for exploring new ways of thinking and pushing boundaries on our practices. Here is a list of thirty things we should commit to not doing and doing. Why thirty? I just received a survey asking me to rank and choose leadership attributes from a list of thirty suggestions – fakequity. The attributes listed were mostly color blind too, double fakequity, so this is a list partially in jest.

In 2018 We Will Stop:

  1. Sending meaningless surveys that are mostly used to say “I engaged the community,” but really the outcome is pre-determined or you already know what you want to do.
  2. Developing survey questions without community input.
  3. Saying “But I translated it…” and believe translation is racial equity. Short answer translation and interpretation provides access to an already established process. Equity is deeper and harder and involves sharing power.
  4. Having book groups, staff meetings, community gatherings talking about equity with only people who look and sound like us. This includes poc groups who aren’t diverse in class status, perspectives/thought, etc.
  5. Believing diversity is racial equity, it isn’t. Diversity helps us reach racial equity, but having a diverse group isn’t synonymous with equity.
  6. Fighting petty fights that lead us no-where, including on social media. Dear trolls, Please leave the comforts of hiding behind the internet and go meet some real people. It is much harder to say mean things to someone who could (in theory and practice) punch you.
  7. Weaponizing data.
  8. We will stop believing solutions have to be an either/or, zero-sum, or mutually exclusive. Community-driven solutions are often more complex, rich, and will last longer than believing there is only one way of solving a problem.
  9. Stop believing Asians are Whites and have the same privileges as white people. Also, stop grouping and treating Asian data the same as Whites, while many Asians are performing well they haven’t transcendent racism to achieve those results.
  10. Stop ‘Gotcha’ politics. Playing ‘gotcha’ or tearing apart people isn’t nice. Instead, work to build relationships and use those relationships to push boundaries and thinking.
  11. Stop centering whiteness.
  12. Don’t ask a poc ‘to pick your brain.’
  13. Stop having woke-offs. No need to prove how woke or social justicey you are. We’re all smart on some things and idiots at other things. Let’s practice humility and be cool with learning from each others. While we’re at this, no need to play oppression wars. We’re all oppressed in some way. I really don’t need to hear how you felt you were denied something, you weren’t entitled to it, you’ll survive the disappointment and aggrievement.

In 2018 We Will:

  1. Focus on racial equity and racial justice. Focusing on the future and what it takes to get there requires a harder push than just focusing on petty fights. We need to shift narratives to what is working.
  2. Prioritize data, stories, and voices from marginalized communities of color.
  3. Disaggregate data and shift practices to acknowledge race groups are not monolithic (the same) in experiences. Within race groups migration stories, languages, and cultures are very different.
  4. Seek diversity of all sorts within communities of color: LGQBTIA, disabled, immigrants/refugee, non-English speakers, seniors and youth, poor, unhoused, etc. Practice intersectionality, focusing on those farthest from justice.
  5. Acknowledge the histories and the harm of colonialism and work to undo colonist tendencies. We will acknowledge we are on Native American land and listen to our Native American/Indigenous partners on what they need to achieve justice.
  6. We will acknowledge our individual privileges, and work to use our privileges to undo racism. If you are thinking, “Yo, I’m not rich I’m not privileged,” check-yo-self, you are reading a blog post in English. The privilege of literacy and access to the internet are two of many privileges you have.
  7. Focus on balancing power and actively working to redistribute power from those who have it to those who deserve more. If you need a crash course on power, start by just watching who is speaking and who makes decisions – probably not those most impacted by the decision.
  8. Build relationships with people who are different than us and invest in these relationships. But don’t get creepy with it, not every poc wants to be your friend.
  9. Invest in the relationships that bring us joy, different perspectives, and allow us to be our authentic selves.
  10. Build movements versus isolated actions. Individual actions are important, but remember the larger context and long-game of undoing racism.
  11. Be an ally and accomplice. Be willing to call bullshit and stand behind what you say. Don’t wait for others to do what you know needs to be done.
  12. Vote, and work to bring voting to pocs. Stop voter suppression and push for non-citizen voting.
  13. Focus on systemic change. Systems dictate results, decisions made by people that impact others is how a system functions – focusing here has the potential to impact many people.
  14. Use your spheres of influence. Start a conversation with someone who needs to be pushed to think about race and justice. Need some ideas start with the Fakequity chart. or play Fakequity BINGO.
  15. Read books that make you think differently about race. News articles have their place, but deeper longer forms of reading take us to different places. If you are like me and haven’t read an adult book in six months, children’s books are a great way to open up to something new. Go to your public library and browse the shelves to find a new book by a poc author. Need some suggestions go here.
  16. Be engaged and examine without defense.

By the way, if you screw up in the next few days, don’t worry Lunar New Year’s is around the corner and you can start fresh, but only after you go to the temple to ask for a blessing and forgiveness, humility a value to practice in 2018.

By Erin Okuno

Fakequity Fridays: 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 – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

Beyond Books, Blog Posts, and Bleacher Seating: Relationships Matter and I have the Whale Pictures to Prove it

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Mural of three different types of whales/dolphins swimming. Photo by Heidi Schillinger

Editor’s Note: We’re taking next week off to celebrate the holidays. Look for us back in 2018. Also, this is a long blog post, but stick with it to the end.


There are probably three readers that have clicked on this link wondering how I am tying whales to racial equity. You’ll have read until the end to find the connection (don’t cheat and scroll to the bottom), but I am glad the whale click bait worked.

One of the most common responses I hear to how people are building their racial equity awareness and knowledge is by reading books, subscribing to blog posts, watching movies and attending lectures. Don’t get me wrong, I am a fan of books, blog posts, videos and lectures. I have stacks on books on my desk. If you are wondering, I am currently reading Ibram X. Kendi’s “Stamped from the Beginning: and Sherman Alexie’s “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” Clearly, I am a fan of blog posts –, Fakequity, Nonprofit AF, Black Girl Dangerous, and so many more. I have also recently been captivated by the Think Indigenous podcast, featuring Indigenous perspectives on education. And, I am a proud Viki Pass Plus subscriber, so I can watch all the Korean dramas I want.

Reading and listening are not substitutes for relationships

One of the dangers of solely or mostly relying on reading and listening to build our understanding of different cultural and racialized (among other) experiences is that we still filter our learning through our own experiences. I have seen this lead to a distorted sense of understanding and knowledge. Where people speak with a false sense of authority about something they have read, but never experienced or never had anyone close to them experience.

Or reading and listening in isolation leads to people immediately and easily dismissing ideas that challenge a current way of thinking. A minimum “practice” (otherwise known as homework) suggestion I give workshop participants is a read a few articles, all written by people of color, from a list I provide. The list includes articles such as, Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing The Ally Industrial Complex and How to Uphold White Supremacy by Focusing on Diversity and Inclusion. When I ask for reflections on the readings, I often hear comments like “I was really put off by the tone of the author. I couldn’t even finish the article because I felt like the author only complained and didn’t offer solutions. I feel like all these articles just make me feel bad about being white, and that isn’t helpful.” This is how racialized power shows up even when we read. Consider how these same patterns play out in our work. White systems won’t listen to people of color if they are too emotional—news flash racism is emotional. White systems won’t listen to people of color if they don’t present ideas in formats deemed “professional” according to the standard set by whiteness. White systems won’t listen to people of color unless white people feel included, affirmed, and comfortable. To ignore these patterns of racialized power, even when we read, watch and listen, is to uphold systemic racism.

At this point, you might be thinking –

  1. Whew, Heidi is not talking about me. I don’t do or say any of the things she just mentioned.
  2. Okay, Heidi, but I talk with other people about the books, blog posts, movies, and lectures.
  3. Heidi, when are you getting to the whales?

For the people who chose 1, we all engage in these patterns of racialized power. Yes, even people of color. Yes, even me. To say you haven’t been impacted by racism is equivalent to saying, “I believe in institutional racism, it’s just not in my work.” This is the #alllivesmatter of liberal racism.

A quicker note to the three people who chose 3, I promise I’ll get to the whales. But please keep your expectation realistic.

Answer 2: Designed for segregation and dehumanization

A longer note to the people who choose B, my loving critique is really aimed here. This is where book clubs and lecture discussions are happening but in mostly racially segregated spaces. At the very roots of systemic racism are policies and practices that were intended to segregate and dehumanize; colonization, slavery, Jim Crow laws, internment. In plainer language, policies kept white people separate and in power in order to dehumanize people of color and justify economic exploitation. The legacy of that explicit segregation and dehumanization lingers with us today, even in the way we learn.

Ask yourself, is your book club or discussion group an echo chamber? This is an especially important question for white folks. Discussing Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow” or the most recent Ta Nehisi Coates’ Lecture in a group of mostly white people (and a few Asians) is upholding segregation. Having brown bag lunch and learns at work with mostly white people is upholding segregation. Holding a racial equity training with a group of mostly white participants is upholding segregation.

For people of color having spaces with just Asians, just African-Americans, etc. serves a different and important purpose, but we also need to be aware of how our echo chambers can uphold the dehumanization of different communities of color. As an Asian American, how does segregation uphold my participation in anti-blackness? If we aren’t paying conscious attention, our personal and professional lives will default to racial segregation. Remember it was designed that way to continue to uphold systemic racism and white supremacy.

Another article I often ask workshop participants to read is Men Just Don’t Trust Women — And It’s A Huge Problem. Too many times, men read this article and then tell me they talked with other men about the article and have decided it is false. This is the echo chamber problem. Or men will tell me that they talked with one woman and she agreed that the article is false. This is the tokenization problem. We can do better.

Design for relationships, design for humanization

If our default patterns are designed for segregation and dehumanization, we need to design our lives to foster true cross-racial relationships. As we think about redesigning our lives and work, remember equal is not racially equitable even in relationship building.

About four years ago, I took a hard look at who I had built relationships with and currently trusted to give me work advice. One glaring omission from my inner circle at that time was youth, and in particular youth of color. Yet, I spent a lot of time talking with educators about how to make schools more racially equitable for youth of color. I spoke from research, books, videos, and anecdotal stories. But my work wasn’t being influenced by students of color.

I realized I shouldn’t go around telling others to build relationships with the people most impacted by racism and not do this myself. I decided to redesign my week so I could regularly volunteer with youth. I chose the Major Taylor Project hosted at the YES Foundation of White Center. I hung out and rode bikes with high school students once a week. It was awkward at first. I am an introvert and hadn’t been around high school students for a long time. None of the students really talked with me, and I had to work hard to build connections. A few years later, one of the students told me they purposely didn’t talk to me for the first six months because they didn’t know if I was going to stick around. They were right, many volunteers didn’t stick around for more than a few months. I am glad I stuck around, and I am glad the students started to share things with me. My life and work have been richer, more meaningful and filled with more urgency for racial justice because of my relationships with Ricardo, Juan, Tom, Huang, Diana, Phuc, Thai, Michael and many more.

A few things I learned in my own relationship redesign process:

  • It requires effort and planning. I needed to have something regularly scheduled on my calendar. I had to prioritize these efforts to ensure they happened.
  • I had no agenda, other than relationship building. It wasn’t connected to my work. I wasn’t the leader. I was only there to connect with kids and ride bikes.
  • Building trust took time. It took six months (or more) for the students to trust me and begin to open up. But once trust had been built they shared openly.
  • Relationships are reciprocal. I had to be willing to share things, invest time, and learn from the youth as well.
  • Relationships are humanizing. Issues are more personal and urgent when I care and am connected to people directly impacted. I am less tolerant of excuses, justified or not, about why we can’t make radical changes in our education system. I know the lives of students I care deeply about are being impacted right now and they can’t wait. They shouldn’t have to wait for racial justice.

These are ideas that can be applied to our personal relationship building and also things to consider as we design for better relationships and connections with communities of color in our work. A few words of caution that deserve their own blog post in the future: please don’t tokenize, be a creeper, or displace/gentrify.

“Save the whales”

You made it. We’re going to talk about whales now. As a nearly lifelong Washingtonian, I have grown up with whales in my backyard. Not literally in my backyard, but metaphorically in my backyard. I have also done a lot of work in the environmental space and have a racial justice knee jerk reaction to the save the whales crowd. Perhaps both as a product of taking for granted things in my backyard and an explicit bias towards the save the whales crowd, I have never been that interested in whales. A year ago, I would have left a conversation about whales as quickly as I could think of a good excuse to go back to the snack table. In all fairness, it wasn’t that I didn’t like whales, I just wasn’t interested in them. But people and relationships can do unpredictable things to us. Someone I care about really likes whales and convinced me they are important to the ecosystem and just darn great animals. I even watched Free Willy.

A year later, I am struck by the fact that I have had conversations about what whales co-exist or don’t co-exist together, why a certain type of whale has a tusk (a narwhal if you’re curious), and why orca whales in captivity have collapsed dorsal fins (scientists don’t really know, but it is a sign of an unhealthy whale). I have found myself at windy and cold Beluga Point looking for whales during a recent trip to Anchorage. And, my phone camera roll includes more than a dozen pictures of pictures of whales. I even have a new outlook on the save the whales crowd. In fact, I might be in the save the whales crowd now, as I just told someone today to stop using Styrofoam and to think about saving the whales. Like working towards racial equity, we need to connect the head to the heart, relationships help us do this.

Relationships matter. Save the whales.

By Heidi Schillinger

Fakequity Fridays: 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 – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

Reverse Stacking and Better Facilitation to reach Equitable Results

A note before we start: Today the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), ruled to disband Obama-era protections on equal access to the internet, better known as net neutrality. I’ve been following this debate and the ruling isn’t a surprise. I’m using this blog’s platform to say the undoing of these regulations will not favor people of color. If we explore it more deeply we will find threads of systemic and institutional racism. The fight isn’t over yet. Washington’s Attorney General and Governor have both taken steps to limit the reach of corporate internet providers in undoing net neutrality. Others across the country are stepping up as well. We need to keep the pressure on government officials to restore these protections and keep a more level playing field for access to information.


panda meeting 2

I’m guessing if you are reading this blog you’ve attended a few meetings in the past week. It could have been a small meeting of two people or a larger meeting with a few dozen to maybe larger. Someone was probably facilitating the meeting or gathering in some form. I do a lot of facilitation for work and in other places. Facilitation is a skillset that needs to be developed and practiced, especially as it relates to how can we use facilitation to reach more equitable results. If you don’t want to read much else here are the three main points on facilitation skills, we’ll unpack today:

  1. People Want to Be Seen
  2. Relationships – Even brief relationships are important
  3. Leveling power

If you know me well, you should be saying “Erin, those are race neutral – I expect better from you.” Here is where race comes into the three topics.

Everyone Wants to be Seen and Reverse Stacking

sad pandaYes, everyone wants to be seen – white people are seen a lot. White people are in almost every meeting I attend, even in spaces that are centered on communities of color, there is often at least a few white allies. People of color want to be seen and need to be understood just as much as white people. Yet the way current systems are designed and the way we are acculturated to dominant society people of color aren’t always seen and at the least they aren’t equals.

I learned a new term today – reverse stacking. Colleagues from Na’ah Illahee Fund presented on being allies with Indigenous communities. One of the practices they use when asking for feedback is to recognize and center Indigenous voices first, followed by other marginalized communities further from power. They invite Indigenous/Native American women to speak first, then Indigenous/Native American men, African American/Black and Latinx women, African American/Black and Latinx men, other poc women, other poc men, and finally white women, and white men. Please don’t get caught up in the race terminology or exact order within the order; the idea is what is important here. By changing the order of who is heard we are changing the power dynamics of the meeting.

Often time who speaks first sets the direction of a conversation, by being conscious of who is seen and whose voices are heard we alter the direction of a conversation. Using facilitation methods such as reverse stacking is important to allowing voices of people who are often not heard, heard first. When I facilitate I often call on pocs in the room or will invite them to speak first, much like the principle of reverse stacking but without the stacking. These practices are important for leveling power in the room too. Without realizing it, traditional power dynamics bleed into spaces – such as white men are seen as having power by just being born as white men, but facilitating in ways that invite others to speak up first allows us to change habits and power dynamics.

As a caveat, when I wrote everyone wants to be seen I believe that is true, but not everyone will want to publicly comment all of the time. Sometimes introverts, quieter people, or those where English (or whatever the dominant language of the meeting is) may not feel comfortable speaking in larger groups so use different modes of meeting facilitation to reach people, such as smaller table conversations or writing before speaking to elicit people’s responses.

Facilitating to Build Relationships

Relationships are very important; the facilitation of a meeting should work to create, foster, and deepen relationships between people – preferably cross-racially. Meetings should always be thought of as just one piece of the overall and longer-term work. Most of the real work happens outside of the meeting room, such as in the networking after the meeting in the parking lot or in my case at lunch or happy hour.

As much as we should allow relationship building to happen organically, we can also give it a nudge by socially engineer some of the relationship building. Everything from where people sit to the questions asked can help to build relationships. I recently facilitated a meeting where several white people sat together. Most of them were new to the meeting and they congregated together as they came in. As more people filtered into the room I steered several poc colleagues to that table to intentionally diversify the table conversations. I made sure to not isolate any of my poc colleagues at that table by sending several pocs to that table. At some meetings my team and I do table assignments as people walk in to purposefully break up cliques, mix people, and promote cross-racial conversations. Don’t be afraid to do these things, they make a difference and help to build new relationships in forming.

Leveling Power

We touched upon power earlier in the blog post. Power dynamics are always present, we can’t create spaces devoid or immune to power. What we can do is to facilitate meetings that level and redistribute power to people of color.

When I facilitate I try to pay attention to power dynamics. Some of it is easy to spot such as who is speaking and who isn’t. Or where people sit is another easy way to level power, breaking up cliques and more specifically white people cliques is an important way to redistribute power.

Even before a meeting starts you can level power dynamics through intentionally thinking about the attendee list and making sure it is diverse and centering communities of color and other groups such as immigrants/refugees, disabled people of color, elders and youth of color, by sectors that may not traditionally show up in your space (e.g. in education are you hearing from faith-based communities of color, health, or legal), are invited.

These are a few steps that may help to change conversations and push them towards more equitable results. Like all skills the more you practice them the better and easier they get. My final tip is to watch how other people you enjoy facilitate and take mental notes of the facilitation moves they make. We all need to push and develop some new edges around our skills.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Fakequity Fridays: 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 – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

Community Engagement Phrases That are Funny in Other Languages

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A picture of a pink jacket with English text translated from Chinese. Picture taken in Taiwan by Erin Okuno

A friend said we needed a funny blog post. This week we’ll poke fun at the English language and the privileged space English has in our lives. One of my resolutions for 2017 was to spend less time in English only spaces. I still spend about 98-percent of my life in English speaking spaces, but that other 2-percent is memorable.

This blog post is making fun of English phrases you may hear or read while doing community engagement. Many of these phrases or words are really hard to explain or translate to a non- or limited-English speaking/literate people. As an example a few weeks ago I was waiting for my kid’s soccer practice to end, imagine October on a cold night watching little kids running in a scrum and keep missing the ball. Another parent who I know a little is Chinese speaking and she stopped me to ask what does light dinner mean. She was translating an English flier into Chinese but didn’t know what light dinner meant. I tried to explain it meant appetizers, but she didn’t know the word appetizer and Google translate wasn’t helping. I tried saying dim sum like food, thinking that the Chinese reference might help, but that confused her more. Pupus was out of the question. I think in the end we settled on just the word dinner.

Here are a list of phrases and words, crowdsourced from my Facebook friends, that don’t translate well from English into most languages. Some would argue they hardly make sense in English, so why would they make sense in any other language.

Community Engagement – You want to marry the community?

Light Dinner – You want me to eat a light bulb?

Heavy appetizer – I can’t even begin to fathom how to describe this to a non-English speaker. Appetizers are tiny pieces of food, but it must be heavy too?

Task force – Using brunt force to complete our tasks is acceptable. People talking at a nonprofit meeting can get violent at times.

Executive Director – My colleague said she couldn’t explain my position title to her Chinese speaking mother. I was translated into President.

Intersectionality – Like a traffic intersection you drive through? And it isn’t to talk about your intersections of identities, watch the video in the link if you’re confused.

Lunch and learn – I’m expected to learn about your lunch? Wait, I have to bring a paper brown bag to this lunch too?

That’s a Very Good Point (when pointing out the obvious that the room is filled with all white people) – Explaining this nuance through an interpreter sounds like this “All of the people who are nodding are white people. They now understand they are white and need more ideas from people of color.”

Committee – I think the translation of a committee into any is “where good ideas go to die.” My friend Bao shared the Vietnamese word for committee which is “ủy ban.” She also said the cultural nuance is important because ủy ban is a communist-invented word and many Vietnamese immigrants do not like the word.

Authentic engagement – We want real engagement, not fake engagement? Engagement as in you want to marry me? Well, at least this is authentic engagement and not community engagement where you wanted to marry everyone.

Bring your whole self to the conversation. — Sooo, not just my side eye?  (h/t Kristin W.)

Lean in – I should put my head in the middle of the meeting? I need to assume a pose like a skier? Wait, I’m from a warm climate and barely know what skiing is like. Can I just sit down or stand up?

Be present. – I should bring a present, like a gift?

Listening tour – You’re going around listening to people, like people who are band groupies listening to music?

Potluck – My cooking pot will bring you luck? Smoking pot might bring you more luck, but that isn’t legal in every state so it definitely won’t bring you luck if you land in jail.

I want to raise up your voice – You want me to speak in a higher octave?

Let’s put that in the parking lot – We should walk outside and put this into a parking lot and then drive away?

Limited childcare available – So I should limit how many children I bring? Just some childcare is available, so I have to pick them up early?

Skin in the game – You want me to cut myself and leave my skin on a game board? Barbaric!

Finally, let’s try to interpret the phrase Racial Equity – Race, not a running race, but people race. Race as in where people are from. But not really because some people are born in America but still considered a certain race (don’t confuse nationality with race). Equity – not financial equity, but how much people need to be complete? People aren’t complete? This is sounding a lot like when you tried to explain limited childcare to me. I think I’ll just stay home and take a nap.

When working with non- or limited-English speaking communities it is best to say what you mean. Skip the code switching, the talking in circles, and break down your concept into terms into words that make sense. Such as instead of saying “lean in,” say “I want you to pay attention even if the other person pisses you off. Don’t leave or stop listening.”

Some other tips for working with interpreters:

  • Interpretation vs. Translation – quick definition is interpretation is verbal, translation is written.
  • Interpretation requires quick thinking and processing. The interpreter often has to listen, process, and translate simultaneously. They often must also have to communicate in two languages and both directions, e.g. English to ASL and ASL to English, Spanish to Chinese and Chinese to Spanish, etc.
  • Translation is written and requires sophisticated grasp of written language and cultural written nuances.
  • If an interpreter is being used it is helpful for them if you can do the following:
    • Pay them for their professional skills
    • Speak at a normal or slower pace
    • Pause to allow them to think, process, and speak – even when using simultaneous translation (i.e. translations where people are listening in on headsets, or the interpreter is speaking at the same time as the speaker)
    • Be aware of background noise and work to limit it
    • One speaker at a time, don’t speak over other people too
    • If using simultaneous interpretation test your equipment ahead of time and bring extra headsets and extra batteries
    • If the meeting is long, hire more than one interpreter so they can trade off. ASL interpreters often work in pairs, we should work to do this for other languages as well.

Posted by Erin Okuno. Thank you to friends who contributed to this blog post.

Fakequity Fridays: 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 – start your Friday with a little fakequity.

What it means to be Asian American, on the mainland

I’m out of topics to blog about this week and I’m too lazy to think hard about race, equity, and policy stuff. Instead, I’ll write about what I know well, what it means to be Asian American. This is a privilege of the blog, controlling the content and unfairly using the pulpit to focus and aggrandize me, I promise not to make this a regular thing.

Asian first or Japanese first?

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My kid wearing my kimono looking at ikebana.

I’m Asian but haven’t always thought of myself as Asian. I was raised in Hawaii where Asians are everywhere. Hawaii’s Governor George Ariyoshi was a Japanese American governor during my keiki time (Hawaiian word for child). He was the first Governor of Asian ancestry to ascend to governorship in the county, he broke the bamboo ceiling. More recently Hawaii Governor David Ige is the first Okinawan American governor in the nation. This is what I grew up with – seeing Japanese and Asian Americans and Asian immigrants around me.

Growing up in Hawaii I didn’t see myself as Asian, I was seen by my familial ethnicity of Japanese first, and a bit of Okinawan. It was great, I was secure in my ethnic identity. Teachers looked like me, my neighbors and friends were diverse, going to the store we didn’t need to shop at the Asian food store or aisles to find nori, Okinawan sweet/purple potatoes, or mochiko. Visiting my grandparents, we got our doses of Japanese and Okinawan culture and sprinklings of language. One grandma played old school tinny Japanese records and I think my first kid size kimono was a gift from her. My other grandma taught me how to be Japanese and Okinawan through feeding people. Food was her love language, “You hungry? Eat more.” Through her I saw what it meant to be in a Japanese community – you feed each other, literally and figuratively, the aunties and cousins would be over, and the food would spill out of the kitchen and be present whenever people were around.

Ohhh, now I’m Asian

I moved to Seattle for college and it was in college I figured out “Ohhhhhh, I’m now Asian – not Japanese – Asian.” On the mainland, what Hawaii people call the continental United States, label me first as an Asian, and maybe get around to understanding my ethnicity and culture. Being on the mainland I learned as Asian and Pacific Islanders (API) we have to fight to be seen in a way I didn’t feel like I had to Hawaii. Hawaii’s demographics and culture are more centered towards the API experience and the population density allowed us to be seen differently than in the continental US.

Growing up in a state that was “majority-minority,” a term that is now outdated and pejorative but is descriptive of the time, gave me a grounding as an Asian American. I didn’t walk into a room and scan the room to see if there were other Asians because there almost always were other Asians. This is a habit I learned when I started working on the mainland, I scan the room and count to see if there are other people of color. Being part of the majority meant I had safety in numbers, my identity wasn’t unusual in a space like it is now, being somewhere I wasn’t the exception to the rule, and it also meant I was accountable to others who knew how to hold me accountable in cultural ways, not just traditional accountability.

As an Asian American in Seattle, I can see how growing up in Hawaii gave me a different lens to the API and poc experience. In some ways growing up in the majority means I expect things that others may not feel I have the right to expect. Such as I expect APIs and POCs in leadership roles. I expect the Asian experience to be understood as nuanced not as a monolithic group. I expect our identity as APIs and pocs to matter and to be seen as both, not forced to choose whether I am Asian, Japanese, or poc. When I walk into a meeting I expect to be taken seriously and be given the benefit of the doubt because of who I am, not have to prove I belong there. Some people read this as arrogance at worst and self-assuredness at its best, I think it is somewhere between both, and apologetically I don’t know how to think otherwise.

At times systems and institutions don’t know what to do with Asians. I know I have access and privileges because I’m a poc that can code-switch. Growing up in the majority taught me how to navigate in dominant culture – I can speak up, I can bridge communities and institutions, and I work to understand poc cultures. That said at times systems and institutions don’t know what to do with Asians (broadly speaking, not just me), they want to consider us white believing we’ve transcended racism, but if you talk to many Asians we tell a different story. I do my best to own the privileges Asianess has afforded me and my family, but being an Asian with many privileges doesn’t mean I’m white. I can’t walk into a room and trust I will be in the majority, I can’t trust systems to recognize the migration stories, languages and cultures embedded into the API experience, and I know if I step out of the bubble that I created for myself surrounded by strong poc leaders, I am more of the exception than the norm.

API stories and leadership matters. APIs are a rich race group with over 40 unique ethnic groups. Our languages, histories, cultures, and migration stories are different. My API experience is different than others in my extended family and friend network. Heidi and Jondou, two close colleagues who contribute to this blog, are both Asians and their stories are different than mine, yet many look at us as Asians first and assume we are the same.

Some readings to learn more:

Posted by Erin Okuno

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