This episode, originally recorded at APA 2021, is hosted by Dr. Maysa Akbar, Chief Diversity Officer for the APA, as she speaks with Jennifer Brown, Dr. Derrick Gordon from the Yale School of Medicine and Eduardo Placer, CEO and Founder of Fearless Communicators. Discover how dismantling racism benefits us all, the necessary steps to have courageous conversations about race, and how to move from words to antiracist action. This program originally aired as part of APA 2021, the American Psychological Association’s annual convention. It is being used with permission from the American Psychological Association. For more information about APA, visit www.apa.org.
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
Eduardo Placer: And then maybe what you need to find through allies, is someone who is open to having a conversation with you. I think what happens is we get shut down. And that brings up the wall, and you’re like, “Well, I’m never going to try that again.” I think that there’s an opportunity to dance. There are always opportunities. There are people who are willing to engage in conversations just like there are some people who are bridges, and there’s some people who are not bridges. There’s some people who are out there, screaming and calling out, and being really angry. They have a voice. They have a right to be there. That is authentic and necessary. That’s not necessarily my role. I see my role as someone who’s more of a bridge, and we need bridges as well. I think that, again, it’s not binary. It’s not either/or. I think it really is stepping into this idea of yes/and.
Announcer: Everyone has the diversity story, even those you don’t expect. Get ready to hear from leading CEOs, bestselling authors, and entrepreneurs, as we uncover their true stories of diversity and inclusion. Now, onto the episode. Hello and welcome back to The Will To Change. This program originally aired as part of APA 2021, the American Psychological Association’s annual convention. It is being used with permission from the American Psychological Association. For more information about APA visit www.apa.org. The title of the program is Critical Conversations, Finding the Courage To Discuss and Dismantle Racism. It features some people that, if you are a regular Will To Change listener, might be familiar to you. Dr. Maysa Akbar is the host and moderator. She is the chief diversity officer for the APA. Panelists include Jennifer Brown, Derrick Gordon, associate professor of psychiatry, director of research policy and program on male development at the Consultation Center at Yale School of Medicine, as well as Eduardo Placer, CEO and founder of Fearless Communicators. And now, onto the conversation
Dr. Maysa Akbar: Today, I am joined by an exceptional panel of experts to talk about how to have courageous conversations about race and racism. My guests today are Eduardo Placer, the founder of Fearless Communication, a self-described story doula, a community builder, and a speaker who helps people push past their fears and engage in authentic self-expression. I’m also joined by Jennifer Brown, founder and CEO of Jennifer Brown Consulting, an award winning entrepreneur, a speaker, a diversity and inclusion consultant, and the author of How To Be an Inclusive Leader: Your Role in Creating Cultures of Belonging Where Everyone Can Thrive, and also by Derrick Gordon. Dr. Gordon is an associate professor of psychiatry and the director of research and policy program on male development at the Yale school of Medicine, whose research seeks to improve the health of men on the fringes such as men transitioning from prison back to the community or low-income non-custodial fathers. Welcome, everyone. Thank you for joining me for this important conversation.
Jennifer Brown: Thank you, Maysa.
Male: Thank you.
Dr. Maysa Akbar: Eduardo, do you want to anchor us as we’re going to begin to engage in what I think is a important thought provoking opportunity for us to talk about something that’s not very easy for many of us to do and to engage in?
Eduardo Placer: Yes. Thank you so much, Maysa. When we were having a little conversation before this, and knowing the sensitivity of the conversation we’re going to move into … I think as someone who facilitates and holds space, it’s important, I feel, to create a container of safety and love and just acknowledgement. One of the things that I want to do to begin is just noticing the people who are on this call, but also the people who are listening and participating, just acknowledging our elders, people who have devoted time and energy, and space and resource to their betterment, to their service. The laps that they’ve taken around the sun is something that we should center and honor, and acknowledge. The second thing is an opportunity to do a land acknowledgement where I’m currently standing in the East Village of New York. I want to acknowledge that I’m a guest on Munsee-Lanape land. I want to acknowledge ancestors and elders that are past, present, and emerging, and an opportunity to also acknowledge the original stewards on the land that you happen to be standing or sitting, and joining us from.
Eduardo Placer: The third thing is in the various intersections that I hold as someone who identifies as queer, gay, also a child of refugees, Latinx, the importance to name the systems that are at play, just giving them name to understand that that is the water that we are swimming in, and acknowledging the existence and the prevalence of structural institutional racism, misogyny, ableism, ageism, and LGBTQ+ phobia, and an opportunity for us to have conversation here together and community, so we can start to dismantle those to really create a space that is equitable, just, and free for all.
Dr. Maysa Akbar: Oh, thank you, Eduardo, for anchoring that. And I know that Derrick and Jennifer are going to share pieces of themselves. I love that that’s how you’re actually starting this off, that we are able to really have these conversations unless we can hit our authentic self and feel a level of comfort in being able to share who we are, and that definitely takes a level of vulnerability. When I think about where we are now and, oftentimes, how divided our nation can be, and we hear that race is the through-line in all of these stories, most often, it feels many of us, we’re sealed in our own bubbles. Sometimes, we engage with other folks, but it all depends on who our village is, how we grew up, what our worldview is, what our belief systems are, and how we may interact with people who are not like us, and how we feel in terms of our comfort level to engage in conversations that are already uncomfortable, even with the people that we know and love. You’ve all had opportunities to talk about this with different audiences for different reasons.
Dr. Maysa Akbar: So, I want to be able to talk about it today among us and to share with our audience, “How do you do this? How do you engage in these types of conversations when we, ourselves, experience challenges in how comfortable we feel with even having these conversational topics that are often very uncomfortable, based on who we are and how we grew up, and what we think about the world?” Let’s start there. How do we talk about racism in an intersectional way? How do we incorporate it into our various identities, into our stories, into trying to figure out a path forward? Jennifer and Derrick, feel free to share about yourself as you’re answering this piece. This goes to all of you, but I’d love for you to begin to share some guiding steps right away in terms of how we engage in these conversations.
Derrick Gordon: One of the things that I think about when I hear that question, Maysa, is I harken back to my graduate school time in the Midwest. As an individual coming from the Caribbean, and going to the … We call them Plain states, South Dakota, one of the things I had to confront were the ways in which … Because I was seen as other and not of the US, there were ways in which people engaged me in conversation because I wasn’t a target of their racist attitudes or racist beliefs because they didn’t see me as being either a permanent fixture in the landscape that is America, or having anything meaningful to contribute because my experience was otherized in a different way. And so being in the Plain state, Midwest, the targets were Native Americans. And so folks would come to me and talk about native folks in very derogatory ways. I found it really confusing because I was just like, “You’re talking to me as if what you’re saying somehow absolves me of my blackness.”
Derrick Gordon: I recognize that I come with an accent, and I recognize that I have a lived experience that’s a little bit different than folks. But if you look at the diaspora, my experiences are grounded in that experience. And so I oftentimes say to folks, “I got to experience racism in the American context in a different way because I stepped in as an other, and people treated me as an other, and to some of, to some extent, fetishized that otherness in a way that aligned with the narrative that they had about who I am, and what I represented, and what they were entitled to express to me about the folks who were the targets of their racist ideas.” That’s one side of the equation. The other side of the equation is that being new to the American context, “How then do I confront or engage in a conversation that challenge these perceptions?” It was a little bit of a juggling act.
Derrick Gordon: I was then struggling with, “How do I do this in a way that invites dialogue, points out the bias, keeps me safe, because I don’t want that ire to actually then be turned on me, but also recognize that I stand next to my native colleagues who you are actually engaging with or making derogatory comments about?” And so it was this really interesting dance that I found myself having to engage in, and trying to figure out how best to actually begin the conversation, begin the process, going to that uncomfortable place and the risks that are associated. So, when we talk about this issue about, “How do we discuss racism in ways that incorporates our various identities?” That’s the capsule moment that shows up for me because that was my introduction in a very real way. That continues today because I was a young college student, figuring myself out. And so there are a number of ways in which that issue has kind of … Not kind of, that issue has shown up in my current life. [crosstalk 00:11:45].
Dr. Maysa Akbar: That’s interesting because we think about that the first times we’re socialized to these issues, these social, political, sometimes, even divisive issues, and that … One of the conversations that we were having with Derrick, Eduardo, and I is like, “Well, being from the Caribbean, this conceptual understanding of racism looks very different.” Now, we’re not absent of colorism and the implications of colorism, and the difference between different social economic statuses. And those intersectional pieces are so important because they inform the way that you think about race and the way that you internalize race, the way that you demonstrate or engage in conversations, difficult conversations, about race, or the way that racism is implicated towards you on an interpersonal level. Now, I’m not even talking about structural and systemic racism. Now, if I can direct this to Jennifer, Jennifer, I can imagine that as a white woman now, entering into different spaces where people are going to make assumptions about who you are, what you stand for, what you may not stand for-
Jennifer Brown: [inaudible 00:13:02].
Dr. Maysa Akbar: … what does that look like for you in these types of [crosstalk 00:13:05].
Jennifer Brown: As an LGBTQ person, I thought when I came out, I was joining a marginalized community. That’s where I discovered my activism and where I developed my skills and my understanding. But subsequently, realizing the lack of diversity in my LGBTQ networks over the years, and becoming a student of diversity, equity, and inclusion, and now somebody who consults in this, recognizing where I fit in the hierarchy of privilege in a marginalized community and discovering that I needed to do a lot more, and almost stepping outside of the identity that I had so much loved and found myself in, and found safety in and community in, but being critical of that community in terms of the work that we haven’t done, “Who gets all the attention? Who gets the platform? Who gets to decide what we fight for? Which voices are we centering?” My journey, I think that has been really powerful. And these days, Maysa, we talk about allyship a lot and accomplicing, and being a co-conspirator. These days, I’m actually much more activated around the elements of privilege that I have. I say privilege with a small P because privilege doesn’t just exist in the white and the male variety.
Jennifer Brown: Speaking about that is inaccurate, actually. Yes, it pushes people away, which is another huge problem with it. So, I speak about the things that are easier for me to do, to say, to challenge ways that I have those invisible tailwinds that have speeded me along in this life. It’s been this adjustment of being able to be both/and, to have these identities that are intersectional. The definition of intersectionality for everybody is the overlapping impact of stigmatized identities. So, when any of us carry multiple stigmatized identities, it is the interaction between those things. And it is the, I think, compounding effect of stigma that leads to bias and stereotypes, and hearing microaggressions. That’s a lot to carry. These days, I speak about the multiple identities, the puzzle pieces, or the Rubik’s cube of identity, where if I turn it this way, you see this about me. If I turn it the other way, you see this about me. We have to be able to have a 360 degree conversation about identity.
Jennifer Brown: And we need to demystify and de-weaponize privilege because if we can all begin to speak about the privileges we carry at the same time, then we can say, “What am I doing with those privileges?” Because to me, that’s what matters, “What am I challenging? What am I stepping in to say? What rooms am I in where I can question without as much risk?” And to me, that is not something that brings shame. That actually feels to me like, “This is something I can do. This is something I can contribute.” But we’re not there yet. We’re not having that conversation yet. And I just hope that’s helpful for the audience who feels stuck, and just because you don’t carry certain diversity dimensions at this moment in time, that you feel you don’t have the moral authority to say anything, that you don’t have a way in. And this is the way in that I am recommending.
Dr. Maysa Akbar: I love that because I think that what you’re pointing out is that as we’re engaging in these conversations for some, that may be the starting point. And then maybe just to reference what Derrick was saying, he wasn’t part of the community that was being discriminated against or marginalized because he was the other. He was the thing that was an unknown. There, I imagine there, Derrick, was some privilege encapsulated in that dynamic. Eduardo, I’m going to hate you because I know you brought this up.
Male: Ooh. Ooh.
Dr. Maysa Akbar: We have a lot to unpack related to the privilege issues as you see it from your own lived experience. Tell me about that. How do we begin to position these conversations about race, if that’s the starting point, if we’re starting with a conversation around privilege?
Eduardo Placer: I think it begins with a mirror, Dr. Akbar. I think you got to look at yourself. that is sometimes very uncomfortable and unpleasant. And I think that that’s where the work happens. That’s where it begins, that racism, homophobia, ableism, ageism, all of that doesn’t exist outside. It also exists inside. I’ve spoken to you about this before. for me, one of the things that the murder of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement did is it really forced me to look inwards. Yes, I was on the streets. Yes, I was marching, but it really afforded me an opportunity to look at myself. as I shared before … Or I didn’t share this before, but I do consider myself to be Latinx. I am the proud child of Cuban refugees. It was interesting for me, I think in some ways … Derrick, similar to you, to locate myself outside of a historical context of US racism.
Eduardo Placer: My ancestors did not live in this country in the 1800s. My family didn’t immigrate into this country until after Brown V Board of Education. So, there is ways in which that there’s an American problem that I could distance myself from. And yet what the past year really caused me to do … I want to use a term that I think is really powerful, which is adjacency, not allyship, not accomplice. But I have a colleague of mine, an African-American woman who runs a business. She supports LGBTQ+ business owners. She calls herself adjacent. Her own liberation as a black cisgender woman is in amplifying and celebrating the voices of LGBTQ folk. I think that there are ways in which I tied the black liberation movement adjacent to mine as a queer, Latinx person. So, there was a way that I then started doing my own due diligence of understanding the history of my island, where my family is from. It’s a different colonial power. It’s Spain. It’s not England. Those systems of white supremacy and oppression, the genocide of the indigenous people are just as real there as they were here.
Eduardo Placer: So, I am not absolved, and that there’s an opportunity for me to locate the opportunity that my family had. The money, the wealth that my family had in 1959, 1960 to be the first wave of immigrants to come to this country was based on their privilege, the fact that my family was educated, the fact that my family just had the barrier of language to surmount to create opportunities for themselves that had them be able to go to college or be able to contribute … Although, I’m still paying for it, an Ivy League degree, which I have. I have a student loan from an Ivy League university that I went to. And I think so much of the work that I have the privilege of doing is understanding the liberation that happens in the sharing of the story. And I love, Jennifer, you talking about this, multidimensionality, that one of the things as an LGBTQ plus person, that we’re, I think, at the intersection of really expanding and exploring is non-binaryness. I know we’re speaking to scientists, but it’s also psychology, which there’s a lot of gray. There’s a lot of gray. And I think that we got to get comfortable in the gray because there’s lots of shades, and there’s lots of space.
Eduardo Placer: It is not, “You have privilege. You don’t have privilege.” It’s not black or white. it’s not binary. Just as we’re looking at conversations around gender, gender expressions, sexual expression, race, all of that, government, all of the ways in which we’ve defined and fixated ourselves in this binaryness, I think there’s a lot of discomfort in the gray. I think that that’s where we have to start exercising our muscles with a lot of curiosity and a lot of love to just be present and understand, and trust, and make space for what emerges.
Derrick Gordon: If I can jump in quickly, I really like the idea of that non-binary space. And so the piece that’s there is if we think about the task that we’re charged with, it is existing in that non-binary space, recognizing that each of us, as we enter this conversation … As we enter these conversations, I should say, there is a non-binary place we all need to sit. Be us straight or not, male or female, whatever, abled or not abled, all of us live in that non-binary space. And so as we unpack these issues, we have to recognize that there are times when we might fall in the [inaudible 00:23:02] the norm, whatever the hell that is. But there are times when you fall outside of that norm. And what do you do with that is the case? How do we make sense of how those things come together and recognize that as we are having these conversations, we’re trying to create space for all the nonbinary parts of us to be present in the conversation?
Dr. Maysa Akbar: Can I pick that up, Derrick? Because what I would love for you all to unpack here [crosstalk 00:23:24] people think about racism in that way, “I’m either against racism and pro Black Lives Matter.” Or, “I’m not. And then people will consider me racist if I say something that is not an agreement or doesn’t fully support all of this.” But it is not that binary. As psychological scientists, we understand this, that we make categories for things. And we tend to sometimes exclude the opportunity for a continuum in the thinking around complex concepts. Boy, racism is about as complicated as we get in terms of concepts. Let’s talk about it from that perspective. I think we can all agree here that racism affects everyone. This is not a people of color problem. Right?
Dr. Maysa Akbar: Thank you. And so how do we get past the defensiveness? How do we stop the denial of those moments of privilege? No matter where we are, we all may have privileges in different spaces. And how do we begin to get people to realize that the harm of racism affects all of us, every single one of us, not just people of color or historically minoritized and marginalized folks? Let’s unpack that. Go ahead, Derrick. Take it.
Derrick Gordon: The thing that I find myself thinking about is … I think, Eduardo, you mentioned this. You talked about this notion of privilege and what privilege is, and what privilege isn’t. Jennifer, you talked about privilege with not the big P, the little P. And so when we think about this notion of privilege, and we think about racism, I think there’s a way in which we are saying, “You walk around with $100 in your pocket that the rest of us don’t have.” We all know that it’s not that simple, but there’s also a piece around … If we acknowledge the privilege that’s in the room [inaudible 00:25:41] then you have to give up your $100, “I, by proxy … You got to give me that $100 because you got it, and I don’t have it.” I feel as though I’m now taking over your job, Maysa. But I want to invite Eduardo to talk about how he described that privilege because was a good summation for me as I think about these issues. [crosstalk 00:26:10].
Dr. Maysa Akbar: Since Derrick took my job, I’d like to add [crosstalk 00:26:13]. I’d like to amend his question [crosstalk 00:26:13].
Eduardo Placer: Just acknowledging the black cisgender man taking over [crosstalk 00:26:23] woman in this space and the politic of that. [crosstalk 00:26:26] we also claim our Caribbean-ness. We can claim our Caribbean-ness, and just be like, “[inaudible 00:26:34] it’s a relay race. It’s a relay race.”
Derrick Gordon: It’s a relay race.
Dr. Maysa Akbar: [crosstalk 00:26:37]. In two seconds, we’ll start talking over each other. Well, can I just add to that, Eduardo? Because I think that’s the other-
Eduardo Placer: Yeah.
Dr. Maysa Akbar: … piece too is the concept of white presenting in the Latinx community, and the complexity of that. Can you tie it, untie it, do what you need to do with that?
Eduardo Placer: Yeah. [crosstalk 00:26:55] just a little bit because there’s something that playing that I’m going to invite … This is the first time I’m sharing in this context. So, I’m just going to invite your curiosity and your love as I’m trying something on with all of you. What I’m doing is I’m taking the learning of the experience of non-binaryness in the LGBTQ space, which is where it lives now, gender identity, all that other stuff. But are we invited into a non-binary conversation around race? I think that there are ways that we are attached to blackness and whiteness that if we are anchored into ideas of blackness and whiteness, then there’s no room for a new conversation. So, one of the things that I’ve been playing with is the idea or the identity being racially non-binary because the truth is if I look at my own family history, her-story, their-story, If I’m looking, my mother is Spanish. My mother is Spanish dyed blonde, but could pass for natural, fair-skinned.
Eduardo Placer: My father is darker with nebulous who knows what the thing is in ways in which on a Caribbean island, the lightness and the whiteness is favored in socially acceptable ways. So, the prettiness is the fairer skin person, [Spanish 00:28:37]. And then there’s [Spanish 00:28:41], the darker one who’s uglier. It’s a tragedy. It’s sad that there’s the darker one, and what we’re all aiming for is the fairer, more European features. And yet there are ways in which, in Miami, Florida, which is where I was born and raised, the Cuban community that I’m a part of and the world that I would live in would assume that who I am and who my mother is, and who my family is, is white. Now, that’s a bubble because I go out of Miami, and all of a sudden, I’m something other than that.
Eduardo Placer: My difference, my cultural difference, the way that I speak English, the fact that I’m bilingual and my first language is Spanish, the fact that I look very different after I’ve spent three weeks in Puerto Rico [inaudible 00:29:29] holed up in a New York city apartment for six months, that all of a sudden, there’s a shift. Although I have used and said, and identified in the past with whiteness, it never felt authentic. It never felt true. I feel like that’s something that this landscape has created, which is an opportunity to be in the non-binaryness of it. I don’t identify as black, and I also don’t identify as white. But what is that? I have no idea. What I wanted to add in this conversation is that the other thing that we have to be comfortable with … And this has to do with the non-binaryness, is ambivalence. We got to get comfortable with having sometimes competing emotional responses happening at the same time. Those are valid, and those are fine. I can be both pissed and filled with love at the same time. I can feel challenged and confronted, and simultaneously acknowledged and held. And I think that sometimes, what happens is that these conversations exist without the parameters to hold a container that allow us to actually be in the conversation.
Eduardo Placer: It’s a little bit like the Wild West. And everyone’s like, “I don’t know.” I guess the question is, what are the containers that are holding these conversations? If we’re zooming into this conversation and I made a joke, “Derrick, co-opted your facilitation.” And there’s a whole reading that someone could have of this conversation that this is-
Derrick Gordon: Absolutely.
Eduardo Placer: … gendered and sexual-
Derrick Gordon: [crosstalk 00:31:15].
Eduardo Placer: … and all this other stuff. And there’s this Caribbean man imposing upon an Afro-Caribbean … All that other stuff. We could also zoom out and play at that thing as two respected colleagues who are … The world and the landscape is a minefield. And I think that there’s an opportunity for us to navigate and engage it with grace, with curiosity, with humility, with invitation. That’s on all sides of the spectrum. It’s like, “Let’s acknowledge that we’re walking into this space? Where can we be curious? Where can it be complicated? Where can we invite the complexity, welcome the complexity, and understand that the tools that we have to engage are new and emerging? The context that we have don’t work. The structures exist to anchor in binaryness, black and white, blah, blah, blah. That’s why I think it’s terrifying, and it’s scary because the rules are being made and created, and they’re emerging.
Dr. Maysa Akbar: Jennifer, can you tackle that inclusivity piece? I think that Eduardo gave us a lot to work with and definitely challenged my thinking about how we often enter into this conversation from a binary perspective even for a construct that was socially driven. We all know this in terms of science. I know, Derrick, you can speak to this. Race is a social construct. It doesn’t truly exist the way we’ve defined it. And now, what we’re trying to seek is, “Well, how do we find inclusivity with hundreds of years of being socialized in this way of thinking, in this way of interacting and creating social hierarchies based on what seems bright and white.” And so how do we do that?
Jennifer Brown: [crosstalk 00:33:18].
Dr. Maysa Akbar: How do we accomplish inclusivity, given that?
Female: Let’s be honest. [crosstalk 00:33:24].
Eduardo Placer: Perfect for you, Jennifer. Perfect.
Jennifer Brown: first of all, the binary is rooted in perfectionism, I think. The more I study about white supremacy culture, which is my culture, how powerful that has been for me to try to eradicate once I’ve become aware that this is one of the hallmarks of that culture because perfectionism prevents us from stepping into the non binary. It prevents us from holding the space and building the container where we don’t know the answers. And so I think a place to start is to say, “Imperfection is the reality. Can we stop needing to be right for a minute? Can we stop needing to protect our ego and, ‘I’m a good person,’ belief?” Like, “I wouldn’t let this happen. This can’t be me. I don’t believe that people think this or the experiencing this.” That denial protects our sense of self. So, what I work on in myself is the ego and the perfectionism, and the people pleaser identity that I have, and the deep desire I have not to cause harm the deep, and not even being aware of when harm is being caused, really.
Jennifer Brown: That’s where we’re sitting. And so when we try to enter these conversations, how can we disclose all of that? How can we be more transparent about how uncomfortable we are, what we’re wrestling with? Feel free to steal some of that language that I just said. But sometimes literally, I feel like I am literally developing this language for myself, let alone going out and trying to teach it. But the dialogue piece of being honest, saying … And even about privileges, going back to that, naming what those are courageously is so new to us. And I think it just allows everyone around you to relax because everybody is thinking it about you. I walk on stage and people say, “This is our diversity speaker? Are you kidding me?” I have to be extremely skilled at managing that because I will lose an audience. So, very quickly, I need to name, and be extremely humble, and yet own what I have, what I don’t have, how I see myself, how I see myself in a system, who I see in the audience, my acknowledgement of that lived experience.
Jennifer Brown: All of that has to happen in the first three minutes that I’m on stage. I figured out how to do it, but I do this for a living. I think we [inaudible 00:36:07] space and grace, and learning for ourselves. I want to say, let’s call each other in. Let’s not call each other out. Sometimes, it is necessary because we’re not being listened to when we call in. So, the call out needs to become necessary. I get that. That has moved mountains in terms of progress. But the call-in is the invitation to a conversation. It is done with the intent to give feedback to somebody about harm that’s being caused in a loving, gracious kind way, and the way that we would want to receive that. If we could create that space going both ways, like Eduardo just said, it’s critical. And yet we are so polarized. We are so pushed into the binary, and we’re so defensive about it.
Jennifer Brown: You’re right. The container piece. Let’s focus on, “What is the container that I can set up. This is the piece I can own. I don’t externalize this. This is not somebody else’s responsibility. What does a container look for me where I can feel like I’m in integrity?” But I will tell you and everybody that’s listening to this, you know how difficult this is. You know that your defenses kick up, your ego kicks up. You protect yourself. You don’t want to admit. It’s super uncomfortable. There’s no way around this, but through. There’s no way around it, but developing the muscle. And guess what? When you start to lift more and more weight, you get sore. And you keep going. [inaudible 00:37:37] bamboo. Bend, come back, bend, learn. Do not get too attached. Don’t get fragile. Don’t go into shame and guilt. Do it when you need to. Certainly, own the harm. If this is helpful, the wrestling I feel is all of these things get activated, and they prevent me from learning. If I go into a shame place, I cannot activate.
Jennifer Brown: So, just watch yourself and understand this is you learning yourself in a new context. We are in a new context. All the rules are out the door. Marshall Goldsmith says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” I constantly feel like I have to tell leaders this. Everything you’ve learned, we need to be questioning it right now. We need to be more empathetic, more transparent, more vulnerable. We have to invite not knowing. We have to role-model not knowing and discomfort. That is the opportunity for all of us.
Derrick Gordon: I love the whole idea of this notion of perfectionism because as you talked about it, two thoughts jumped into my head. One is, “Who gets to be perfect in this society?” I think about it from a manhood perspective. We talked about men striving to be the ideal man. There’s some men who will never, no matter what they do, embody the top piece. And so there’s a ceiling, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t stop trying to live into that ideal. But the other thing that I found myself thinking about too when you talked about perfectionism, Jennifer too, was this notion of how as a man of color, as a gay man of color, I live into that place of perfectionism too, in that in these conversations, I feel as if there’s a way in which I have to wrestle with my own, “I should have the right answer to these questions. And if I don’t, I’m failing, or I’m not representing in a really good way.” And so just thinking about how these notions of perfectionism cuts across all of us, we actually have to confront these issues just regularly. [crosstalk 00:40:06].
Jennifer Brown: I know [crosstalk 00:40:10] our time, but perfectionism also is a disease of those of us who haven’t had a seat at the table. What you’re saying, I think if I’m hearing you, is we have to be 150% to even be in the room. And so let’s have compassion for where that perfectionism started and why it’s so deep in us because there wasn’t enough. It was scarcity every single day and still is. So, again, patience and grace to see yourself trying to survive and the coping mechanisms that we have developed to do that when we are on the outside.
Derrick Gordon: Not to cut you off there, Eduardo-
Female: [crosstalk 00:40:48].
Derrick Gordon: … this notion of scarcity … I know. This notion of scarcity is, I think, key in these conversations because I think when we have these conversations, it conjures this notion of scarcity because if all of us were to get … And I’ll use the word, enough, then … That’s not possible. How can all of us get enough? That’s the myth. All of us can get enough, but it just becomes a bit of a challenge. I’ll pause there and [crosstalk 00:41:26].
Eduardo Placer: I just want to say yes/and because that we’re moving into a slippery slope territory because ultimately, what we’re talking about is, “If everybody gets enough, then I lose. “Now, we’re in a conversation about capitalism. That starts triggering people. I’m saying that as a Cuban-American. I’m saying as a Cuban-American, where all of us … Now, you’re moving into communist territory or socialist territory. And all of a sudden, that becomes weaponized because now we’re in a binary of socialism or capitalism. I think that there’s an opportunity for us to unpack, that there are four letters that I think are the culprit of so many of our challenges. That’s M-I-N-E, mine.
Derrick Gordon: Mine.
Eduardo Placer: “This is mine, which means it can’t be yours.”
Derrick Gordon: Yours.
Eduardo Placer: “It definitely can’t be ours because this is mine.” And I think that the scarcity that, I think, that we were taught in opportunities with, “There’s going to be one black man in that position. So, you all better fight it out because there’s one spot. There’s only one woman at the table.” Scarcity, scarcity. So, it’s like, “I need to kick you out of the way and cut and scream, and compete and all that other stuff because this spot is mine.” And I just want to highlight, just because we are talking about perfectionism and we’re talking about scarcity and abundance, that I think it’s a beautiful opportunity to zoom into a moment right now, which is Simone Biles, the Olympian. I think what a beautiful opportunity to share that you can be the greatest of all time and still have a bad day. You can still be the greatest of all time and have mental health challenges, that you can still be the greatest of all time and choose, “Today is not my day. I’m going to create space for someone else.”
Eduardo Placer: I think that there is a narrative that probably existed maybe a year ago or four years ago, where she would be seen as a coward. She would have been villainized. She would’ve been said, “That’s un-American. That’s unpatriotic. She was thinking about herself before she was thinking about her country.”
Derrick Gordon: Country.
Eduardo Placer: It’s interesting how that narrative has shifted. There’s this beautiful opportunity to get her power, her agency, her strength as a woman, as a woman of color in that sport. She’s a grown-up.
Eduardo Placer: [crosstalk 00:44:15] hashtag adulting in that moment.
Derrick Gordon: [crosstalk 00:44:19].
Eduardo Placer: I’m here for it. I’m so here for it. I think that you can be a CEO and have a bad day. You can be an executive and make a mistake. You can be someone in a leadership position who says something. You can atone for it that you made a mistake, and you’re wrong. You’re in the learning, and that you can atone for what it is that you did. I think that that creates space. That creates grace. That creates humanity. I think that in there, there’s understanding, I think that there’s compassion. I think we-
Jennifer Brown: [crosstalk 00:44:57] beautiful.
Eduardo Placer: … can all afford to give ourselves a little bit more of that.
Jennifer Brown: And really, we hold leaders accountable. Somehow, we expect that their journey is going to magically happen overnight. If I can just flip this over to the executives that I work with, who are largely white men because that’s the demographic that dominates most leadership ranks at the top and organizations, is the learning journey that people are on and creating a learning organization that can flex and breathe with, that people are trying, failing, trying again. They’re failing forward. Why is failing forward tolerated in so many other realms of the business world? But when we are endeavoring to grow and transform … And fundamental, really deep stuff, hard things, much harder than developing the next product. And yet we don’t create the space for that learning to happen. And then there’s the call-out, and then there’s the damage. And then there’s the shame. And then there’s the, “I’m going to take my marbles and go home. I’m going to get out of this because this is so painful and so hard. And I’m not feeling the support.” I believe in meeting learners where they’re at, “Wherever you are, I’m glad you’re here.”
Jennifer Brown: I understand too, that some of us can say, “Well, I’ve been doing emotional labor so much. I’ve been teaching so much. I’ve been witnessing so much. I do so much work, telling my story. I’m angry and I’m tired of doing that. I don’t want to help you anymore. I don’t want to help you on your journey. I don’t think it’s my job or my responsibility to help you on your journey.” That’s where we’re at too. I want to acknowledge that. I’m not going to agree or disagree. I’m not going to take a binary on this. I’m not going to do it. I’m just going to say it, that sure, I wrestle with that. There is a line and a boundary that I feel when I’m giving too much emotional labor that’s not earned by somebody else. I will pull back and say, “Well, what homework have you done? What do you really know about LGBTQ issues so that I can understand what you’ve put into the pot, where you have invested time.” But if we abandoned our learners and abandon aspiring allies that are becoming, then I don’t think we’re going to build a more complete future together. I think the anger and the resentment is so real. I feel it, and I know it. It’s real, and it’s valid. How do we then all move forward together to where we need to go?
Jennifer Brown: I’m not okay with leaving whole contingent of people behind. I’m just not okay with it. If that had been true, I would’ve been left behind. And then I wouldn’t be doing the work I’m doing. And so I can’t square it. I just can’t. I’ve seen so much courage in leaders. I’ve seen so much beautiful transformation and amazing stories, and vulnerability that touches my soul. Derrick, Eduardo and I share a lot of spaces with men wrestling with this. It’s gorgeous. As a cisgender woman in those spaces, it takes my breath away when men wrestle with masculinity and have that courage. So, I am all about creating whatever space needs to be created for that. If I can be a part of that, I will. I don’t care how much emotional labor I have to do because to me, that’s why I’m here, is to expand and to participate, and to love and be kind, and show grace while we’re moving together.
Derrick Gordon: But do you know what I love about what you just said, Jennifer, is this commitment, that we all have a role to play in building a better us, a better future, a better whole, and recognizing that that’s what we’re trying to do. Sometimes, we do it well, and we move forward in a really good way. Sometimes … I hate to say, we mess up. But I like the image of falling forward. How do we [inaudible 00:49:09] fall forward with that? How do we still move in that direction [inaudible 00:49:15]? I think it’s a great image to think about.
Eduardo Placer: There’s something powerful about being in the work together. I think this is where allyship and adjacency is important. Jennifer, with your question or your comment about emotional labor, I think, sometimes from my experience, it’s when it’s expected that I do the emotional labor without having been asked permission to do it where there’s almost an expectation … I’m going to name white privilege, that people of color or diverse people will now, “It is my job now to educate you.” And I think it’s that belief that sometimes meets the resistance as opposed to an invitation and a question that can give the person agency to accept or not accept that position. I think that is something that we, as allies and as people who are adjacent, can also look for when that happens, to let the person know that they’re not alone in the conversation. Does that make sense?
Derrick Gordon: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eduardo Placer: For example, I found myself in a situation where it was a beautiful dinner. There were two white, straight cisgender men with a lot of accumulated wealth. I was sitting at the table with an African-American woman of Nigerian ancestry, of Nigerian immigration family, not African-American. To make the distinction between someone whose family is from here, her family immigrated. So, similar to your Caribbean experience, Derrick, it’s a different context. A Caribbean black person or an African black person from Africa-
Derrick Gordon: [crosstalk 00:51:00].
Eduardo Placer: …. in the US is different than an African-American. Even within the community, there’s difference. All of a sudden, the conversation around George Floyd emerged. I made sure to let her know that she was not alone in the conversation with those men, that I was checking in on her. Like, “Is this something that you want to share? Do you mind if I contribute?” So that all of a sudden, that this was a shared experience. I wasn’t like, “Okay, she’s going to handle this on her own. She’s got to take on this conversation.” So, I think that that becomes important, to know who the allies are. If you’re not able to have the conversation that your no is also a willing no, and if someone says no to you, to accept that no as a boundary, and that that doesn’t mean that’s a no to every black person or every queer person, or every differently able person. It’s just a no to that person. And then maybe what you need to find through allies is someone who is open to having a conversation with you. I think what happens is we get shut down. That brings up the wall and you’re like, “Well, I’m never going to try that again.” I think that there’s an opportunity to dance. There are always opportunities.
Eduardo Placer: There are people who are willing to engage in conversations, just like there are some people who are bridges, and there’s some people who are not bridges. There’s some people who are out there screaming and calling out, and being really angry. They have a voice, and they have a right to be there. that is authentic and necessary. That’s not necessarily my role. I see my role as someone who’s more of a bridge, and we need bridges as well. So I think that, again, it’s not binary, it’s not either/or. I think it really is stepping into this idea of yes/and. I just want to acknowledge that one of the final notes that we wanted to have was an opportunity to dig in here with the APA … We’re here having a conversation with this organization, and an opportunity for the organization itself to look in, to look inwards and see, “Where can we be responsible? How are we in this work? Where are we in atonement for the past and the present?”
Derrick Gordon: [crosstalk 00:53:21].
Eduardo Placer: “How are we in relationship to the future?” I just want to share a personal story … And however may impact the people that are on this call and that are listening, is that in the early days of my formation of my being and understanding of who I am on the planet, I remember I was maybe 13 or 14. Before iPhones and Google, what we had was World Book Encyclopedia. As someone who couldn’t quite find the words to describe and understand the experience of what I was feeling … And I knew that there was gayness, and I knew that there was homosexuality. But again, that existed outside of me. The reality of that being me was not possible as a young Cuban child in Miami, Florida, growing up in the ’80s and the early ’90s. That was not anything that could be internalized. And yet I was looking for language or words that could describe it. I remember on a Saturday afternoon when everybody was home, but nobody was home, that kind of moment, knowing that it was safe to grab volume H … And clear that when I was grabbing volume H, that just by grabbing volume H, somebody would know what I was looking up.
Eduardo Placer: Although, it could have been a myriad of things I was looking up and grabbing H, and lock myself in the bathroom and looked up homosexuality. The last sentence said that in some cases, if the person tries hard enough, they can change and reverse their homosexuality. And for a 12 year old, clung to those words as the truth, the fact that this was something that could be fixed. And it wasn’t until I came out in three years beyond that … I always come back to that story because it is something that the psychological and psychiatric landscape … The mental health landscape for many years, atoned homosexuality as being a disease and a condition. The implications and the ramifications of that continue to exist. I think that there are ways in which the science is inherently biased, racist, homophobic. The ripple effects of that continue to manifest and [themifest 00:55:48] in my own internalized homophobia in the way that I show up in the world.
Eduardo Placer: I think that there’s an opportunity to take stock both personally and also institutionally, of the institutions that trained us. Our faculty members, the people who taught us, their biases, how do we acknowledge and see how that has seeped into ourselves, so we can break that in what we’re building for the next generation?
Jennifer Brown: That was beautiful, Eduardo. What I’m envisioning is for everybody listening to this is precisely digging into the past, digging into what we were taught in any given field, and naming it, and really beginning to dig into it courageously. Regardless of what it might say about me as a person because I’m a part of a cohort that caused harm, it doesn’t mean we should not name what happened. This is reconciliation. It’s the truth. Think about how many people we touch on a regular basis to make us a part of our language, a part of how we set things up, the container, the acknowledgement of what has not been spoken, what has not been addressed, what has not been redressed. We did a land acknowledgement at the beginning of this. We should be doing this a lot more and revisiting our teachings, our curriculums, what we were taught. The more we talk about this, the more, I think, it will endear people to us because when we do this, we create a trusted space where we can have a deeper relationship now with someone when we do this because it opens a door. It says, “I am cognizant of this. I’m unafraid to name it. And I am doing my work, however imperfectly I’m going to be doing that, you will see me question everything I know, and I’ve been taught.”
Jennifer Brown: I do this when I share pronouns. I say, “I’m Jennifer Brown, my pronouns, are she, her, hers.” It’s so critical for me to do that because everything I know is there is someone in my midst that really needs to hear that today, that really needs to feel seen in that moment. And I may never know who that person is. And what I advise for leaders is, “Do it anyway. This is not a matter of immediate gratification. This doesn’t work that way.” We have to speak these things regardless of who is around, who hears it, whoever lets us know what a difference it made. It doesn’t matter. We have to do it anyway. This is how we grow and become, I think, focused on what we can do within our sphere of influence, “What can I control?” What I can control is naming my gender identity as cisgender and not assuming that everybody around me identifies as I do. it’s a small thing, but it’s something people get hung up on. They feel like, “I don’t know why I would do this. It feels awkward.”
Jennifer Brown: But we need to lead with our language and our courage, and what we talk about, what we signal, what we shine a light on, how consistently we do that. There’s no other way to really change besides that, I don’t think. it’s a start. And then we have to follow it up with actions, of course. I can’t say, “Oh, my pronouns, are she, her, hers.” And then make microaggressions about gender identity. There’s a lag a little bit better.
Eduardo Placer: Just as an and, Jennifer, because I think that’s beautiful, it’s something that I asked and I want to call in here, not call out, that in this platform, it doesn’t allow for you to use pronouns. So, I had to do the line and add my pronouns there because it doesn’t allow parentheses. There’s no easy way to allow pronouns in this context. So, there’s an inherent bias toward cisgender-ness or the assumption that people are binary in the platform that we’re currently on. one of the things that you just shared so beautifully in a simple act that people can do is actually share their pronouns. I started adopting and using my pronouns on my email signature everywhere. Even as a gay cisgender man, I have privilege in the LGBTQ+ community. As a male presenting cis gay men, we are at the top of that pyramid. Knowing and acknowledging that that privilege is the space for creating the voice for our trans non-binary siblings. There was a straight cisgender man who had his pronoun designations. He ran a nonprofit, and I was so moved. I was like, “Why the hell is he doing that? He doesn’t have to do that. If he’s doing that, I’m going to do it.” So, in like 2016 or ’17, I adopted that and put it in my email signature.
Eduardo Placer: What happened is … I run global programs as part of my work with Fearless Communicators. One of our participants in Australia, her partner had never seen that and saw themselves, and said, I don’t identify as a she-her. I identify as a they-them.” That one act that a straight cisgender man from a space of privilege, he didn’t have to do that. The choice that he made to distinguish himself created space for a gay, cisgender human being to also be like, “Wait a second. I have privilege and agency, and responsibility. I’m now going to add that.” Allowed [someone halfway across the world to see themselves in a way that they never would have seen themselves. That’s the power. It is a micro act with macro consequences. That is the opportunity that we can have here.
Jennifer Brown: Incredible.
Derrick Gordon: [inaudible 01:01:42] very well. I just think that that’s the other piece that’s there, is I think I always walk away from these conversations feeling as if there’s a beauty here. There’s a beauty that we need to be able to capitalize and tap into. But to get to the beauty, we have to, sometimes, walk through some murky waters. It’s okay to walk through the murky waters. We going to be okay if we trust that the outcome we get to is going to be okay. I like what you said, Jennifer, about it being immediate. It may not be immediate aha moment. Trust me, I’d love to say to folks, “I’m a little bit slow, but I catch up.” And so it’s one of those things where it will catch up. Having faith that that will happen, I think, grounds me in the work and the steps that I need to take.
Derrick Gordon: we don’t get from point A to point B if we don’t put one foot in front of the other and move in that direction. And so I think these are the things that we need to be engaged and in and doing.
Jennifer Brown: Derrick, you said faith. I think we are asking for a leap of faith. We really are because we know the three of us have been in the jungle. We know that wilderness. We know that dark water where we can’t see. But we know the beauty, you just said, on the other side of it. And so it’s, “Cross the bridge. The bridge will hold. Come across.” And yet there’s raging waters. The bridge doesn’t look structurally sound. I think when you live on this bridge, you know it’ll hold. You know that it’s flexible. You know that there’s something amazing on the other side. I think that the encouragement and the space holding, and everything we’ve talked about today is painting that picture of what’s there. And then the encouragement and the structure, and the language and all the things that we’ve spoken about today, equipping learners to take that journey across the bridge. But faith is a big part of it. The establishment doesn’t have a place for faith unless it’s a religious establishment. So, it’s really interesting. I love that word, though. Sometimes, I just get so frustrated with having to explain all this.
Jennifer Brown: I want to say, “Just believe me. Just have faith.” if you listen to marginalized people who’ve traveled this, we know about the beauty. We know. We know about the hardship. So, if you listen enough, you’ll hear that. I hope that that would be enough for leaders to take that journey.
Female: [inaudible 01:04:31].
Eduardo Placer: I have a little grand finale, little moment here, which is in thinking through this, I had the privilege of being a soloist at my kindergarten graduation from Pinewood Acres Elementary School in Miami, Florida. And I’m going to sing just a little bit of the song that I sang in that context. The song that I sang was (singing).
Derrick Gordon: I love it. [crosstalk 01:04:56].
Eduardo Placer: Yay.
Derrick Gordon: Fantastic.
Female: Thank you, everybody.
Derrick Gordon: Fantastic.
Female: All right, bye-bye.
Eduardo Placer: Thank you all so much.
Derrick Gordon: Thank you all.
Jennifer Brown: Hi, this is Jennifer. Did you know that we offer a full transcript of every podcast episode on my website over at jenniferbrownspeaks.com. You can also subscribe so that you get notified every time a new episode goes live. Head over there now to read my latest thoughts on diversity, inclusion, and the future of work, and discover how we can all be champions of change by bringing our collective voices together, and standing up for ourselves and each other.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to The Will To Change, uncovering true stories of diversity and inclusion with Jennifer Brown. If you’ve enjoyed the episode, please subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. To learn more about Jennifer Brown, visit jenniferbrownspeaks.com. Thank you for listening. And we’ll be back next time with a new episode.
- Influencing the Systems We’re In, with Egon Zehnder's US Head of DEI Dede Orraca-Cecil
- Trust in Action: How Inclusive Leaders Can Create a Better World with Author Jim Massey
- Designing for Identity, with Author Jessica Bantom
- Amplifying Diverse Voices at Hearst Television: ERG Business Impact with Elfi Martinez and Yasmine Osborne
- Meeting the Moment: Navigating DEI Challenges in 2023 and Beyond with Jennifer and JBC's Elfi Martinez