Jenna Arnold, educator, entrepreneur, activist and mother, joins the program to discuss the power that white women have to create positive social change, and what led her to write her new book Raising Our Hands: How White Women Can Stop Avoiding Hard Conversations, Start Accepting Responsibility, and Find Our Place on the New Frontlines. Discover how to change our conversations to make them more productive, and the importance of ambiguity.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Introducing Jenna Arnold and her change making work (6:00)
- Why Jenna wrote the book she couldn’t find on her bookshelf: to organize white women (17:00)
- Towing the line of centering whiteness but doing the work that needs to be done, to actually reach white women (23:00)
- How to stop trying not to see it and wake up to the truth. (29:00)
- The power of watching people supporting people (36:00)
- Challenging your ego to keep learning, unlearning, and taking action (42:00)
- Seeing white women as individuals, they are not a monolith (48:00)
- “Take her story back to the country club, and YOU tell HER story” (51:00)
- Nurturing your personal relationships to make a difference and start a ripple effect (58:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: So you’ve written this book, Raising Our Hands, which I grabbed immediately. I didn’t even need to open the cover. I was like, “I need to meet this woman that wrote this.” Why did you feel this needed to be written by you, in particular? And I know the message is needed in the world more than ever now, but how did you awaken to this is the book I need to write?
JENNA ARNOLD: Because it was the book I needed to read and I couldn’t find it on the bookshelf.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
JENNA ARNOLD: So, backing up a little bit. My academic background is in foreign policy and education. And I spent many years dabbling in the foreign policy landscape. And my real passion, frankly, is peoples and places on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. But I started spending a lot of time with activists on the front lines of social issues here in the US and starting about 10, 15 years ago. And they would say things like, “Can you go get your cousins? What’s going on with white folks? How come they don’t see?” And when they first started staying that to me, I was like, “Oh yeah. Those other people.” And then, I said something. And one of them, because we have a close relationship, I said something like, “Well, I don’t see color.” Which is a statement that’s ancient but so nine months ago in terms of the awakening of the general public. But I had said it and they said, “Excuse me.” And they flipped me. And they were like, “I think there is something you don’t understand that you need to.”
And I then spent the next year stewing over this in my head when I was like, “Well, my parents taught me that everyone is the same.” And all the arguments. And then I finally had the courage to say, “Hey, what do you mean by that?” And they were like, “Oh.” And then they explained it to me. And then they also said, “And you know you could have gone to the world wide web thing a minute after our conversation and answered the question instead of stewing for a year.” And so that started the whole process of, okay, there’s clearly something that I’m missing here with regard to I might actually be that white person that draws tears out of my closest friends’ eyes when they throw their hands up and they say, “Enough is enough. I don’t have the stamina anymore.”
And then, so when I started asking myself these questions, November in 2016 happened. And my hunch is every one of your listeners knows why that date is significant. And then the next day everyone was like, “Well 54% of white women voted for Trump.” Or 51%. And I don’t really care about the difference in the 3% delta because it doesn’t matter. And then I was like, “Well, wait a second. All of my…” My mom is one of nine. I grew up with a very large family. All white. And they raised me but I knew they pulled the lever for Trump. And I was like, “That lever pull was in complete contradiction to their values.” I just know it.
And then, I was one of the organizers of the Women’s March. And when I stood on stage, in D.C., that day and looked out at a sea of pink hats, just from my observation, it looked like most of them were being worn by white women. And again, I was making a broad generalization. And it was like none of this math is adding up. It’s not adding up when white women are well-intended, good Christians, good people of faith. They help old ladies cross the street. They want to do good by their classrooms and their kids’ teachers. The omni goodness dance with the lever pull with the pain and agony that my friends were experiencing, my friends of diverse backgrounds.
And so, I had this moment of like, “Oh, maybe this pulling us in and pulling us together and organizing us a bit is what my friends had been saying for years when they were like, ‘Go get your people.’” And then, going back MLK, Malcolm X, to everyone on the front lines right now, “Go get white folks.” And I had this moment of, “Oh, now I get it.” Okay. Where is that listserv? Where is the non-profit? Where do I donate money? Where is the book? And I popped my head up above the world to find them to get engaged. And it was crickets. There is nobody talking about the most powerful voting demographic, the most powerful voting block in the country. She decides who becomes the US president. Even if we bring all disenfranchised voters online, which should be our priority number one, it’s our moral priority, the white woman still decide who becomes president. She controls 85% of the US economy. That’s more than 100 countries combined. Not states or cities. Countries. And she raises the next generation of white boys.
And so I’m like, “Wait a second. No one is trying to peel back the layers, the anthropological, psychological layers of the psyche of this white woman when she controls so much in both good and bad ways?” When I flag the power, I’m surely not endorsing it. And so I said, “Okay, I guess, there might be something here.” And the whole time, Jennifer, I was like, “Am I crazy that I see this and no one else is paying attention?” Maybe this is already a story that’s been told. Maybe we don’t need to have these conversations and I’m just decades late to the game. And then I’d be like, “Okay, I’m either crazy or I’m really onto something.” And the whole time, I was like, “I’m crazy.” And sometimes, I still have my moments where I’m like, “I am.” And then I doubt myself and in conversation with you where you’re like, “Yes. The Barbie houses. Yes, my parents. Yes. Performing heterosexually.” Yes, all those things.
This is a conversation we need to have.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, I’m so relieved you wrote it. It’s almost too hot to touch. Have you gotten pushback on focusing on this demographic? What has that reaction been like?
JENNA ARNOLD: It’s a spectrum of responses, which feels appropriate. I’d be very uncomfortable if someone was prioritizing. It needs to be a spectrum because it’s a spectrum of issues. So, sometimes, people will be like, “You’re centering white women.” And sometimes people will say, “This book should have been written 400 years ago. Thank you for finally writing it.” And it’s everywhere in between. And the answer to both of those is, “Yes.” It’s yes. And so, I would say, the real walking on eggshells, but I didn’t even move as I was standing on the eggshells was the fact that this book came out the same week that we were trying to black out all the bestseller lists with Black authors. And it was the same week that DiAngelo was getting taken down a bit for having written White Fragility. And so then I wasn’t breathing because I had been writing this book for two years and people were like, “Wow. Can you believe your book came out when it did?” And the answer is, “Yeah, 100% I believe it. Of course, this is happening. And absolutely not. Holy shit. What am I going to do?”
It was again, the both. What I’m hearing is… And let’s be clear, I’m bringing my bias into answering this question. What I’m relieved to hear is when women of color say, “Thank you. This is bringing white women in in ways that we haven’t been able to because white women don’t listen to Black women in the same way.” And, there are educators that represent marginalized communities who raise their hand and say, “I’m willing to teach white women. I’m willing to be compensated for it. By you putting your book on the market, it’s taking business away from me.” And both of those things are true.
But my hypothesis was, Jennifer… When I was writing the book, I was thinking of four women the whole time. I will not say who they are because they’re personal relationships of mine. And they’re not buying Layla Saad’s Me and White Supremacy. They’re not following Rachel Cargle. They wouldn’t buy DiAngelo, even though she was a white author. They don’t know what to do with the word racism, let alone white supremacy or anti-Semitism in our bones being different than not the tiki torch carrying protesters in Virginia. They can’t split that hair. So I know I had to show up in our country club with pearls on. I know I needed to look the way that I do. And I did change the way that I looked.
But I knew it had to be somebody who looks like you, Jennifer, or looks like me to be like, “Hey, come here for a sec. Come here for one quick sec. You need to go listen to Cargle. You need to go listen to Katrice Johnson. You need to go listen to Layla Saad. You need to go listen to all of the people who are raising their hands. Because I know you don’t think you see color. I know that you think you reprimand your son because you make him take out the trash and you tell him he’s not allowed to curse. I know you think that you really run the household. But let me tell you the power that your husband really has and how he is affecting drug prices at his pharmaceutical company. Or, by you not holding your son to account that he’s making excuses for himself in how he’s treating his high school girlfriend. Or, how you’re responsible for propping up patriarchy, white supremacy capitalism in ways that cause oppression.”
And so, I just know I can be in rooms that other people can’t. And vice versa. But I don’t call myself an educator. I just call myself a conduit. I’m not qualified to be an anti-racist scholar. I’m very qualified to be an anti-racist student. I’m an expert on how white women perform, backflip their way out of justifying whatever they need to justify to keep their life sorted.
JENNIFER BROWN: My God.
JENNA ARNOLD: That’s the extent of my expertise.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, yes. The backflips. The dancing backwards in heels. Yes. It is.
JENNA ARNOLD: Yes. I don’t when you’re airing this podcast but you see it even, we’re two days out from the indictment of the police officers in Louisville for Breonna Taylor’s murder. And I’m getting plenty of text messages from folks who have turned, meaning that they voted down Republican tickets before they were allergic to white supremacy language. Forget about what it actually meant. And so they’re turning and they’ve been turning since 2016. There is a much sharper turn. Amy Cooper, George Floyd murder. But they’re texting me being like, “But wait a second. Did her boyfriend shoot first? But wait a second. Did he have charges?” So you still see them try to justify the action and the indictment because it will make them feel better. If I say, “No. She was murdered and nobody was held accountable. Period.” It’s too much discomfort because it’s too unorganized and it breaks all the rules of the limestone columns that are represented down in Washington, D.C. that seem firm and sturdy and all-knowing, and that there’s some moral clarity down there.
JENNIFER BROWN: And that trust in institutions.
JENNA ARNOLD: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: That blind trust in things we’ve always been told which is… Right?
JENNA ARNOLD: That’s right.
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely.
JENNA ARNOLD: And so it challenges that. And that’s a scary thing to say to people. I imagine it’s the same thing. I know somebody, she found out that her husband was addicted to cocaine and she didn’t know for eight years. She noticed that money was sometimes not randomly in their account and she thought her husband just took out cash for babysitters and stuff like that. It was always a tinge more than she would have thought the babysitter needed. But he was just skimming off the top to feed a cocaine habit. And I said to her, I’m like, “Did you really not know?” And she was like, “Of course, now when I sit here and I look back, all of the pieces add up together. But at one point, I didn’t want to know because that would mean I was gutting my life and my husband was going to rehab. We were getting a divorce. I was going to be a single mom. Back on the market. Trying to make ends meet by myself.” And so it was this idea of she worked hard not to see it.
Whether or not she knew or not is different. And so many of us… It’s why the opening quote in my book is a Navajo proverb, “It’s impossible to wake a sleeping person who is pretending to sleep.” Because you’re fighting so hard to not see the truth. So if you show up to a group of people who consider themselves good, who consider themselves well-intended and say, “Nope. There was no excuse. There was no law that protected the police officers.” And now, again, there is only so far I can speak to the actual judiciary of the situation. But then they’re like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second.” And then it makes them question everything. Wait until they get to the step where they’re like, “Wait, I didn’t get into that undergrad because I’m smart.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
JENNA ARNOLD: “Wait, I didn’t get that internship because my resume was well-formatted?” No, you got into that resume because your grandfather made a phone call. I mean, that interview because your grandfather made a phone call.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. I’ve had a lot of reflections on the way I was raised and what happened for what reason. And I feel I’ve made the flip and traveled the journey to now seeing what I was given, is what I am activating around and what I’m actually drawing on in terms of power, in terms of influence, in terms of platform sharing, in terms of centering different voices. I’ve traveled through that journey. But I find that so many of our clients that we’re trying to help even get started on that journey, it is really difficult to break people out of their want to be comfortable and their want to believe that they are good people as you’re describing. And to then, “Okay, I’m going to have a ton of feelings.” And those feelings probably are shame and guilt and regret and it’s just intense fear. I don’t know what to do now. I’m paralyzed. I’m overwhelmed.
This summer has been a fire hose of new information for a lot of people. Not new. The truths have always been around us and you said we don’t see them. We choose not to look at them. And many of us weren’t even exposed to a lot of it. So, what I’ve been grappling with is, we’ve been shown so much this summer and I don’t want to see it squandered. But my deepest fear is that we’re going to go back to sleep or pretending to sleep, to quote the proverb. And how do we keep this door propped open for the real change, the hard work, actually? The hardest work is ahead.
JENNA ARNOLD: The hardest work.
JENNIFER BROWN: The hardest work.
JENNA ARNOLD: I think it’s such an important question. And I think, Jennifer, it’s just the discipline of saying that question constantly. Because there are going to be people who are like, “Holy…” Can I curse on this podcast? I won’t.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. You can.
JENNA ARNOLD: Like, “Holy shit, I had no idea about police brutality.” And of course, that would raise eyebrows from a certain segment of the population being like, “What do you mean you didn’t know that?” And if they are not watching the right channels and if they don’t independently go into the Google search bar and say, “Statistics around police brutality in the United States.” And then start comparing it based on race and gender and dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.
So, I think there’s people that are coming to the reality of some of the most horrific parts of our infrastructure. And I think there’s a chance where one could show up and be like, police brutality, water is poisoned, people are trafficked, domestic violence is higher, is the 10th worst in the world behind Syria, nine to 12 percent of Black women are likely to die in a nine to 12 times higher rate than white women in labor and delivery. It think it’s we fire, oh, the sea waters are rising and white men are taking their lives just by suicide at 77% increased rate. I think you could fire hose them, and just as a species, I think there’s probably a limit to being able to absorb some of these truths.
But I think the opportunity we have is yes to all of those social issues. But what has to happen with us… And three weeks ago I would have said the us that I’m representing is white women and I’m now changing it to the us, the American people. I’m putting my arms around all of us. We have to step into relationship with each other with more humility. I have got to. And I’m responsible for this. I have spent the past three and a half years fire hosing my social media feed with statements like, “You’re so stupid. How come you don’t see this?” And nobody needs to hear that they’re not worthy, that they’re not capable because they spend so much of their quiet time feeling that way. And so, if I show up and I’m like, “You don’t get it you idiot.” It’s they hate themselves more than they did before I showed up and before I showed up, it was plenty.
And so I think the reckoning that we are facing as human beings right now is not about policy. And there’s plenty of people that would jump down my throat, rightfully so, about that. Policy is not going to get us out of this. Yes, implicit, explicit, race-based, anti-racist work, even police officers. Yes, that’s all part of it. And yes, that’s trickle down policy. But you have men who are on the front lines, who are in the police force who are broken. They have been questioning their self worth. They don’t have authentic relationships with people in their lives. It’s a lot of chatting about the weather. They’re feeling really disappointed in who they are because they aren’t the seven foot tall, zero percent body fat, strapping political politician like we paint George Washington to be in our textbooks that say that he had all the answers.
So when we’re suddenly, when we tell a myth about what men are supposed to be able to do, and then they’re not able to do it because it’s a myth, they hate themselves. And then they’ll take it out on their work on the front line, and they’ll take it out in their relationships, they’ll take it out on their kids. And we’ve seen, they’ll take it out on themselves.
So this idea of policy, yeah, I’m all for it. Policy to get more mental support for folks, 100%, I’ll die on that mountain with you too. But that’s not it. That’s not just it. It has to be a bigger us. We have to come back to us. And I’ve been thinking. I was working with a colleague yesterday on some things that I’m going to post on my social media feed, which is not at all what I thought I was going to post. But I want to post more photos of people supporting people. The person who spilled their groceries in the grocery story and the total stranger helping her pick it up. I need to see that because I need to be reminded that that’s us too. Because, right now, if I get sucked into it, oh, the other is dangerous.
And you’ve seen the Pew reports over the past couple of years that Republicans believe Democrats are a legitimate national security risk and Democrats believe the same thing about Republicans.
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah.
JENNA ARNOLD: And it’s even. And I’ll add this thing and then I’ll shut up. My daughter, she’s five, she has watched me over the past four years, and now she’s really wrapping her head around the divisiveness. Before, she was just my prop at marches because she was super cute waving a flag, having no idea why she was there. But now, she’s five and she’s like, “Okay, wait. Who is Donald Trump? And who is he against? And what does he stand for?” And so she’s asking harder questions. And so as we’re quarantining, we’re spending the next year in the suburbs. And as you drive down any suburb street right now, it’s a bunch of Biden flags… I don’t care what flag is on your front lawn. It’s a fuck you to the other side. “It’s like fuck you I’m for Biden,” and, “fuck you I’m for Trump.” That’s not conversation, folks. Signs on front lawns, I don’t think necessarily sway people per se. I get that there’s some mathematical calculation from a campaign perspective that might work. But I think it’s just really toxic.
And so, she was saying like, “Well, I want Harris.” And she even said something that was totally inappropriate. She said, “Mommy, are you going to be mad at me if I say I want Donald Trump to die?” And the answer has to be a resounding, “yes.” It has to be a resounding yes. Do I want him to go away? Yup. Do I want him off my White House’s podium? Absolutely. But I can’t say to my kid, create another member of the army that is fighting this cultural war. Singapore has added the American culture wars to their national security watch list. Our culture war. So now I’m like, “Okay y’all.”
JENNIFER BROWN: This is bad.
JENNA ARNOLD: Oh, yes, to the statistics. Sure to the lawn signs. Humanity does not survive if we don’t get this together which means I have to make space for your pain. I have to bring you to the truth of other peoples. We have to fit in the I don’t know-ness of… Because what’s going to happen is, going back to the Breonna Taylor example, is if I say to folks, “No, there’s no judicial excuse for that. There is no law that protected the police officers. She was just murdered in her bed.” The immediate response is, “Okay. Well, what do we do?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
JENNA ARNOLD: And the answer, what we’re all going to have to get used to is, we don’t know yet and sit there. Because right after George Floyd was murdered, there was a lot of chatter on social media platforms. People were like, “Defund the police, defund the police, defund the police.” And one of my friends who is on the front lines of this for… And is still there, obviously, but one of my friends who is on the front lines of that work posted a social media image. It was a nine point plan of how to reallocate funding. And she posted it on a Tuesday. And on that Wednesday I went to go and repost it. And I texted her and I was like, “Hey, where is that thing that you posted yesterday? I want to repost it.” She goes, “Oh I pulled it down because point four and point nine actually need more refinement.”
And that wasn’t an opportunity for me to be like, “Oh, forget it. We’re not going to be able to figure it out. Let me get back to my Netflix series.” It’s an opportunity for me to be like, “Okay. Lean in harder and wait until she posts the new plan.” And our very binary structure of being raised for me, as a white woman in a comfortable suburb of the United States was like, well, you’re either on the winning team or on the losing team. You’re Democrat, Republican. You have a boyfriend, or you don’t. You got the A or you didn’t. And in this case, you either have the answer or you don’t. And what we have to do is pull ourselves back into the gray and sit in ambiguity until it gets figured out.
JENNIFER BROWN: Ask the right questions is so powerful. Hold space for the exploration of those questions. Bring new voices to that dialogue and sit with it. Have humility and get comfortable being uncomfortable every single day. That is where I agree. There is so much that is emerging right now. We learned so much this summer as an organization. Now what do we actually do? How will we do this differently? How will we make this stick? How will it be sustainable? How do we ensure this is not one and done and this wasn’t just a moment? But it’s a continuing, not just movement, but also evolution of our own thinking, of our own views of ourselves. How do we keep that door open to having our ego… I think it’s our ego being challenged, too, around, I’m just going to play it safe. I’m going to look out for number one.
It is about, I believe I am a good person and I do enough. And I sit there and have to say, intent is fine but impact is what is going to matter. What are you doing? What are you acting upon? Who sees you doing that? How are you putting yourself in discomfort every single day? And I almost feel like I’m giving people medicine and it feels like just an unpleasant… I don’t know how enticing it is, what I’ve just described. And so I catch myself when I describe what I think it looks like. And I stop and I say, “How can I make this about joy?” Because I do think people, they’re firehosed right now. They’re probably feeling a lot of maybe, small, shame, fear. I know that people can act from a place of feeling defeated or overwhelmed. I don’t think humans can participate and add if we are in this space of being paralyzed by shame and all the things that we’re perhaps learning and reflecting on ourselves. And all this stuff.
So, I’m always torn between, we need to spend enough time in that space because we need to feel, this needs to hit us somehow. We can’t go retreat into comfort when so many others don’t have the privilege of retreating. It’s literally a sign of white woman privilege to be able to just be like, “I’m going to go back to Netflix.” That’s, to me, the hallmark of being able to leave because things don’t maybe impact you or you think they don’t impact you, is privilege.
So but then, but on the other side, I’m like, no, this needs to be a part of your everyday hygiene. What am I learning today? What am I exposing myself to? Was I uncomfortable today based on an aspect of a belief or a bias or a conversation. And I want to make it a journey that people want to be on. And I think I struggle with that. So I wonder how you have…
JENNA ARNOLD: Yeah.
JENNIFER BROWN: You did all these listening tours. You gave a voice to something. But how are you enlisting? What’s the trick there?
JENNA ARNOLD: So, pre-pandemic, I was like, I’m going to have to focus on enlisting as my strategy. And then, pandemic, then Amy Cooper and then George Floyd’s murder and then I no longer had to enlist. I was just able to get right into the, “Okay, let’s talk about the difference between explicit and implicit bias.” I no longer had to enlist. And it seems like, from my vantage point, there are a lot of women who are like, “Wait, I think I need to go to this class.” And yeah, there is this number that always haunts me, 61 million people pulled the lever for Donald Trump in 2016. So, there are 61 million students that we have to get. But I think the truth is, if I get one and she gets two and then those two go get four, it’s that whole… It’s how pandemics spread.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, it is. And you can be a super spreader.
JENNA ARNOLD: So, the pandemic of my book. So I think this belief of my fear is not necessarily, will people have these conversations now? My fear is that they’re going to have these conversations in a very performative way that’s going to end up terminating friendships and making it even more divisive. So, what’s happening with a lot of white women… And I was on a panel last night with a big name and she was like, “White ladies just need to shut up.” And I’m like, “Well, yeah, when it comes to things not related to white ladies.” But when white ladies need to talk about their behavior and their performance chores and pretending perfection and their ignorance dependency and their cognitive acrobatics, the response can’t be shut up. Because I have to study my relationship with my son.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
JENNA ARNOLD: And I need other people to do the same. I need to watch the relationships…
JENNIFER BROWN: No shame. Yeah.
JENNA ARNOLD: So, this idea of what we can do is, white women can’t be like, “I’m woke.” Because-
JENNIFER BROWN: Full stop.
JENNA ARNOLD: I hate the term woke and I’m so excited for someone else to come up with something, because, bah, I just need the new word. But what we can’t do is pretend like we know what we’re talking about. And what I mean by that is, it’s the same thing if you are a woman of faith and pretend you are a conservative catholic, you can talk about catholicism and your Christianity and your relationship with your God and your messiah. But you can’t tell me what my Christianity and my relationship with my God and my relationship with my messiah might be. You can talk about it, but if anyone gets on a podium is like, “This is how it should be. This is how you should pray to your God.” That makes me a little bit worried. There’s how many billions of Christians on the planet? Well, go ask them all what Christianity means.
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that you said that there is such a diversity amongst white women, and yet they’re referred to as a block. I always say the same thing about audiences full of men, that I see as male identified individuals, I should say. That I’m making that assumption, and that’s my bias. But what I’ve trained myself to do is to literally see every single one of those people and have x-ray vision into the many, many things I don’t see. And, like you were referring to before, the epidemic of I’m not enough, I don’t measure up as a man. We talk about the man box a lot on The Will to Change, the literal devastating straight jacket that men perform masculinity feel the need to do that in. And it’s interesting as a woman to walk into those room because parts of me are triggered, of course, from a safety perspective.
And so it’s just really fascinating to think about white women are not a monolith. There’s so much diversity amongst us and I think that’s a point you’re making. And to be told to sit down and shut up because we really don’t know what we’re talking about.
JENNA ARNOLD: That’s right.
JENNIFER BROWN: But I agree with you. I think that is a defeating approach. We’ve got to invite the work to be done in a loving way.
JENNA ARNOLD: Within our communities.
JENNIFER BROWN: Where we… Right. And we’ve got a lot of work to do.
JENNA ARNOLD: Yeah. Right. And I just want to be clear. White women should not be screaming about life experiences that they haven’t had. So-
JENNIFER BROWN: Totally.
JENNA ARNOLD: So there’s this balance of when do you shut up and when do you scream. And I talk about this in chapter one. That’s the line we walk all day long. Don’t overthink it. But if you’re in a room with trans people who are talking about their life experiences, you have nothing to add unless you yourself are a trans person with that life experience. Be a student. But when you’re brushing your teeth with your husband at your double sink, Carrara bathroom in your McMansion, you should be telling some stories about some trans folk.
There’s this idea of, “White ladies just follow women of color.” And yes, women of color have propped up this country. They have shown up for everybody. Everybody. In every vote, in every opportunity that they’ve had to use their currency. So when they tell you how you can show up for them, well, you better get in line.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
JENNA ARNOLD: And then you take that little story of theirs and you go back to the country club and you share her thoughts.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right. Yes. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. That’s exactly the advice I just gave to a straight, white, male executive who said, “I have been so privileged in my life. I fear that I can’t come across this authentic in when I talk about this. I don’t, when I say, ‘share something under your waterline, be vulnerable, think about your story.’ When somebody literally says to me, I have nothing to add. And yet, I want to do more.” I say, go listen. Collect stories and make sure people understand and hear the statistics, the research that you’re constantly educating about the experience of others, then. That’s the work. People will listen to you and they’ll be amazed that you know these things. They’ll be amazed that you’re speaking them. You’re articulating them. Given what they see when they look at you. I was always say the messenger is so critical as well as the message. And the voice that speaks these things. And the fact that some of us, as you and I know, getting into certain rooms, it is powerful to be able to be that person that’s able to carry that when others can’t.
And I don’t agree with that. I don’t think it’s right. But my duty is to learn so much that when I have my moment, I’m going to use it. And that’s that piece. I think we’ve got to explain that better somehow. I don’t know. To me, it feels, it’s not that hard. Listening for me isn’t that hard. But I think we need to be better listeners. But we also need to acknowledge the power that some of us have because of our privilege. When we use our voice in different ways to tell different stories, to educate, it is exponentially powerful. And I feel like that’s what you’re trying to get at in this book. You’re like, “Your silence and your conformity is a total tragedy and leaving so much on the table that could be making a difference for others.” And I think that that’s what is hurting our system, is that we have all these folks that are opting out for all the variety of reasons you cover in your book. So we need shift something in that. And I think about this a lot, obviously.
JENNA ARNOLD: Well, thank you for thinking about this a lot. We need as many people being haunted by it as possible.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, exactly, So, Jenna, I want to know, what are you focused on leading up to… Are you feeling the election looming large? Are you thinking about all the unrest and potentially more protests that are in our future? Because I think we know things are going to get worse if they ever get better. We’re going to be challenged more and more. If you’re a white woman listening to this and if you listen to The Will to Change, you are on this journey. You’re activated, I’m sure. So what would you say to an audience who is literally comfortable being uncomfortable, challenging themselves, trying to use their voice more? What are some words of wisdom you can give us as we enter this very tenuous stage in our democracy?
JENNA ARNOLD: Sorry. I’m just texting him and telling him I’m going to be late.
JENNIFER BROWN: Take a moment.
JENNA ARNOLD: One second. Sam, okay… I’m assuming you can edit out this long period.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, we can edit out.
JENNA ARNOLD: Okay good. Sorry.
JENNIFER BROWN: No problem.
JENNA ARNOLD: And just to confirm, the question you asked was, what kind of advice am I getting for-
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Just give us one or two things to be thinking about doing leading up to the election, ways to be thinking about stepping out of the white woman box, basically.
JENNA ARNOLD: Do you want me to answer it from a partisan perspective or a non-partisan? What’s the-
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh.
JENNA ARNOLD: What do your readers want to hear?
JENNIFER BROWN: I would say non-partisan, actually.
JENNA ARNOLD: Okay.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
JENNA ARNOLD: So leading in to the most historic election in our nation’s history, which is such a frustrating thing to say because, or to hear I should say. Because we’ve always heard, “This is the most important election of your lifetime.” And they always say that and I’m exhausted from hearing it. But I actually don’t think that this is the most important election of just our lifetime. I think it’s the most important election in our nation’s history. And we’re going into it highly agitated in a way that is splitting families. It’s splitting people in their own hearts. For me, I’m frightened by it. I don’t think the chips are just going to fall in a way that it’s like, oh, well, Busch is it, not Kerry. I don’t think it’s that kind of transition. I think it’s important, a couple of things for viewers. It is crucial that you wrap your head around the fact that this election will not be called on November 3rd and start speaking as if that’s the case. One.
Two, you need to normalize that with folks in your community that this is not a blockbuster film and you either won or lost by 9:30 PM on November 3rd. I know the networks would love that. No. This is democracy. And if we have to count every last vote like we did in the Busch-Kerry election and it take a couple of weeks, or even a couple of months, we have to do it. So start normalizing your fact around that, that this election is going to be complicated. And because you see the current president, he’s already pretending like the election in jeopardy by a way of absentee ballots, the postal system. Obviously, we’re all still super confused, at least I am, about the Russian influence in the 2016. Surely, I’ll be concerned about it going into 2020 as well.
So there’s going to be a lot of uncertainty around the validity of the election. Which means, if you are in a state where you can vote early, go now. It’s like… Oh, I heard a good analogy about this yesterday, and I can’t remember. But it’s like this idea that let them get your vote organized and put in the right bucket before the massive waves of hundreds of millions of votes come in. If there can be 50 million votes already sorted before November 3rd, then, all of the election officials can handle the other 50 million, particularly in a very, very dangerous election. So I think, just get on top of your voting situation pronto.
Call people. I would say this. Call your friends, even your undergrad roommate in that swing state. Make a list of people you know in those swing states and call them and be like, “Hey, just confirming that you’re registered to vote.” And, “Wow, where is your head?” Don’t ever be like, “Biden’s climate policy is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And Trump’s is…” No one wants to hear that. Be like, “Hey, how are you doing? Just making sure you’re ready to vote.” And I have a good friend who has been doing this and she called two people. One in Wisconsin. I don’t know where the other one is. But the one in Wisconsin… I’m pausing really quickly because I think my AirPods just died. Can you guys hear me still?
JENNIFER BROWN: I can still hear. Yeah. You need to wrap up that thought.
JENNA ARNOLD: Yeah. Okay just one died. Okay. So she called two friends in individual swing states. And one of those friends wasn’t going to vote. And he said, “Okay, fine, I’ll go and vote.” And then she said to him, “Well, what about your mom and the rest of your family?” And he said, “Well, I don’t know if they’re thinking about voting. I guess I’ll call them to find out.” And so he called them, his mom and his aunt. And both of them are neutral about voting and they committed to him that they were going to vote and they were going to register that day. And he was just like, “Okay, let’s do this thing.” And it was because one of my friends, based here in New York City called this guy that she doesn’t even really know-
JENNIFER BROWN: Oh.
JENNA ARNOLD: But lives in Minnesota being like, “Yeah, are you voting?” And then he went and got two more people in Minnesota. And so-
JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent.
JENNA ARNOLD: So that’s what has to happen, I think. But that’s coming from a Democratic perspective of just go get folks. And then, I would say, as you step into these courageous conversations, which are so heated and so complicated right now, really don’t lead with fact. Lead with your emotion. Are you scared? Are you frightened? Are you confused? Are you unclear? Copy paste. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Because everyone… If anyone is like, “Oh, no, this is totally fine.” Their head has been in the sand because they worked really, really hard to be asleep, like we were talking about.
So I just, in every one of my conversations with people where it’s a little bit tense, I’m like, “Yeah. I’m just afraid. I’m scared. You can talk to me about what the status of the economy was pre-COVID. But look at the economy now. I’m really scared.”
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. That’s so good. That’s such a great framework and mindset to go into these conversations. And it’s not the way we normally go into them. So I really appreciate the language. And also managing our emotions and our want to preach or teach or be angry. All of it. This is calling on us to truly see each other and create space for each other, is what I’m hearing in what you’re describing. And I think that is a more effective way to connect with people. And I love the multiplier effect that you just describe. From one action there are so many ripple effects in terms of civic engagement. And people that are still asleep that don’t understand the stakes of this moment.
And so, anyway, Jenna, we have a lot ahead. And I know that your book… I’m so glad that it was written. I am so hopeful that we’re able to crack the white women code and whatever is getting in our way from changing the world in the way that we can in a meaningful way and a way that is needed right now. I honestly hope it’s the first of many, both by you, but also by a lot of others. Because I think that that’s the signal. You’ve opened up a door for a conversation and you’ve said we need to have this conversation. And I’m so glad you did and a bunch of us need to walk through it and carry it forward. So, I want to thank you for being the super spreader, so to speak.
JENNA ARNOLD: For being the source of the pandemic.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s great.
JENNA ARNOLD: Thank you for taking the time and the space.
JENNIFER BROWN: Absolutely. So, people can find you where?
JENNA ARNOLD: JennaArnold.com is my website and there’s a bunch of resources on there that I hope to make super easy for folks who are like, “I don’t know what I don’t know and I don’t know who to follow.” So I have a whole list of amazing folks to follow on there. My Instagram handle is @ItsJennaArnold. No. @ItsJenna. That’s embarrassing that I didn’t know that. @ItsJenna. Facebook and Twitter are 27th to 28th priority for me. But Instagram is where I’m pushing most of my stuff.
JENNIFER BROWN: Great. So I hope we generate some new fans and more book purchases. And thank you so much for joining me today.
JENNA ARNOLD: Thanks so much.
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