By Aaron Zhang
In class, “there’s this pressure to not say anything that could upset white people,” Kalid Alobaidi, co-founder of POC3, said. “If I started going off on a rant about something, I feel as though they might twist it and think, ‘Kalid’s being irrational.’"
POC3 was founded as a space for discussion between classmates Paris Buren, Hermona Hadush, and Kalid Alobaidi. As Black or Arab American people in a majority-white private school, the three wanted to talk about their experience as people of color in their school environment, which felt isolating.
Ironically, the inequity that they experienced at school was often not framed as such. For example, Buren has been on the front of her school’s athletics web page since seventh grade, which she sees as a form of tokenization. “They try to showcase this level of diversity or model of diversity that they just don't have,” Alobaidi commented, pointing to pictures of people of color on many sections of his school’s site.
Buren, Hadush, and Alobaidi recall many more moments when they felt othered in their private school environment. “We always felt like outsiders,” Buren said. The leaders realized they weren’t alone in this experience. Many students of color face isolation and inhibitions, especially in majority-white environments. “I realized that almost every POC had gone through the same thing that I had,” Hadush said. POC3 serves as an “an opportunity for us to talk about it so people know they’re not alone.”
In supporting open conversations about race, the POC3 leaders produce videos and podcasts, providing “a naturally fun platform where anyone can listen, watch, or voice their honest opinions and experiences,” as their website states. The key to POC3 is that people of color tell their own stories. “We’re student-led and we have those raw experiences,” Buren said, that connect to viewers and help them grow.
POC3 has helped the leaders grow as well. In particular, being conscious of engagement and identity have served the leaders well in covering impactful topics such as Black History month. During that episode, Alobaidi, an Arab American, considered how to best engage as a non-Black person. He found that in that situation and similar ones, he may not input as much; rather, he said, “I need to stay in my own lane and let other people talk about their experiences.” Hadush added that acknowledging identities and stepping back can help in these conversations—“What can people who aren't identifying with this group do to help from the outside?” she said. By knowing when to step up and to step back, work in racial equity can better support the experiences of underrepresented groups, rather than overwhelm them.
To that end, the leaders note that focusing on racial equity can look different depending on one’s background. Hadush suggested that allies can do their own research, because explaining personal struggles and experiences can be demanding for people of color. Finding resources and reading is “helpful for your own learning,” she said. In this way, racial equity and allyship becomes a more vested, personal interest.
That being said, racial equity is already very personal for many; racial inequity is a deeply rooted problem. The leaders point out that in their community, Seattle, the North and South are very divided, particularly economically: North Seattle has a history of discriminatory real estate systems, and South Seattle is primarily nonwhite (although gentrification is occurring). Minorities often live far away from the private schools in the north, and the wealthier residents near the schools often have an easier experience. “It sort of all connects,” Buren said. Before learning about these inequities, she would say that private schools should admit more people of color, but then she recognized other factors at play: “How are people of color going to afford thousands of dollars to go to this school?” Economic inequities in turn exacerbate social inequities and further disparities between experiences.
But having conversations about racial inequities is a start to making a difference. POC3 started because Buren, Hadush, and Alobaidi wanted a space to talk about racial equity. “We had to make a whole podcast just to start talking about our opinions,” Hadush said. “If the three of us have so many opinions and so many thoughts about these things, I can’t imagine how many other people have those, too.”
POC3 is a platform to share and to learn. The leaders aim to connect people and show them that they aren’t alone in their experience. Moreover, through their engagement and consideration of experiences, the leaders of POC3 have found energy in their work. “As things escalate in the world,” Buren said, referring to hate crimes and racial injustices, “our platform is getting more and more important because that’s exactly what we focus on.”