What I know about BIPOCs

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Artwork of postcards from Amplifer Art campaign We the Fture, http://www.amplifer.org

A while ago I wrote a post called 25 things I know about white people. It was a list of thoughts, or as one white person called them ‘assumptions’, about white people. It was also a post that oversimplified thoughts. At the risk of doing the same with my BIPOC relations, here goes another list this time with things I know about BIPOCs. These are oversimplifications and general thoughts that sometimes apply and there are nuances not explored in all of them.

  1. We are diverse. There is a huge breadth and depth to the BIPOC community, yet we are often lumped together and counted as one or maybe if generous several different people. “We have a Latinx, a Black person, and someone from the Native community – we’re good.” Or “Our CEO is a person of color,” implying the organization is diverse and therefore has racially equitable practices.
  2. BIPOCs suffer from racism, some BIPOCs more than others, but we all experience the negative effects of race and racism at some point in our lives or ongoing.
  3. We sometimes agree with each other and sometimes we don’t agree with each other. In being diverse we are also allowed to have different thoughts and not always agree.
  4. We have rich histories, rich communities, and a richness that we value even if it isn’t measured in monetary wealth.
  5. Our histories and migration stories to the West include violence done to us, exploitation, and oppression many times traced back to white people or privilege.
  6. Our histories also include success and greatness that shouldn’t be overshadowed. BIPOCs should be able to control our own stories and narratives. How many books or articles have you read by authors of color?
  7. Many Indigenous and other POCs have had their languages stolen or lost through assimilation.
  8. Many BIPOC languages and cultures are rich and adaptive that should be more valued than it is.
  9. We have etiquette and community norms. A while ago I saw a social media post asking for formal wear for an ‘etiquette’ dinner an org was hosting for students of color. These students of color have their own etiquette, the event host subtly implied that white people etiquette is more valued than their cultural etiquette. If you came to dinner with my friends and family would you know how to behave? We have our own BIPOC etiquette, just as valuable as white people etiquette.
  10. Many BIPOCs are seen as perpetual or “always a foreigner.” My family has been in the US for multiple generations yet my looking Japanese/Asian marks me as less American than white people. Pre-Trump I was walking with my Native American elder friend and someone yelled “Go home.” He chuckled and said, “I’m more home than you! I was here first.” Always a foreigner in his own land.
  11. Within BIPOC communities we have our own stuff to work through.
  12. Solving our own problems take herculean efforts. We fight for recognition, we fight for resources, we code-switch to gain access, we play the game and work hard to be taken over by the system, we answer to systems and our own people. All of this for self-determination and the right to fix what others messed up.
  13. When we solve our own problems our results are often different and our processes look different.
  14. BIPOCs are over and under-represented in systems, data, and different spaces. I’m not going to unpack this, sit with this one and think about it. Maybe at a later time I’ll write a post about this phenomenon.
  15. BIPOCs grapple with race just as much as white people, but we experience it differently and learn about race differently. “But race is the child of racism, not the father.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.
  16. We are masters at codeswitching.
  17. We have to learn. Just being BIPOC doesn’t mean we’re woke and social justice warriors. I still have to learn about other people’s experiences especially with my Black and Brown relations, learn about gender, disability, immigration, and other people’s experiences. By being BIPOCs we’re sometimes held to higher standards related to social justice issues. I know I’ve done this to other BIPOCs.
  18. We sometimes get praised for the bare minimum and held to low standards. Alternatively, we are sometimes expected to outperform to receive the same privileges as white people.
  19. Our existence is a disruption and threat to systems of white nationalism.
  20. As BIPOCs we’re allowed to disengage. We’re not here to serve the dominant system and sometimes we just want to chillax.
  21. We feel a sense of community with each other. I know when I see colleagues of color I relate differently than I do in dominant culture spaces.
  22. Our foods are delicious.

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Say what you mean to say

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Balance — picture of beach rocks stacked. Copyright Erin Okuno

Have you ever listened to a presentation where the presenter keeps doing a verbal dance to avoid certain words? I had that experience this week. The white presenter talked about the summer programs at a school and alluded to serving students of color, but never said students of color. I was already in a pissy mood, not related to her presentation, but listening to her talk about race, but not say what she meant made me sink even deeper into annoyance. As I listened to her talk about Black and Brown students, she never said any words directly related to race, the closest she got was saying “equity,” but not defining racial equity.

In a different presentation several months ago, I sat in an audience of about 100-125 policy advocates, nonprofit and philanthropy staff. We listened to the presenter talk about his work and specifically his “equity work” but he didn’t name race. When he paused to take questions I raised my hand and asked “Can you define equity for us? Are you talking about race, gender equity, income equity?” The presenter dodged the question and quickly pivoted the conversation to the next slide. It was disappointing and text messages from colleagues under the table with “WTF just happened,” “Whoa,” and a few other text messages went back and forth across the cavernous meeting room.

Not talking about race when we need to talk about race is one way of silencing a conversation or making Black and Brown people invisible in conversations. We need to learn how to normalize the words Black, Brown, African American, Latinx, Asian, Native American, Indigenous, White, etc. In particular white, people need to learn how to be comfortable naming race and their own race – white. I’ve watched many white people stammer and dodge naming their own whiteness. As CiKeithia says “I don’t need your genealogy, I need to hear you name your race – white.” There isn’t anything wrong with saying “white.”

How to Talk About Race – By Talking About Race

I know why people don’t talk about race. People are afraid by using race word they will mess up, it is safer to dabble around the edges and to speak in coded language. Society and meeting norms have taught us to say things like “low income,” “underserved,” “we must close the achievement gap,” “inner cities,” “ethnic,” and the list could go on and on.

We do this verbal dance for many reasons, sometimes it is to get around policy language. Such as in places that banned affirmative action government can’t name specific race groups or appear to give preference to certain race groups. Yet that doesn’t preclude us from talking about race in the conversations and to work to be more specific in our policy language.

The avoidance of talking about race also comes from a place of learned behaviors and fear of being wrong. Many people, especially white people, are afraid of offending or being wrong. Many white people and people with economic or other privileges have been socialized to have the answers and show confidence. Not having an answer or admitting they don’t know isn’t in their skillset of learned behaviors. It is easier to not say the word Black, because someone doesn’t want to accidentally offend someone else. This is polite avoidance versus being explicit and clear.

My friend Carrie reminds me that author and speaker Brene Brown (or BB as we shorthand her at times) says “Clear is kind.” Being clear in our language around race, gender, immigration, etc. allows us to understand and be understood. Not talking about race allows too much room for ambiguity and misunderstanding.

As an example, several years ago I was on a panel to talk to new philanthropist about my organization’s work. The room was filled with a mostly white upper-middle class to high upper-class people. I used the word equity a lot in the first part of my conversation. At one point I realized I lost part of the audience and paused to ask, “What does equity mean to you?” Someone called out “equity – you mean financial equity, like what we pull out of the financial market.” My not being clear that I meant racial equity, and specifically talking about Black and Brown children allowed for a misunderstanding. I also realize it allowed the room to stay too safe. The philanthropist didn’t have to confront their own thoughts about Black and Brown students, they didn’t have to grapple with their white privilege, they didn’t have to squirm in their seats realizing their privilege and connecting with their role in undoing racism.

In talking about race, we need to build our skills around talking about race.

  • Use specific words – Say what you mean, if you mean Black people, say Black people. If you mean racial equity, say racial equity don’t just say equity. Be clear and intentional with language.
  • Listen – If I’m unsure of the preferred language of a group I listen first and try to hone-in on how people speak about race, gender, immigration, etc. Listening gives me important context about the conversation and to either be an ally or an agitator.
  • Ask – If you’re still not sure about how to talk about race then politely and humbly ask. Asking may feel uncomfortable, but it is also how we learn. Also, individuals may have their own preferred language and this allows them to express their preferences. If you ask, please commit to using what you learn – don’t be an askhole.
  • Normalize talking about race – The more we talk about race the more comfortable we become talking about it.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Adrienne, Aimie,Ali, Aline, Alissa, Amy, Amy R., Andrea, Angie, Anh-Chi, Annie, Annie G.,  Ashlie, Ben, Brooke, Brian, C+C, Calandra, Carolyn C., Carolyn M., Carrie, Carrie S., Casey, Chandra, Chelsea, Chicxs Happy Brownies, Claudia, Cierra, Clark, Colleen, Crystal, Dan, Danya, Darcie, Dean, Debbie (x2), Denise, Denyse, Donald, Edith, Elena, emily, Erica (2), Erica R.B., Erin, Evan, eve, Freedom, Greg, Hannah, Heather, Heidi, Heidi and Laura, Heidi S., Jake, Janis, Jean, Jennet, Jennifer M., Jennifer T., Jessica, Jessica G., Jessie, Jillian, Jody, John, Julia, Julie Anne, K.T., Kari, Karen, Katheryn, Kathi, Katie, Keisha, Kelli, Kristen, Kristen C., Kristen D., Kumar, Laura, Laurel, Laurie, Lisa, Lisa C., Liz, Lori, Lynn, Makeba, Marc, Maria, Matthew, Maura, McKenzie, Megan, Melissa, Michael, Michelle, Mikaela, Mike, Milo, Minesh, Miranda, Miriam, Misha, Molly, Nathan, Nathan H., Nicole, Norah, Norrie, Paola, Patrick, Priya, Rebecca, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, SEJE Consulting, Selina, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie S., Susan, Tana, Tara, Terri, and Vivian. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support. Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

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How Black Indigenous People of Color are Silenced

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Artwork from Amplifer by queer, femme Filipina-American artist Raychelle Duazo

A few weeks ago, I tweeted my support for the crafting website Ravelry after the website said they are banning support for Trump from the website. More accurately I tweeted that I was waiting for the fragile people to come out of the woodwork and say they were boycotting something they never used. From that Tweet evolved a Twitter conversation with Trump backers. I have a general rule of not engaging and I don’t argue with people I don’t know. It was fascinating to see where and how they took the conversation. The thread ended with @Kat_### (not her real handle) saying: “Oh pre tell how they [BIPOCs] have been silenced? This is America u can do whatever u like, o one is silencing there free speech! It’s people like u and ravelry who are trying to silence free speech from anyone who doesn’t agree with your ignorant propaganda. God Bless the USA”

This blog post was inspired by @Kat_### who needs to review their American history and current events.

Ways BIPOCs have been and are silenced

I’m not going to go into details on the individual topics listed below. Others have written more extensively about each one and I’m not an expert on any of the topics. I also want to show a systemic pattern of how silencing happens in policies, in practice, and over time.

Native American Boarding Schools – In the 1800s through 1920s many Native American children were taken from their families to force them to assimilate to white culture. The children were banned and chastised for speaking their home-indigenous languages. Taking children from their families silenced the way their culture, home language, and forced white standards upon them.

The silencing continues with the loss of languages. An estimated 3,000 of 6,000-7,000 languages are lost. When we lose languages we lose cultures, and we silence a way of being.

3/5 a Person – African American slaves were only counted as 3/5 a person during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Counting someone as less than a person in any form is a silencing tactic. The legacy of counting African Americans as less than a whole person can still be felt today. Here is an idea of providing reparations by giving African Americans a 5/3 vote.

Asian Americans as a Model Minority – Consciously or unconsciously Asian Americans are often pigeonholed into the category of “model minority.” Being forced or pushed into the model minority status silences many Asians by being overlooked, expected to behave a certain way such as believing Asian students are all smart and therefore don’t need help, or silencing by seeing Asians as not people of color.

Separating Latinx families – Right now Latinx families are separated due to US immigration policies. Many immigrant families also live in fear of speaking up too loudly or calling attention to their needs for fear of being visible to immigration authorities. Fear=Silence. As a Japanese American, I can point back to Japanese American history of incarcerating Japanese Americans in internment camps. The trauma of separation and a loss of liberties should not and cannot be replicated with our Latinx relations.

Counting and numbers – The 2020 Census is happening next year. Who is counted and who isn’t privileges some and silences others. The fear already put in place around being counted and being seen is a real fear for our immigrant families. An undercount of immigrants and children will have the consequence of ‘silencing’ through inadequate representation.

Voting rights – Think about who doesn’t have the right to vote – silencing right there. No voting rights: many immigrants, convicted felons, can’t get to a ballot box, gerrymandering, and on and on. If you look you can see how BIPOC voter rights are chipped away and it is a silencing tacit. Can’t vote, you can’t elect people who will serve you well.

Representation in government, business, and entertainment – Follow the hashtags and you’ll see how BIPOCs are under-represented in so many fields. When we strip this back a lack of representation means a lack of depth to conversations, which to me is a form of silencing. #OscarsSoWhite

Co-opting of Voice – Black Lives Matter brings visibility and an important voice to the Black community and violence happening to Black people. When people, many of them white fragile people, co-opted the movement by saying All Lives Matter, it was an attempt to silence the Black Lives Matter movement and to shift the focus away from the needs of the Black community.

Angry Messages – Many BIPOCs receive angry messages sometimes it is through actions like Trump telling four Womxn of Color elected Representatives to ‘go home.’ A few years ago I was walking in Seattle with two Native American elder friends. A passerby yelled ‘go back to where you’re from’ to them. My friend’s chuckled and muttered, “we are home, you’re the visitor.” The incident stuck with me because it was a stranger causing harm and sending a message that their presence and potential voice are unwelcomed.

What to do

Individual actions can begin to undo these legacies and practices of silencing. We can all take steps to bring voice and to create space for BIPOCs to be authentically heard. Here are a few:

  • Pay attention to who is speaking and not speaking in meetings – Are BIPOCs speaking up, if not why? Is there space for diverse voices, not just the same BIPOCs who speak multiple times.
  • When you facilitate meetings create an environment that allows BIPOCs to be heard. Call on BIPOCs first, force people to pause before opening the floor to questions, design your meetings and facilitation practices to center BIPOCs.
  • Question who is and isn’t involved and ask why they aren’t involved. If you’re not satisfied with the answer reach out to BIPOCs and ask them. Sometimes it is they aren’t involved because the space is sending a quiet message it isn’t welcoming.
  • Learn about wedge issues – Wedge issues are issues and topics that play BIPOCs against each other. People use these to prove BIPOCs aren’t in alignment with each other and therefore the topic isn’t relevant or people can’t act on it. As BIPOCs we’re diverse and we deserve the right to have diverse opinions. Don’t silence us by playing us off each other or causing lateral harm, especially with wedge issues.
  • White People: Don’t speak for BIPOCs, we can speak for ourselves. There are times you can be an ally by speaking up and other times being an ally means stepping back – there isn’t one magical formula, each situation is different and you’ll have to figure out in the moment what is the right thing to do.
  • Speak Up: Use your voice to condemn the attacks by Trump on four duly elected Womxn of Color Representatives. Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts were told by the President to ‘go home.’ This was a way to discredit their contributions and silence their power and achievements. Write to your elected official and say you stand with these four Americans and will not tolerate racism.

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Adrienne, Aimie,Ali, Aline, Alissa, Amy, Amy R., Andrea, Angie, Anh-Chi, Annie, Annie G.,  Ashlie, Ben, Brooke, Brian, C+C, Calandra, Carolyn C., Carolyn M., Carrie, Carrie S., Casey, Chandra, Chelsea, Chicxs Happy Brownies, Claudia, Cierra, Clark, Colleen, Crystal, Dan, Danya, Darcie, Dean, Debbie, Denise, Denyse, Donald, Edith, Elena, emily, Erica (2), Erica R.B., Erin, Evan, eve, Freedom, Greg, Hannah, Heather, Heidi, Heidi and Laura, Heidi S., Jake, Janis, Jean, Jennet, Jennifer M., Jennifer T., Jessica, Jessica G., Jessie, Jillian, Jody, John, Julia, Julie Anne, K.T., Kari, Karen, Katheryn, Kathi, Katie, Keisha, Kelli, Kristen, Kristen C., Kristen D., Kumar, Laura, Laurel, Laurie, Lisa, Lisa C., Liz, Lori, Lynn, Makeba, Marc, Maria, Matthew, Maura, McKenzie, Megan, Melissa, Michael, Michelle, Mikaela, Mike, Milo, Minesh, Miranda, Miriam, Misha, Molly, Nathan, Nathan H., Nicole, Norah, Norrie, Paola, Patrick, Priya, Rebecca, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, SEJE Consulting, Selina, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie S., Susan, Tana, Tara, Terri, and Vivian. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support. Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

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Final Exam with Reasonable Accommodations for Non-Disabled Test-Takers

Editor’s Note: We welcome back regular guest-blogger Carrie Basas. This time she is giving you a quiz. No blog post next week, we’ll be back the following week.

By Carrie Basas

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Artwork of Lydia XZ Brown, an Asian American autistic disability rights activist, writer, and public speaker who was honored by the White House in 2013. Artwork from Amplifer Art

It’s that time of the year where I start to have the dream, the one where I can’t remember the code to my locker and I’ve forgotten to turn in an assignment. When you’re an adult, you wake up and acknowledge that your dream is a sign of stress, but what if you did miss something?  Wait, it turns out that you missed your final exam on disability etiquette! Don’t worry because that earlier one-pager on disabilities was all you ever needed. Besides, the exam is multiple choice and because I went to a fancy law school, I grade everyone on a curve. You still need to take it, however, to move onto 36th grade or beyond.

Exam Instructions:

The exam consists of two parts– multiple-choice and true/false questions. Please complete the questions by selecting the best answer. Each question is worth ten points. The extra credit question is worth five points. You can score yourself with the answers provided under each question.

Remember you are attending the most inclusive school ever, so you can make a mark in whatever you’d like, have extended time, talk to a friend, or rewrite the exam to meet your strengths. We love you at our school and we recognize that forced choice exams are culturally biased and limiting. However, we are still trying to get our licensure and are therefore bound to replicate an education system which has served no one well except legacy admissions and other white elites with money to buy their way into colleges. (Did we really just write that? Yes, we did).

Multiple Choice

1) When I see a person with a disability, I am reminded that:

    1. My life could always be worse.
    2. My Fitbit is my friend and I work hard on preventing that from happening to me.
    3. Somehow, they seem happy.
    4. No one ever explained who has a disability and who doesn’t. Who decided that?

Answer 4: Disability is a social construct. Yes, people live with impairments but the assignment of status and value to some individuals as “normal” and those who are not is a form of ableism and oppression, deeply intertwined with racism. If you selected (a), please know that you just made my life worse today.

2) A Black woman stands up from her wheelchair and walks up to you. She is probably:

  1. Healed.
  2. Faking it.
  3. Stealing a wheelchair from a friend— sweet ride.
  4. An ambulatory wheelchair user.
  5. Both C and D are possibilities.

Answer 5: Some people who use wheelchairs also walk. Cultural narratives about disability center on the good disabled people and the bad ones– the fakers and the “truly” disabled. Did you notice how I made this question about a Black woman? Would your answer change based on race? Note: I’ll take “c” as a potential answer if the chair sprays glitter as it moves and you don’t associate “Black” with “stealing.”

3) A person describes himself as autistic. You:

  1. Ask him if he is familiar with that wonderful organization Autism Speaks. They are working on a cure.
  2. Tell him that he isn’t autistic— he is a person with autism. Autistic is a derogatory term. People-first language, my friend.
  3. Tell him he is high functioning and it’s not that noticeable to you and your friends.
  4. Ask him if he has watched Rain Man or enjoys Legos.
  5. Decide it’s time to read more about neurodiversity and the pathologization of autism.

Answer 5: It’s time to go beyond this clinical idea of disorders and realize how stigmatized neurodiversity is. And please never tell someone that they are high functioning. It is an insidious, destructive form of sorting and hierarchy-making.

4) For this question, you are asked to find the closest analogy to disability is to overcoming as:

  1. Gay: fashionable 
  2. Bad burrito: food poisoning
  3. Seattle: more dogs than kids
  4. REI: Polartec

Answer 1: Overcoming disability is a harmful stereotype as is expecting all of your gay friends to be fashionable runway models. Embrace people’s desires to wear Crocs or reject that Cochlear implant. The remaining answers we know to be true. Sorry if you’re stigmatized with your Polartec– especially if you’re gay; I applaud your practical choice. Still confused? Think about how insulting it would be if someone said “overcome your BIPOC or other marginalized status;” stop telling people they only matter if they meet some abled, white construct of what is normal.

4) Blind people are good:

  1. Crime solvers
  2. Perfume sniffers
  3. Lovers
  4. Massage therapists
  5. At the actual or metaphorical eyeroll induced from the answers presented above.

Answer 3: If you answered “c,” then I’m glad it was good for you, but let’s not generalize to everyone. Keep taking that data, though. “E” is the best answer, which I hope will be blessed by my Blind friends. And I know many Blind people who meet all of the answers above, especially “d” because we know non-disabled people would rather be naked in front of a person who can’t see them well.

5) Your coworker shares that they have bipolar disorder. You tell another coworker because:

  1. It explains why they were so snippety when you took their lunch last week.
  2. They might not be reliable as an employee.
  3. You fear for your safety,
  4. You’re a jerk.

Answer 4: I don’t know if you’re really a jerk but telling someone’s story and reading into their behavior is a form of sanism. Psychological disabilities are highly stigmatized, even within many parts of the disability community. Disclosure is difficult and can come with serious professional and social fall-out. You took their lunch and now their dignity? I hope you have to eat Lunchables that sat in your trunk for a week. And no, people with bipolar do not take other people’s lunches, just in case you were creating a symptom checklist at your desk.

True/False: For this section, you can only select one answer.  

6) T/F: Two Deaf people roll into a bar and converse in sign language. They must be related or married.

False: Disabled and Deaf people are not always in love or family, but somehow this reaction happens a lot. One example: I’ve been asked by a store employee to join a disabled friend in the dressing room, which was an awkward suggestion given that he did not request it and neither of us desired it.

7) T/F: Your friend with ADHD is glazing over hearing you recount in detail your last viewing of 90-Day Fiancé. This reaction is normal because people with ADHD cannot focus.

False: Having ADHD is not a complete absence of focus. Many of us can focus very well and get into a flow zone, but our flow might not be your TV talk. Some of your other coworkers would check out, too, but I’m here for you because I love watching people on TV be more awkward than me.

8) T/F: You’ve read an article which supports the benefits of meditation and raw vegan diets for boosting a person’s immune system. You should forward it immediately to your HIV+ friend because wellness is a choice. 

False: The wellness movement is a prime example of neoliberalism. Neo-what? The basics are that when we tell people that if they tried harder, they could be like everyone else– normal, healthy, white, men, English-speaking, straight, rich– then we reinforce all of that discrimination and bias.  Haven’t we all had enough of the Puritans and their try-harder punch? Respect folks’ decision-making and never assume that health is just a choice.

9) T/F: Hugging people with Down Syndrome is a natural reaction to how cute and smiley they are.

False: I feel for people with Down Syndrome because they probably get more groping from strangers than most people in my community. Repeat after me: They are people. When they are adults, they are not children. When they are children, they are not yours to touch, either. People don’t exist to make others feel better about themselves. 

Also, think about consent in touching for everyone, don’t touch others without their consent ever, unless it’s an emergency health or safety situation.

10) T/F: Someone claims your perfume gives them migraines. They are being passive-aggressive and telling you that you stink.

False: Yes, you could be smelly. Let me take it in– a little Axe body spray and one of those car fresheners? Ah, it’s the scent of sweet chemical bliss. Try telling someone with chemical sensitivities, environmental disabilities, and neurological disabilities that their reactions are not real. Symptoms can be triggered by fragrances you might never notice, such as detergent, household cleaning products, or shampoo. Consider adding a request to be scent-free in your meeting invitations. When others ask you to kindly lay off the patchouli or scented markers, realize it’s not like a cilantro allergy, which we all know to be made up by others who hate soapy herbs. Ok, cilantro allergies are not a fabrication, either. More cilantro for me!

Extra Credit:

You last saw a person with a disability as:

  1. Your doctor
  2. Your teacher
  3. The person next to you at the Pride parade
  4. Your coworker
  5. A meme

What’s your answer and what would you like it to be?

Over twenty-percent of people have disabilities yet we often don’t see people with disabilities around us, largely due to lack of community inclusion and engrained shame about disclosing invisible disabilities, especially at work. Imagine a world in which disabled students were taught by someone who looked like them, your doctor introduced you to disability pride as your health declined, and the hot woman next to you at the Pride Parade understood that you don’t steal lunches. I want that world.


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We All Participate in White Supremacy

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Image of a yarn ball and knitting needles by Clker-Free-Vector-Images from Pixabay

Last Sunday I was scrolling through Twitter and saw #Ravelry was trending. I thought it was odd since rarely does a crafting website trend on Twitter. The hashtag was trending because the social media, mainly knitting and crocheting website, took the step of saying they would no longer tolerate any Pro-Trump support.

In their words:

We are banning support of Donald Trump and his administration on Ravelry. We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is unambiguously support for white supremacy.”

It went on to say conservatives and Trump supporters are allowed to stay as long as they didn’t voice support on the website. This was a bold move from the social media platform and right away some people were upset. Many of the comments against the ban were along the lines of:

  • I’m a white conservative, how dare you say I’m a white supremacist
  • Ravelry is claiming to be inclusive, but bans people how is this inclusive. Quote from social media: “The ridiculousness of their “inclusivity” statement while simultaneously judging and labeling an opinion by way of exclusion and banning is downright laughable.”
  • Supporting Pres. Trump does not make me a white supremacist

The comments go on and on. Many expressed support and vowed to stay with Ravelry. Other knitting and yarn stores are also expressing support, and others are being vocal about deleting their accounts and some are saying the website will collapse because of this decision. Many of the statements in opposition expressed outrage that they felt denied something they expected to always have — white (or other) privilege and norm-beliefs that they are the norm.

What many who decried the ban are missing is by living in western society we are all guilty on some level of participating in white supremacy actions. Just saying “I’m white, but I’m not a white supremacist” doesn’t absolve one from participating in white supremacy. Every day that I participate in society on some level I’m participating in a community that doesn’t support everyone equally.  Even as a POC I continue to uphold the privileges I have, which upholds white supremacy, there is no way around this if I want to be a functioning member in the American society.

When I wake up in the house I live in, I’m participating in a racist society that granted me the privilege of living in this neighborhood. White supremacy practices once red-lined the city and housing patterns show that. White supremacy also said I’m worthy of a home loan, we proved our worthiness by documenting our incomes through jobs granted to us because we met certain educational and societal norms set by white people. I’m acceptable and worthy of a chance not afforded to many others in society, especially Black and Brown people. When I walk into a store and purchase good, I’m participating in white supremacy because I expect to be treated a certain way in the store and I have the money and credit cards to prove it.

At work, I’m gatekeeping for the white supremacy. I understand the white supremacy games and mindsets – privilege begets privilege, access allows for more access if you play the game, codeswitch, speak up but not too much as to get uninvited from the room, and so on. My livelihood and the life I built depends on me participating in the white supremacy.

I’m guessing many of you may have similar daily ways of living that force you to participate in white supremacy or to benefit from white supremacy. Our society is built on the notions of whiteness and we uphold it as a norm by simply living how we do. We must learn to acknowledge this so we can undo it.

I don’t buy the argument from people, especially white people, that they are not white supremacist. White supremacist are not all card-carrying, finger signaling, KKK, white nationalist. Our everyday actions can and often uphold white supremacy. The fact that I’m writing this blog post in English and posting it to the internet is upholding white privilege standards. Our actions have consequences and we all can choose how we use our individual privileges to undo the racism inherent in the structures of our society – this includes for white people, you don’t get to just say “I’m not a white supremacist” and be innocent and free.

As an exercise, think about the following:

  • When was the last time you believed without questioning a white person? Can you say the same for the Black and Brown people in your life?
  • When was the last time you questioned binaries and norms that uphold white privilege: BIPOC vs White, immigrant rights vs. citizenship, gender norms, etc.
  • When was the last time you received a paycheck, think was your work equal to others and are you fairly compensated? White supremacy built our pay structures that allow for racial and gender inequality. This is why transparency is needed in our pay structures starting with putting salary ranges on job postings (read more at Nonprofit AF).
  • When was the last time you were comfortable in a setting where English (or whatever the dominant language is) wasn’t the norm?

All of these and many other actions we participate in every day are dictated by white supremacy standards. Step one is acknowledging it and, step two is talking to other white and some BIPOCs who don’t get it and point out how their privilege is showing. We can reshape our society to embrace different standards, but it takes intentional effort.


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Process Equity Wins

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Artwork by Jillian Adel from Amplifier Art

Earlier this week I had my annual lunch with my friend Moz. Moz and I get together about once a year to catch up and learn about what each other has going on. Our work is similar but different enough that we don’t interact often. Over lunch, he told me about the projects he’s working on and then he asked what I was up to. As we ate our Thai curries, I mentioned how I know we won’t win the whole fight for the advocacy effort we’re leading, but we’ve had some process wins. Moz stopped me and said, “Wait, you need to take credit for that.” I wasn’t sure what he was talking about so he repeated it back to me: “You need to take credit for your process wins. I don’t think anyone else is using that term.” That conversation led me to think we need to slow down and celebrate these process wins as equitable wins. Another friend, Diana, pointed out I’m not good about shouting out our wins which we need to do to build momentum and for movement building.

Equitable Process Wins

The short version of capturing process wins is recognizing when a process has changed to be more equitable. A process win is looking at how crappy a former process was and shifting power and resources to be more equitable. It also recognizes the process is sometimes just as important as the outcomes in working towards undoing racism.

In my day job, I advocate a lot. While the outcomes of the advocacy are important, I also strive to get the processes right. This means making sure the processes are centered on meeting the needs and desires of those most impacted by disparities, by pushing beyond just access and inclusion towards practices that disrupt usual power dynamics, pushing for fairness and equitable outcomes. Most of the time we barely scratch the surface of these things when we advocate, but we still push for it in our advocacy.

As an example, a few years ago I was doing some advocacy to raise the issue that Asian students are not the same as whites and shouldn’t categorically be lumped together or excluded because some Asian students are doing well. We were able to get a meeting with the gatekeepers and policy analyst working on the report to make the case that they should be using disaggregated Asian data. In the meeting, the policy analyst shared disaggregated data but we couldn’t convince them to retroactively change their decisions. I walked away pissy and annoyed, but my very calm and sage colleague said, “The win is we got them to acknowledge they have disaggregated data and to look at it.” My colleague was right, we got the organization to change their process and future processes. We didn’t hit the home run of having the organization reevaluate how they center communities, but the small process win means data usage now looks different. The organization is now much better about recognizing the diversity of Asians in data.

Recognizing process wins is important because these are the smaller acts that lead to longer and sustainable change. When we slow down and recognize how processes are altered we can begin to identify smaller actions that go into building more equitable movements.

In another example, a colleague shared how her organization was involved in an anti-gentrification effort. The new development would displace many immigrant businesses. At first the developer went through the city’s mandated processes and token community engagement and considered that to be enough. My colleague and others organized the community and with a nonprofit’s help they were able to form a coalition that pushed for a community benefits agreement (CBA) to be put in place and recognized. While the coalition didn’t get everything they wanted into the CBA their wins were in changing the process of engagement and having the CBA in place for future developments. Essentially, they changed the rules of engagement.

Bending the Rules toward Justice

When we change processes we seek more justice. It is time to claim those process wins and build from them. When we do this perhaps we are meeting Martin Luther King’s words: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Bending towards justice is a long process, but the more we recognize the good we’re doing the more we can shift the arc of the universe towards justice.



Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Adrienne, Aimie,Ali, Aline, Alissa, Amy, Amy R., Andrea, Angie, Anh-Chi, Annie, Annie G.,  Ashlie, Ben, Brooke, Brian, C+C, Calandra, Carolyn C., Carolyn M., Carrie, Carrie S., Casey, Chandra, Chelsea, Chicxs Happy Brownies, Claudia, Cierra, Clark, Colleen, Crystal, Danya, Dean, Denise, Denyse, Donald, Edith, Elena, emily, Erica (2), Erica R.B., Erin, Evan, eve, Freedom, Greg, Hannah, Heather, Heidi, Heidi and Laura, Heidi S., Jake, Janis, Jean, Jennet, Jennifer M., Jennifer T., Jessica, Jillian, Jody, John, Julia, Julie Anne, K.T., Kari, Karen, Katheryn, Kathi, Katie, Keisha, Kelli, Kristen, Kristen C., Kumar, Laurel, Laurie, Lisa, Lisa C., Liz, Lori, Lynn, Makeba, Marc, Maria, Maura, McKenzie, Megan, Melissa, Michael, Michelle, Mikaela, Mike, Milo, Minesh, Miranda, Miriam, Misha, Molly, Nathan, Nicole, Norah, Norrie, Paola, Patrick, Priya, Rebecca, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, SEJE Consulting, Selina, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie S., Susan, Tana, Tara, Terri, and Vivian. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support. Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

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Graduation 2019 — Congratulations to all the new graduates!

Editor’s Note: Please take a moment to write this opinion piece co-authored by several friends and me on Supporting Fair Opportunity, Decline to Sign Ref. 88 in WA. Thank you to the South Seattle Emerald for sharing the op-ed.


Earlier this week I had the rare honor of serving as the commencement speaker at the University of Washington’s College of Education 140th Graduation ceremony. It was a humbling experience to speak about working for educational justice.

I’m sharing the speech for a few reasons – several people have asked to read it so this is for them, and since I spent time writing this one I will save some brain energy for next week’s post. This is a slightly edited version with an extra passage I cut due to time but now added back in.

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UW College of Education Commencement — Look at all of those wonderful graduates working for educational justice.

Thank you, Dean Mia Tuan, faculty, staff, graduates, families and friends for allowing me to join you today. It is an honor to be with you as you celebrate this milestone.

To prepare for today I did a little research. I asked my network what they remembered from their commencement speakers. Overall, people don’t remember what their graduation speakers said. This doesn’t bode well for me today.

My six-year-old said she remembered wearing a yellow square hat and singing Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop this Feeling” at her preschool graduation. Since you most likely won’t remember my words, I hope you remember what you’re FEELING.

I hope you feel proud of your accomplishments. What you did took effort. Your professors and classmates stretched your thinking around race, education, and educational justice. Feel proud of this new bolder thinking. I hope you realize how vast the world is and how little we actually know. My friend, Jondou Chen, calls this “knowing what we don’t know, we don’t know.” I find this incredibly humbling, and hopefully, this makes me a better person.

And I hope you are a little scared. Being a little scared is a good thing when it comes to social change. It reminds us we are spiritual beings in a human experience. It reminds us to find connections and to support each other, especially with people from different backgrounds. At the heart of racial justice work are relationships and connecting with people. Let me say this again, at the heart of racial justice work are relationships.

Relationships drive our work and we need to extend ourselves and our relationships to see people who are different than us.

There is a Masai greeting, where people ask, “And how are the children?” The hoped for reply is “All the children are well.” Not some, not just their friends or relatives, but all of the children. Imagine what our schools could look and feel like if we took care of all of our children, especially our Black and Brown children, immigrants and refugees, our LGBTQ students, disabled, and those who feel othered and outside the educational system. We can do this, and we must do this if we are to work for racial justice.

To the parents, family members, and friends in the audience – today is about you too. I hope you feel proud and maybe a little bit of relief. You got your graduate here and they are about to embark on new adventures. Thank you.

About a week ago I emailed my mom to tell her I would be giving this speech and she gave me a high Asian compliment, “Wow, that is a lot of people. They’re going to listen to you?” I didn’t tell her that my research said no one will remember what I’m saying today.

I grew up in Hawaii as part of the Asian majority. I had teachers who looked like me, I grew up with the first Asian governor in the nation, I could go to 7-11 for my Spam musubi fix. I didn’t have to explain my Asian-ness—I got to be me. This gave me a solid foundation to grow from. I grew up knowing who I am in a community context and this is what I hope we can create for students of color today.

To the family and friends thank you for your sacrifices, your support, and for some of you literally feeding your graduates.

Your work isn’t done. They will need you in the coming months and coming years. Working for educational justice isn’t a path one takes alone. They will need Squad Care. Squad Care comes from African American writer Melissa Harris Perry. She talks about squad care as: “a way of understanding our needs as humans that acknowledges how we lean on one another, that we are not alone in the world, but rather enmeshed in webs of mutual and symbiotic relationships,” this is especially important as the graduates move into their new lives as educators.

They will be changing the world and challenging the status quo. Your beloved will need you as part of their Squad Care. They will need you to listen to them when they come home frustrated and unsure of their next steps.

They will need you to remind them to breathe and the problems we face in our educational system today require a sense of urgency, AND it took hundreds of years to create these problems. The problems won’t be undone overnight, but their contributions to undoing racism will have an impact.

They may need you to continue feeding their stomachs and their souls – bring them a bowl of Pho, make them laugh by reminding them how funny they look in their graduation robe and frumpy hats, or simply ask “hey how’s it going?” Be part of their Squad Care.

My friend and Native American elder, Judge Julian Pinkham, from the Yakama Nation, told me that to work for educational justice we need to be willing to reach back to ask for help and to let the elders guide us. A student who learns will seek more learning and connections. We can do this work together, and we must for ALL of our children, especially those farthest from justice.

Graduates, before you spread across the city, the nation, and the globe take a moment to thank each other for being on this journey with you. Before you leave today – not now, take out those phones and grab a selfie with the friends you made. Make plans to stay connected even if only annually, be part of each-others Squad Care. You’ll need each other on the journey ahead.

When you see each other ask “And how are the children?” and be hopeful when you hear “All the children are well.” Feel proud, feel purposeful, and most importantly FEEL. Thank you.


A few special thank yous and acknowledgments, because writing is a community activity and I borrowed ideas from many people who deserve credit:

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The only time I’ll be on jumbotron wearing a professorial hat. Thank you, Aditi for the pic of my overly lifesized head.

Thank you to Mia Tuan, Dean of the UW College of Education – I can’t say no to you because you model what it means to work for change from within and to live with spirit and radiance. Thank you to the UW College of Education team for a seamless event and professionalism – you made this so enjoyable. Thank you to my network for sharing stories about their memories of graduations – those stories shaped what I shared, including the Equity Matters team for introducing Squad Care and practicing it, Jondou Chen, Ph.D., for sharing what he knows I don’t know, Paola Maranan for originally sharing the Masai greeting and taking care of “All of the Children,” Judge Julian Pinkham and Kristin Trout for their wisdom and answering text messages. Thanks to my partner and kids who missed me so much they text me during the middle of graduation asking if I caught any Pokemon for them (no I didn’t). And Oba and Jiji – they laughed at the jokes and clapped at the appropriate times.


Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Adrienne, Aimie,Ali, Aline, Alissa, Amy, Amy R., Andrea, Angie, Anh-Chi, Annie, Annie G.,  Ashlie, Ben, Brooke, Brian, C+C, Calandra, Carolyn C., Carolyn M., Carrie, Carrie S., Casey, Chandra, Chelsea, Chicxs Happy Brownies, Claudia, Cierra, Clark, Colleen, Crystal, Danya, Dean, Denise, Denyse, Donald, Edith, Elena, emily, Erica (2), Erica R.B., Erin, Evan, eve, Freedom, Greg, Hannah, Heather, Heidi, Heidi and Laura, Heidi S., Jake, Janis, Jean, Jennet, Jennifer M., Jennifer T., Jessica, Jillian, Jody, John, Julia, Julie Anne, K.T., Kari, Karen, Katheryn, Kathi, Katie, Keisha, Kelli, Kristen, Kristen C., Kumar, Laurel, Laurie, Lisa, Lisa C., Liz, Lori, Lynn, Makeba, Marc, Maura, McKenzie, Megan, Melissa, Michael, Michelle, Mikaela, Mike, Milo, Minesh, Miranda, Miriam, Misha, Molly, Nathan, Nicole, Norah, Norrie, Paola, Patrick, Priya, Rebecca, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, SEJE Consulting, Selina, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie S., Susan, Tana, Tara, Terri, and Vivian. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support. Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

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The Tyranny of Disability Etiquette One-Pagers

Editor’s Note: We welcome back our white-ally writer Carrie Basas. This week Carrie shares more about disabilities and how to think more critically about disabilities justice. She also uses an orca gif for fun so keep on reading.

By Carrie Basas

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Art by Sarah Epperson from Amplifier

According to my recent internet search, one-pagers contain about 500 words. To meet the growing needs of gleeful consumers of one-pagers, I will also limit this post to 500 words. Consider it your anti-one-pager one-pager.

In facilitating conversations about disability, I am often asked for that quick fix focused on etiquette. The request goes something like this: “I don’t want to mess it up. Just tell me what to say or do.” In that moment, I want to encourage the person to do better and not push them away with my rants about living with the discomfort and embracing failing as learning. Yet, I also don’t want them to exit the conversation thinking that my life experience or anyone else’s could be reduced to a handy checklist to be followed by a Disability Woke badge in the mail: You will never have your ableism questioned again. Join yearly for just $19.99. We won’t be donating that money to a telethon, by the way.

But here is what I will give you as you try to talk to your kids, coworkers, or anyone about disability:

  1. Run away from any post or list that claims it has the right language, the not-screw-it-up shield– especially if that source comes from a non-disabled person.
  2. Run towards a person with a disability, not too scarily, and learn from them. Don’t ask intrusive questions. Don’t spill your story about a recent skiing accident and how everyone was nice to you when you had those crutches. It’s not the same. Befriend people you like who also have disabilities. We are cool and often have some sweet parking options.
  3. Learn about the differences between people-first and identity-first language. For those of us who identify as disabled by society, we cringe at euphemisms– so whatever you do, no “special needs” or “differently abled.” Dancing around disability discrimination is your own special need.
  4. Remember that we don’t exist to hand out badges. In fact, if you run into my lovable cranky crips (reclaiming the word “cripple”), we might tell you to move your car away from the crosswalk, observe the four-feet social interaction space rule (and adjust for cultural and individual needs), and not require eye contact. By the way, we often exist to be beautiful, sexy beasts. World rocked; now, recover.
  5. Question why most disability organizations are run by non-disabled people. Why is that appropriate or desirable? Is that a reflection of internalized ableism or assumptions about the (in)competence of disabled people? I want to see racial justice organizations run by BIPOCs, so it angers me when our disability community organizations are not led by disabled people, particularly disabled BIPOC.
  6. Ask yourself why some issues, such as disability, might be getting less time than,
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    Orca nodding gif

    say, discussions about orcas, among justice-minded people. Love an orca, for sure, but also send that love our way.

  7. Surprise: I was not born with an innate ability to understand disability and work towards disability justice. I was born with disabilities and from that experience, I keep doing the work to understand the experiences of others and recognize that disability isn’t a monolithic community. I fail. You will, too. Good– you make me proud for trying.
  8. Accessibility isn’t the end goal. Belonging is. Ramp that and caption that, but look around and ask who we count as experts and why we are okay with missing voices.

571 words. Sometimes, I don’t comply with the rules and neither should you.


Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going: Adrienne, Aimie, Ali, Aline, Alissa, Amy, Amy R., Andrea, Angie, Anh-Chi, Annie, Annie G.,  Ashlie, Ben, Brooke, Brian, C+C, Calandra, Carolyn C., Carolyn M., Carrie, Carrie S., Casey, Chandra, Chelsea, Chicxs Happy Brownies, Claudia, Cierra, Clark, Colleen, Crystal, Danya, Dean, Denise, Denyse, Donald, Edith, Elena, emily, Erica (2), Erica R.B., Erin, Evan, eve, Freedom, Greg, Hannah, Heather, Heidi, Heidi and Laura, Heidi S., Jake, Janis, Jean, Jennet, Jennifer M., Jennifer T., Jessica, Jillian, Jody, John, Julia, Julie Anne, K.T., Kari, Karen, Katheryn, Kathi, Katie, Keisha, Kelli, Kristen, Kristen C., Kumar, Laurel, Laurie, Lisa, Lisa C., Liz, Lori, Lynn, Makeba, Marc, Maura, McKenzie, Megan, Melissa, Michael, Michelle, Mikaela, Mike, Milo, Minesh, Miranda, Miriam, Misha, Molly, Nathan, Nicole, Norah, Norrie, Paola, Patrick, Priya, Rebecca, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, Selina, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie S., Susan, Tana, Tara, Terri, and Vivian. If I missed anyone my apologies and thank you for your support. Support the blog by becoming a Patreon supporter.

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. Please subscribe, the sign-up box on the right sidebar (desktop version).

25 Things I Know About White People

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Editor’s Note: Happy (early) Eid to our Muslim relations. Eid is on Tuesday. 

This blog post started from a stalled attempt to write about bravery, the words weren’t jelling. The points below are generalizations. I know and you know not all white people fall into each of these 25 categories. I share this to point out how whiteness shows up in different places and in different ways. I also share it so maybe those who are ready can ask themselves if these points apply to them and what are they doing to uphold or undo white-harm. Some of the points below also apply to BIPOCs, especially those with different forms of privilege and we also need to be aware of our roles and actions.

25 Things I Know About White People:

  1. White people like to be praised for being brave. But really the bravery they feel is just everyday actions of BIPOCs – like sending their kid to a diverse school, talking about racism, talking about how to behave around law enforcement.
  2. White people have a hard time being called white. “But I’m an individual,” see me as me – yet it is ok to group BIPOCs together and to hold stereotypes about them.
  3. White people can be fragile. Anything to do with race or pointing out how white superiority works and you can clock how fast they change the conversation.
  4. White people can be lazy and not want to think about race, “Can’t we all get along?”
  5. Along with the laziness they want to be spoon-fed information about race versus having to sit with the uncomfortable parts and process their role in upholding racism.
  6. White people have been raised to have a picture in their head about what it means to be white.
  7. White people like to learn about race from other white people – code Robin DiAngelo. I appreciate DiAngelo’s work, but only learning about race from white people is just a different form of whiteness showing up.
  8. White people don’t like to admit they have white privilege or often act in white superiority ways.
  9. White people are gatekeepers for the patriarchy and power.
  10. White money often stays in white communities. Ahhem, foundations who give to mostly white led orgs or conservative causes.
  11. White people are quick to point out when they have been slighted “reverse racism,” turning Black Lives Matter into All Lives Matter, or crying how causes aren’t practicing “intersectionality.” Intersectionality has nothing to do with you, do some homework.
  12. White people expect praise and gratitude for welcoming BIPOCs to their table, or reverse they feel slighted and demand to attend BIPOC and “equity” events for woke points.
  13. They demand or seek recognition for charitable gifts when it is really restitution and redistribution of wealth.
  14. White people heap praise and adoration when “minorities” accomplish anything, hello Lifetime and Hallmark Channel movies. Also, white people like to see themselves on TV and in movies, that can be the only explanation for why we don’t see diversity in the entertainment field. This includes disabilities, white people like to see able-bodied white people in their entertainment.
  15. White people get nervous and angry when BIPOCs do anything to disrupt their norms, including kneeling down to protest.
  16. White people like power and privilege and hoarding it.
  17. White people believe in the American dream as defined by white people. White people like to deny the dream to some (e.g. Build the Wall, Islamophobia, Japanese internment-concentration camps, Chinese exclusion act, etc.) or get praised for saving the “poor minorities.”
  18. White people like to control processes. They also like to hear themselves talk.
  19. White people wrote the history books and continue to write our narratives. Writing the history books and current day news and narratives allows white people to control and shape the narratives we collectively hold.
  20. White people like race. Let me unpack this one, they like it as a tool of holding down others and upholding their privilege. Race was created as a tool to separate and sort people, it was developed and continues to be used to control BIPOCs. “But race is the child of racism, not the father.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me.
  21. White people don’t own their part in creating messes, nor do they stick around to clean things up.
  22. They will show up for marches and rallies, but when asked how many BIPOCs they know the numbers are often very low. Or sometimes I hear the lines “My best friend is Black,” “I’m married to an Asian,” or “I live in a diverse neighborhood,” as ways of saying “I’m not like other white people.” Just don’t, I’m glad you are married, best friends, and live in diverse neighborhoods — but that doesn’t excuse how whiteness shows up.
  23. White people don’t hold other white people accountable for their grievances around race.
  24. White people like to own and take over stuff. Chipotle and Panda Express do not count as ethnic food.
  25. White people believe in the Great White Hope.

A special thank you to my co-writer, Angry Asian Chick-Trout.


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Data Disaggregation is not Heroic: The Necessity of Making it Common Practice

Editor’s Note: This week we welcome two guest bloggers Yeejsuab Lee and Bach Mai Dolly Nguyen, PhD. I’ve asked them to write about disaggregating data by race and ethnicity.

 A quick note: Race are the broader groups, such as Black/African American, Latinx, Asian, Native American/Indigenous/Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, White. Ethnicity are subgroups such as Lao, Japanese, Mexican, Mestizo, Samoan, Somali, etc. 

For those who don’t follow the world of Marvel, here is a quick reference – Thor is good, Thanos is bad. Thanos can make people disappear by snapping his fingers. If you want to understand more watch Marvel’s Infinity Wars, currently on Netflix (hurry and watch it since it will probably leave soon) – it is like Marvel prom since it combines a lot of Marvel characters into one movie.


By Yeejsuab Lee & Bach Mai Dolly Nguyen

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Groot from Marvel Universe. Image by mamizaza on Pixaby

Data disaggregation is like the Marvel Universe. Yes, you read that right, and yes, we can imagine how many looks of confusion there are on the other side of this screen. Allow us to elaborate.

For some, Marvel is not just a comic series, it is a cultural phenomenon. It is as real and relevant as if Iron Man was flying through the air, and Stan Lee showed up in the local coffee shop. For those of you who have no clue why we’re talking about metal humans and wondering who Stanley (it’s Stan…Lee…) is, the Marvel Universe is entirely irrelevant and fictitious. Data Disaggregation—breaking down broader categories into smaller sub-categories, such as race into ethnic sub-groups—is very much the same. For those who are familiar, the need for and practice of data disaggregation as an approach to data collection and reporting, wholly understand that it is critical to uncovering the realities of people, groups, communities, school systems, and the inequities they may face. For others, data disaggregation may as well be Thor’s latest adversary. In other words, there is a divide—those who know, already and deeply know. For those who don’t, it is far too distant. We must close that gap, but we can’t close gaps if we can’t see them. One way to see them is through disaggregated data.

And, because disaggregated data is most available for Asian Americans—we start there.

As an aggregate group, Asian Americans perform exceedingly well in academics. For instance, Asian Americans have the highest number of bachelor’s degree attainment of all minority groups (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2016). However, take that population and look at each ethnic sub-group, and what appears is a drastically different story. You will find that among Southeast Asians—14.7% of Hmong , 14.1% of Cambodian, 12.4% of Lao, and 5.8% of Vietnamese—age 25 years or older have far lower rates of degree attainment than East Asians (51.5% of Chinese, 74.1% of Taiwanese, and 52.7% of Koreans) (National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education [CARE], 2013). The latter of these groups reflect what is more commonly accepted about Asian American success. The same disparate pattern emerges when it comes to median household income (CARE, 2013), school discipline (Nguyen, Noguera, Adkins & Teranishi, 2019), wages (National Partnership for Women and Families, 2019), and a variety of other factors. The difference across ethnic sub-groups is overwhelming, and can only be detected when data disaggregation is used. So why isn’t data disaggregation a more common practice?

In part, because of the model minority stereotype. This decades-old racial stereotype asserts that Asian Americans are the same across the board; do not seek or require educational support or resources; and achieve unparalleled levels of academic and life success (Museus, 2014). The stereotype contributes to the invisibility of Asian Americans in education research, policy, and practice, and also in the public eye. In effect, it leaves the experiences of underrepresented Asian American sub-groups (i.e. Southeast Asians) unaccounted for and unacknowledged. Moreover, Asian Americans are then positioned as the model against which other minorities are unfairly measured. The notion of the model minority allows for the argument that the lower rates of educational attainment and success among racial minorities are due to personal and community explanations, rather than inequitable social systems. School systems, city and state organizations, and the federal government alike have been slow to overcome the model minority stereotype, which drives the resistance to disaggregating data.

But again, that only explains part of the problem. What is the other part? Lack of political will. Take Washington State, for example. Washington State can be considered a leader in disaggregating data, as it has collected disaggregated Asian American and Pacific Islander data since 2010 (CARE, 2015; Hune & Takeuchi, 2008), and are among the first to initiate a statewide effort to disaggregate further within other racial groups (Race & Ethnicity Student Data, 2017). Even so, it is difficult to find reports using these disaggregated categories, and most school districts, as well as state agencies, continue to use aggregate data that obscures the disparities that exist within classrooms, schools and across districts. Why is this a problem? In its simplest form, it is an issue because there is seemingly no issue, and we can’t fix a problem we can’t see. Adding more categories in data collection is only a first step. In order to actually close educational gaps—a goal many educational systems proclaim to prioritize—there must be a genuine commitment to uncovering where gaps exist. Data disaggregation is a necessary practice in that endeavor.

It doesn’t have to be exceedingly complicated. This is not like learning to undo Thanos’ snap (reverse the disappearance of half of the Marvel Universe). There are now models from which organizations can learn, examples to build on, and experts with whom to engage. Data disaggregation is certainly technical, but it is much more about developing a willingness to counter the model minority stereotype, and start collecting/using better data. It may seem like a vast unknown at first, but just as it is as one emerges in the Marvel universe, the complexities and the spectacle become the norm. Let us take the heroism out of data disaggregation and make it common practice.


Headshot_2018Bach Mai Dolly Nguyen is an assistant professor of education at Lewis & Clark College. Her research examines how categorization reveals, maintains, and mitigates inequality in education, with particular attention to racial and organizational classifications.

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Yeejsuab Lee is a graduate student in the MA in Student Affairs Administration at Lewis & Clark College.

 


References

Hune, S. and Takeuchi, D. (2008). Asian Americans in Washington State: Closing Their Hidden Achievement Gaps. A report submitted to The Washington State Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.

Museus, S.D. (2014). Asian American students in higher education. New York, NY: Routledge.

National Center for Education Statistics. (2016). Status and trends in the education of racial and ethnic groups 2016. Retrieved from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2016/2016007.pdf.

National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education. (2013). iCount: A data quality movement for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in higher education. New York, NY: Educational Testing Services.

National Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islander Research in Education. (2015). The hidden academic opportunity gaps among Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders: What disaggregated data reveals in Washington State. Los Angeles, CA: CARE.

National Partnership for Women and Families. (2019). Asian American and Pacific Islander women and the wage gap. Washington, DC: NPWF. Retrieved from http://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/workplace/fair-pay/asian-women-and-the-wage-gap.pdf.

Nguyen, B. Noguera, P., Adkins, N. & Teranishi, R. (2019). Ethnic discipline gap: Unseen dimensions of racial disproportionality in school discipline. American Educational Research Journal. [Available online first].

Race & Ethnicity Student Data Task Force. (2017). Race & ethnicity student data: Guidance for Washington’s public education system. Olympia, WA: Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Retrieved from http://www.k12.wa.us/Workgroups/RET/pubdocs/RESDTaskForce2017GuidanceWAPublicEducationSystem.pdf.


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