Why Fakequity Isn’t Enough Part II — Men We Need to do Better

Thank you to our Patreon subscribers who help to keep the blog going. C2, Kari, Kathryn, Elizabeth, Evan, Jennifer, Annie, Miriam, and Edith thank you. 

By Jondou Chase Chen

Content warning: Patriarchy, misogyny, and racism in communities of color.

she the people
She the People, artwork by Anika Orrock, from Amplifer.org


This year has been filled with some tough reckoning for me as a cishet man of color. Aziz. Sherman. Bill. Junot. Each of these men of color is in the wrong. Each of these men of color has positively impacted me. Both of these are true statements. That doesn’t mean they are equal or off-setting, though. In fact, they are connected. I’m writing now to try to make sense of that painful connection, to name the responsibility that men of color to do and be better, and to offer possibilities for justice not just for sexism but for racism as well.

I’m writing this having read and being committed to continuing to read and believing the experiences of women and GNC folks of color. I don’t intend to write to center another man of color’s voice. And if my intent doesn’t match my impact on you, I want to acknowledge this, ask that you stop reading this now, and offer if you’d like to write or have other writing that you would like to offer instead, to please share. For everyone – whether my writing on this works for you or not – if you haven’t already, please read Carmen Maria Machado, Roxane Gay, Adrienne Maree Brown, Janet Mock, Thi Bui, Robin Wall Kimmerer, and Alok Vaid-Menon – who are each 1000 times the writer I am.

This post began as a friendly response to Erin’s post last week on why we center race here on Fakequity. It’s not because I disagreed with Erin. It’s because part of fake equity is oversimplifying a complex world into a single story. One of the many reasons I love being part of the Fakequity team is because we’re not all the same. We have different identities, different experiences, and different ideas. My biggest fear with Fakequity is I’m not sharing as much as I’m getting from the group. Erin’s writing pushed me last week. She had some ideas I hadn’t thought of before. She had some ideas I didn’t completely agree with. She had some ideas that raised up new ideas in me. For all of this, I’m grateful. And one more thing. I’m glad Fakequity isn’t just led by people of color, I’m glad it’s led by women of color who are consistently committed to speaking their truth and calling in other truths. This post then is my call-in to other men of color: until we deal with sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny within our communities of color, we will not end racism.

This is the violence of single stories. Why were these celebrity men of color so important to me? Because they were often the closest thing I had to a mirror for seeing myself and men of other PoC groups in the U.S. media. And as each allegation of sexual violence, harassment, and non-consent has entered the public domain, it’s been like watching a slow strike in bowling where the pins fall like dramatic dominoes rather than with one convincing crash. I can feel myself getting defensive, and I have to interrogate myself. I believe each accusation. I’ve seen brothers of all colors do this, get called on it, and still get away with it for years. My defensiveness verbalizes itself as, “But this is all we’ve got!” And where I need to push myself is, “And this has never been enough.” What we miss when we turn breakthrough figures into single-story heroes is that this can further oppression. In our joy at finally seeing a mirror of ourselves, we believe this is good enough. And when we find out that the mirror is cracked and our heroes are not only hurt people but are hurting people, we struggle to accept this because we are afraid of going back to no stories and no representation. This fear is real because our histories support this. Yet this fear cannot be all that troubles us. We have to believe we are worthy of more than single stories. Men of color, we need to refuse any narrative that explicitly or implicitly presents our story as THE story for all people of color.   

This is the violence of patriarchal racism. When dominant culture only allows for one success story from each marginalized group (and let’s be honest, “some” is more appropriate than “each”), who is most likely to be represented? Those in positions of power within the marginalized group. The straight or passable gay man. The person with lighter skin or more money or who is able-bodied. To make matters worse, this is rarely something that only passively happens. As people of color we are set up to compete with each other to be that single representative, and “by any means necessary” has meant tapping into the systemic power of sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc. We are told to man up, punch up, and grab the bull by the horns. And for those who have been selected to represent all of us, being at the top has meant having access to the rewards of hierarchy. Awards and titles are part of this and so is access to and power over people looking up to and even dependent on you. This is not a guarantee for abuse, but it certainly sets the table for it. And given the vast majority of minoritized peoples do not fit this single story of success, these single stories actually help uphold systemic racism.

Artwork from Amplifer.org, Educate Yourself by Camila Rosa



And as a man of color far from the top of the celebrity mountain, I need to recognize the ways in which I have defended myself from racism by tapping into my dominant identities – by knowing how to be one of the boys, by being a “strong” (read manly) leader, by being confident and self-assured (which would be read differently if I were not a man). Does tapping into these behaviors help me survive racism? Yes. But does it actually do the work of liberating me or people of color more broadly? I don’t think so. And yes, I get that men of color are being held accountable in ways differently than white men and this is a form of racist patriarchy – but honestly, are you actually okay with anti-racist patriarchy? Men of color, we need to acknowledge that only highlighting male resistance (and especially cishet male resistance) to racism reinforces racism along with other systems of oppression.

This is what why we need real racial equity. In a reposted blast from the past, Erin wrote, “we can’t have other equities until we have racial equity.” I completely agree with this. And I’ll also add: we can’t have racial equity until we have all other equities within racial equity. Read all the writers I listed above and then keep going to prevent any of the authors I’ve listed here from being the single story of (faux) racial equity. Apply intersectional lenses to ourselves, our oppression, our communities, and our liberation. Recognize that success for individual celebrities and subgroups of the marginalized is model minority tokenism and wedge politics and not actual justice.

None of us are free, until all of are free. And for this collective solidarity to be really true, we also need to appreciate the intersectional needs that we each have. As well-intended as “my liberation is bound in yours” can start, all too often, it becomes a statement of false equivalency. For instance, when I hear white people make this statement to me as a person of color, I can’t help but think, “Are you saying your oppression as white people is the same as mine?” I then see my concern played out in anti-racist work when workshops and lectures on whiteness are repeated over and over again without ever getting to restorative justice, reparations, and self-determination. Turning the mirror on myself, I wonder how often people of color who aren’t men justifiably roll their eyes at me when I get on my soapbox talking about racial justice and what I really mean is “Just(ice) for Men (of Color)”? I need to commit to acknowledging my positionality, yes, and taking on toxic masculinity, especially in communities of color, yes. And then what is the justice for others that I need to hear and honor and commit myself to in order for there to be real, meaningful equity, and not just another iteration of fakequity.  Men of Color, we have work to do.

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

Erasing People of Color


Artwork titled The Struggle for Justice featuring a Native American. Picture taken at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC by Erin Okuno

By Erin Okuno

A special thank you to our Patreon supporters. We started the Patreon page as a way to support the blog and your early sign-ups mean so much. Thank you Annie, Evan, Jennifer, and Miriam.

A few weeks ago, I messaged my friend Kirk to ask about a meeting we had both been in. I wanted to hear his thoughts and just to catch up a bit. He’s always thinking some deep thoughts about race, racism,  colonization, and other profundities. When I first met Kirk he was working in the business industry and I wondered how he could be a race and social justice scholar and daylighting (opposite of moonlighting) as a business person. I was confused by that identity mashup. I have a brain block/bias that he could be a business person reading Ta-Nehisi Coates, be unapologetic in his views of race, and be successful in the business world. Kirk challenges my assumptions and I appreciate him doing so. At the end of our message exchange, he said he was thinking about the erasure of Black people and left it at that. We didn’t have time to go deeper and he left that thought rolling around in my head. It got me thinking about how society systematically erases people of color.

I want to acknowledge Kirk started this thought as the erasure of Black people, and I’m adapting the thought to the erasure of people of color for this blog post. I’m shifting the topic to people of color because I can’t write authentically or do justice to the erasure of African American and Black people and do not want to do more harm in overstepping. I welcome thoughts on the erasure of Black and African Americans, and other people of color so we can learn together, email fakequity@gmail.com to share your thoughts.

How People of Color are Erased

I’ll admit I live and work in a bubble of people of color. My cozy bubble is pretty great, it feeds me well. I can ignore or at least have stronger defense and tolerance for white nonsense because I see pocs all around me — we are doing our thing being amazing, behaving badly, and just being ordinary. When I step out of my bubble I face the reality that people of color are systematically erased, sometimes intentionally sometimes because people don’t stop to think and act differently.

Historically, erasure happened as white people colonized and took over what we now call the United States. My kid and I share a read-aloud book most nights. I chose the Birchbark House series by Louise Erdrich. The series follows Omakayas, an Anishinaabe (Ojibwe, Native American) as a young girl and her family as she grows up and her family is forced to leave their ancestral home – a forced migration that erased them from the place they had established as home since time immemorial. While this story is historical fiction I share it because the experience of reading it makes real an episode of history few are taught. Many other Indigenous People were erased through diseases introduced by colonizers, their languages erased through being forced to speak English, boarding schools or religion erased many indigenous ways. These practices were systematically put into place to take and remove barriers for those in power.

In a more modern example, gentrification is an erasure of people of color. In my twenty-ish years living in Seattle, I’ve seen people of color leaving Seattle for other cities. Neighborhoods that were home to African Americans and immigrants and refugees are now gentrified with only shreds of reminders of who made those neighborhoods what they were. The Central District of Seattle was once a thriving African American neighborhood. Today few African Americans live there, displaced by high real estate prices.

Trump’s talk of building a wall along the US-Mexico border is feeding the fuel of erasing Mexicans and other brown people from the US. A few months ago Trump’s travel-ban stopping people from primarily Muslim countries from entering the US was another attempt to erase and eliminate people of color from the country.

Erased on Paper

The previous examples are physical removals and in some cases extermination of people of color. Our systems also erase people in other ways. Just today I was emailing with a government agency asking why they aren’t tracking race data on a project they just launched. They argued they don’t want to over-collect information especially data connected to race, which I understand, and I argued back if they aren’t tracking race data they don’t know who they aren’t hearing from. Their data collection system is online, which favors white, middle class, and requires English literacy and computer access. This small form of ignoring race has bigger consequences for erasing people of color from the project. If they were centering people of color they probably would have also created pathways for data collection more welcomed and favored by people of color, or at the least track survey returns so they could do targeted outreach along the way. When we aren’t paying attention to race it is easy to fall into habits that lead to systemic racism.

I’ve written before about how poc history isn’t included in history books, or if it is it is told through a perspective of a white author. In TV and media whiteness prevails and pocs are relegated to bit and minor roles. Dylan Morrison (I believe a white male) took several popular movies and edited them down showing just where pocs are speaking, the movies are considerably shorter.

How to Un-Erase

Ensuring pocs aren’t erased is easy, but it takes intention and calling out systems when we see it happening. As an example, a few years ago, I was sitting in a presentation listening to an esteemed professor talk about employment-data. His slide deck was fabulous and super interesting, I was soaking in the data and processing what I was learning. Yet at some point, I notice the datasets were missing Native American statistics. During the break, I handed him a note asking why Native Americans weren’t included. He followed up with me later that day and said the line in the note that made him pause said: “Not including Native Americans makes them invisible.” Data invisibility leads to missing people of color and not seeking out solutions to helping them be more visible.

Un-erasing pocs also means acknowledging our histories and recognizing the historical traumas that brought us to our current situations. Doing this helps to explain the current context and we understand our current communities of color more completely.

We must train ourselves to see people of color and to see pocs everywhere we go. We are here and we are here to stay. We now need to ensure we are counted, present, and able to speak up for ourselves.

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

My mom still says “Oriental” and she’s not totally wrong


Photo from Jondou Chase Chen

Orientalism: You don’t have to say it to mean it

By Jondou Chase Chen

Confession: My mom still uses the word “Oriental” sometimes. My Taiwanese mom – all 5’2” (tallest among five sisters) and 97 pounds of her – grew up with parents forced to speak Japanese, siblings forced to speak Mandarin, and kids forced to speak English. She is a three-time cancer survivor and raised three kids who collectively outweigh her by 500 pounds. My mom’s not just tough, she’s a survivor. I remember once in my late twenties, my mom told me, “Look, I know we’re in America, and I was supposed to hug you and tell you how much I love you. That wasn’t how I was raised, though. I always told you what was wrong with you and what to improve so that I knew that you’d make it when I’m gone.” That’s my mom.

To thank her for such incredible love (because that is unquestionably what it is), I figured I’d help her out by letting her know we’re not supposed to say “Oriental” any more. Use “Asian” instead. My mom acted surprised the first time I told her, dismissive the second time, and finally the third time I chided her she was ready. “I know, I know, I know. You think your old momma is so ignorant. But why does it matter whether or not I say ‘Oriental’? It’s not going to change how people treat us.” Game. Set. Match. Old momma 1, Jondou 0.

Let me be clear here. This is NOT a blog post about it being okay to use the term “Oriental.” This is a blog post, however, about this truth that my mom gave me: you don’t have to say the word “Oriental” to do the work of the word. Yes, words matter. And the reason why words matter is because they have power. And power is power – including the power to oppress – whether or not you use particular words. The word “Oriental” has power not because it describes rugs instead of people. It has power because it has come to represent a millenium of Western eyes not just gazing at the continent of Asia, but exoticizing it, exploiting it, demonizing it, and erasing it. My mom’s point is whether we call ourselves Asian or Oriental, that history and ongoing politic remains. Here are five ways this happens.

    1. When you ask us where we’re from. This is basic, and I mean basic. Asking Asians where we’re from (as with other immigrants or read-as-immigrants of color) has a violent history. It has meant not being allowed entry into this country, the presumption we can’t possibly be from here or truly American citizens both in the past and the present. To be clear, asking Asians where we’re from hasn’t just been about a point of information, it’s been a precursor to violence, exclusion, and erasure.
    2. Not knowing where we’re from. Now I’ve probably confused some folks here. Good. If all you want are the magical words to know and say so you don’t sound racist, you’re not actually here for our justice. You’re here for you, and you want us to flawlessly fit your logic so you can feel good. That’s using us. Real justice would mean recognizing and amplifying our humanity which includes our complicated truths. That means allowing us to be our whole selves, wherever we are, with all that we are, with all that we bring, and with all that we seek to be. This means taking the time to build and be in good relationship with us. If you take the time to know me, there’s no way you won’t know where I’m from. You will know how much my family, our culture, our stories, our politics means to me. You will even know that when we really know each other – after we’ve demonstrated we’re committed to building a just relationship together – that it’s actually okay to ask where I’m from.
    3. Lumping “us” all together. By “us,” I mean all people of color, all Asians, or even all Taiwanese folks. I love spending time with my family where we joke with each other about the ways each of us is Taiwanese. We have different favorite dishes and have varying degrees of connection to different aspects of Taiwanese language, tradition, culture, and community. Yes, sometimes the joking goes too far. Yes, we have work to do. Yes, things are going to change. And guess what? That’s the way it’s always been. Cultures and ethnicities existed way-way before racism and will hopefully far outlast racism. We’ve adapted and creatively responded again and again. Our diversity is our evolutionary strength. To borrow from Skip Gates, for as many PoC/Asian/Taiwanese people there are, there are just as many ways to be PoC/Asian/Taiwanese. This is true within ethnicities, between our cultures and nationalities, and across our racial groups. And when we bring it all together, respecting our self-determination and differences and showing up in solidarity for one another, that’s when we are most powerful – not when we are all uniform cookie-cutter cut-outs.
    4. Modeling us as minorities. Back in the day, someone decided to draw a circle on the map around 40% of the world’s landmass and call it Asia. Today, 60% of the world’s population lives or diasporically came from there. Yet in the U.S. we’re seen as the new kids on the block and often as a single story. We weren’t here first. We’ve never been the biggest group. We were banned or incarcerated as entire ethnic groups for a while. And when the U.S. finally started letting more of us in, it was under strict selection and under even stricter PR. My folks were like many (but not all) Asian Americans, cherry-picked for their desirability as people likely to contribute here. Their story was then twisted to extract more value from us and other PoC. Because they were so “smart” they were expected to work more and receive less compensation. Other Asians here under different circumstances were expected to do the same and along with other PoC groups were shamed for not producing in the same way. And then this is how all PoC can be orientalized: if we’re not producing or complying as desired, we are forced to, told to, or treated as if we should leave.
    5. Assuming we all need the same justice all the time. Even though I was born here, I had minimal English speaking skills when I entered school. What I would have benefited from the most was dual language instruction to support my multilingual potential. Instead, I was treated like an English language learner. This made marginal sense in elementary school but became a gross stereotype when I was designated for ELL services in college and again after receiving my doctorate (Sound weird? Ask me about it some time.). What I needed for justice changed over time. My kids are going to need a different type of justice as multiracial Asian kids with English fluent parents. My neighbors and community members who are refugees that came over 30-years-ago from Vietnam versus 30-months-ago from Syria are going to need different forms of justice from us and from each other. And the justice we need as a pan-Asian community are different from what our Native, Black, and Latinx communities need. For folks seeking to be in just relationship with People of Color, don’t assume by addressing the needs of one community that you’ve addressed all of our needs. And please, please, please don’t tokenize us by trying to collect one friend from each of our groups. (And yes, representation matters, but representation without just relationship is just oriental tokenism.)

I used to feel ashamed that my mom still uses the word “Oriental.” I’ve come to understand, though, that she’s keeping it real in her own way, and she’s keeping it real with me. The burden shouldn’t be on us to end the use of this word when we neither created the word nor have ever benefited from its application. There cannot be justice from the prohibition of this word without an accompanying change in systemic power. Until then, we’ll make our own justice by speaking our truths, growing our community, and welcoming solidarity from those who seek to be in just relationship with us. And finally, our fight to end racism will only truly succeed when we recognize that Orientalism and  the settler-colonizing of Indigenous people and lands are opposite sides of the same system along with all other forms of racism and intersecting oppressions.

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

Five Ways to Center People of Color

By Erin O.


Flat rocks stacked by the ocean. [Photo by Erin Okuno]

I often use the phrase ‘centering people of color’ and I’ll share my secret – it’s jargon. It is a lazy way of saying what takes a lot of words to say. I know I shouldn’t use jargon and I sometimes feel bad writing and saying ‘centering pocs,’ but I do it anyway. To atone for this jargon, I’ll explain what I mean when I say centering people of color. This isn’t an academic look at centering pocs, nor is it an exhaustive list – just some thoughts to get the conversation started and to help make sense of this phrase.

My overall definition is: Centering people of color is about shifting power, control, and well-being/comfort to people of color. 

1. Sharing Power and Control: Shifting power and control to people of color needs to be an action not just talk. Actions are important to shifting power and demonstrating intention. As an example of shifting power is looking at who speaks and when they speak. Are you consistently calling on the first person who raises their hand? If you are perhaps shifting power looks like pausing for a moment allowing people to gather their thoughts, important for those who aren’t English (or the dominant language) speakers, then calling on a person of color first. If you want to take it a step further call on a youth of color, or another person who may not be the first to speak. Who speaks first often drives the line of thinking so this is an important way to shift power in meetings. Be careful not to put people on the spot if they aren’t ready. Other ways of shifting power are agenda control, seating arrangements, decision making control, power of notetaking and publishing, etc.

2. Well-being/Comfort is something we often overlook. Heidi thinks about this a lot and wrote about it in some of her previous posts. I use the terms well-being and comfort interchangeably depending on audience and mood. Well-being looks like where is the meeting, is it culturally attuned, who is in the majority, who is included in the conversation. Sometimes well-being is something we can experience such as moving meetings into community settings where pocs are already familiar with. Other times comfort comes in who feels like they can relax into a space and feel safe. This is harder to quantify but important to look for. At meetings I facilitate, I use the Color Brave Space meeting norms developed by Equity Matters to help pocs feel like they are seen and the meeting is about them and to set expectations for white allies.

3. Resource Sharing: Centering people of color and communities of color means giving control of resources to communities of color and trusting them to use the resources wisely to achieve the best outcomes. Centering pocs means trusting pocs to use money, time, human capital where needed. Along with this, please don’t burden poc organizations with five-billion pieces of paperwork and forms to get money. Also, reimbursable grants and contracts are a pain in the ass and is anti-power sharing – I think I’ll try this tacit with policymakers: “I’ll pay my taxes after you prove to me you turn in to me proof you governed for racial equity, and make sure to track your hours spent on different projects then I’ll pay you.” That wouldn’t fly for power and resource sharing so why is it ok in mainstream work?

4. Expertise: Seeing people and communities of color as the experts is necessary to solving problems. Who knows better about the problems people and communities of color face than the people living them. Centering pocs as experts means we shift our dominant culture viewpoints on what expertise looks like. Such as a formal schooling doesn’t mean the person understands a community, and really the expert is the mother who has kids in the local school.

A colleague of color shared she applied for a job and was turned-down because of her age. A competing employer got a hold of her resume and saw she had led a PTA at a school with a lot of diversity. The employer said ‘I know you are interested in an office job, but I want you as my lead community organizer. You’ve led a PTA in a school with a lot of diversity, that takes a lot of community building skills.’ He saw her as an expert and centered hiring for racial equity skills which led to great results.

5. Humility and work towards learning together: Centering people of color isn’t taught in schools, books, or almost anywhere. We need to acknowledge it isn’t a natural occurrence in most places we operate (at least in the US). In dominant culture, we’re taught and we function in a hierarchy favors white people and caters to their needs first. Centering people of color means white allies, and even within communities of color, we humble ourselves to learn from each other. No single-person understands all of the experiences of people of color. Working intergenerationally, cross-racially, across language, with people with disabilities, with immigrants, etc. means we need to be humble and learn from each other. The act of centering each other means we recognize multiplicities of identities and create space for people of color to be our whole selves, this benefits allies as well since they can see more depth and hopefully find more common ground to connect with.

Access Isn’t Equity, Part 1.5

dolphinBy Erin O.

This is a short blog post for a couple of reasons — 1) I’m working on my netbook and it is really sloooooow , 2) it is spring break – I have to get back to drawing dolphins with the kid (her request), and 3) Heidi wrote a lot last week so if you need more to think about feel free to re-read what she wrote.

Since Heidi promised a part two to her blog post this is part 1.5. Heidi laid out some ideas on how to think about equity and what is more equitable and what is simply giving access to a system not designed by or for people of color. In this part 1.5, I’ll give five quick examples of where people try to pass off access as equitable practices. I’ve been doing my job long enough to have a list of activities people have mentioned as equitable practices but they are more around access and inclusion than equitable in principle and nature.

Translation and Interpretation: This is the number one practice people list as being equitable, it is also one of the most basic practices of racial equity. Providing language access is an important and one of the fundamental ways for many people of color to participate. Translation and interpretation should be high quality, no Google or Bing translate, and it should also be culturally nuanced.

Translation and interpretation fall under access because it is providing people of color (and other non-dominant language speakers) access to an already existing system. It is important access but it isn’t equitable since it wasn’t designed by the people most impacted.

Going into the Community, Evening Meetings, and Town Halls: Having time and location accessible events is an important part of attracting people of color to participate. An event a few streets away is much more appealing than having to figure out how to get across town, pay for parking, and know I probably won’t be in familiar company. Having events in local communities and going to people is important for reaching diversity and inclusion goals. These activities fall under access and inclusion because the process for these meetings is probably not one designed by people of color for their comfort (see last week’s post for more details on what this means). Evening meetings and having meetings when people are available is important, but if the meeting is still all about you and your agenda it doesn’t matter what time of day it is, I call fakequity.

Scholarships, Fellowships, and Diversity Efforts: These are great for helping people of color and others who are traditionally outside of a system into the door. So many people have found success because of scholarships. In a very roundabout way, because of a philanthropic fellowship and the network and access it provided, I got my present job. Scholarships and the like are great at bringing people of color in to help diversify efforts. Many times these efforts aren’t designed for poc comfort and can have a tokenizing impact on pocs, there is also the pressure to assimilate as well. That said often the access is meaningful and important, such as a college scholarship can change the trajectory of a person’s life, but we should also recognize access to a system and process not designed for pocs isn’t equitable.

Such as think about how many people of color with college scholarships drop out because they feel isolated, have additional barriers (i.e. transportation, needing money to pay for living expenses not covered by the scholarship, housing, family obligations, etc.). A friend who is a Dean of a college told me how she learned of a immigrant student who was in a master’s program and doing well, until she wasn’t. The staff asked the student what was going on and they learned she had to start driving for Lyft between 11.00 – 2.00 a.m. to make extra money to stay in school and help her family. The college gave her access to their program and some support, but that wasn’t enough to remove the most basic barriers to her participation in school. In a more equitable scenario, the student would have received comprehensive support including housing, cash assistance, and been continually consulted to make sure she had what she needed thus changing the system and centering her and other students of color. For a more privileged student a scholarship would have been enough access to complete the program, pocs often have additional hurdles where a scholarship isn’t enough.

Task Force Me to Death: Whenever I hear of a younger or less jaded colleague joining a task force I first congratulate them on their appointment to the prestigious task force (all task forces are special otherwise they wouldn’t exist), then I tell them to take all of their expectations and reduce it by two-thirds, possibly four-fifths depending on the task force. Task forces are important tools for gaining buy-in, highlighting inequities, and hopefully doing some of the background work needed before taking things to the public. Yet task forces are often working with dominant culture standards, timelines, and practices which aren’t designed with the comfort and control of people of color at the center of it.

Public Testimony at Government Meetings: I wrote about this before so I won’t go into detail, but let’s categorize public testimony and really most of the current ways of policy making under access. Control of the process is still held by a dominant white culture way of operating. Public testimony gives people access to influence the system but the final decisions and entire process isn’t determined by those most impacted.

Heidi still owes us part two of her previous blog post. When it is published we can see what examples she has and how she describes access isn’t equity. Access is an important step in reaching more equitable results. We need to overhaul our systems and work to change practices to say access and inclusion are important, and they aren’t enough. We need to aim for equity and in some cases recognize access and inclusion are tools to help us get there.

Heidi, you’re now up for part two where I hope you’ll delve into the other categories and how transformational equity with penguins is key to a better life.

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

Let’s Not Confuse ‘Access and Inclusion’ with Racial Equity: An Interactive Post – Part I


By Heidi Schillinger

Gather some colleagues, poster paper, markers, sticky notes, and cold (or hot) beverages. This blog post is meant to be interactive, and it will be more interesting with others. I’ve had this topic at the top of my list of ideas to write about for over a year. But haven’t had the motivation to organize my thoughts on paper, although this is one of the topics I talk about the most in my workshops. Erin is off-playing, so it’s time to gather some motivation. I feel most comfortable writing up workshop exercises, so I decided to stick with that format for this post.

Background Context: Racialized Power Systems

Equity has become the new buzz word. It is used so frequently it has almost come to have no meaning at all. The misuse or appropriation of the term equity is so common and so annoying it spawned this blog site, Fakequity. As the term equity started gaining traction, people and organizations started calling all their diversity, engagement, and inclusion efforts equity. I call B.S. to this catch-all definition of equity. I developed this tool to help us get honest with ourselves about what we are truly doing (and not doing) to pursue equity, specifically racial equity.

At the very foundation of this work, we must acknowledge that business as usual or standard best practices default to upholding systems of white supremacy. If you have issues with the term “supremacy” consider it means control, authority, and power. Ask yourself how many of our institutions have been built and continue to cater to the comfort and control of white, middle-class, English speaking community members?

Many smart people have written about how access to our current system does not equal racial justice. So rather than try to summarize their brilliance, I will just ask you to read a few resources direct from the source –

It is important to mention people of color and communities of color can also uphold the current system. We are often tokenized, individually incentivized, and/or have internalized the superiority of the current system.

Set Up

Pause and answer this question before you continue reading: What are current strategies or actions that are evidence of racial equity in your organization? Write each idea on a separate sticky note (or index card). Generate as many ideas as you can. I often ask people to generate future ideas you hope to implement in your organization as well. You can color code the current and future ideas on different sticky notes to capture a visual of where your current ideas versus future ideas fall on the racial equity mapping tool.

When you are ready to have a group discussion, have everyone answer the question above and read the blog post. Or even take scissors to your current work plan or strategic plan to use with the map. Then print out the racial equity mapping tool or create it on a poster chart. I often create a large map of the floor with tape, so the exercise is even more visual and interactive. Please remember tools are not magical. Using a tool does not ensure racially equitable results or organizational transformation. The tools help us to slow down, be more explicit, brave, and intentional in challenging racism and in our pursuit of fairness and justice for every member of our community. Continued hard work is needed to implement ideas with fidelity and with the intentionality of power-sharing with communities of color. Please also consider who is and isn’t in the room as you have this conversation.

I have also added a PDF of a sampling of ideas collected in workshops, slightly edited for ease of understanding. You can print these ideas out and use them in your discussion as well. In a future Part II blog post, I’ll tell you where I would categorize the ideas on the PDF. I’m not sharing my analysis of these ideas right now because it would a) make this blog post too long and b) the point of the tool is not to convey there is a right answer, but to help us have more explicit conversations about what is and isn’t racial equity.

Conversation and Analysis

Are you ready to start diving into the conversation about where your ideas fall on the racial equity mapping tool? As a group or in small groups, spend time discussing what quadrant you think your ideas fit into. Map the sticky notes on poster paper (or index cards on a map on the floor) to create a powerful visual. I remind people this is not a “game to win” but a framework to help us have different conversations that hopefully lead to different actions and outcomes. I’ve used this tool regularly for over a year with many different groups, and I continue to learn and shift my thinking. So, engage in this conversation and analysis many times.

The tool was designed around concepts of “comfort” and “control” inspired by the article, The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy. It asks us to consider how comfortable are communities of color and how much (decision-making and resource allocation) control do communities of color truly hold. I’ll give you short descriptions of each of the quadrants, but I have also found the visuals (triangle, spiral, etc.) to be helpful as well. The visuals come from the video What Our Movements Can Learn from Penguins. The video uses an hourglass to help us understand the current system, but I use a triangle here to express a simpler version of the racial hierarchy that our system has embedded.

Business as Usual: Organizational practices that uphold white power structures. Communities of color have low comfort and low control. Efforts default to Fakequity and majority white people as primary final decision makers. Focuses on standard best practices, dominant society data, “efficiency,” limited or no budget for ideas.

Access & Inclusion: Organizational practices that influence white power structures. Communities of color have comfort, but no real control. Efforts default to tracking outputs and majority white people as primary final decision makers. Focuses on engagement, input, inclusion, access, and assimilation.

Programmatic Racial Equity: Organizational practices that build and share power within limited areas of white power structures. Communities of color have some decision-making and resource allocation control but limited broad comfort in the system. Efforts default to communities of color (most impacted by racial inequities) as primary decision makers over a limited scope project or initiative. Focuses explicitly on communities of color (most impacted by racial inequities) controlling narratives, agendas, and resources.

Structural Racial Equity: Organizational practices that default to shared power system/organizational wide. Communities of color have high comfort and high control. Effort default to racially equitable outcomes. Focuses on whole system/organizational redesign and structural transformation (the spiral in the penguin video) that impact racially equitable outcomes. Hint: Almost nothing falls here, but it’s our aspirational vision and goal.

Once you’ve mapped out your ideas, engage in some reflection about what you notice. Here are some sample debrief question ideas to get you started:

  • How does seeing the current results of this map make you feel?
  • What do you notice about where most of the ideas are placed?
  • What do you wonder about the current distribution of efforts and resources? How much is truly focused on racial equity work?
  • What are some important distinctions your group talked about between the “access and inclusion” quadrant and the “programmatic racial equity” quadrant, especially regarding decision-making power?
  • Are there any cards you think have been misplaced? Discuss them as a large group.
  • What will you do next?

This could be a much longer blog post (it’s usually at least a four-hour workshop), but I have already exceeded my suggested word count. I promise to dig deeper into specific examples for each of the quadrants in Part II of the blog post. But hopefully, this is enough to get you started.

Final Thoughts

This tool was originally developed for the City of Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment, with funding from the Urban Sustainability Directors Network. If you plan to use the tool, please credit Equity Matters. If you want to use this tool in your consulting work (or any other capacity where you are compensated) please contact Equity Matters and obtain a license.

In the spirit of not just “extracting” if you find this post and tool, or any other Fakequity blog post useful, please consider financially contributing to an organization that is people of color led and community of color embedded. If you need some ideas here are a few –

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

Let’s Play Ableism Bingo!

By Carrie Griffin Basas

Editor’s Note: A few weeks ago my friend and colleague Carrie Basas wrote about Disability Rights So White: Disability and Racial Justice. This week she returns with Ableism BINGO. Thanks Carrie for dropping by some wisdom and fun. There is a PDF download of the BINGO card at the bottom of the blog post which Carrie ran through a screen-reader to hilarious results.


A couple years ago, I was at an anti-racism training where the facilitators invited us to reflect on how they had made the space welcoming and how they had not. I listened as others gave feedback. I thought about not saying anything but it had bothered me that the registration page had listed information about gender-inclusive bathrooms and breastfeeding areas but had not explicitly invited attendees to flag any disability accommodations that they might need. I appreciated the access that they had offered, but saw a huge gap. I decided to share that feedback and came away feeling like it wasn’t received well.

In the spirit of my perpetual, uncompensated, and often tiring role as Informal Ambassador of All Things Disability, I also pointed out that I knew that they were good people because I had gone to another one of their trainings. It wasn’t that I questioned their intent or character. Had I not known them from another context, I would have hesitated to register because silence on access can be read as a message that you are not welcome. The next day, the facilitators tried again and did better—they had reflected on their miss and wanted to know more. We started again from a new place. I wanted to help and they wanted to do better; that’s the essence of repair.

I thought about this moment when I was doing that combination of cringing and laughing at Entitlement Bingo. Over the past few months, as I have vented about meetings, conferences, and the occasional school pickup to Erin, she encouraged me to write my own disability-focused bingo. We knew it would be therapeutic for me and maybe even helpful to others.

I have fond memories of bingo nights with my aunties and grandmother. I remember the frenzied management of multiple sheets, fast-action daubers, trash talk among ladies, and the smell of smoke in the air. I also remember the odd door prizes. I never won except once—and that night, I got a pen that vibrated and wrote in multiple colors. There is some irony in giving a vibrating pen to a physically disabled person. I had tried to master penmanship with my fixed elbows (AKA as “chicken wings” around my house) years earlier in school. Did I really need to up the complexity and awkwardness as a teen with a vibrating pen?

The bingo card that I’ve created below was made in a smoke-free environment. You won’t be lighting your auntie’s cigarette or collecting her money at the end, sadly. You can get out your pennies as placeholders, but please don’t give your dimes to a charity that objectifies kids with disabilities.

You might need some definitions as a way of introduction:

Ableism: discrimination against disabled people, along with the privileging of perceived “abled” people’s needs and desires. Ableism can range from hate crimes to denials of accessibility, institutionalization to employment discrimination.

Inspiration porn: We are about to enter that period of memes about the attractive non-disabled high school athlete asking the girl with disabilities to prom. Or perhaps you’ve seen something in your social media that looks like the images in this or even this. Inspiration porn is when we go over the top in celebrating disabled people for doing ordinary things. These representations are usually framed such that a non-disabled person is the true hero. Inspiration porn elevates non-disabled people over disabled people and reinforces the idea that a life with disability is not worth living. Ask yourself if you are inspired: Inspired to do what? If you have no clue, you just consumed some inspiration porn. Don’t tell your mother and please go and wash your hands. Then watch Stella Young’s excellent talk on inspiration porn.

Angry crip (cripple—and yes, I can use that word as a form of my own political empowerment) stereotype: Some folks believe that disabled people are bitter and angry to have the bodies and minds that they do. Therefore, disabled people can feel additional pressure to be acquiescent or even-tempered. We know this pressure is not unique to disability; it just takes different forms here.

Catching people, including yourself, in violations of this card should be an opening, not a closing or judgment. Truth be told, you could catch me in violations of this card at different moments. And I just might have spilled my single-origin hemp latte on the entitlement bingo card. Just because I have a disability does not mean that I do right by all people with disabilities all of the time, whatever my intent.

Happy playing—and know that I won’t judge if you light up while playing this or are slow on the daubers. Just don’t turn me into a meme or park in my spot, okay?

PDF Download of Ableism BINGO Card.

Parting Resources:

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

10 Ways Whiteness Shows Up You May Not Even Realize


Artwork from Amplifer by Tataya Fazlalizadeh

By Erin O.

This week I spent time thinking about where whiteness shows up in our everyday lives. I’m not talking the major stuff like in the White House, although it is currently a gruesome shade of white. White supremacy doesn’t always come with a sign saying “Make America Great Again,” a KKK hood, or a Confederate flag. I spent the week thinking about the everyday stuff where whiteness is ingrained in our lives and we forget how it shows up. Here is a list of ten ways whiteness shows up every day we may not realize. This list isn’t designed to make you feel bad or to feel racist, it is simply to point out how we operate and live in a system designed by white people and has legacies of whiteness built into it.

  1. English is the dominant language. Language controls and defines a lot about how we understand the world. Framing thoughts through a European created language favor whiteness.
  2. Washington State’s name and other places that use non-Native American/ Indigenous place names. Native Americans and Indigenous people were here first and had names for places, thanks to white supremacy these original place names have been eliminated and renamed for white people or white cultural norms.
  3. European and white American Centered Curriculum. Whose history gets taught and read? Hearing “I was never taught about the Japanese internment,” “I didn’t learn about Native American history except through cowboy and Indian text,” or “yeah the teacher had all the children line up by skin color to teach about slavery” these things happen because of white supremacy showing up in education.
  4. School names. Along with curriculum how many of the schools across the US are named after white people? I’m a proud alum of Lincoln Elementary, a white president who ended slavery, but still a white man. In Seattle eight of the eighteen high schools, 40%, are named after white presidents. Only one is named after a person of color, Chief Sealth. The rest are named after places or other words not associated with people. Hmmm…
  5. Money – who’s faces are on our money – white people. All the bills in my wallet feature white men, hmmm. Who get’s paid the most, white men. Gender and race pay gaps exist and are due to systemic racism.
  6. Where do you get your news? I get mine through a lot of mainstream media which is a very white-dominated field. I appreciate many of the news outlets working to understand and report more about race, it helps but it is still a white controlled media news stream. Working to diversify where you get your news helps. I make a point of reading the South Seattle Emerald because they do a great job of highlighting local stories, many of which are by people of color. Do some research to find your local equivalent, and then make a generous donation to them to keep them going.
  7. A friend shared in the Washington State Senate there are two women of color Sens. Rebecca Saldaña and Manka Dhingra. Two out of 49, yes there are more pocs in the Senate, but two women of color out of 49, means there are a lot of white people making policy on our behalf.
  8. Pick up a few statistical documents and I’ll bet within a few reports people of color data is either missing (e.g. not reporting on Native Americans/Indigenous, missing Asians or Pacific Islanders, etc.), grouped in ways not authentic to our communities and perspectives (i.e. grouping Asians with whites), or we’re benchmarking and aiming for parity with white people. As a colleague said: “I don’t want to benchmark off white women, I want us to aim for the best outcomes globally,” which may mean people of color can achieve more and give us all something better to aim for.
  9. Leadership So White. Mellody Hobson said this in her Color Brave TED Talk: “[I]magine if I walked you into a room and it was of a major corporation, like ExxonMobil, and every single person around the boardroom were black, you would think that were weird. But if I walked you into a Fortune 500 company, and everyone around the table is a white male, when will it be that we think that’s weird too?” Leadership standards and the way we look at leadership is centered on models of white male dominance.
  10. Not having your food labeled as “ethnic food.” Mainstream grocery stores often have an “ethnic food” aisle, thanks for labeling what I eat as “ethnic” but really isn’t white people food just as “ethnic?”

I mention these things not to make people mad or to shut down, but to illustrate how prevalent whiteness is in our daily lives. We can’t undo things until we can recognize them for what they are. Realistically we won’t be able to undo every piece of whiteness every day, but we can be more conscious of it and where possible call it out and work to shift norms.

As an example, a friend volunteers to pick up books weekly from the library for her daughter’s preschool classroom. She relishes and loves this volunteer assignment because she can influence the media the preschoolers see. She finds books by authors of color, books about children of color, request the library buy/add certain books to diversify the library’s collection. If she just walked in and picked up the first ten age-appropriate books she saw there is a good chance the books would feature white kids be by white authors or be books about animals and trains. With a little intentionality, we can be aware of whiteness and work to undo it.

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

Changing the way we advocate

By Erin O.

On Tuesday I had breakfast with a colleague who reads the blog. He joked that I start each blog post with a “I don’t know what to write about this week…” whine, then dribble on for a few hundred words. That assessment isn’t too far from the truth, but this week I know exactly what I’m going to delve into– advocacy.

In my day job, I spend a lot of time thinking about and actively working on advocacy, policy change, and community engagement. These three components are often thought of in isolation from each other, but they need to come together for smart poc-centered changes to happen.



Student advocacy at a school board meeting

Advocacy is the act of publicly supporting, trying to influence a decisionmaker, and promoting a viewpoint. All of us are advocates and we all advocate for things hundreds of times a day. As an example, I was advocated at multiple times tonight when my kids asked to watch the Emoji movie, one kid advocated for M&Ms instead of strawberries for his snack, the other advocated for just the crumble part of the apple pie leftover from Pi-day and a scoop of chocolate (not vanilla) ice cream. As the target of their rudimentary but effective advocacy strategies, I held a lot of power in those asks. I had the power to fulfill their ask or to deny their requests; I gave in to all but the M&Ms.


On the flipside, I am often the one advocating for policy shifts at work. These acts of advocacy happen at work when my organization is making an ask about a position because we believe the change we’re asking for is better for children and families of color. When I’m advocating I’m often in a lesser position of power because I need someone else to do something. Race is interwoven into this in multiple ways, especially if I’m advocating to a mostly white group or a historically white-dominated organization I’m automatically viewed in a lesser position to be advocating from.

How it Goes Wrong

Before I talk about how all of this comes together, I want to explain how I’ve seen advocacy go wrong. For advocacy to work we have to recognize there are power dynamics at play – one person or a group has something the other person or group wants or needs. The person asking for the change needs to prove their point and convince the other person to shift their position to do what is asked. This can go wrong in so many ways and for so many reasons.

I still remember my first experience providing public testimony at the state capitol. It was on an early learning related topic, the specifics of which are long expunged from my brain. I had to drive over an hour to get to Olympia, find parking, then make it through the maze of buildings on the Capitol campus, and finally find the right room while not slipping on the slick marble floors due to the winter rain. When I finally found the room, my colleagues had already signed me in to testify and I took a seat. I sat and waited for what felt like over an hour. An hour waiting to give two-minutes of testimony, on top of already having driven over an hour and invested a lot of quarters into paying for street parking because this is the system we have for policymakers to hear from the public. When I finally testified I realized those listening already made up their minds and I was simply speaking to get on the record to share a viewpoint that wasn’t super popular.

More recently I’ve seen where advocacy can go horribly wrong in listening to other people testify. The act of advocating for something is a personal belief. The belief can be race-conscious or race-blind, it can be grounded in ‘fact’ or the other person’s version of ‘fact,’ it can be informed through authentic community engagement efforts, or through echo-chambers of listening to people whom you already agree with and reinforce a viewpoint. Perhaps it is because of our democratic engrained ways we give equal weight to allowing people to formally advocate. Anyone who can jump through all of the hoops to testify at a public meeting has the same amount of time and the same access to the podium. The problem is in the equality of the experience. The barriers to advocacy are greater for some than others. To testify a person often has to carve out at least an hour (often more) in order to give two-minutes or less of public testimony. There is also language and transportation considerations, as well as understanding what is often a mindboggling process to figuring out what are the protocols involved to advocating in this formal way. Whenever I give public testimony I still get nervous, I can only imagine what the experience is like for someone who is an immigrant or a non-English speaker.

I’m also struck by there is little way to really unpack and delve into what people are presenting during their statements. I once testified on a topic providing my viewpoint and was followed by another advocate who’s testimony was the complete opposite. In this setting there wasn’t a mechanism to help the policy makers understand facts and to unpack what is facts versus beliefs, especially when they come to race, bias, opportunity hoarding, and the ilk. A lawyer friend pointed out there is no swearing an oath to telling the truth when we testify; maybe we should have to swear that testimony is truthful and specify what is a belief not fact. (Did you catch that subtle advocacy? I just asked for a policy shift.)

How this All Comes Together and Changing the System

At the heart of advocacy is relationships. Advocacy needs at least two people, one person to ask and the other person to hear the message. When we are working on advocacy efforts we need to build and sustain relationships to get to a place of yes and activate change. These relationships need to be diverse and recognizing and balancing of formal and community power dynamics.

We also need to create more ways for advocacy to happen in settings outside of staged events and through formal testimony. While on a school tour a school health nurse shared how students using her health clinic will tell her things about their lives while at the school health clinic because it is on their campus- their home turf, but those same students are less likely to share if they are seen at a health clinic in a more traditional medical setting. Having home turf advantage is so important to leveling power in advocacy efforts, especially with communities of color and communities farthest from justice.

We all need to do our part to push government and other formal systems to shift and bend to better meet community needs. This starts by paying attention to wonky stuff like school board meetings, City Council, and other process-driven organizations. Watch government hearings to get a sense of what is happening and then talk to a few friends or others to see if they have the same take as you, this simple act of community engagement may lead to different thoughts or the start of a movement. Get into the game and over time we can change this game to be more poc-centered.

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

Disability Rights So White: Disability and Racial Justice

Fakequity Blogger Note: This week we welcome a guest post by my friend and colleague Carrie Basas. Carrie is our first white-ally to blog for us. I invited Carrie to write for us about disabilities; this is an area I need to learn about. -Erin

By Carrie Basas

Inspirational porn star . . .
Look we got enough problems
No need for you to call a cop who can’t solve one.
-Wheelchair Sports Camp “Hard Out Here for a Gimp”

carrie 2

Photo from Carrie Basas

I come from a long line of cleaning ladies and people who passed as white because they were poor and did not want to be further marginalized. They set me up to not experience that racism—rather to benefit from white supremacy. They did their best, but hate and shame seep in and shape us.

Maybe it’s not surprising that when I was born with disabilities, I was told to pass as normal, as non-disabled. My family no longer had to worry about their skin color. Now, there was a new challenge—how to get a disabled girl through a world that would read her as “less than” and defective. Those fears—of racism and ableism—are not the same, but they are fueled by similar systems.

My parents were not disabled like me and had not received a mythical handbook on how to raise someone like me. They did their best and absorbed the messages of well-meaning others that encouraged them to make me better. Their fears became written on my body and mind, but also my motivation to do well in school.

I was “supercripping”—I tried to overcome every stereotype about disability by being palatable—smiling, kind, smart, overachieving, conflict-avoidant, tidy, and funny. I was not the disabled person that we fear—angry, bitter, lazy, benefits-receiving, argumentative, unkempt, and aggressive. I made non-disabled people feel more comfortable with disability, mostly because I wasn’t comfortable with it myself.

I didn’t realize that the disability rights movement existed until I met a POC professor who was becoming disabled and grappling with it. She introduced me to community, history, and positive identity that shook me to the core. I had a new way of seeing myself and also new tensions with those that only knew disability as deviance.

My physical and mental impairments do not disable me as much as how society reacts to me. I am disabled in the supermarket when a stranger touches my shoulder and tells me how inspired they are. I am disabled by men in former workplaces who made sexual comments and then denied them because I wasn’t a real woman. Didn’t I know?

What disability also gave me is people of color in my life, a place where I could just be and know what community could look like. Disability justice and racial justice are intertwined. Stigma about each experience can make us avoid exploring that connection. I might say that young Black men are more likely to have disabilities than people who look like me, that disability is caused by discrimination and resource inequities and that discrimination makes us sicker, that most people killed by police are our shared brothers and sisters. But the pain of our distinct discrimination can be too much to bear, let alone intersect. As one colleague said, “Why would I claim disability when part of my fight is to make sure that my people are not labeled more?”

I sit in spaces where disabled people bemoan the fact that POCs don’t include them on the agenda. We each have work to do, but disability rights can pause and learn first from POC activism:

Representation in leadership matters: Non-disabled leaders (siblings, parents) of disability rights organizations claim to change the conversation about disability but never cede their power. That reminds me of the NAACP’s early days of benevolent whites insisting on leading. That had to change, as does this. Being an ally is not a proxy for discrimination and experience, just as I do not know racial profiling in my bones just because my husband experiences it.

Effective organizing is about individual and collective needs: Recognize where we are, but don’t rush to ensure safety for those with power. There is no checklist, no “one-time woke training,” that will relieve the discomfort of not knowing how to be with another person’s reality. Be humble. Be open-hearted. Be uncomfortable: that’s the work. I am uncomfortable constantly in an ableist world. I need to be uncomfortable with how much racism has given me power.

Faking is obvious: Many of us in disability rights understand the rising, patronizing tone used for children when it is used on us. We see people talk to non-disabled people and ask them to speak to our experiences. Don’t do that to our POC friends. Being fake doesn’t dismantle racism or ableism; it perpetuates it.

Being an ally is not an additive process: In the foreword to “When They Call You a Terrorist,” Angela Davis writes that fruitful movements “… call for an inclusiveness that does not sacrifice particularity.” In disability communities, we are used to other organizations failing us and we start to expect it. We can rush to argue that ableism deserves as much airtime as racism. They are different. We degrade one another’s experiences when we claim anything else.

We need one another for the growth of our movements and mutual recognition. We must take off our survival masks and talk about our shared overrepresentation in prisons, discrimination by doctors that wouldn’t want to be us, schools that would rather outsource us to other buildings and teachers. We need community and collaboration. Sometimes, we just need to be one another’s witnesses—that we do not face identical oppression, but oppression corrodes us and blocks our work. Where we most need to have a conversation is about how disability leadership is too white, male, English-speaking, middle class, wheelchair-using, inspirational. In many ways, disability is too me.

Professor Mari Matsuda encourages us to “Ask the other question.” Ask what we haven’t considered, whose voices are missing from our movements. We can work on dismantling systems that keep us apart and yet both marginalized. When we do, I hope that our soundtrack will be crip hop.

As I make our playlist, meet some POCs making sure that disability is not too white:

Twitter: #disabilitytoowhite

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

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