DAY 17 – Building a Race Equity Culture

Today (yesterday but I was trying to finish a thing and accidentally worked 13 hours so time is fake) one of our reading items is AWAKE to WOKE to WORK: Building a Race Equity Culture. One of the first sentences includes the definition of race equity as “one’s racial
identity has no influence on how one fares in society.” Which. Yeah. That’s the goal. But even within that definition I think it’s worth unpacking more definitions.

Because wanting race to have no influence can invite just ignoring it as a factor, which is, I think, the opposite of what we want. Raceblind hiring is great, and something more companies should do and design for, but then – is there a support network for the people of color? Is it a hostile environment or a supportive one? End goals need midline goals, or you end up simplifying to “I don’t see color,” which ends up being a failure mode particularly for white liberals.

I think one of the midline things is just – genuinely valuing diverse perspectives? Which seems like a very progressive, liberal thing to say. But now I get to put online the point I’ve made many times in diversity discussions at the Disaster Research Center.

The William Averette Anderson Fund, named after disaster scientist Bill Anderson, promotes minority, particularly Black, participation in disaster science. I never met Bill Anderson, who was active as a sociologist and disaster scientist somewhat before I started, but he contributed immeasurably to the field. In terms of cold, hard data that is callous to diversity and the humanity of the people both gathering and providing data and uncaring of a legacy of mentorship, this is still true. Because Bill Anderson was Black, he was able to get interviews in the 1960s about the civil unrest and riots related to race that no one else would have.

Diversity enriches a field. This isn’t a sentiment, or not just a sentiment. This is a documentable fact. Valuing that diversity means that you get a better field. The reading talks about how diversity has been reduced in many cases to numbers and percentages, and therefore significantly weakened conceptually. But I’m not sure I agree that shifting the focus to the desired end state is necessarily the best solution everywhere? Though one of the ongoing issues is going to be that everything is highly variable based on location and context, which makes moving forward harder. But I think recognizing and valuing diversity is part of moving towards equity. It’s part of what the reading talks about, moving away from a white-dominant culture to one that promotes equity: everyone’s story and identity needs to be valued.

DAY 15 – Adverse Childhood Experiences and DAY 16 – The Intersection of being Black and LGBTQ

No excuses for why these two are being posted together on either side of a weekend. It is what it is.


Racism is an Adverse Childhood Experience. They stack up to a variety of long-term consequences, to health and long-term addiction rates. Which sucks. But I think it’s also important that statistics aren’t destiny for an individual, and we can also do better as a society.

One of the reading options included a Resilience Score. Resilience is a complicated word, with a disaster background in part because structural factors – including racism – play such a part.


The complications and nuances of Black identity interacting with LGBTQ identity are something I’ve read more about than most of the topics we’ve covered, because I read more social commentary on LGBTQ issues in my downtime. The Stonewall movie did everyone a disservice by having a white man as the face of it: it was trans* sex workers of color who started it. Specifically Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. And this is one of the places where an intersection can complicate things in unexpected ways: one of the stories that makes the rounds on tumblr in the lead-up to National Coming Out Day is the essay by a gay Indian man that talked about coming out not being the same for everyone and the fact that he lost his home culture when he came out in a rejection that cut deeply and broadly.

One of the readings for today talked about how LGBT workers of color end up facing multiple marginalizations.

DAY 14 – The school to prison pipeline it’s real.

Today’s reading was this study about how black girls are disproportionately targeted for discipline in schools. In light of the semi-recent case of the Black girl who went to juvie for not doing her homework online, this was timely, but also just . . . tiring. Shit just keeps happening? And for people who live it, rather than just reading about it, it seems like it has to be perpetually exhausting. Which is part of the reason for this challenge, I guess.

In better news: the girl was released.

DAY 12 – The Racial Wealth Gap & DAY 13 – Racialized Outcomes in Education

Late and combined because I started writing stuff but then it felt overwhelming so I did other stuff. So I did some of the journaling and thinking yesterday but never finished.

Today’s action items actually include journaling, so I think this will be longer. The first item is to seek out Black owned businesses and patronize them. Well, Lowe’s is a corporation, but the CEO is Black, and they’re doing cool stuff during lockdown. SoleRebels is an Ethiopian company, and the world’s first fair trade shoe company. When I got my contract for this fall I ordered shoes for everyone in my house because suddenly I could afford it, and they make comfortable, sustainable, ethical (to various people’s concerns, too: they have a vegan footwear line) shoes. I also did a quick Google for makeup brands by women of color and then went to my makeup subscription bag to make sure I had any of those brands that were listed checked off as ones I definitely wanted to try.

Journal or think about on your and your families experiences the work and money. What career do you have? What did your parents have? Do you or they work in a historically segregated industry? If so, how was that segregation maintained? How does that affect your family’s earning power?

Actually doing this late worked, because of my freshman year of university.

My grandfather set up a trust fund for me. There was enough in it that in high school I could comfortably plan for going to the cheapest state school in Wisconsin for four years without taking out loans. Part of the reason this was possible is that my grandfather – who met my grandmother when they were both in university, because this was an option for both of them – was an engineer before he retired.

My parents have been journalists, and there are Black people they know from J-school, so it wasn’t a completely segregated industry. They have also worked in higher education, though. So once I move from talking about my grandparents, the question of work and the question of education are tightly coupled.

Down the hall from me in fall 2007 there was a dorm room where there were two Black girls: the only two Black girls on the hall. My meal plan and dorm and tuition were covered by my trust fund; they were both on loans, and I think one of them had a work-study. Both of them had to drop out in the spring because they couldn’t afford it. I flunked out a semester after that because of depression, but I didn’t have loans to deal with, so I was able to go back, eventually, and now I’m a PhD student. I have no idea if they were able to go back, but I think this is an important example of how intergenerational wealth can work. My family could afford to send me to university unburdened by concerns about money, partly because they were university educated and had economic circumstances that allowed it.

And, like. I’m proud of the work my grandpa has done, and of my family members’ individual accomplishments. But the paths that lead to those accomplishments would have been closed or at least steeper if they weren’t white.

DAY 11 – What is Environmental Racism?

I missed day 10 because WordPress wasn’t cooperating, but it was “How Your Race Affects Your Health” and *gestures vaguely at the current everything* so I’m not going to revisit it.

One of today’s readings was a profile on Marissa McClenton, an ambitious environmental justice scholar I had Environmental Justice in Disasters (a cross-listed graduate and undergraduate course) with an eternity ago this spring. We had a lot of really good discussions in class about some of the more egregious examples of environmental racism in the US.

The Atlantic article also linked for today’s reading is also good.

Today’s action items included joining Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice’s FB page or Delaware’s Sierra Club for local information.

DAY 8 – The intersection of race and law enforcement

For a challenge partially sparked by the murder of George Floyd, we’ve built up to the question of police murder of black people. My reading today involved looking at what reforms might work to curb it. Body cams, de-escalation training, and police departments not hiring former cops who were fired for misconduct are all mentioned.

In a sort of terrible coincidence, today I got the social media guidelines for my current job – where I’m contracted to FEMA and therefore under DHS rules. Which means I’m allowed opinions but not on the clock and not ones that imply institutional support, basically. An article I read recently discussed the results one town had when they police department hired a social worker to respond to some calls, which relates interestingly to a hashtag discussion about police funding that’s been ongoing.

Apparently Delaware now has a Law Enforcement Accountability Task Force, though, so that’s good news!

DAY 6 – Exploring levels of racism

Today’s reading was about the different levels on which racism can manifest. The most easily recognizable is usually interpersonal, but structural and institutional racism are both really important. The article talks about understanding historical context as part of understanding the whole picture.

It’s definitely something that comes up in disaster science, because of the environmental racism component, which is both structural and institutional. A finding that will probably stick with me forever is that race is the single most significant indicator of whether you’ll live near toxic waste. Politicians and corporations deliberately sited toxic waste dumps near communities of color, and also, historically, the more outrageous forms of redlining stuck POC near or on land that was “undesirable” – sometimes for being real close to toxic waste. We’re also coming up on the 15th anniversary of Katrina, so take a shot for every time you’ve read something that implied that Black people lived in flood-prone areas on purpose and knowing the risks. And that’s not talking about Isle de Jean Charles and the fact that Louisiana’s first climate change refugees are such in part because the Army Corps of Engineers excluded them from historic flooding and erosion protections.

. . . actually, in this context, let’s talk about Isle de Jean Charles at least in order to clarify that the community who was there was not white. A First Nation without federally recognized status (and thus protections and negotiation status), some members of the community have drawn sharp parallels to the Trail of Tears – the one that sparked the settlement of Isle de Jean Charles in the first place. There are complications now with how the community will relocate, and who and where and by what mechanism and when, and that’s what gets discussed more. But I think the baseline, the one that’s worth reflecting on right now, is that ACE deliberately excluded them as not worth protecting way back in the 1950s. Which is racist.

And this week we’re beyond self-reflection and have action items, which I think is cool. Today’s action item was finding your legislators and following them. I already follow my federal representatives on Twitter, and I’d emailed my state senator, but I went and followed him, too, and found my rep and followed him.

DAY 5 – Realizing the impact of racial trauma on Black Americans

For today’s Racial Equity Challenge, one of the three options was watching the below video:

The blurb was:

Watch an interview with Resmaa Menakem, on his book My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies. This is the first self-discovery book to examine white body supremacy in America from the perspective of trauma and body-centered psychology.

Which meant of course I had to watch it. Because this is going on my public/professional blog, some context to that: I have probably-PTSD (on top of other brain problems, my brain is an adventure), and I help moderate an online mental health forum with a couple thousand users. One of the books that gets mentioned a lot is The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, so that’s my familiarity with trauma and body-centered psychology.

And, additionally, from talking to a fair number of people with PTSD, I’m familiar with one of the really under-discussed aspects of PTSD: digestive problems. Sometimes formally diagnosed as IBS, sometimes more intermittent and manifesting as “Well, the good news is it’s not organ failure” when someone shows up at Urgent Care/Emergency Room/Campus Health Center with what gets eventually diagnosed as stress-induced gastritis, food poisoning, or an eloquent shrug and a discharge (sometimes with saltines and apple sauce (the health center people were really nice)).

At this point of the pandemic and working with FEMA data and trying to do work towards my dissertation and other grad school stuff, I’m now –

Well, I know enough of what’s going on that I shouldn’t need to go to the ER again, and this video was definitely an intriguing prospect. In an example of the kind of blindness that white privilege affords even the well-meaning, I’d never thought of the impacts of institutional trauma on bodies. One of the other challenges for today was this article on how racism can cause PTSD.

Menakem discusses Black bodies, white bodies, and “blue” bodies – the impacts of institutional racism on police officers – and how everyone needs to find a way to work through their trauma.

I don’t have many other thoughts on today’s challenge, other than a vague sense of injustice that froyo is a stereotypically white people thing. It’s got probiotics in. Those are important, when you’re dealing with trauma’s effects on the body, and so froyo would do more good for the people experiencing more trauma from racism.

DAY 2 – Understanding and Reflecting on our Racial Bias

Today in the Racial Equity challenge we’re looking at implicit bias, including a clip from the Van Jones show.

I’m always a little concerned about implicit bias, because I don’t like not knowing what my brain is doing. I know I use heuristics a fair amount, and on purpose, but the goal of that is to just do things faster, and I want to not recapitulate broader societal nonsense within my own heuristics. Like, the goal is to be Will Smith, not another white woman calling the cops.

The goal is always to be Will Smith, tbh

Part of today’s assignment was to do an Implicit Association Test. I did, as you can probably gather, a Skin Tone Association test. I’m a little uncomfortable with having any preference at all, because terrible parts of my brain still believe that it’s possible to be a creature of pure Reason. I’m cautiously pleased that I’m at least more likely to extend benefit of the doubt to people who are more at risk if cops are called.

DAY 1 – Reflecting on our personal racial identity

I’m participating in the Delaware 21 Day Racial Equity Challenge, so I’ll be posting probably the next 21 weekdays about this. I’d like to be a better anti-racist and ally to my BIPOC colleagues, and this seems like a constructive step.

Today’s questions:

  • When did you first become aware of your racial identity?
  • What messages did you learn about race from your school and family?
  • Did those messages align with what you’ve seen in your life?
  • When has how others perceived your racial identity affected how they treat you?

I’m white, so I had the privilege of not developing much of a racial identity until late in high school. I just didn’t really think about it. I grew up in a very white town in Canada. I spent some time with local First Nations elders growing up, because my mom worked on a Masters of First Nations Studies and wrote a book on some of the local cultures and intersections thereof.

I remember thinking vaguely that it was racist that all the Chinese people in Barkerville, the Gold Rush historic site near where I grew up, were forced to live in Chinatown because everyone else was racist, but I didn’t think about it in context of “everyone else” being white, or white like me. I remember when my great-uncle died when I was 7 or 8 that I was surprised that the man who eulogized him, who’d been his best friend for years, was Chinese. I don’t remember if I had a feeling other than surprise about it, but I think I probably had some racist expectations that people were mostly friends with people who looked like them, despite multiple cousins who were Métis.

This was despite my immediate family being fairly firm that you treat people as people, you treat individuals with respect, and their stories/backgrounds/identities as valuable. My mother tends to approach life as an ambulatory set of eyeballs with unfortunately high-maintenance scaffolding, but she – and my dad, and my stepmom – trained as a journalist, so you respect (and extract, and document) people’s stories. But that approach also tends to elide reflection on your own race. My dad told me about how the majority-black Bay Area blues community was incredibly important to him as a community and emotional support after the messy divorce that meant he had to leave Canada and didn’t get to see his kid. But, for obvious reasons, that was later.

Moving to the US was different. I think the first time I was really, sharply, aware of race and how it impacted my treatment even in a progressive town, in a high school that “didn’t track” students, was when I took a class called – something like Women and Society? I was taking mostly college-geared classes, AP Statistics and Biotechnology and Shakespeare, and needed my social studies class for my junior or senior year. And the social studies classes weren’t split up like the math classes with their levels or the English classes with their levels of ambition. So I realized, walking into that class the first day, that this was more Black students than I’d seen in any of my classes the entire rest of the year.

And this was late in high school, where we were mostly picking classes based on college prospects and advisor recommendations, and it hit me that this meant that these students weren’t being encouraged to aim for 4-year universities like I was. I was angry.

In general, people tend to treat me well because of my race. I’m also fat, and a woman, so there are complicating factors, but I’m white, and have a white-sounding name. But the worst thing I’ve ever worried about when pulled over by the police is that the driver would get a speeding ticket. For the speeding that they were definitely doing. I think some of my colleagues of color have been slightly wary of me as a potential collaborator or ally or friend because I’m white? But I can’t say that’s not justified, having seen some of how they’re treated, and I don’t know how to alleviate any of that wariness without being weird and pushy in ways that are significantly weirder and pushier than I think anyone would be comfortable with.

Which this might help with! Who knows.