Don’t even try, Löki Gale Tobin says. Don’t put her in a box. Her truths are too layered for that.
“I think it’s really easy to put all of the things that you experience, particularly the negative things, into a box and shove it away and only think about the positive, because oftentimes that’s what people want to hear,” Löki said. “I’ve been trying to live with that box just blown to pieces and present my reality and my truth in a much more authentic way.”
Löki was born and raised in Nome to a white father and a Black mother. Her parents believed that raising mixed-race children in Alaska would be easier than in their home state of New York. While she may have avoided some aspects of racism growing up, what she encountered in Alaska continues to impact how she understands herself and where she fits in.
“I was always the outsider,” Löki said. “I have these flashes of having to read Huckleberry Finn in sixth-grade language arts and the teacher forcing everyone to use the N-word repeatedly, because it didn’t matter how comfortable I was, it was literature, and it was this great work. And she was Alaska Native.”
Löki recalls friends believing she wasn’t Black, and people hoping she could racially pass for something that she wasn’t or coming home after spending the summer with her Black family with microbraids in her hair that she loved but being told she looked too ethnic to be a student leader. Those were all experiences of people trying to put her into a box that matched their understanding of who she was, even though she didn’t fit and never could.
“I would challenge anyone to find a mixed-race, Black and white girl from rural Alaska who was born and raised there. I just don’t think there’s a lot of folks who look like me and have my experiences and background,” Löki said. “That wasn’t going to be reflected in school, it wasn’t going to be reflected in my college, it hasn’t been reflected anywhere I’ve worked. I haven’t worked with somebody who has my same ethnic and cultural background.”
It was difficult to overcome and make sense of those encounters, Löki said. But through experience in the Peace Corps, through mentorship, and in watching the Black Lives Matter movement, Löki said she’s gotten more comfortable in herself and in living beyond the boundaries that others have set for her. It makes her a fierce advocate and ally for those who are earlier on in their journey to understand and unpack systemic oppression.
Today, Löki is an Alaska State Senator representing Downtown Anchorage, Fairview, and nearby neighborhoods where she’s focusing on how to ensure everyone is invited to and welcomed in the decision-making process. It’s a position she never imagined for herself. The weight of representation, and the attention, can be overwhelming.
“Putting myself out there to say I want to bring attention to my experiences and to give voice to those who have historically been barred from political participation has been a steep learning curve,” Löki said. “It has also taught me a lot about why we need to name those things, because when we don’t name it, we become complicit in its continuation, and we lose the voices of the eclectic diversity that makes us great.”
Löki has realized the power of living life confidently and authentically and on her own terms, not defined by others or segmented into easily digestible pieces. While sometimes hard, she is proof that living life with curiosity and willingness to accept gray areas can be fun and impactful. Doing so leaves room for a wide variety of experiences.
“I am humbled and grateful,” Löki said. “I am also concerned because we need more than just me, we need more than just a handful of progressives, representing our community in the Alaska State Legislature. We need more people who want a dynamic beautifully thriving community where everyone gets to be who they are, where they are.”
By understanding and sharing her personal experience and professional expertise, Löki is creating a space that encourages others to do the same.