Is Your Equity Work All White?

This week has felt like a fire drill or actually a real fire. In Washington state, a DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) young adult was detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement). This is a big deal because while many of us knew eventually DACA protection would be tested, we are now realizing an even newer reality. This and other ICE raids across the country have left many immigrants and refugee communities shaken and worried about their lives and welfare. A colleague shared an undocumented family told him they make sure only one parent is at home at a time in case there is an ICE raid, this way their children will be able to stay with the other parent should anything happen. Another colleague told me the youth she works with are stressed out and worried about losing their parents. In the nonprofit world, we’ve been scrambling to meet community needs. Today at my coalition’s monthly meeting I had a request to save time to talk about what is happening with the ICE raids and what we are doing as a community to get information out. Other partners are working to get legal information and Know Your Rights trainings out to families. All this reacting is leaving little time to do other important work, but we must continue to get the rest of our work right so we can make progress and continue to build on the assets of our rich communities of color, especially our immigrant and refugee communities.

Equity Teams Silosgreen-balls

Last week I was in a meeting listening to people talk about a rubric (fancy term for a grading scale) on how to grade their racial equity teams. The teams wanted to see a chart where they could measure themselves and to benchmark progress. I sighed, racial equity work isn’t like getting a grade and saying “we’re passing! High fives!” Racial equity work is more about the process and journey and actions not about giving ourselves a passing grade, there is always more to learn.

I sat there and half-heartedly listened to the white organizers chatter on about how some teams were doing well and how others were stuck. Midway through the conversation I realized they were having the wrong conversation. They were talking about equity in a whiteness-bubble. These equity teams will never achieve transformational changes because it is mostly white people talking about “equity;” I put equity in quotations because I don’t think they were even talking about racial equity since race was hardly named, it was implied but rarely called out. Their conversation about race was centering whiteness and talking about what they saw as important. Allowing whiteness to pervade conversations about race is a form of power, a power to control the narrative and the stories that are told which often frames the solutions we seek.

The organization is mostly white, approximately 90% white. Listening to white people try to undo racism by only talking to white people, is like watching a silent movie expecting to learn spoken language. Their conversation about race was centering whiteness and talking about what they saw as important. Allowing whiteness to pervade conversations about race is a form of power, a power to control the narrative and the stories and the solutions we seek.

The other problem with majority white groups working on racial equity is it allows white people to default to their bad behaviors. At a different meeting, I sat in on a table session with a majority white group looking at data. The table dynamics could have been scripted: white dude got all defensive and tried to justify and blame people, white woman said “I try really hard to smile extra big to the Spanish speaking family. I could say ‘hola’ in the morning, but then I can’t say anything else,” the lone person of color had to fight to be heard at the table. Defaulting to these usual behaviors doesn’t help to undo racism, in fact it plays into racism’s hand. Diversifying people in the room and working to level power dynamics holds white people accountable; white people shouldn’t hoard emotional attention, they are accountable to people of color and balancing the group dynamics will force this accountability.

Stop Talking to Only White People

We need to force open tables and invite in people of color. People of color have different lived experiences and truths than white people. As people of color we have amazing assets and stories that need to be acknowledged and welcomed in. Our assets will help to provide the solutions to the problems faced by communities of color. Our stories will frame the way we see the problems and how we go about solving them. As I wrote about in the introduction about the current political climate many of our nonprofits working with communities of color are scrambling to serve our communities, we do this because we have to and because we hear from people who are being impacted by the presidential actions. If we only listened to white people we wouldn’t be able to be an asset and ally to our communities. Now we need white people to get out of their white bubbles and to start listening and sharing the burden of undoing racism.

Listen to Our Stories

About a year ago, an African American parent told me “I can’t sing your song until I learned my own.” This phrase is so true in racial equity work, while we must open up and listen to each, white people we need you to learn your own stories and songs. I need you to learn about race and what race means to you. Step back and listen to people without breaking down, without getting defensive or tone-policing us. When you listen and then stop to process on your own, you’ll realize the gift of stories and richness we as people of color are offering you.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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Anger=Love, Build Relationships

Valentine’s Day is coming up next week, a day dedicated to thinking about love, happier things, and candy. You may think we’ll blog about love, nah that’s for a traditional blog. This is the fakequity blog so instead we’ll write about something different, anger and resentment. Anger is a form of love, if we didn’t care about something or someone we wouldn’t get angry or resentful. My friend and I have a text conversation about anger and resentment. It started about two days ago, and we’re still going back and forth. One of the things we’ve realized is anger comes fast and dissipates. On the other hand resentment lingers, can grow, and is tied to feeling wronged with an element of righteous indignation. I’m a very flawed human and I resent a lot of things. Such as I resent evening meetings where I’m invited to be a community representative but don’t have a real role other than to sit there absorb information and legitimize someone else’s process. I sit through these meetings wondering why I’m there and resenting giving up an evening binge watching the newest season of Voltron on Netflix.

Talking about race and racial equity can easily get emotional. In my text conversation with my friend we went back and forth about whether emotions such as anger and resentment are a choice or if they are instinctual and impulsive. I am working with the belief we can control our emotions and make choices about going to a place of anger and resentment, or the opposite love and understanding.

anger-equals-dark-side-yoda-hulk

picture by bodhijesitsnatchesthepeach

As part of my own racial equity work I’m trying to be more conscious of allowing time to unpack emotions. It is hard to calmly and rationally talk about race when someone arrogantly says “I went to the training on white fragility and I wasn’t as defensive as the other guy. I’m all good on this race thing.” Those types of comments make me want to jump across the table or throw my pen at them, instead I sometimes sit there and stew and let anger build. I’m envisioning Yoda from Star Wars scolding me saying something like “Anger, To fear, leads, Fear of white supremacy taking over.” I know I should ascertain where the belief is coming from, but this takes a lot of emotional energy. Sometimes I’ll just write the person off and avoid them for life adding the experience to my list of resentments.

Avoiding people and the topic of race isn’t a healthy formula for creating urgency and change. Taking the time to talk and build relationships that further cross-racial connections is necessary to undoing anger and exploring how to undo personal and systemic racism.

To fight anger and resentment around race we need to spend time building stronger relationships with people of color. Relationships force us to confront things about ourselves and others. Getting to know people who are different then ourselves allows us to check our biases, tendencies, and forces us to expand our viewpoints. Tonight, in a meeting a white colleague said “I’m a white person, as a white person I had to realize I had blinders on. I couldn’t learn about race from other white people, I had to open the view from my blinders not put on another pair of glasses. I had to expand my blinders outside of just white people.” It is easy to resent and get angry at people we don’t know, but when we know people we’re more willing to build tolerance, love, and we change our beliefs.

Do Not Tone Police

Please do not use your relationships to tone-police people’s anger. Tone policing is when we criticize how a message is delivered or downplay the emotion (often anger) versus acknowledging the experience or feelings expressed are true for the person expressing it. It is sometimes ‘correcting’ someone else, or dismissing their anger or experience ‘it couldn’t be that bad…,’ or saying something like “I’m a white person and I experienced the same…”

Author and Buddhist scholar and writer Thich Nhat Hanh explains the concept this way in this quote from the book Anger:

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

In a mutually reinforcing relationship we listen to each other and when something doesn’t feel right we ask more questions to build a deeper relationship. We can take the time to introduce to share stories and to remind people they don’t have to solve problems alone.

Love, because we can’t be a total downer

This Valentine’s day I hope you challenge yourself to build a new relationship with someone outside of your comfort area. Anger and resentment form more quickly when we don’t understand each other.

For me I have a lot of really great relationships with people of color. These relationships feed me and make me feel whole. But I am realizing a lot of the relationships I have are with English speaking people. As a monolingual English speaker, I allow this language privilege to prevail in my relationships. I need to invest some time and energy into figuring out how to get out of my English only rut. For a start I better practice learning how to introduce myself in Cantonese for a parent meeting with some Chinese families in a few weeks. Learning how to say hello and my name is the least I can do to prepare and to break out of my English only bubble.

Post by Erin

Rage in the Right Direction

Before we start I want to highlight a project. While I make fun of hashtags all the time I started one #CongressNeedsLoveLetters. Take a moment and send a postcard to a Representative or Senator and tell them what you care about. We need to be vocal,  practice resistance, and show gratitude. More information here.

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“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they. Do not go gentle into that good night.” Dylan Thomas

This poem was shared at the memorial service for Al Sugiyama, a beloved Asian American activist. The speaker reminded us Al did not go gently, he fought and raged against racism and cancer until his end. In this current political climate we must continue to rage in the right direction.

 

raging-pandas

picture credit: AJ Dimarucot

It’s only been a week since our last blog post and so much has changed. Last Friday, 27 January 2017, after we posted our blog post, President Trump signed an executive order banning people from seven primarily Muslim countries. Suddenly people who were legally allowed in the United States were no longer allowed to enter the country, despite having legal clearance to travel and in some cases reside in the United States. It is noted the ban is supposed to “keep America safe,” but in reality the policy is targeting people and prejudice against Muslims. It is akin to Japanese American citizens being rounded up and put into prison camps (a.k.a. internment camps) during WW II; once was legal became illegal because of a political action playing off of fear and intolerances. The ban has affected many, and has made many people afraid of what might happen next. Protests happened all over the country. Immediately after the ban was announced a protest started at Sea-Tac Airport, a larger rally on Sunday evening as well, and around Seattle smaller acts of resistance are sprouting up.

Slow Down

We need to slow down and ask is our rage directed in the right places or are we doing things to feel like we’re doing something to do something, versus fighting for rights, to rage against injustice, and to bring visibility to hidden problems.

Earlier this week I was at a school for a meeting about race and equity. One of the agenda items was a grassroots welcome rally movement at schools where parents and students would hold welcoming signs, the principal had reservations. On the surface, it sounds like a feel-good-nothing-bad can happen sort of event, but the cringes by parents of color were telling. Crowds of people holding signs doesn’t always send a welcoming signal to people of color, and immigrant families who may not be literate or fluent in English may not understand what the rallying is about, worse they may feel targeted or ‘othered’ by the rally. A Facebook event page grew and had comments for the event and a vocal minority saying, whoa slow down. The tone policing from the do-gooders to the people saying slow down was classic, telling, and obnoxious.

Parents of color asked online and in person why do we need signs saying #WeAreAllImmigrants, We Welcome ALL Families, We Love Diversity, and I Love my Immigrant Neighbors. The messages of showing up in unity between white people and others sends a silencing message. This quote from the blog Black Girl Dangerous explains why: “‘unity’ pushes a violent doctrine of sameness. It allows for individuals in positions of relative dominance to set agendas that more marginalized and disenfranchised individuals and communities are dogmatically expected to follow.”

I’m cringing at these messages because they are coming from a dominant white perspective of wanting to affirm people of color. It is white people saying “I see you, person of color/refugee, and I like you.” I don’t want my kids to learn to seek out white people affirmation. I want my kids to authentically feel like they belong to a community, not through some artificial event where white people are in control and want to be seen as doing good. I also want my kids of color to earn validation, not be given it because of misplaced energy and rage against President Trump’s asinine executive order.

I get the need to rage, the feeling is palpable. The messages of do something, resist, and fight are out there. To our white allies please realize raging in the wrong way comes at a greater cost to communities of color than you may realize. As people of color we spend a lot of time nicely or pointedly explaining how damaging or hurtful these “I want to be a good white person” actions and messages are. People of color also spend a lot of time dealing with white anger, tears, fragility, or defensiveness when white people feel hurt because people of color are rejecting their efforts. This isn’t a good use of time or energy. This is energy we could invest into communities of color, rather than dealing with white-do-good emotions. It must be exhausting for white people trying to uphold the illusion of being seen as good and then expending emotional energy resisting people saying no thank you to the illusion. I see the exhaustion and relentlessness white people feel around fighting to be seen as doing good, if you need permission to stop please give it to yourself. And please stop fighting people of color who are telling you to listen.

White people, please stop doing things to say you did something or to post to social media, stop doing things to affirm people of color, stop for a moment and collect yourselves. If you want to be helpful stop and learn about race. Stop and invest time in building relationships outside of your bubbles.

Rage=Learning

One way you can constructively rage is to learn. We all need to continue learning about race and how it impacts our lives and upholds the current systems and led to the craziness we’re in now. Instead of placing your rage in doing potentially more harmful things, put that energy into a constructive activity:

  • Become conscious of who you are listening to, break out of white echo-chambers.
  • Take in media from people of color.
  • Spend authentic time with communities of color – don’t creep and try to buddy up to a person of color on the bus (that’s just weird).
  • Make a long-term commitment to volunteering with a poc embedded organization, research carefully so you’re not joining an org just serving pocs. Please do not parachute in and then leave or think you’ll change and save people.
  • Focus energy on undoing systemic and institutional racism, for an easy activity take part in the #CongressNeedsLoveLetters campaign mentioned up top.
  • Listen to people of color when they push back it is for a reason and seek to understand those reasons.

Gentleness and rage, we’ll need both to survive the next few years.

Posted by Erin Okuno

Dear Community, I’m Sorry

Last week Heidi and I co-wrote a post about the tools we have available to us to resist and transform our work. The tools include: time, truth telling and belief, money, language, and love. As we move into the lunar new year, I’m going to use the Year of the Rooster as a chance to restart and to think about what I love about my community and how we are strong. Before we enter the new lunar year I have to say I’m sorry. Admitting wrong and apologizing are a form of love or at the very least self-humbleness.

Dear communities of color, especially kids of color, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I don’t spend enough time with you. I’m sorry I take time and energy away from being with you to spend in long meetings talking about ‘systems change,’ policies, and things that will only bring marginal changes to the community.

I’m sorry we live with political bullying from the president down to local government. I’m sorry I can’t protect people of color from budget cuts, damaging policies, and from politicians who believe and like listening to themselves more than they believe in you and me. I’m sorry we have to sit through meetings and listen to elected officials drone on and on because they like to soapbox, hear themselves, and whitesplain.

2016-11-11 09.13.01.jpgI’m sorry for the graffiti that says “Fuc* Donald Trump.” (I’m sorry the f-word is spray painted where children can see it.)

I’m sorry because of the racism I confront at work I bring it home and it shows up as annoyance, a questioning of you, or power plays.

I’m sorry because I work and live in a transactional world of ‘holding the line’ on policies and budgets, or trying to make small gains because people tell us we’ll never get what we really want for children of color, we are afraid or too realistic to dream bigger and have a vision for transformational racial justice. To be honest I don’t even know what transformational change looks like, I have no brain space left to think about bigger change.

In a not-apology-apology I’m sorry if my dark humor offends you. Being kind and nice all the time takes a lot of mental energy so I go to the dry humor.

Colleagues of color and allies I’m sorry if I sent you an email with only a half-thought and crappy grammar because I was too rushed or hurried to give it the attention it deserved. You deserve better and when I’m not spending time and energy writing a seven-point response in an email war I’ll do better.

Children of color, I’m sorry we elected public officials who don’t understand race and why it isn’t about them as adults. When you’re a little older and can comprehend words like “those children” and “inadequate resources,” and concepts like inequities or systemic racism I’ll share the emails  with you so you are better prepared for the truth-telling you’ll need to do when I’m too infirmed and bitter to do this job.

While I can’t undo the wrongs (sorry, I can’t singlehandedly undo systemic racism), I can deploy my ‘tools’ of resistance better; this is how I’ll atone for my list of offenses and attempt to make reparations.

2017-01-26-14-07-16Heidi (of the fakequity team) shared in the new year she wants to work on “truth telling” and being bolder in telling people, especially white people, what she wants them to hear versus toning down her message to make it more palatable to them. CiKeithia (also of the fakequity team) plans to spend more time with people of color. I wholly encourage this since it means she will be available to us more. She’s already modeling this by helping an immigrant colleague prepare for a talk with philanthropist next week. For me my tool of resistance is to practice more gratitude. I’ve blogged about it before how easy it is to get jaded and annoyed. Just this week I muttered “I’m so annoyed with whiteness,” and I didn’t mean the color. I am trying to practice more gratitude, courage, and slowing down to say thank you and to have casual conversations with people of color.

Maybe through these intentional acts of resistance we can begin to undo the list of things I’m sorry about. I love our community, especially how forgiving they are. I love that we can often stand together and we call each other out. I also love the celebrations, especially the food on lunar new year’s. I’m hoping someone will make some nian gao (Mandarin) or nin guo (Cantonese); last time I made it wasn’t as good as the one the aunties make so I’ll just hope an aunty will share some. I’m in love that my kiddo who is in a Chinese immersion program is teaching me how to introduce myself in Mandarin so next Monday when I’m at work with a group of Chinese speaking parents I can at least attempt to introduce myself in their native language, it is an attempt and hopefully they will be forgiving. I also hope they forgive me that they speak Cantonese but I learned how to say hello and my name is in Mandarin (I’m trying to also learn the Cantonese, but the tonal differences are mushy in my brain). I’m thankful and grateful to all of our fakequity fighters, keep on fighting.

I’m sorry for the lack of brilliance tonight. It’s been a long week and I don’t have anything left to think about. Next week we’ll be in the Year of the Rooster and maybe brilliance will return in a lunar new year red envelope, I’m accepting red envelopes if anyone wants to send some my way.

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Posted by Erin

Tools for Resistance in the Age of *rump

resistance

Today is inauguration day for President Donald Trump. Many are upset, angry, grieving, and riddled with anxiety about what will happen as he takes office. Mr. Trump ran his presidential campaign with pomp, machismo, and promoted hate, sexism, and divisiveness. As he becomes the forty-fifth president we, Fakequity Fighters, need to transform our work. We need to evolve our work from being transactional to thinking about resistance and growth. The last election proved we can’t keep doing the same thing hoping for transformational large scale results.

We’ve been thinking about what are the tools we have at our disposal to find new ways of thinking, working, and most importantly resisting the pull back to white supremacy. First, we need to understand our current reality and how dominant white culture and white power is in our society.

Think of all the books in your childhood school library, or if you have a child in school think about their school library. How many of those books are by authors of color? Imagine if we removed all of the books written by white people, how many books would be left? Most likely the library would be pretty empty. Now do the reverse, remove all the books by authors of color. Would you notice? Would majority of the library be empty, probably not. White perspectives and whiteness are so ingrained into our lives and systems if  we eliminated them the systems wouldn’t exist.

Mellody Hobson explained this concept in her Color Brave TED Talk. She asks: “Imagine 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?”

We need to resist thinking these things are normal and be uncomfortable with them. People of color’s perspectives and presence are often seemed as optional, elective, or used as tokenism or ‘inspiration porn’ — “look at that person of color who overcame hardship and is now the model.” If we lived in a truly racially just and equal community or country, the system wouldn’t be able to function without communities of color, it would pause until it righted itself and got back into sync with all of its parts — everyone is valued and vital to functioning as a whole.

The reality is none of us are outside of this systems. Some people have the privilege and choice to ignore the system and pretend it doesn’t exist. Some people have created pockets of resistance, by centering people and communities of color, but these pockets are still operating in a dominant society. These pockets of resistance are important since they ‘hold the line,’ but to get to transformational change we need white people to reallocate their tools.

Tools come in many different forms. There are physical tools and resources — hammers, computers, money. There are also tools we often overlook as thinking of as tools — language, truth/belief, and love/empathy. These tools can all be used to support communities of color or used to uphold white supremacy and systemic racism. Tools can be shared, redistributed, or hoarded. How we reallocate tools allows us to transform our thinking and our systems. It also reminds us we need to be mindful, vigilant, and active in undoing systems that oppress. We’ll talk about five ‘tools’ we all have at our disposal.

Money

Money is an important tool. It is also one of the easiest to understand and reallocate. We use money to buy food, purchase comfort items, support causes we care about, and we can choose to accept money from different people. Much like the library example, if we pause to think about where we spend our money are we using our money to uphold white systems?

When we slow down and spend our money in more intentional people of color focused ways it is harder. We can’t just default to ordering from Amazon Prime, or stopping by any coffee shop. Maggie Anderson and her family spent a year shopping exclusively at Black/African American owned business. It was her way of using money as a tool to reinvest in the African American community. She shares how challenging it was and how important it is to spend money in communities of color.

Mindy, our amazing colleague who is wickedly fast on a computer, started a map of coffee shops and happy hour places around Seattle that are owned by people of color. Please add to it, we want to see it grow and have businesses across the country. 

Time

Where we choose to spend our time also says a lot about what we value. As an exercise we ask people to audit their calendars — look at whom and where time is spent. Are you meeting spending time with people you like and are easy to be with, or are you building new tools for yourself by hearing from others who challenge your thinking, including people of color. Time is a tool, like money, how we allocate it says a lot about our values. Challenge yourself to diversify where you spend your time and how you spend your time. As a first easy activity related to time, pledge to use your time reading one author of color this month, you’ll probably find it time well-spent and you’ll learn a different viewpoint than mainstream media will give you..

Truth/Belief

Who do we believe is a powerful tool. Much like language, how and who we share our truths with and whom we choose to believe can reinforce or dismantle supremacy. Do we choose to share or cower to power dynamics. In the coming four years we’ll need to be vocal and show up, don’t be silent. We’ll need to share our truths no matter how disruptive they are. And we need white people, and fellow people of color to believe when someone says something about their racialized experience. Don’t tone police them by saying “that isn’t racism, it’s being anti-social,” or “the policy says this, so it couldn’t have happened.” Instead acknowledge the lived experience being shared and be thankful someone is trusting you with their truth, no matter how hard it is to hear.

Love (empathy, compassion) as a Tool of Resistance

Love and connection are not something you can just acquire. Too many people want to “drop into a community of color” and then believe that empathy will be immediately developed. Relationship building doesn’t happen in a visit or two.

In this story Heidi shares, she’s modeling truth sharing, allocating time, and sharing love: Earlier this week I took one of the youth I ride bikes with to the MLK march in Seattle. He shared a story about volunteers dropping in and usually just as quickly dropping out of the bike club. He told me he never invested in relationships with these volunteers because he knew they be gone just as soon as they came. After two years, I finally can say I have a genuine relationship with this youth. He trusts me and tells me about his family, his schooling, his dreams, and his peer relationships. I also care about him and issues that affect him in a way that I didn’t before we developed an authentic bond and connection. He joked that my partner and I are like his other moms. And that it’s funny to think of a Mexican kid with two Asian moms. But this connection across race shouldn’t be an exception.

Language

Language is a tool that can be used for inclusiveness or divisiveness. We saw during the election how language was used to divide the country — to ‘other’ people who aren’t part of the mainstream – gays, Muslims, African Americans, immigrants, and too many others. Language was used to say if you’re with them, you’re against me and America. Instead we need to use language to affirm and be inclusive.

In order for language to be used as a tool for transformation we need to think beyond just providing language access (i.e. translations) to non-English speakers, to thinking what would our systems look like if we valued all languages equally. How great would it be for dual-language and immersion schools as a norm, to seeing documents written in Spanish and other languages with crappy Google translate English so English only people know what our communities of color contend with, or similarly having events conducted in languages other than English and English only speakers have to use translation headsets and understand how hard it is to participate. When we un-center English, we create space for different views to emerge.

Getting to Tools for Transformation

It is really hard to remember these are tools we can share, reallocate, or hoard. We need to slow down and transform ourselves so we transform our work into new models of being. In a future post (nag us to write it), we’ll share some examples of what these new models can look like.

Go forth and be part of the resistance by wielding your tools properly.

Elected Officials Need Racial Equity Training

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As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about advocacy and the responsibility of elected officials. I’ve been thinking about who’s elected officials are accountable to and who’s voice they hear and the privilege it takes to speak up. I’ve concluded we need to do two things, 1) agitate more and remind elected officials they are accountable to all of us, especially people of color, and 2) the systems in place to hear from communities of color need to be changed.

Reichert.pngEarlier this week I decided to email elected officials from my state, Republican and Democrats, to tell them I want to see the Affordable Care Act continued in the new Presidential administration. Advocacy organizations (including mine) preach how important it is for elected officials to hear from community members. I figured I better do as I say and write to my elected officials.  I sat down at my laptop, looked up U.S. Representative Dave Reichert’s website, clicked the contact tab, filled in my zip-code and hit a roadblock. Because I don’t live in his district I’m blocked from emailing him via his website. I’m calling Fakequity; stalled by a technology barrier.

Putting up false barriers to hearing from people outside of a circle of influence, in this case constituents, means an elected official is only hearing from their own echo chamber. Elected officials represent all of us– including people outside of their zip-code boundaries, and they are expected to vote for the betterment of a country, city, school district, etc., not just their immediate districts. In fairness to Rep. Reichert this screen-out system of allowing emails from outside a member’s district is endemic to all of the U.S. House websites.

Equity work means we need to evaluate what barriers are in place preventing us from hearing diverse thoughts, especially from marginalized communities of color. When I asked friends and colleagues for advice on how to reach elected officials other than going through their websites I was told to call or write letters. I know I can call, as an introvert I prefer to write. I decided I’m going to pull out a booklet of Star Wars postcards leftover from a bygone fundraiser and to literally handwrite my messages — quaint isn’t it, good ol’ mail. Another friend said when she was a Congressional staffer the more unusual the messages were remembered, #AdvocacyTip. I have a lot of privilege in being able to pick up a phone and expect to be understood and heard. First, I have a cellphone with more than enough minutes on my plan to make all the calls I want and I can afford the postage it takes to send a postcard or letter, I am fluent in English, and I am a citizen. Many others cannot claim any of these privileges, which makes it harder to be heard. People most impacted by legislation and systemic barriers are our neighbors who do not have the privileges of owning a phone, being fluent in the dominant languages of our systems, or are afraid they will be persecuted if they speak up.

Barriers like a zip-code block on a website may seem innocuous, but the racial equity ramifications are there and need to be acknowledged. In legislative districts that are primarily white, tools and systems that screen out or block out voices unintentionally cause white voice echo chambers. This causes entrenched views and concentrates power and privilege versus redistributing power back to communities.

200 Hours of Racial Equity Training

Elected officials, no matter if they are port commissioners, school board directors, city council, or a U.S. Senator or Representative are elected by a few, their districts, but they have a responsibility to all of us. Though I don’t live in Congressmember Reichert’s district I live in his state and his vote will reflect on Washington, not just his narrow district; the banners under FOX News and CNN don’t say Rep. Reichert from Issaquah, if it did most people outside of the state wouldn’t know how to pronounce Issaquah, instead it says Rep. Reichert from WA.

Elected officials and their staff need to have intensive understanding on the impacts of race in our systems. Every elected official, no matter the office, should have to take a minimum of 200-hours of high quality racial equity training of some sort. If they are expected to govern and make decisions in the best interest of all people, then they need to understand that decisions made impact people of color differently. Two-hundred hours may sound like a lot, but as Heidi (of the Fakequitty team) reminds me, it is less than an internship. Watching all the episodes of Grey’s Anatomy would take your more than two-hundred hours (currently 281 episodes). And really 200-hours is a pittance compared to the amount of time it takes a student of color to catch up because their schools are underfunded because of institutional and systemic racism.

We need to demand elected officials undertake ongoing racial equity training and continue to learn about race and its impact on society. The decisions they make, no matter as a school board director or as the President of the United States, have racialized consequences. Every vote impacts people of color in some way, we need to start shifting the systems of governance to ensure decisions have positive impacts and don’t reinforce systemic racism.

When I meet with elected officials or their staff I’m going to ask what trainings they have done and what personal work they have done around understanding race. It they say they have worked to understand the impact race has on people, I’ll thank them for putting in the effort and look forward to a deep conversation about race and its impact on our communities. If they haven’t I’ll slip them Heidi’s contact info and the fakequity website and say start here. I hope you’ll join me in asking elected officials what thinking and work they have done to understand race in America and how it impacts the way they govern, collectively we can hold all elected officials accountable and see changes happen for communities of color.

Posted by Erin

Race Neutral = Institutional Racism

Welcome to 2017. I am welcoming in the new year with a heavy heart. A few days ago Al Sugiyama, a leader in Seattle’s Asian American community died after a fight with cancer. I didn’t know Al exceedingly well, but I learned so much from watching him over the past two years. He was a regular presence at the Asian Pacific Directors Coalition (APDC). When Al was there I knew, I was watching a master at work. Watching Al I learned how vocal, and at times gentle, we must be in standing up for communities of color. Al would speak pointedly and plainly to whomever the guest speaker was. No matter if it was the Police Chief, Superintendent of Schools, or a Department head, he would let them know the API community is here and growing, we are strong, and we must be taken seriously. He was also gentle in his own pointed way. He coached many of us by reminding us to show up and take our work seriously – show up on time, dress appropriately – no jeans, you never know who you might run into, speak up and call BS for BS, and to fight the fights that need to be fought. Above all be proud of belonging to the API community. Thank you, Al – you will be missed.

Stop the Race Neutral/Blind Processes

8e4246cf01dfee75d266ae6565e6a9a8Over the holiday break Heidi and I were emailing each other, one of the topics we delved into was why race neutral approaches need to end.

Before the break Heidi joined me in a budget presentation my organization hosted to learn more about the looming budget cuts facing the school district. The cuts will be huge and have an impact on every student and educator. Even though Heidi was a participant, she dropped some serious knowledge reminding us the tools used to develop the budget and the way the meeting was formatted come from a dominant culture framework. We were speaking in English and with baseline knowledge of budgeting processes – automatically these tools or modalities benefit some in the room more than others. English speakers can participate faster than non-English speakers and those who understand budgets and have knowledge about the school district are also able to participate more fully. Our job was to slow down and help everyone understand the meeting and participate fully.

As we listened to the budget presentation it became clearer we needed to push for transparency in who will benefit by the decisions made. Decisions made without thinking about race benefit white people. Systems default to preserve the status quo, which currently benefits white students. The status quo hurts students of color, it allows decisions to shift funding, resources, and voices away from who needs it the most. It isn’t good enough to have isolated efforts targeting and looking at racial equity, we need to actively work to embed race conscious decision making into every decision point.

Race neutral processes happen when we don’t think, talk about, and document who will benefit from a decision, a practice, or a policy. Race neutral or race blind processes perpetuate institutional and systemic racism. It is easy to use the words and say “We ran this through the equity filter,” like we’re running something through the dishwasher or the coffee filter – input in, equity out. It isn’t that easy. An equity filter or using an equity lens takes deeper analysis and work to understand.

Racism Isn’t New, Fight Racism by being Conscious of Race

Racism and its ilk (e.g. sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, etc.) aren’t a new phenomenon. It is so tightly ingrained into our systems and ways of thinking we operate in it everyday. Mainstream and dominant culture doesn’t actively teach against these principles. We are taught about the civil rights movement, we celebrate heroes and holidays, but we aren’t taught to sniff out and spot fakequtiy and racism. When we call these things out we’re often slapped down and told to leave things alone – preservation of the group and the system requires us to ignore racism and things that make people uncomfortable.

A race conscious approach requires us to acknowledge racism exist in our organizations AND it is our jobs to actively undo institutional and systemic racism. It is ok to feel like crap when realizing we work in and may even be perpetuating racism in our work. What isn’t ok, is to ignore it and to continue working like normal. We need to acknowledge racism exist in our work and to use a race conscious approach to changing things to drive towards more racially equitable solutions.

How to Have a Race Conscious Approach

To undo institutional and systemic racism, we must talk about who race and power dynamics. After our budget meeting I talked to a few of my coalition partners of color. One partner threw his pen on the table and said “I’m so frustrated, the decisions have been made. What do they want a rubber stamp from us?” Another partner had a similar sentiment saying students of color and the schools they attend are already under resourced so simply ‘holding the line’ isn’t enough to make gains.

Power shows up in situations such as this when we allow white echo chambers to make decisions for people of color. As Heidi pointed out at the start of the budget meeting the tools we use dictate the results we get – the budget is written in English, those with the ability to advocate easily and effectively are heard and prioritized in the budget, technology is used to share information (who has access to technology, don’t give me the bull-shit story everyone has smart phones – no they don’t), etc. A race conscious endeavor forces us to look at who we are hearing from, what are we doing to diversify voices, and to think about racial outcomes of the overall system.

Communities of color need to start demanding transparency in who is benefiting from decisions made. We also need to critically analyze decisions to determine if they are right for our communities. Too often white advocates will say a decision is based on ‘equity’ but it benefits white children more or the opportunity cost (i.e. money/time/resources spent on one ‘equitable’ action prevents greater gains in other areas) is too great.

Students of color can’t wait for the ‘right time,’ ‘right conditions,’ or wait for seconds. We need to start demanding systems think about long term outcomes and use a race conscious approach, anything less is fakequity and reinforces institutional racism.

Posted by Erin

2017 – Make Fakequity Great(er) Again

Last year I wrote an end of year post with predictions. My predictions were mostly wrong – Trump was elected was the biggest one I got wrong. I’m not going to try again this year, screw that thing they call grit and sticking with something until you get it right. Nah, I’m taking the other path and will write something timely – Make Fakequity Great in 2017. Too soon to poke fun at 2017?

Let’s face it the end of 2016 is a bust

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I’m writing this in the waning days of 2016. 2016 is feeling like a bust. Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia in Star Wars died of a heart attack, her mother followed her dying of a broken heart. Both women charted their own paths and did so with humor and grace, much like what we need to do. Muhamad Ali, Gwen Ifill, Prince, Bob Santos and many other leaders of color preceded them. Donald Trump is our president elect. He won on a platform of womanizing, hate, and racism. We witnessed a mass shooting in Orlando that killed too many Latinx LGQBTIA. There were too many other racialized hate events targeting African Americans and other people of color.

While 2016 was a tough year, we had victories at Standing Rock and have seen the inter-sectionalities of movements come together. Asians stood up and said no to the Muslim registry recalling the horrors of the US government forcing Japanese Americans into internment, or what some refer to as America’s Concentration Camps. We’ve also heard of individuals stepping forward and protecting others or disrupt hatred in action. We need more of these things coming together in 2017.

“Let’s make 2017 Great(er) Again,” Time poke at that tagline

2017 is going to take all of us to hold the line and fight for incremental gains. Here is our action list, join us.

Stop the echo chambers, especially the white echo chambers: The most popular Fakequity post of the year talked about why Heidi doesn’t believe in cultural competency training anymore. Part of the problem with cultural competency trainings is the echo chamber, white orgs with white people talking about culture — duh, of course the conversation will go towards what they know — their own culture. We need to break up white and/or powered (if the case of poc centered but still maintaining power dynamics – it happens and we need to acknowledge it) spaces.

Action Step for 2017: Force open tables, call it out and say we won’t participate or our participation is conditional upon having a more inclusive space. As an example, I recently joined a board of a mainstream policy organization. Before I joined I said “I’ll give you one year, and within that year the board needs to add at least three people of color.” They agreed and we’re on our way to breaking the white echo chamber. In other cases push your organization to stipend people of color to participate, if people push back tell them to look at their consulting budget and evaluate how much of those funds are going to white ‘professionals,’ time to reallocate some of those funds.

Work to build movements, not isolated actions: The victory at Standing Rock over the Dakota access oil pipeline didn’t just happen, it was a confluence of events that built over time. Native American tribes stood with each other and learned from each other. The environmental movement supported the Native Americans and Veterans got involved too. I’m sure there was backroom politics and criticism, but overall it was about showing up together. In the current political landscape, we need to build for the long-term, not just for the quick incremental wins. Movement building is harder than working fast, it means slowing down and thinking about long-term outcomes. It also means we give up or share a lot of power and control and looking for parallels.

Action Step for 2017: An easy step if find a coalition related to your cause and check it out, also attend a few coalition meetings from other sectors to hear what the conversation is and look for parallels. I prioritize attending the Asian Pacific Directors Coalition (APDC) meetings even though they start at 7.30 a.m., brutal time, I enjoy the meetings because I’m not very tapped into the Asian community, although I’m Asian, and I learn about what is happening in public health, immigration, civics, etc., the parallels between sectors is so important to supporting each other.

Call out bad behavior: Can we agree to step up and call out bad behavior?  Those little comments and jabs that have underlying tones of racism need to be called out and questioned. We also need to push back online and share our own narratives.

Action Step for 2017: We need to get quicker at thinking about racism and disrupting racism as it happens. If you aren’t a fast thinker in a moment, then commit to calling out inaccuracies in comments made online. Push back on commentators on blogs or the news, tell people to produce evidence, inject counter narratives, breakup the echo chambers that form in Facebook groups and in the blogosphere. It is hard to compete with people who are out to comment to comment, but offering one counter narrative is important. Don’t get drawn into an exasperating long online conversation but one comment will help to offer new views. I’m enjoying White Nonsense Roundup, they do this very well on Facebook, tag them when conversations get weird and they will have a white ally volunteer to help alleviate the burden on people of color of explaining why something is racist.

Run for office: Out of the 35 people (36 if you count my mom) reading this, I’m hoping at least one of you will consider running for office. We need to break down institutional and systemic racism at multiple levels including from the inside. If we’re building a movement we need people to push from the inside, while advocates work from the outside. Diversifying and getting new voices into office will help to challenge mainstream thinking. In a few bright spots Ilhan Omar (Minnesota), the first Somali American to be elected to office, and Pramila Jayapal (Washington) an Indian-American headed to Congress, and we need more a lot more voices. My friend Leslie said it takes asking a person seven times before they agree to run, consider this your first ask. Leslie already asked me once and I said no thanks, so I’m sharing her ask with all of you — who’s up for running for office?

See you in 2017.

Posted by Erin Okuno

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How Not to Apologize

This week I’ve been thinking about how not to apologize. Caprice Hollins, a fabulous racial equity trainer in Seattle, says in her trainings “If you’re doing this work you’re going to screw up in 20-minutes.” She’s right when wade into conversations around race someone else will say something that raises an eyebrow. The question isn’t if you offend, you will, it is how you apologize and move forward that counts.

Note: I’m using the Skeptical OB’s posts as an example because it was shared publicly on Facebook. Had it been a private conversation or on a personal Facebook page I would respect the author’s privacy. I’m also sharing screenshots versus linking to the post because I don’t want to drive traffic to her site or page since she’s bragged about this as related to the post, and since she’s already taken down one post I wouldn’t be surprised if she removes this post as well.

Lesson 1 – Don’t Blame the Victim

I15578081_626297997566660_2803089298718672083_o’ve been following a Facebook thread by The Skeptical OB. A friend posted a picture from the Skeptical OB’s Facebook page of a mother breastfeeding side-by-side with the Confederate flag making a comparison. Huh?

original-postAfter posting the picture she wrote a “I’m sorry I got caught, but I’m not really apologizing post.” The apology noted she took down the original post because of the pain it caused others. Lesson 1 – when you apologize don’t blame the victim. In her apology post she didn’t name that she perpetuated racism. Instead she underhandedly said “I’m sorry you feel bad for seeing my post,” classic blame the victim versus accepting responsibility for a racist act.

In another example my brother used to work for a video game store. A customer came in to buy some game with a lot of shooting that takes place in the Pacific. Customer dude says: “Oh, this is the one where you get to shoot Japs. Oh, no it’s okay for me to say it because I’m part Japanese too.” Um, still not ok to say “Japs,” highly offensive to say it to anyone. He didn’t apologize but his reaction was another version of ‘blame the victim’ for being offended rather than realizing opp, you said something racist and offensive.

Lesson 2 – Don’t Copy and Paste an Apology or gaslight your way out

1-1The drama on the Skeptical OB’s Facebook apology continued as the day went on. Several people called her out on her non-apology apology. Where it got interesting was when someone wrote an apology and the Skeptical OB copy and pasted it into her post. Smack forehead. Lesson 2 – don’t have someone else write your apology for you, do your own damn work and think about what you did. Copy and pasting someone else’s apology is insincere.

Lilliann shared she once had someone apologize for not standing up for her in a meeting by saying “I’d take a bullet for you,” but moments before in a heated meeting didn’t defend her when the conversation got tough. This is no different than a copy-and-paste apology. Both say, well I want you to think I’m a good person, but I don’t want to do the work of being a good ally. Being a good ally means you stick your neck out and take some of the heat or think about why something you did was wrong and write your own damn apology.

Lesson 3 – Know When to Quit

9The Skeptical OB author didn’t know when to quit. It was an epic episode of white fragility and white superiority playing out online. She kept posting and posting, and her posts 11were demonstrating more and more of her white superiority attitude. Her followers, many of them white, begged her to stop but she wouldn’t (and as of this writing she still hasn’t). She even boasted about how that thread has sent Facebook traffic through the roof; nothing to be proud about: “Hey Ma, I’m famous for making an asinine comparison about breastfeeding to a hate group, and now I’m more famous ‘cause I keep saying racist things!”12

Engaging in a debate when you’re trying to apologize isn’t the best timing. Be contrite and reflective, your apology should say you are here to learn, not prove you were right. Marquita, a friend who’s a teacher, shared a story about a dad apologizing by saying: “I’m sorry it took us so long to find you. I thought you were white.” While not perfect, probably better he stopped rather than trying to explain race theory, get defensive about the situation, or ask Marquita to explain why she has a ‘white sounding name.’

How to apologize better

We all mess up when it comes to race. Learning about race, privilege, and power are personal and it is a journey. Like most journeys there are times where we look and feel like crap. Unfortunately, when it comes to learning about race we must ‘walk-the-walk’ and part of that walk means doing some deep processing and personal reconciliation. Realizing we’ve said or done hurtful things is part of the ‘walk’ and learning how to apologize with grace and equanimity is part of the journey.

Since people like shortcuts, and really there aren’t any shortcuts, but since it’s the holidays I’ll give you a few bullet points:

  • Stop and shut up: Shut up and listen to what others are saying. Don’t get defensive, it isn’t about you in that moment, it is about you learning from others.
  • Don’t fake an apology: If you’re not ready to apologize then don’t. When my kid messes up I sometimes ask him “Are you sorry because you did it, or are you sorry you got caught?” If you’re sorry you got caught saying something racist, then only apologize when you realize what you did was wrong.
  • Don’t cut and paste an apology or get someone else to write it for you: You may want to get help apologizing. I just learned about the White Nonsense Roundup. If you tag them on Facebook a white volunteer will step forward and offer help in explaining the inherent racism involved in the post or situation. This is appropriate help. What isn’t appropriate is posting a fake apology if you don’t mean it or just going through the motions, save us your tears.
  • Cry with your close friends: It is ok to get frustrate and feel the need to vent, but do it with your trusted circle of friends. Let your friends help you understand what happened, hopefully they’ve walked the journey and can help you they know you best and can help you better than a stranger.

Keep engaging and keep apologizing – it means we’re learning and working through things together. Finally, a white friend told me her African American grandmother-in-law called her on a Sunday morning to ask her “You woke?” What a gift it is to say “Yes Gramma, I’m woke.” That means we’ve learned, probably apologized quite a bit, learned from our elders, and we’re still learning how to be ‘woke.’

Posted by Erin Okuno

How White Privilege is Taught

enhanced-buzz-17808-1382919326-3Last Saturday, I saw how privilege is taught to young white children. I don’t think the parent who carried out the offense even knew she was doing it, it was unconscious and entitled. She probably see herself as “a good [white] person.” These privileged offenses happen all the time in little things that whites don’t even think about and people of color don’t always call out.

How Privilege is Taught

My kids and I were waiting to catch the monorail. We were crowded around the platform towards the front of the train because my son wanted to ride in the very front next to the driver – it’s a great view. After a few minutes, we figured out the train we were waiting in front of wasn’t the one in use and switched platform sides. My son was excited and waiting patiently since he was now in the front. As people started moving over two older white kids were angling to get in the front too and their mother came and stood behind me and says in a tone of disapproval “Our kids are really excited and they’ve been waiting. They’d like the front seat.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, she was saying her kids deserved something even though they were set to lose because of chance. The same chance that gave my son a temporary advantage. I was appalled at the mother for asking, but because I was caught off-guard and fuming on the inside, I lost my resolve to stand up for my own son and told him to step aside – I wish I hadn’t.

In that moment, I crushed my son. I had to explain to him we stepped aside because the other kids were waiting longer and life isn’t always fair. I used the word privilege and made up some lie they were from out of town. I also said we rose above the situation, rather than starting a fight or making a public scene (as a Japanese American child I was conditioned to do this). We do what too many people of color are asked and acquiesce to doing which is putting our own needs and desires aside and give to white people because it is easier than making a scene or justifying why we aren’t giving in. He accepted my explanation and stopped moping a little but was still disappointed. The incident ruined part of the afternoon.

Someone reading this will say I’m making this about race when it isn’t. I can’t help but think it is about race. The situation taught those white kids they deserve something more than my Asian son. They were taught they are privileged and someone, another white person, will stand up for them and others will step back to give them an advantage. Their mother also taught them they don’t have to say please, just state what you want and it is given to you. This is how white privilege is passed down generation to generation. This is also why people of color continue to say we are literally held back and pushed back and some say oppressed. As I write this I think about Rosa Park and how African Americans were told/forced to ride in the back of the bus. We haven’t really progressed in attitudes and beliefs.

Someone is also saying I shouldn’t have stepped aside and we should have held on to being first in line. In some ways, I wish we had stood up to the white mother. I know why I didn’t stand up to her, if we had held onto to the front seat the other mother would have made the ride uncomfortable for my family. She would have labeled us as being rude, she would have said we cut in line even though it was chance and luck – the same chance and luck she was entitled to. In the end, she would have taught her kids Asians are rude or Asian kids are pushy instead of realizing the power play she used. I own I’m stereotyping her white privileged behavior, and I feel if I don’t label it and call it out I’m complicit in allowing privilege to continue unchecked.

I’ve seen this white privilege play out before, this isn’t the first time a white person has used their privilege to push their own needs and agendas. Once in Hawaii a white tourist told my aunt and me we were cutting in line when we weren’t. When confronted on his attitude he said “fine just go,” I said “no because then you’re going to think we’re cutting. We’ll just stay right here, where you want us.” He was all habuteru (Japanese for grouchy and annoyed) because we called him on his attitude of superiority. The lady behind us encouraged us to move forward but my aunt said politely but loud enough for him to hear “No can, the haole (white) said we’re cutting in front of him.” He really pouted on being called out again. It’s funny how white people like to be in the front of the line, but only on their terms.

Proving You’re Good, Doing Good, and Being Uncomfortable

If I had met the white mother in another setting with leveled power dynamics such as work, she probably would have tried to prove she’s a good white person. She would tell me how her kids are generous and donate to the food bank, or better yet use part of their allowance to buy toys for poor kids. I would nod and say “that is great.” She would want me to validate her as a good person and affirm her status as an ally. Giving in this manner is nice and makes white people feel good, but it teaches charity rather than personal empathy and connection. It allows white kids to dictate the terms of giving rather than realizing their white privilege: “oh we decided to give because those people are poor, and its not fair,” a.k.a. tokenism and savior syndrome. The mother also probably would have told me she didn’t realize my kid is Asian. Colorblindness is a form of racism, it says they only see people of color as people of color when it suits them. What all of this teaches white children is they are privileged and they don’t have to be uncomfortable to give. This isn’t a lesson children should learn. White children need to learn it is ok to feel discomfort, it is ok to give up something that didn’t belong to them to begin with — they will be ok.

What I want to tell that white mother is instead of proving how good you are, teach your kids how to be aware of their own privileges in everyday settings. Instead of telling me to step back and give up my spot in line, accept chance and luck are a part of life, and your kids will be ok without being at the front of a line – would sitting a few seats back diminish their chance of attending Harvard or Princeton, probably not. Instead of trying to prove you are a good white person, be a good white person and step back – you and your kids will be ok. Your white child doesn’t have to fight for every advantage especially when it is at the expense of people of color.

Posted by Erin Okuno