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Rhonda Magee, law professor, storyteller, mindfulness teacher, and social justice advocate, joins the program to discuss the healing power of mindfulness. She reveals how mindfulness has benefited her in her own diversity journey, and how we can use mindfulness to transform communities. Rhonda also reveals how paying attention to our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations can help us deconstruct preconceived “truths” and help us create cultures of belonging.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Rhonda’s diversity story (3:30)
- The healing power of mindfulness (11:30)
- How racism is reinforced by violence (25:00)
- The power of “deep mindfulness” to reconnect with who we really are (27:00)
- The need to deconstruct perceived “truths” (34:00)
- The role of culture in mindfulness practices (37:00)
- Why healing can require a disruption of patterns (45:00)
- The need for allies to support each other (48:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Rhonda, welcome to The Will to Change.
RHONDA MAGEE: Jennifer, thank you so much for having me.
JENNIFER BROWN:: I have been on your tail for a long time. Ever since I saw you on stage at Wisdom 2.0 with Jon Kabat-Zinn with whom you’ve done a lot of work and writing and paneling and speaking. What a wonderful person. And I was struck, it really spoke to me because when I enter mindfulness spaces, and I try to do that fairly often because I know self-care is an important piece of my ability to be in the world and thrive, but I don’t often hear racial justice and equity and diversity and inclusion spoken about in those spaces.
And so, I’ve been following your work and really curious about the connection and I know that our audience for The Will to Change is full of advocates and warriors. Like passionate people who are making a difference who either have the” job-job” of making the difference or do it as a passion. On the side, maybe invisibly to others. But I know that this community really cares about this.
I know that what you have to say and your new book, which is called, The Inner Work of Racial Justice, carries some profound healing for us. And sustenance for the road that we are all choosing to travel, and really proud to travel, but that can also be a bit of an unhealthy process for us too as we simultaneously manage our own identities and also lead this work for entire organizations, so not small things. Thank you for coming today. And I want to start by acquainting people-
RHONDA MAGEE: You’re welcome.
JENNIFER BROWN: With you, personally, our diversity stories. We all have them. What would you share with our audience to get grounded in how you grew up, how you came to this work, what matters to you? All that good stuff.
RHONDA MAGEE: Thank you so much. I mean, I really appreciate this opportunity to speak with you and your community. So I, and of course I talk about this topic, which is kind … A passion of mine. So when I hear the phrase diversity story I think, a lot of things come up. I grew up in North Carolina. And when I say that I think my Carolina accent, Carolina comes out.
JENNIFER BROWN: I didn’t hear it.
RHONDA MAGEE: But yeah, I was born in Carolina and raised in there, in that state and in Virginia, and then moved out here to California. And so in a way, the first part of my life was spent, the formative years, in the south east in the United States. And then my adulthood has been spent for the last more than 20 years in California. And when I think of diversity, I think of like just the lived experiences that have helped shape my own sense of what diversity means. And that includes growing up in a family, I use the language of “racialized” to describe or help us get clear on the fact that race is not something that’s a discoverable fact in nature, but something we all have created. And similarly with gender, I often will say “gendered”, right to kind of really just disrupt the temptation that we have to think that these things are sort of biological or natural facts, as opposed to social facts that we as a society have been engaged in creating in that way.
Also of participating in creating and replicating. So racialized as black, cisgendered, female, or cisgender female myself. There have been many ways I would say that growing up in southern United States… Born in 1967, I like to name when I was born, disrupting a lot of patterns around women never talked about their age. No, I think for conversations about diversity, it’s important to talk specifically about the arc of time that we’ve been experiencing, because where we are and the things we experienced are so central I think, to the stories that we carry. And for me, I was born in 1967. And so early ’70s entering into school and in community. And seeing the way my community, first of all, was structured such that it was really all black at that time.
So the legacies of our history were very profound present. And so far as this, despite the fact that America of course, United States has a lot of diverse … Different types of populations and bodies, our communities have historically been segregated. And certainly they were in the south. And so I only saw white racialized bodies in like shopping centers or grocery, one grocery store in our neighborhood, Franklin. And so that was a teaching in and of itself, because I also saw whites on television. But so I knew that there was a whole different world out there. So I think when I think about my own diversity story, I think about that little girl who came up into a world that had been constructed around racism. And the structures of distance and separation, that are the legacies of our history around that.
And yeah, that intersects of course of my gender. It intersects with something called colorism. Which has to do with just how much melanin, if you’re a person of color, so to say, how light or dark we are, is another feature and facet of my own experience and of our culture’s experience or trainings around identity tied to our features, skin color, skin tone, that kind of another legacy, frankly, of the system of white supremacy that we’ve all kind of been raised up in and through and formed and deformed by, I would say. So yeah, just growing up as a little girl in that context surrounded by other African Americans, knowing that there was a world in which White’s we’re largely in charge of major institutions, schools and stores. And banks and churches and all those different things outside of our community.
So that I very early on had an awareness around the racial divide. And also, again, there’s a part of that. There are all kinds of ways that being a black racialized woman and heterosexual is a part of that experience for me as well. Being raised to know the difference between the ways that black women were perceived in our society. And also to see the difference that sexual orientation makes, especially even in the black community. So I was part of that generation of desegregating efforts. So I was bussed to desegregate schools in Virginia, at a time when the protests had ceased for the moment. Because when the laws changed that enabled this practice of bussing, as many people know, and some people don’t, there was massive resistance to those changes in places like Virginia, North Carolina. And schools were shut down for years.
In many of those areas, in fact, in Virginia, for five years in some counties, public schools were literally shut down. By the time I came along though, those shut downs had ended. And a period of some change was being enabled by changes up through the legal system. And I rose up through that time. I didn’t realize at that time that that was a window that was would close and could close. When different people with different agendas would be put in power and the cultures resistance to those changes would find their way back into the fore. But I did come through at a time when the schools I went to were integrated, intentionally kind of managed. There were desegregation orders in place, that meant that I went to school with 70% or so white, 30% black, 10% various other backgrounds.
And that in those environments shaped me as well. I learned to see myself in diverse settings and also learned to compete if you will, in those settings and to thrive in a certain way. And so, yeah, my journey is infused very much with a deep understanding of the way history walks in with us. This and so even though we talk about mindfulness being about being in the present and the present moment. For me mindfulness invites, yes, being aware of what’s happening right here right now. But recognizing that there’s a sort of alone now that’s always with us. So especially given that our culture is still running stories and teachings, if you will, and conditioning trainings, informal cultural trainings around what to make of racial difference and what meaning to make of race in our lives, what meanings to make of gender and sex orientation.
We’re still being infused with all kinds of jokes and all of these things. So for me mindfulness arose to help me heal from some of the wounds of being, of experiencing racism and sexism and so on and colorism. Just being a person who had these opportunities to go to school, become a lawyer, come out to San Francisco from the south. Lots of change was enabled in my life. Because of the ways that the what we call the civil rights movement actually made possible ways of learning and developing my abilities that my grandparents didn’t have and my parents didn’t have. I took advantage of those opportunities and then found myself in San Francisco, radically sort of decontextualized from all of what I knew. And learning a new culture out here and getting ready to practice law.
So this is my early ’20s some years ago now. And I realized I needed something to ground me to help me survive frankly and to thrive in this new world. And I knew that despite having this world class, if you will, education at the University of Virginia. And being leadership trained as … I had actually gone into the military and taken an ROTC scholarship. So I became an army officer. I had gotten a Master’s degree in sociology. I’ve done a lot of trainings. But nothing really felt like a grounded support for working with the kinds of ways that I would suffer from discrimination and from othering. And from again the legacies of our history as they show up right here right now and have shown up in my own life.
And so I remember that my grandmother had a centering prayer practice. So she hadn’t had the fancy education that I had, but she had a basic understanding of how you might ground yourself in a sense of your own meaning and purpose, and let that be a support for your work in the world. And she would get up every day before dawn, spend 30 to 45 minutes or so in her room centering herself. And hers again, these were Christian based practices, not the frankly Buddhist based practices that I’ve been so engaged in my own adulthood. But I saw that basically there was a way to ground oneself and that while I might not deepen it through this sort of Christian path that my grandmother had.
I would need something of that sort for my work in the world. And so I was drawn to Buddhism for various reasons, and mindfulness practices and yoga. And it was through those practices that I found support for just living in the world. With all the joys and the challenges that come with being in a social world and in which a lot of meaning is being made. And stories are being told about who we are and what our value is. And, and pain and suffering can result from that.
JENNIFER BROWN: My goodness. Thank you for sharing all of that. I’m just digesting it and I have a million questions, and I’m picturing you like pre-having a mindfulness practice and I’m wondering, how did that … How did you get triggered before you had a practice that you could return to and center yourself? And you were, I’m picturing you in this law firm environment which we all know is one of the most high stress high conflict environments in all the business professions. How did it manifest before you had the practice the skills, the mindset, the discipline that you’ve now developed and now that you write about? Like, what was that Rhonda? How were you suffering not to bring up painful memories that I think that a lot of us are probably still there.
RHONDA MAGEE: Of course, yeah. And I’m still there in many ways because this is ongoing work. But, this is part of why I wrote the book was to share some of these sorts of stories. I was like everyone trying to find my own way. And realizing that for me as a again, a black woman in this culture. I was entering into spaces that literally were not created for me to grow. They weren’t created for me even to be in and much less to thrive in. So schools that were traditionally historically not only white, University Virginia, but also male. I mean, when I went to school at the University of Virginia women had been, of any race, had been on campus in significant numbers for no more than maybe 15, 17 years or so. So that women could be equal participants in higher education was still a relatively new thing. I mean, really, in the grand scheme of even the history of the University of Virginia 15, 17 years-
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s not long, right.
RHONDA MAGEE: Right. And that was white women who were just getting a sense of themselves in great numbers on campus. And then other women have different backgrounds. So we’re also relatively new on the scene. And again, all of the disciplines, all the ways of studying, all of those things were then formed in ways that were meant to privilege white male experience. White male heterosexual experience, white male kind of Christian heritage experience. And the patterns of dominance that have traveled with those experiences were, and that were in some sense enabled by the kinds the ways education is shaped or higher education is has been constructed, of course, in ways that support maintaining a system that we have. Maintaining the status flows of our culture.
So before really seeing how mindfulness practice could be of help, just struggled to find my own way of dealing with the pain, frankly, of wanting what I think I was born brought into the world wanting. Which is just to connect and to meet people and to let my loving heart be a part of my way in the world. So the first story I tell in my book is about falling in love with a person who was racialized white and white male, and it came for him falling in love with me. And the two of us having come up through this desegregated integrated system found each other. And then finding the society not … The society.., his family our friends or circles.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes of course, let’s be specific.
RHONDA MAGEE: Yeah! And particularly though the white racial circle in particular completely rejected this. His family threw him out of the house. His friends in particular were not very warm or welcoming to our relationship. And that to me was really the first real kind of heartbreak, and I don’t mean… he and I managed, we kind of worked as two against the wind. You know what we’re going to try to make this work despite. But right, but just the way that our world around us was teaching us both that the biases and racism frankly, was persistent. And all the stories of post civil rights, post racial, none of that was true when rubber met the road of two people like us trying to come together and see if we could actually develop a relationship of care and concern in this world.
And we saw we both were getting lessons about how racism was still very real. And that was painful. I mean, so for me it was mostly dealing with pain and anger around the really sort of ridiculousness, frankly, and insecurity of racism and bias. I mean because it just didn’t make any sense to me. And never made sense to me. I grew, I happen to kind of, like, always feel like people are kind of confused. Obviously, there is all of the range of things in all of our communities. There’s brilliance and depravity. There’s beautiful examples of moral rectitude, and then there are people who are falling off the mark and harming people. There’s great love, there’s a great creativity in all our communities. And so I knew that and then I would, so these messages of like, what our history had done to separate us were painful.
So there was like actual the feeling of like a broken heartedness around that, and also kind of some anger when it would show up. And also fear because these things translate and move from stories about who matters and who doesn’t to a justification for violence. And the need, in some sense for violence to kind of make the lesson stick. I mean, we’ve not often reflected on how these notions of bias are maintained by the threat of violence, if you step out of line. So whether we’re talking about homophobia or we’re talking about racism or sexism, we all know. And if we pause and reflect, we have some lived experience and if we don’t in our own bodies, it’s in us in inter-generationally. The training around why these social identities matter is so deep. And it is, we know that it is about not just access or inclusion, the words we use in corporate settings.
It’s really about life opportunity to live safely and vulnerability, on the other hand, to not just disrespect and not being invited somewhere or allowed to compete for something, but violence even on to death. And that the messaging around who belongs and whom we can love with whom we can learn, have been reinforced by great violence. Lynchings by terroristic kind of behavior. Burning down of schools and churches and communities. That’s how those deep messages get set. So when people are kind of backing away from the invitation to come together. That’s, it’s partly I think, a legacy of that really deep training that we almost never actually talked about. That is embedded in us. And it’s so it’s not just about can I be the kind of person who intends to be opening and welcoming and non biased.
That’s a part of it. But we’ve been trained at the level of I think our DNA and our culture. Deep trainings around what happens when we disrupt these rules of engagement, around identity. And the vulnerability that can happen for us even unto death, even on to social shunning and exclusion. If we really reflect which is what my book and my project is about, on what we know. So my book is really about not just healing from these incidences in our own life where bias shows up, which is important. But really a deeper invitation from there to really reckon with what drives bias, what is underneath all of these machinations around identity and hierarchy. And what is the appeal that we feel we can see if we’re willing to look at it resurging again around us.
The new narratives of white supremacy, frankly, or male supremacy. This stuff is resurging around us, and we have to have the courage I think, to really see that it’s not just about implicit bias anymore. It’s about the reinvigorated narratives of who belongs and who doesn’t, and the deep emotional traumatic and traumatizing underpinnings of all of this sort of resurgence, if you will, of practices and policies of separation and hierarchy. And so that’s really for me, it’s always been about really finding ways of bearing up against the realities of all of those things and what that means in our life. It can mean in a minute for me, falling in love and then realizing the society, this community, his family, absolutely not going to tolerate this. He now is being vulnerable to living on the streets.
So when I say that racism is reinforced by violence, I mean, again, the whole range. Including that violence that is that violence of the heart. That says that if you violate this rule, you date across the race line. Or you date in whatever way that offends our social identity sensibilities. If you are gay or lesbian or trans and in our culture in our community, that’s not acceptable. That’s the threat of violence to make you fall back in line, it’s very fresh, and so to me, these practices go really deep to the place of how it is that we bear up against the threat of violence in our world. And develop the kind of courageous steadfastness to not perpetrate, not fall victim to the messages of fear the messages of dehumanization, frankly.
That tell us that if we are of this sort of identity we are not good enough, or we don’t quite measure up in some way. Something’s defective about us. Turning toward those messages which are coming at us again at lightning speed all the time. And having some deep capacity to see ourselves rightly in all of that. To really see that all of that is not true. None of that is true. We are divine beings in a certain sense.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right.
RHONDA MAGEE: Mysteries. We don’t even know we really are. Identities do not define or confine us. We’ve been formed in that form to think of ourselves through them. But we are much more than anything you can name in those ways. And so yeah, to me my efforts begins maybe with pausing and reflecting on how these things are showing up in our world. In our presence in our workplace, in our bus ride or our commutes. In the organizational efforts that we’re trying to involve ourselves in and engage with. So looking at that, but also really much deeper. Once we really… the deep mindfulness, classical mindfulness goes beyond awareness of breath and body and wellness type practices, stress reduction practices, all very important.
But deep mindfulness opens us up to really being present to who we are, that goes so much beyond these identities. And so it’s that both being in the space of in a conversation, being in a conversation where we can recognize identities and not bypass, the relevance of the working to name identity based suffering in our midst. We’re not bad that we’re not saying, we’re all one. And that transcended the need to talk about that… no, every day somebody’s suffering because of these things. And we have to be able to name that how its showing up where we are. And at the same time, I think deep mindfulness helps us move into a sense of porous engagement with our life, that allows me to be impacted by you. Me to not hold myself somehow inevitably in a real sense separate from you. Instead to realize that we are in a context in which we’re kind of co creating experience.
And our lived experiences are kind of evolving out of our being together in certain ways. And so it’s sort of a really, to me mindfulness helps this whole complexity and paradox. Race matters and also doesn’t. Gender matters and also kind of doesn’t. How to live with some joy, even as we turned toward the suffering, because there’s such joy, a potential for it anyway, in being with these things more rightly and being with each other, and being alive, more rightly-
JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. So good, so good. I would love to know, what do you feel has been the reception or the receptivity in the mindfulness community, which I think has not … I don’t know if there’s been an unwillingness to consider it through the lens that you consider it or just the lack of understanding or knowledge. And that’s what I find in my work that what I might have assumed was a willful disregard for factual information or history often is more a matter of a lack of exposure to the harm that’s being caused. And also obviously all the other things you said fear, hesitation, like what happens if I go there? I think it’s … I think it’s staring into this very scary, uncertain, unresolved place where you’re not sure where it’s going to go or how it’s going to evolve from there.
So I want to know, you’re bringing something to the mindfulness community I think that I don’t hear. And I would love to know, what has been the reception? Where did you … Did you think where your audience was or is? Was it actually accurate? Like, I know the process of writing the book and then getting it out there and then hearing the response to it is very interesting. So you’ve probably learned, you were probably delighted in many ways, and maybe in other ways you might have been surprised. And you might have found new audiences. You might have found different information about existing audiences that you kind of had fixed in your mind that would react perhaps a certain way.
So I know I go through this. I’m like who am I writing for? Who is this book meant to serve and then sometimes you find a whole different audience that you didn’t expect. And you’re not always right. And I think that’s the beauty of a book. Because you can get your beautiful words into people’s hands that don’t even know you. That have no context for you. And you can shift their hearts sometimes. So how has that gone? Tell us a little bit about that process Where are we in the mindfulness community and talking about?
RHONDA MAGEE: Beautiful question. A big one. So I’m going to pause right here.
JENNIFER BROWN: Let’s breath together.
RHONDA MAGEE: Yeah, just pausing and allowing just the opening to all of the different threads of meaning and inquiry that are implicit in the question and explicit in the question. And observation that you just you beautifully laid out on the table here for me. So to me, this is mindfulness engaged. Pausing recognizing complexity. And recognizing that where we can be tempted to go when we’re faced with complexity as we’ve been trained to be cognitively engaged. To go right to our set of thoughts. Mindfulness, of course, for me and I’m speaking about things that often I don’t name but I feel it’s okay in this conversation to make explicit what happens for me. Which is we’re bringing the practice into conversations about this. I’m making sure my body is in the conversation with me. And that it’s not just going all through my head.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
RHONDA MAGEE: Right?
JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.
RHONDA MAGEE: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s over developed that our head is so developed … Over developed and then our body, our embodiment of is so, I find, underdeveloped particularly in the business world which demands so much of our heads all the time. And we don’t even notice what’s going on in our body. How do we even raise that awareness?
RHONDA MAGEE: Precisely, and so all of that is something that’s very present right here right now too. We’re in a structure, we’re in a podcast for a particular audience we’ve got assumptions perhaps about where they sit and the kinds of things they might be interested in struggling with or working with. Thriving with that may or may not be so. But in other words, even this is a constructed space where we’re negotiating assumptions about how to meet the audience and what’s okay to say and what isn’t. And it’s been highly kind of formed and overdetermined around intellectualism, cognitive, bullet points, strategies, instrumental like tool kit-
JENNIFER BROWN: Tool kit. No, make it stop.
RHONDA MAGEE: It’s all kind of like legacies, its too much, and if you pull out the lens like these ways of being are also infused with the legacies of histories of colonialism and the colonizing and imperializing work of these beautiful profiteering and profit making structures we call corporations and institutions of higher learning. And what I’m just saying here is that all of that is always present, and its present everywhere. So it was present in the development of “mindfulness.” So what we call a mindfulness is an artifact of a social context. And so we shouldn’t be surprised that the most powerful in our society, again, look at our history, that’s going to be white racialized, cisgendered, heterosexual men.
Have had more of an opportunity to put a stamp if you will on what mindfulness is. And so their lived experiences helped shape it. And if we know anything about the lived experience of these things. If we are in the majority, if we’re in the more privileged or in the communities of influence, it’s often not easy for us to see the constructive nature of our own experience. It’s not easy for us to see how it is that what we think of as universal is actually maybe part and parcel of white male, heterosexual ways of being in the world. And so that to infuse, I think mindfulness and I think people in mindfulness. My favorite my beautiful revered beloved teachers, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Norman Fischer of the San Francisco Zen Center.
White racialized men, who among other teachers, but just naming. That a lot of the teachers who’ve been influential… Jack Kornfield of the Spirit Rock and Insight Meditation Society. And also some women in that field. In other words, all the social identity issues have impacted how the thing we call mindfulness has been developed and delivered into contemporary society. And there’s a dawning awareness of that. There have been, and at the same time, there have been ways that the culture of mindfulness and the traditions that have given us mindfulness… again, Asian heritage traditions and cultures to name specifically where a lot of what we call mindfulness has come from… From Buddhism and from Asian, American and Asian heritage cultures.
Who lovingly carry these traditions over millennia and then offer them in a cosmopolitan way as gifts to different cultures. In places like India, where white racialized people went and studied. In places like Japan, where Japanese immigrants came to America and then taught here in San Francisco and elsewhere, and people from Tibet came. And so we’ve experienced this proliferation of mindfulness as a result of this beautiful cosmopolitan, sharing cross culturally. But all of that happens in social and cultural context including the context, the mono ratio, if you will. Mono-cultural context in which some of these traditions of Buddhism arise, where racial difference wasn’t a thing so much.
So coming out of cultures where racial difference wasn’t named, differences in hierarchy were named or present, caste was present, for example. In the world of the historical Buddha. And so conversations in the teachings of the Buddha about caste and about gender are real touchstones for our work today. But when you come from mono racial cultures and you translate into predominantly white cultures, the pieces that got left out the rigorous engagement with caste, the rigorous engagement with gender bias, which the Buddha himself talked about millennia ago. Those things were under highlighted, let’s say. Where there there but they were not a part that we felt we should bring forward and robustly share.
And it gets so bad so we’re working with that now. We’re creatures of social and cultural context. And that’s true in the mindfulness community as elsewhere and we trying to, I think so what I’m finding is actually much more receptivity, willingness to look at these things. But it’s not easy. And that’s why for me this is mindfulness. All of it is mindfulness. And there’s a lifelong engagement with waking up. And so it’s not like we turn towards a little bit of mindfulness to help support diversity, or a little bit of diversity to help us understand mindfulness. It’s realizing these are all one conversation and ones that have really the depth practices here, the deeper practices here are the same. The diversity depth and their mindful depth.
JENNIFER BROWN: And I everything I’ve written by you talks about how it’s actually essential, when we’re dealing with micro aggressions just to choose one thing that happens so often in the workplace. Because I feel like most workplaces, you talked about implicit bias and also overt biases and in these times. In a workplace, I would say a lot of people are on there trying to be on their best behavior. We know that that’s far from true sometimes for some of us, unfortunately. But the vast majority and I think we’ve moved into this place of the micro aggression. Which to me is the subtle like, did that happen? How do I feel about it? There’s a lot of ambiguity in those partially because they often aren’t intended but they are harmful nevertheless.
And then they are received with this sort of fatigue, I think on the part of the person that’s on the receiving end and this sort of like the constant chipping away, it accumulates. And we never sort of … What I love in the way you talk about mindfulness practice is it’s almost like a way of practicing the hygiene around like cleaning our vessel. Like kind of scrubbing ourselves for a new day. And being continuing to be present, loving, feel the connectedness, focusing on the connectedness. Even as we are hearing things and seeing things and feeling very, very much separate and isolated, and truly alone. I mean, I think statistically speaking, we are still in a time when at certain levels, we are the only woman. We are the only personal color. We’re LGBTQ and we’re deeply closeted. And so all of that-
RHONDA MAGEE: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: I guess I know, we’re going to be out of time soon. But I feel Rhonda like I would love a second call to dive really, really deep into the day-to-day mindfulness practice of that we can all employ because, that would be great to kind of dive into. I would love that.
RHONDA MAGEE: I will be more than willing to have a second call.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so good.
RHONDA MAGEE: Yeah, I mean, so dealing with the micro aggressions, and reckoning with the structures of our experience and the legacies, again, of these histories that have made certain opportunities available for some types of people. And readily available for certain types of bodies, and less available for others. And yeah, so whole industries are racialized and gendered… Whole positions in the world. So when think of, let’s say, a lawyer or we think of the President of the United States, without really investing constantly in stereotypes, we’ve seen so many people in those roles of a certain relatively limited range of humanity being represented in those roles.
We’ve all been biased by lessons that say, we’re going to kind of predict that the person we need, when we look for a judge. We’re going to predict, even though there’s been a proliferation in American media of the judges of color on all kinds of major media. In fact, most judges are overwhelmingly white and male. Like all white male. It’s like something like 90% or 85%. Or, I mean, it is really great in even in states like California.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s surprising.
RHONDA MAGEE: I mean, even in our most diverse state. Yes. So the law, for example, in politics. Still very disproportionately white and male. And so in corporations as well many of our workplaces are. So yes, those of us who are minoritized in those settings. Because in the global since we’re not minorities. Women are not minorities. People of color are not minorities. Gender expression is on a range of so much diversity of expression. That it’s hard to think of actual people who divert from the traditional path or the … This kind of historical ways of thinking about gender and binary. People who will diverge from that are probably not necessarily in the minority either. So, I mean, we have different ways of relating with the traditional notions of gender.
So we’re coming to see that in these places where we work we are often made to feel isolated and alone, and buffeted about by these stereotypes. And so first we need these practices as a support for healing, and like a lifeline for our well being. And as we develop more of a sense that we belong, and that our experiences are valued and important, some of us decide we don’t want to be anymore the only one somewhere. We realize that the temptation to feel like that’s success enough, is not good enough. And I think that’s actually happening around us all the time-
JENNIFER BROWN: We see that a lot.
RHONDA MAGEE: Where more and more people are saying, I shall create the space and the place where I can thrive all the time. Exactly and that is it … That sort of a reckoning and it’s causing a kind of waking up too. To what happens when we look around and we once again, are all white or all male. Because the women have decided or the people of color, we’ve all sort of decided we need a space where we are not always minoritized. And where we don’t have to always negotiate those patterns. And we do need to create our spaces if necessary to rebalance this culture. Not to exclude, again, the cultures. Because it’s not really about that for me anyway. It is about recognizing that healing sometimes requires a disruption of these patterns that we’ve inherited and these structures that we’ve created that seem so permanent and formidable.
Actually, they need to be in a certain sense destabilized and to say that can sound difficult for the people who are thriving in these current cultures and structures. But that’s what we’re dealing with. Expanding the capacity to sort of lean into your pain and fear, and really be able to work with, “Okay, this structure that I’ve learned to thrive in and I’ve been elevated in, is being challenged.” And rather than run away from that or defend, maybe I can actually recognize that there’s some equity, there’s some call to ethical being that is inherent in this call to destabilize this institution that is a legacy institution of things that we don’t want to carry forward for our children, and that the universe, the planet, is telling us we can’t carry forward, with climate change and other things. The migration, the demographic changes, we know we can’t continue doing the things that we’ve been doing. Really so-
JENNIFER BROWN: It’s not sustainable.
RHONDA MAGEE: Right, it’s not sustainable. So the moment we’re being invited … Lets say, invited, that’s a kind word, where we’re being pulled out of our comfort zone. I think we, I love the opportunity to turn toward those difficulties with a sense of this might be difficult in the short run than the long run. This is what we all need if we’re going to survive and thrive, and if our children will in the coming generations.
JENNIFER BROWN: Rhonda, that’s delicious. Honestly, if I hear one more person come up to me and say I just I’m hanging on by a thread. And that person is someone that I know is underrepresented, and as you said, minoritized, which is a perfect word, and I find myself torn because I want them to stay and be a change maker. But more importantly, I want them to be healthy and I want them to thrive, and this is like tackling a very big, very entrenched system. And that is hard for even the strongest among us with the most perhaps privilege. The most shielding, the most padding around us, right?
RHONDA MAGEE: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: And so I think that at some point, I care about that individual so deeply to say, your heart matters, your sustainability matters, your health and happiness matters to me more than … Sometimes more than the need for the institution around you to change through your efforts. Because there’s only so much we can-
RHONDA MAGEE: It has be their effort.
JENNIFER BROWN: Exactly, yes. When they’re the only ones.
RHONDA MAGEE: Yeah, that’s where for me it’s about like being, we all have a role to play in creating environments where everybody can thrive, and we don’t necessarily have to leave these environments where we’ve been minoritized. But I do think it’s really, really crucial that allies find each other, that collaborators find each other, and that we start to take on more of that work and develop in us the capacity to bear some of the burdens that we, based on our own particular embodiments, don’t ask to bear. So I, for example, as a cisgender woman don’t, “have to bear the burdens of homophobia and transphobia and all of that.” And yet because I care, because I give a damn because I know that people are unnecessarily suffering.
I want to put my body, and my heart, and my whatever privileged status that I have in the different environments that I find myself in, as a law professor and so on so forth, on the line with my friends who are suffering, in ways that I am not. So again, in my work too and in the book, I talk a little bit about how we’re seeking to develop that capacity, to rotate the center of our own concern. So that we are not only always just speaking about what’s happening to us. But realizing yes, our suffering matters but we’re more than our suffering. We are these huge hearts that can help be a soft place for somebody else to fall and a collaborator and an ally for somebody else. And that this is the kind of culture that is going to help us thrive.
One where we have more capacity to kind of pivot and support each other in these really robust and ever more diverse communities of collaboration. That I think is what we are going to need. Now do we sometimes need our sort of monocultural affinity based groups? Places where we can just let down our air so to speak and just feel safe? Yeah, we sometimes need those spaces. But I also really think our call is to keep bridging, keep expanding the surface circle of our concern, the circumference of our concern, so that everybody is ultimately included. And seeing that to do that is life work, to be able to do that is life work and that’s what my work is about to support us in that.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m loving this. You and are so aligned and we don’t get to talk out often. But we talk so much on The Will to Change about the power of what we call bonding capital, and then contrast that with bridging capital. Which is the work across and the work of allyship and I love, love, love, you just gave me the title of our episode, which is to expand the circumference of our concern. And when we say like we can all be an ally, or accomplice, as a friend likes to call it, to lessen the suffering of others, and being even aware of who is suffering. If we’re relatively comfortable to me that’s where I have the most energy and curiosity and sense of responsibility.
Because I have that extra space or perhaps centeredness. Or perhaps I’m dealing with fewer headwinds where I can .. There’s something I can contribute uniquely from where I sit, and I love that you just brought up, and I thank you for your ally ship to the LGBTQ community to like on a personal level. I just thought it, I want to say, it was beautifully said and how you stated it and you have no idea … I know you know how healing it is, for those of us in certain communities to hear someone articulate that, and know that as I do that you bring this into your classrooms, you bring this with … Into your lovely book, which everybody should pick up a copy of. You bring this lens with you that I think is such a role model for so many of us. So I would love to have a second convo with you, Rhonda. And you said yes. So we’ll do that and then we’ll dig into it a bit more. Like really tactical.
RHONDA MAGEE: Yes, of course.
JENNIFER BROWN: Not too head. But head and heart.
RHONDA MAGEE: Yeah. Head, heart, body.
JENNIFER BROWN: Right, and body, and will help sort of shore up our Will to Change audience with some mindfulness approaches that they can use. Because I loved, we haven’t spoken about it yet, but the practice of being present. When things do come up, when things are triggered, how do we respond from this place? So that we can continue to do the work and also shine a light for others. That’s to me that beautiful, wow that is such an opportunity for all us. So we will-
RHONDA MAGEE: It is. Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Rhonda. I just want to mention-
RHONDA MAGEE: Yeah. They’re hard but they’re juicy and good.
JENNIFER BROWN: They’re juicy.
RHONDA MAGEE: We’re going to dig into that next time.
JENNIFER BROWN: We’re going to do that. So just to mention people can find your work. Your book is called the Inner Work of Racial Justice. So please check that out everybody. It’s been out for about a month.
RHONDA MAGEE: It’s available everywhere. You can get it online or your local bookstores.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. And anything else? Any other ways you … We can follow you, we can hear you, read about you?
RHONDA MAGEE: Yeah, just browse on over. I have a website there, rhondavmagee.com. And I’m trying to be very good about keeping my schedule up to date on there. But I have events and opportunities. I’ll be guiding a retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center out in California, in the US in February. So this will be an opportunity, a weekend opportunity. And at Esalen here in California. So I’m doing more retreats really, to allow us to deepen this work. So you can find me at rhondavmagee.com and we can stay connected.
JENNIFER BROWN: Excellent. Watch where Rhonda is speaking and get yourself to those conferences for your own healing and your own journey. Thank you, Rhonda. To be continued.
RHONDA MAGEE: To be continued. I look forward to that. Take care.
JENNIFER BROWN: I do, too.
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