How we talk – shifting language

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Artwork from Amplifier Art by Nicolas Lampert

A while ago Jondou and I had a conversation about terminology. We were text-chatting about how social justice terminology changes and flexes, can call in or create hierarchies, and how being inclusive means being wordier, but that is ok. It is the social justice gymnastics we do.

Our conversation included thinking about the phrase BIPOC – Black Indigenous People of Color. It is a newer term, growing out of people of color. It is a way to make Blacks and Indigenous people more visible and to not lose the voice in the collective poc efforts.

As we chatted Jondou and I talked about how does phrasing build solidarities or does it create hierarchies. The term people of color was a way for the poc/non-white community to be seen together and to be equals and hopefully in more just relation with each other. The question we asked ourselves (over text) is does that really happen? Are we all equals when we say poc and alternatively does BIPOC create hierarchies and competition within our communities? I mentioned how several Black colleagues have shared they prefer the term BIPOC or Black and Brown people because they feel more visible with that terminology. I also said as an Asian with many privileges this is one shift I can make to be an ally.

Jondou mentioned how in his work he specifically calls out the queer community by saying Queer and LGBTIA+ folks “because there are people who want one designation and refuse the other” and it allows for people to seek and define their own justice.

While these sometimes create for wordier phrasing it is important to allow people to be seen how they want to be seen and defined. Creating space and seeking just relationships means we listen and take our lead from others.

Othering On Purpose

A few years ago, I was fortunate to attend the Othering and Belonging Conference run by the Hass Institute at UC Berkley, hosted by Prof. john a. powell (doesn’t capitalize his name). He is the grandfather or father of targeted universalism and researching othering and belonging. One of the keynotes I distinctly remember was by African American writer Melissa Harris Perry. She took many of the concepts we had spent the past few conference days learning and tossed them aside in a good way.

My lesson from her talk was there are times it is ok to be othered, if it is by our own design and choosing. I think of terminology and defining who we are as an exercise in purposeful and intentional othering, in different words self-determination. There are times we as communities of color can be in solidarity with each other and allow our language to be united. There are also spaces and times when we want to purposefully be seen differently and we need to understand this is what people need to be in more just relation with each other and it is ok to create this space and redefine the terms of engagement.

I also took away the lesson sometimes what is right for one person isn’t right for others. Belonging may not be what everyone wants – sometimes we want to stand aside to either create space for others, or to innovate and create. Innovation and creating new ways of seeing the world and each other. When we allow ourselves space to more fully see Black, Indigenous, and Brown people we are creating our own justices and opening ourselves to new ideas and thoughts that change us for the better.

My final lesson is social justice movements are always changing and shifting and language has to shift with it. We need to have the conversations and evolution to be current. Don’t get too attached to whatever terms you’re using, they will change again and most likely for the better. My other final half-lesson is if you’re ever unsure about what terms to use, first listen to pickup on how others are using language, and second if you’re still unsure it is ok to politely ask how what phrasing people prefer.


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Data Disaggregation, Let’s Taco About It

Editor’s Note: This week we host a piece by Carlos Sánchez Huizar who explores Hispanic/Latinx disaggregated data. He writes about two of my favorite topics — disaggregated data and tacos. As a quick reminder race is the broader group and ethnicities are the smaller groups under it. After you read this post, revisit this post about Asian disaggregated data


By Carlos Sánchez Huizar

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Photo by TJ Dragotta on Unsplash

According to the American Council on Education (ACE)’s Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education report (2016), “as the U.S. population increased, the nation became more racially and ethnically diverse” (para. x). So, what does it mean to have a nation that has grown in diversity? On the positive side, it means you get to decide whether you want tacos, Korean BBQ, or a gyro for lunch. Beyond food, how much do we really know about the diversity of our nation? Let’s take the Hispanic/Latinx[1] population as an example. According to the 2010 Census, the U.S. has a total population of just over 3 million, of which 16.3% are Hispanics/Latinxs. Besides being the second-largest racial-ethnic population after white, ACE concluded that Hispanics/Latinxs, “had the largest increase in their total share of the population, increasing from 11.1 percent in 1997 to 18.0 percent in 2017” (ACE, 2016, para. 1). In other words, over a span of 20 years, Hispanics/Latinxs have had a 6.9% population increase. Do you think tacos represent the entire 16.3% of this population? The answer is unequivocally, no. Empanadas, arepas, and pupusas are also representative of the Hispanic/Latinx community and just as good as the tacos from your favorite lonchera.[2]

The wide range of Hispanic/Latinx food is mirrored by the significant and growing population of different communities among Hispanics/Latinxs in the U.S. In fact, the 2010 Census has reported of the 16.3% Hispanics/Latinxs, 10% are Mexican, 1.5% are Puerto Rican, 0.6% are Cuban, 0.5% are Dominican, 0.5% are Salvadoran, 0.3% Guatemalan, 0.2% Honduran, and the list continues with Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Argentinians, Bolivians, Chileans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, Venezuelans, Spanish, and other Hispanics/Latinxs. These data point out the increasing diversity is not only happening across racial groups but also within them. Beyond capturing within-group diversity, how is this detailed data collection significant?

The U.S. Census has stated that race and ethnicity data collection is, “critical to policymakers who use the information to make funding decisions that affect educational opportunities, assess equal employment practices, and ensure equal access to health care for everyone” (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Data collection enables one to answer relevant questions and evaluate outcomes. For example, how are educational gaps affecting the Hispanic/Latinx community? As diversity increases, equity gaps for ethnic sub-groups become more difficult to follow. Data collection gives us the opportunity to identify these gaps in people, school systems, and districts. For instance, data disaggregation——the breaking down of large racial categories into smaller ethnic sub-groups——shows us although the majority of Hispanics/Latinxs living in the U.S. are Mexican, only 9.93% (ACS, 2011-2013) of Mexicans have obtained a bachelor’s degree compared to 50.9% of Venezuelans who represent 0.1% (ACS, 2011-2013) of Hispanics/Latinxs. In other words, data disaggregation is allowing us to better understand and track the complexity of racial heterogeneity——diversity within racial groups——as well as the educational disparities among ethnic sub-groups. Data disaggregation gives us the ability to distinguish which ethnic groups within the Hispanic/Latinx population need more attention and resources. Understanding the disparities between ethnic groups is critical to making decisions that are socially just.

As the use of data disaggregation becomes more common, engaging community leaders and constituents, as well as data experts—in better data collection (adding more categories to race-ethinic categories)—is fundamental to advancing equity in education. In other words, those who know have the responsibility to teach those who do not know. It is important for marginalized communities to be part of data dialogue, as they:

[H]ave the critical context expertise that can lead to meaningful insights and provide critical input into the design of social change effort…communities of color directly to unearth the root causes of inequalities and source potential solutions to authentically unpack the “why” behind disparities revealed by disaggregated data (Arias, 2015, p. x).

In order to develop initiatives for more equitable educational opportunities, work must be grounded in the use of data disaggregation and the participation of communities; community-based organizations, districts, state agencies, and data experts. Data disaggregation helps us understand the circumstances of our population. It offers the opportunity to revise our educational infrastructure, as well as inform policy makers on decisions grounded in equity. In brief, disaggregating data offers a more precise approach to identifying differences between ethnic sub-groups.

What are the next steps in the data disaggregation movement?

First, the discussion about data disaggregation must expand beyond those who hold knowledge (e.g. districts, data experts, policy makers, etc.). Not only is data disaggregation as a discussion necessary, there is a need to amplify the significance of data disaggregation as a common practice across communities, in schools, and within families. Next, inequities cannot be addressed if they remain unseen. Thus, we must re-evaluate the collection and use of data. What is the landscape of data? How can it be improved? Finally, we have to apply the findings that emerge from using disaggregated data to address actual gaps. It seems like a complex and tedious process, but it may not even be as complicated as topping off your taco with the right amount of cilantro, onions, limón, and salsa. It requires some commitment and attention to detail, but you will soon be able to garnish your own tacos and arrive at a solution with a bit of practice.


Carlos Sánchez HuizarCarlos Sánchez Huizar is a graduate student in the MA in Student Affairs Administration at Lewis & Clark Graduate School of Education and Counseling.

[1] Not all Latinx(a,o) identify as Hispanic and not all Hispanic identify as Latinx. Hispanic/Latinx as a term acknowledges ties, changes, adaptation, invention and reinvention of different ethinic generations within the group.

[2] Food-truck/taco-truck


References

American Council on Education (ACE). (2016). Educational Attainment of Adults Ages 25 and Older, by Race and Ethnicity: 2017 [Data file]. Retrieved from https://www.equityinhighered.org/indicators/u-s-population-trends-and-educational-attainment/educational-attainment-by-race-and-ethnicity/

U.S. Census Bureau (2010), Race and Hispanic or Latino Origin: 2010.

Sebastian Arias, J. (2015, April 14). “Working with Communities to Advance Racial Equity and Eliminate Disparities”. Livingcities.org. Retrieved from https://www.livingcities.org/blog/812-working-with-communities-to-advance-racial-equity-and-eliminate-disparities


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Farthest from Justice

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Art from Amplifier Art, artist statement: “We all deserve a decent life. Every day, We the People Michigan educates and empowers people across the state to demand the change they wish to see — by starting with effective community organizing. In 2017, Amplifier partnered with Chicano artist Ernesto Yerena to create imagery supporting We the People’s mission in uplifting and mobilizing the working class for a better future. Yerena’s artwork, which aims to provoke critical thinking, is based off portraits shot by Arlene Mojerado and encourages solidarity amongst all Michigan residents in the fight against oppression and injustice.”

Happy start of the school year or almost start of school. For those who are done with school and don’t have students in their lives, welcome back to the increased traffic and lack of parking near school buildings.

This week I decided to write about the term “farthest from justice.” I’ve used it in other blog posts and Seattle Public Schools includes the phrase “who are furthest from educational justice” in their newest strategic plan. As time goes on I’ve heard the phrase used by many others and it makes me hopeful we may achieve educational and other forms of justice. As the person who offered up the phrasing for inclusion in the strategic plan, I want to offer up what the phrasing means to me. I recognize over time phrasing morphs, meanings change, is watered down, or co-opted – it is the nature of language and allowing space for more progressive thinking. This is my attempt to clarify the phrase and to push others to think deeply about what farthest from justice really means.

Basic Definition of “Those Farthest From (Racial) Justice”

If you don’t have a lot of time (aka TL;DR) this is the basic definition of those farthest from justice: Defining who is the farthest from having their needs met in a particular situation and centering the work and solutions on ensuring justice for them. This means practicing racial equity by sharing power and control, and centering their wellbeing and comfort. (Read Heidi’s blog post on the topic .)

Another way to understand this is we need to use an intersectional focus. Intersectionality comes from law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw. She describes intersectionality as a way to look at how race, gender, class, disability, and other individual traits and characteristics overlap or ‘intersect’ and how we should take this into account when considering policies, practices, and life. Crenshaw came up with the term as it relates to the legal system, over time the term has moved outside of the legal realm.

When I originally wrote the term “those farthest from justice,” I wanted to convey we need to acknowledge our group and individual privileges, use intersectionality views, and to center those who are the most hurt by injustices. It was meant to capture a feeling and thought with fewer words. When I write those farthest from justice I hope it invites people to think about who is really the farthest from whatever form of justice we need to reach whether it is person-to-person justice, racial justice, educational justice, environmental justice, and so forth. Racial justice is the underlayer for all other forms of justice – we can’t achieve educational, environmental, criminal justice, etc. until we achieve racial justice.

Who is the Farthest From Justice?

I hope the phrase also invites people to pause and really think about who is the farthest from justice. In almost every situation Black and Brown people are furthest from justice, and if we look more closely we can find women, children, people with disabilities, people who are persecuted because of religion, immigrants, people who don’t speak the dominant language, etc. who are further from justice than the broader group. This is what I’m hoping the phrase those farthest from justice invites us to do, to dig deeper, realize our privileges, and to act in ways that drive towards equity.

I also hope it reminds us those farthest from justice can shift, change, and require vigilance to being open to change and shifting as needed. Those farthest from justice today might not be the same group in a few weeks or months as situations change and hopefully as interventions work and move people closer to justice.

How to Recognize People Farthest from Justice

Recognizing who needs to be prioritized takes practice. It also takes recognizing our own privileges, practicing humility, and developing analytical skills as it relates to race.

Privilege

In recognizing our own privileges we need to remember we are in privileged positions. The act of defining needs and priorities for others is a privileged political move. We are defining for others what many have fought for the right to define for themselves. To be seen is a gift or not, to be judged as worthy of need and attention also means someone is defining what others may want to have seen. Use your privilege carefully and with great humility.

Humility

Practice humility by seeking to learn and pledging to support communities who are farthest from justice. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a policymaker who was trying to convey a sense of humility. I wasn’t buying it, especially when she said, “I’m making sure I listen to people of color,” but kept talking and wouldn’t act with the new information she was learning. Humility isn’t just about listening it is about being humble in accepting what you don’t know. It is also about seeking out information and using that information and privilege to center those farthest from justice by sharing power and control.

Analytical Skills

Recognizing people farthest from justice takes deep analytical skills. Being able to read data, know what questions to ask, figure out what information you’re missing, and being able to recognize nuances within data and the stories data is telling you is important to understand how to recognize those farthest from justice.

 


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三酸圖 – Three Sours — My Own Retelling, Part II

Editor’s note: Last week we shared Part I of Jondou Chase Chen’s Vinegar Stories. Here is the second and final part. This is a longer than normal post, but I wanted to publish it as a long piece so you can read the final two stories together. Be sure to read part I and reflect on how all of the stories go together.


By Jondou Chase Chen

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Photo of a small wave of ocean water by Ahmed Saeed on Unsplash

Mythical

The easy way to describe in English the way I am talking about vinegar and water would be to call it “metaphor work.” This is only superficially true, though. Again, growing up, I heard countless cultural references to the natural world as instructive for how I was supposed to live my life. Through college and into my career, I gained a reputation as a person who explained things through story and example. One of my colleagues even gave me the name “Mister Metaphor.” When I asked why, they explained, “You always have a metaphor for everything. Even if I don’t agree with your metaphor, it always helps me to understand how you see whatever it is that we are talking about. Is that cultural or something?” I replied that I wasn’t sure, and promptly called my mom to ask. 

I still remember being surprised when my mom responded, “What’s a metaphor?” At that point she’d been in the U.S. for over thirty years attending graduate school, volunteering thousands of hours in her children’s schools, and writing and translating hundreds of articles in English and Chinese for school and church newsletters. I knew my mom knew what a metaphor was. Was she toying with me? Was this my grandfather asking me what I saw in the water? 

I responded with, “You know, it’s like when you …” and proceeded to offer a technical definition. Unsatisfied with my answer, my mom sighed and said that she would think about it.

She called back the next day and said, “Yeah, okay, we use a lot of metaphors.” 

Her tone signaled something was off, though, and I asked her what she was thinking.

She responded, “In English, you use a metaphor or a simile to describe something, right?” 

“Yeah.” 

“So it’s a description.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, what we do isn’t just describing something in a superficial or temporary sense. We are trying to say something deeper. It is about the whole situation. What we are saying is supposed to guide how you understand and how you respond to what it is that you are talking about.” 

As she said this, I recalled a time a few years earlier when my mother witnessed me paying attention to someone in our community. She casually commented, “Why does that person spend so much time on the way they look? You know, we have a saying, the prettiest rose has the sharpest thorns.” 

I retorted, “So what are you saying, Ma?”  

“Be careful.” That was it. 

As I reflected on this memory from the past, my mother continued, “I tried to do some research. Instead of saying ‘metaphorical,’ I would say ‘mythical.’”

“Mythical?” I asked, surprised. 

“I know, I know. The dictionary says myths are supposed to teach you something about life. It is still not the right word. It is English. But you know your Old Mama’s English is not very good.” And she went back to whatever it is she was doing. 

And so did I. 

Troubling Water 

In my facilitative practice, I extend Bruce Lee’s directive by asking people to use water to describe their experience of race and racism and talking about race and racism. In linking water to life, I lean on and share my own cultural way for seeing, speaking, and being in this world. In teaching classes that are often 50-60% Asian and 80-90% students of color overall, this has provided a familiar framework or an accessible entry point for many through which we can better understand our own lives and experiences. I am often asked, and it is often assumed, that what I am asking people to do is metaphor work. I wince when I hear or even find myself saying that it is. I have tried a number of times to explain my conversation with my mother, but upon receiving blank stares back, I’ll acquiesce and say, sure, call it a metaphor if that lets you do the work. 

After people have described their own water, I then ask them to consider what it is that they want their water to be or do or how they want to feel in the water. Next, I ask what does it mean to be in community or relationship with people whose water differs from yours. In what ways can we acknowledge and hold different water? In what ways is our water shared? In what ways, though, do our institutions, organizations, and communities center only some water and some people? In what ways do they try to homogenize people’s experience of water? When does this result in further colonization and erasure? When does this result in further exploitation and appropriation? 

Depending on how quickly the groups I facilitate take to this water work, I offer a model before or after people provide their own answers. I share my experience of growing up by the Pacific. Despite living thousands of miles apart on different continents, my family has always called this ocean home. It nourishes us. It holds us. It keeps us humble. Swimming in its waves from an early age. I was taught to recognize the power of the water – both the danger and wonder of it – and understood in countless ways, that water is life to quote the Standing Rock Sioux. 

The two most dangerous elements of the water, I learned, were myself – if I entered water I wasn’t prepared for – and others – and especially those that entered the water they weren’t prepared for. During the summer, this latter challenge was realized in the form of tourists who would enter the water in large numbers, often not appreciating their impact on water traffic and their own limitations in the water. In swimming around tourists, I learned to be weary and to always be on the watch for people who might knock into me on the next wave or who would get in too deep and then potentially pull me under when I offered to help. 

In sharing this model, I am sharing my lived experience of being in relationship with water. I am naming how this shapes how I engage with race and racism and talking about race and racism. This is especially true in “progressive” spaces where many want to enjoy the water but place this desire and their own comfort and discomfort above being in just relationship with the water and with others in the water. I share this truth to signal that I’m aware of the risk of swimming in mixed spaces and I want others to be mindful as well. Water is life, and water can take life. My cultural, ethnic, and racial identities are so much of what gives my life meaning, and racism can be and has been painful to the point of death for people of color. 

Indeed, I have had to learn to be prepared for how real and immediate these traumas can be surfaced in this water work. I recently co-lead this meditation with a community partner in a space with a number of community organizers, educational leaders, and academics of color from across the U.S. While I knew some folks well and everyone knew at least a few of the folks in the room, many people had only just met. We came with the common cause of sharing and co-designing new strategies for family and community leadership in education. Given this, I offered the water work as an example of our local efforts, feeling quite confident, too confident really, given how many times these conversations had been generative in other spaces with other folks. 

Pressed for time and because I was humbled to be in a group with so many leaders of color, I didn’t offer my own model this time or my comment about water work being so much more than metaphor. This was my mistake. While folks reflected quietly and began sharing in small groups, I assumed that the water was working as it so often had. When we began our large group share out, however, I realized that I wasn’t prepared for this water. Some group members shared about how the questions felt off to them because of the water crises in their communities, crises that could be directly linked to systemic racism. Others talked about how the questions felt inappropriate because of the sacred place water had in their cultures and that disregard for their rights to water had trivialized and traumatized their relationships with it. One person kindly sought to synthesize what was happening by saying, “What we can clearly see is that the places where we come from shape how we’re responding to these questions!” 

Rushed for time, I wasn’t able to regain my balance until later. I wasn’t able to name that I experienced these responses as powerful answers to the questions people were protesting against. In describing their water, they lifted up both its importance to their cultures and communities and how racism has violently impacted these cultures and communities. I wasn’t able to do this because I was also stuck under the weight of my own pain in that moment. I felt caught in wanting to push back that each of these critiques was made on the explicit or implicit assumption that we were asking for only metaphor rather than the myth. I wasn’t able to emphasize the power of myth-making, of the swirl of real lived experiences and deeply held cultural beliefs spun into learned lessons and practiced meaning. And for myself, I was caught up in my own process of mythmaking, having noticed that none of these critiques came from people who shared our Asian cultural framework, and I wondered if this was another moment where non-Asian people of color see us, read us, and react to us as if we were white. 

Reflecting back, I’ve continued to marinate on that moment. I’ve thought about the ways that our individual and collective waters were troubled in coming together and having to rely on unexplained English to share of ourselves with each other. That as a group of people fluent in English we still needed to translate our cultural ways of being with each other, and how I, and perhaps others, forgot this. How vulnerable do we have to be and how much risk do we have to undertake whenever we do this? And this pain wasn’t new to me then or even now as I have continued to ask these water questions and found the language of “metaphor” to regularly return to others and even to my own lips while facilitating. This is how the colonized tongue gains power through our coerced commonality. I need to remember the importance of translation and interpretation even in presumed fluency and shared cause. But I am also left wondering if this extra work only adds to the trauma we are left with in the wake of racism, if it is a necessary part of the resisting white supremacy, or if in these moments we can find healing and even joy in the labor of building solidarity? 

As a facilitator, I’m still processing the vinegar of this moment. I’ve tried to sit with all the pain, my own and that from other communities with whom I seek to be in just relationship. I’ve thought about how I wished I had facilitated differently or been able to get others to listen to me differently. I’ve shared this story as an example of how much pain and power we bring to this work and that even in the healing and liberation there will be dynamics and processes like this. This is the water and the vinegar. This is not wordplay for the sake of illustration. This is myth-making where English words must be recognized as inadequate fill-ins for the words that each of us carry in our own languages. This is storymaking for the sake of deeper understanding. This is vinegar tasted in a multitude of ways. This is the possibility of listening, life, and justice more deeply realized. 


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, Betsy, 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 C., 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, Leah, 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, Risa, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, SEJE Consulting, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie O., 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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三酸圖 – Three Sours — My Own Retelling

Editor’s Note: This is the first of a multi-part post about stories, listening, and reflection for social justice. There are stories within stories in this so settle in with a cup of tea and give it a read, then reflect, and read it again. Like a good vinegar the taste and depth change over time. Enjoy. -Erin


By Jondou Chase Chen

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Photo of three small cups and saucers. Photo by 五玄土 ORIENTO on Unsplash

An old Chinese story tells of a time when the Buddha, Confucius, and Laozi were in deep conversation and came upon a jar of vinegar. They paused their debat * ahem* discussion to each take a taste. The Buddha went first, tasting the vinegar’s sour acidity, next frowning, and then sighing. Confucius and Laozi laughed, and the Buddha looked up and said, “I thought you were my friends, why are you laughing at me?” 

To which Confucius and Laozi responded, “Because you are the Buddha and of course you would frown and sigh as you believe life is suffering that must be resolved.” 

The Buddha laughed and said, “Yes, you are right – we must acknowledge that life is suffering to then free ourselves of it. You do know me!”

Then Confucius took a sip of the vinegar, scowling at first before a look of epiphany came over his face. The Buddha and Laozi laughed, and Confucius turned to them and said, “I thought you were my friends, why are you laughing at me?”

To which the Buddha and Laozi responded, “Because you are Confucius, and of course you would scowl and then look excited as you believe life is a challenge to be solved.”

Confucius exclaimed, “Yes, you are right! I was designing what to do next to make the most of our situation. You do know me!”

And finally, Laozi took a sip of the vinegar, not making any facial expression for a while before the subtlest smile came upon his face. The Buddha and Confucius laughed, and Laozi completed the circle, “I thought you were my friends, why are you laughing at me?” 

To which the Buddha and Confucius responded, “Because you are Laozi, and of course you would seem to respond not at all until you found contentment.” 

Laozi smiled just a little more, “Yes, you do know me! The world is ever changing and so must we to find stability and peace.”

Memories

I remember this story growing up and passing by it any number of times. As a child from a closely-knit Taiwanese-American family, I just figured it to be another one of the sayings and stories I would hear from my elders. I couldn’t appreciate its meaning or how much of a northstar it would be in my own cultural, racial, and social justice identity development. Nope. 

In AP Art History during high school, I memorized what I needed to about that same artwork and moved on as quickly as possible. I strove to avoid the stereotype threat of “Confucius said” platitudes or assumed expertise that my classmates would seek me out for. Absent from my thinking was any analysis around why this was one of the few pieces of non-Western art that we studied or why I was rushing to return to the never-ending Western canon. 

I sat with the tale a bit longer in college when I took a class on Confucian Humanism for my single non-western history requirement. It was there that I realized that whenever my family claimed to be quoting Jesus and the Judeo-Christian Bible, the morals they were pulling (e.g. honoring our parents and there being a season for everything) were more often than not the same as the Buddhist, Confucian, and Taoist traditions that our family had practiced for centuries longer. This gave me pause and a wry smile as I filed it away as a point to raise later when resisting my parents righteousness. Yet again, my reflections fell short as I couldn’t yet see that I am part of a multigenerational tradition of understanding and subversely preserving our Asian selves even as we are constantly pressured to submit to Western influences. 

A few years later as a young teacher, a non-Asian colleague gave me a copy of Benjamin Hoff’s Tao of Pooh to try to connect with me. I did find some resonance as I sought to better understand my own name story (the Dou in Jondou is the same as the Tao in Taoism). And at the same time, I was finally awakening and increasingly aware of the ironies of cultural appropriation. Why was it okay for White Americans to talk about Confucius but not Asians trying to be American? I didn’t mean to ask this question rhetorically, but my own self-doubt and guilt at not knowing my own culture made it so. If this White writer could know my own culture better than I did, then how could I claim it to be my culture at all? This is a diabolical aspect of imposter syndrome: that we can feel like imposters no matter where we go and who we try to be, even in our own spaces and not just in dominant cultural contexts. 

Discouraged, I dove deeper into my work and what seemed further from my vinegar tasters. I would prove my worth through my work in social services, education, and community organizing. It was in these spaces where people offered me challenging words or stories, and I learned the importance of asking, “How would you like me to hear you right now?” This ran counter to my urge to solve their problem as quickly as possible, for wouldn’t this prove my effectiveness as a practitioner? It took me time, including my work in therapy and in men’s groups, to recognize that I didn’t need to find a solution to every situation. I’m not always going to be the answer, try as hard as I might. Many times, people wanted just to have someone recognize and hold their pain. Other times, people wanted to hear that they are not alone and things are going to be okay. Even though I had no conscious awareness of it, my vinegar tasters had followed me and took up residence in my ears and consciousness.

Possibilities 

This idea of allowing others – and especially those with socially targeted identities – to determine how I heard them took on even deeper meaning when I moved to Seattle five years ago. Seattle was home to Bruce Lee’s first studio and his tomb site still garnering flowers, food, and donations from visitors each day. In contrast, my parents never enrolled me in any martial arts class, arguing that I was big enough to take care of myself and also being leary of Western treatment of martial artists. I also couldn’t go through a year of school without someone, generally white, asking or assuming I knew martial arts. I was asked for lessons, offered impressions, and goaded into schoolyard fights because of this trope. Growing up, I couldn’t and wouldn’t touch Bruce with a ten foot pole. It was only as an educator that I developed a soft spot for martial arts films and their spinoffs with many a colleague asking to borrow my copy of “Shaolin Soccer.” Coming to Seattle, my appreciation for martial arts and Bruce Lee went one step further and came full circle when I heard him say, “Be water, my friend.”

In Lee’s words, something resonated deeply. Again, I had never taken a martial arts class in my life. I also had grown up only hearing about Bruce Lee’s brawn and not his brains. Why were his words so familiar? In a moment not unlike realizing that my parents’ Jesus was deeply Asian, I came to understand that it was these same traditions that served as the philosophical framework for martial arts. And in Lee’s description of water as fluid in its form, I saw a mirror of my own understanding of my life, my work in listening to others, and my own storytelling. 

I remember growing up, walking along the shoreline with my grandfather, and he would always ask me, “你看到了什麼?What do you see?” I remember at first thinking this was a game, where my goal was to say as many things I saw in, on, or surrounding the water. Then when I ran out of things to say, I thought that this was some sort of puzzle with a single right answer. I finally learned that my grandfather was asking a question that anyone living by the water must ask every day and sometimes every moment. What the water is, can be, and brings into our lives might be stable from moment to moment. It can also change in an instant, and our responsibility is to be ever vigilant to those possibilities. As I grew older, I remember going to those same shorelines with my friends, checking with the water conditions to determine what we would do that day – swim, snorkel, spearfish, kayak, surf, or more. 

In the same way that the water and the vinegar allows for different possibilities, so too does sharing stories, both in the telling and in the listening. This has been especially true for me in social justice spaces. When people in targeted identities chose to share their stories, of pain, of resistance, of calling for solidarity, I need to be mindful of what ears I am listening with. When am I to listen with the Buddha’s ears, sitting in the suffering and needing to acknowledge it before seeking to resolve it? When am I to listen with Confucius’ ears, seeking to develop a solution to the challenge in order to aid the speaker? And when am I to listen with Laozi’s ears, giving space to the story and appreciating and amplifying its truth without bringing attention to myself? How can I be the most powerful listener by holding these three possibilities – and seeking out other possibilities as well – whenever I listen to others?

Vinegar Tongues

These questions also hold true for when I share my own stories. I tell stories for any number of reasons. Sometimes, it’s to check in with those who care about me, to let them know where I am in life and journey. Other times it’s to illustrate a point as clearly as possible or to move my listeners in a very specific way. And still other times, I am seeking to ask a question or to complicate how we understand or navigate a situation or some body of knowledge. It is this last intention that brings up the vinegar tasters for me. Yes, there are those moments where the most basic storytelling is required, i.e. to demonstrate that social injustice exists. At this point, though, I don’t know any amount of storytelling that will move those who have already refused time and again to believe us. In fact, the more powerfully I attempt to tell these basic stories, the greater risk I run of putting my own and my community’s systemic oppression on display – retraumatizing my fellow community members and invoking pity and guilt rather than learning and action from dominant culture listeners. It has been my need to push back against such responses, that has driven much of this self-reflection around how I want to be heard – to be the vinegar that shapes the taster rather than vice versa. 

As such, I would rather tell more nuanced and more complicated stories that move those who already believe to a place of deeper understanding, more powerful analysis, and more precise actions. For years, I have told the story of playing at the park with my cousins one day when I was eleven or twelve. An uncle came to pick up those he could fit in his car – a new white car with golden trim and lettering – leaving the rest of us to walk back to our grandparents’ home. I raced to jump in the car and to claim a seat, only to be chastised by my younger cousin, that uncle’s son. “Dou! Don’t you dare get in this car with those dirty shoes! This is a Lexus. Do you even know what that means?” I remember feeling deeply embarrassed for being called out, and even more embarrassed because I didn’t know what a Lexus was. This story has worked well for years, highlighting how social class can even penetrate families and often does. 

To raise up another dynamic, though, I then add that my desire after feeling that surge shame was to turn around and punch my cousin, tapping into the toxic masculinity and adultism that urged me to flip the power paradigm to get back at my cousin. The story is no longer as neat and tidy as it was before. I’m no longer an obvious victim of social injustice. For the work that I am seeking to do with my story, though, I have hopefully increased the real-ness of my experience by bringing in multiple intersecting identities and demonstrating one way that hurt people can use their hurt to hurt others. This way of social justice spaces are so often unsafe and painful because of how we internalize the pain we’ve experienced.

This the power of vinegar, to bring out different responses in different people and at different times. To be our most powerful selves as listeners, as storytellers, and as change agents, what does it mean to tap into all of these ways of being in relationship with each other and the broader world? What does it look like to recognize our sensemaking of this world and its systems is always done through our cultural frameworks including my own of connecting with the elements and the spiritual and physical world around me. 


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 C., 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, Risa, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, SEJE Consulting, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie O., 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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Ableism Kills Slowly or Quickly — Prioritizing Disability Access and Community

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Artwork by Kate De Ciccio from Amplier. Womxn in a wheelchair, words: Help me save lives Gun violence almost took mine

Editor’s Note: This week our nation saw too much gun violence driven by racism. To my BIPOC community — please take care of yourselves and one another. I chose not to write about it this week as I have nothing new to add to the conversation. Doing so would only add to the echo chamber of rhetoric instead of action. My action this week to fight the violence is to be an ally to the Disability Justice community; an area I need to learn more about, and I think makes me a better ally and member of the BIPOCs community as well. 

We welcome back now a regular guest writer to Fakequity, Carrie Basas. Carrie is a white ally who frequently writes for us about disability justice. Carrie recently told me about how she attended a funeral by Zoom (teleconferencing) and how being intentional with the design-led to more inclusive results. I’ve invited her to expand on this conversation and to talk about ableism.


By Carrie Basas

Last week, I attended a memorial service of a queer, disabled, Latina mentor who was killed by the healthcare system. Her insurance denied her the $2,000 medication that would have ended an infection. It chose, instead, to pay over $1-million in healthcare costs that were effective only in ending her life. My friend was a fierce, compassionate advocate. She fought to dismantle discrimination against disabled parents. She highlighted how assisted suicide devalues disabled lives. She protested cuts to Medicaid. If anyone could have survived incompetence and ableism, it would have been her, but it’s not that simple. That scares me.

My community created a Zoom video call option for the memorial, which was inclusive on many levels. Those of us not in Denver watched the livestream, complete with ASL interpretation. There were captions in the video call. Remote participation also brought our community together in ways that wouldn’t have been possible given people’s disability-related barriers for travel, including the economics of it for our largely poor community. I was reminded that I can stop being so anxious about access when my people are in charge of it. We don’t always get it right for one another but I rarely see someone shamed for asking for it for themselves or others.

Contrast that experience with other conversations that I’ve had lately outside my community. I say “disability justice,” particularly accessibility or inclusive design and find:

  • People get very emotional and defensive.
  • Non-disabled people start protecting one another, sometimes even soothing one another.
  • There are loud sighs, the verbal equivalent of “Not this again” or “I’ve been very busy.” Sometimes, people skip the sighs and just say those things.
  • People point out how much they have already done and wait for a thank you. 

Sometimes, non-disabled people defend their participation in perpetuating access injustices and barriers to belonging by claiming it wasn’t their intent. These are folks that might be very woke about other issues, yet, when it comes to disability, there’s just something different about the conversation. Systems reinforce oppression and those that control them do, too, whether or not they intend it. We should know this from even the very bad diversity trainings we’ve attended: impact is a better metric than our retorts and excuses that we aren’t haters. 

Why is recognizing ableism as systemic and structural so difficult? I see too many organizations equating “doing disability” with optional. Over twenty-percent of the U.S. population has disabilities but when our community expects non-disabled people to fight for access and belonging for us, then we are seen as rallying for fringe, self-serving issues. 

Why can’t we see that how we communicate and meet, where we hold things and how we talk about those differences have important impacts? Once we mangle an access justice conversation into whether or not a non-disabled person has good intent, then the next agenda item is questioning the disabled person’s intent and reasonableness. When we hide behind good intent, we are not only defensive but also shaming and silencing of disabled people for expecting to be part of communities. Separate is not equal. Lobbying to be treated with the same level of respect shouldn’t be a condition of any relationship, professional or personal.

Recently, I’ve stopped thanking people profusely for making things accessible. I realized that I was getting irked when people looked at me waiting to be thanked. I used to be effusive but now if I sense smell that they are looking for it because they see their accessibility efforts as heroic or good deeds, then I am reticent to thank them. I’m withholding gratitude for people honoring my lived experiences after I’ve had to ask them to do so a few times. Quietly, I’m sincerely grateful to others for not disappointing me but there aren’t many premade cards for that holiday.

Why have I gotten to be such an ingrate? I’m taking my lead from BIPOC organizers that I respect. I doubt Erin would go up and thank someone for not being such a big racist today. And I’m pretty sure my friend wouldn’t have sent heart-shaped notes to the doctors who doubted her bodily wisdom and honored their professional brilliance and immediate costs, instead. It comes down to being in a respectful and justice based relationship

When you decide to work toward disability justice, you can no longer operate under a charitable mindset. When you work to be anti-ableist and anti-racist, for example, you chip away at all the exhausting, relentless labor that disabled BIPOCs carry daily. Doing that means you’d be really offended if they baked cupcakes in your honor and handed you a trophy. 

You do it because that’s what needs to be done and not by the people most marginalized by access injustices. You take some of the load because it’s your turn and it’s right– and we have every reason to expect it from you. We should not have to ask you with multiple “pleases” and “thank yous.”

I perform a dizzying dance of self-accommodation in my life (e.g., arriving at inaccessible meetings 30-45 minutes early to figure out where to park, moving furniture around, sitting close to the front, limiting my liquids as to not test your bathroom accessibility, self-regulating disappointment, rubbing myself down with your grandpa’s ointments). I try to make my access without needing non-disabled people to help because they are often disappointing and make me feel more vulnerable and alone, intended or not. I’m a person with a history of being excluded, acted upon, patted on the head, patted down, talked down to, stared at, shunned, and infantilized.

So often disabled folks feel like we have to go along to get along because it means keeping our jobs, reputations, supports, or healthcare. We are dependent on non-disabled people’s good graces to let us in or let us stay. We are told that our lives are judged as worthy or not by charitable non-disabled people who “see beyond our differing abilities” (ps: please, never use that phrase). These kinds of attitudes are ableism. Ableism in its clearest form kills people in my community. It wasn’t just one person.

What does everyday ableism look like? Absolving yourself from your impact, defaulting to intent and thinking “I didn’t mean to exclude people with disabilities.” Seeing disabled people as less than other people; we hurt and love just as much as others. Not realizing that you see our requests as annoyances and not wanting to realize that. I have this little voice in my head from others who told, showed, or reminded me that people like me aren’t often let into non-disabled spaces. It’s a privilege and honor; I’d better be grateful. This is ableism and oppression; as a society, we can do better than this.

The next time you plan an event, host a meeting, engage with others ask yourself what you are doing to create a space welcoming of people with disabilities. Access is a start to reaching towards disabilities 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, 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, Risa, Rise Up for Students, Robin, Ruby, Sarah, Sarah S., Sean, SEJE Consulting, Shannon, Shaun, Shawna, Shelby, Stephanie, Stephanie O., 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).

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.


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, 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, 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, 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.

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).