Misnomers and Misappropriation: Unpacking the Diwali Episode of the SATC Reboot with Mita Mallick, Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta

Jennifer Brown | |

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This episode was originally recorded as a LinkedIn Live, and features a conversation between Jennifer Brown and Mita Mallick, Head of Inclusion, Equity and Impact at Carta as they discuss the importance of authentic and accurate representation of diverse cultures in the media. The conversation stemmed from a LinkedIn post by Mita about her reaction to the Diwali episode of And Just Like That, a revival of the HBO television series Sex and the City. Mita breaks down the episode, which was described in a Vogue article as a “messy tangle of misnomers and misappropriation.” Mita also discusses the exhaustion that many people from marginalized communities are feeling, and what allies can do to help. To read the Vogue article about the episode, visit: https://www.vogue.in/fashion/content/sex-and-the-sari-investigating-the-diwali-episode-debacle-in-and-just-like-that

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

MITA MALLICK: I need you to walk five steps towards me. I’m not walking five steps towards you anymore. That’s the difference now. I’m sorry. I go back again through the episodes and all those missteps, where a number of times the characters of color are making the white characters feel like it’s okay. It’s okay. Don’t worry, or whatever situation we’re talking about, it’s almost like the person who has committed the mistake made the sexist, racist, whatever comment, whatever context. It’s okay, Mita, it’s okay. We know you didn’t mean it. We talk a lot about creating psychological safety, increasing digital skills, all the things that leaders need to know from a business perspective. On top of that list is cultural competency.

DOUG FORESTA: The Will To Change is hosted by Jennifer Brown. Jennifer is an award-winning entrepreneur, dynamic speaker, bestselling author and leadership expert on how organizations must evolve their cultures towards a new, more inclusive workplace reality. She’s a passionate inclusion and equity advocate committed to helping leaders foster healthier and therefore more productive workplaces, ultimately driving innovation and business results informed by nearly two decades of consulting to fortune 500 companies. She and her team advised top companies on building cultures of belonging in times of great upheaval and uncertainty. And now onto the episode.

Hello and welcome back to The Will To Change. This is Doug Foresta. This conversation that you’re about to hear was originally recorded as a LinkedIn Live. It’s between Mita Mallick, the head of inclusion, equity, and impact at Carta and Jennifer Brown. This conversation came out of a post on LinkedIn where Mita posted about being excited to watch a recent episode of And Just Like That, which is a reboot of the Sex and the City series. And as Mita described it, she watched the Diwali episode and as she described it, it was a disappointing mess of misnomers, misappropriation, and lazy storytelling. Mita agreed to join Jennifer on LinkedIn Live to have a conversation about the importance of accuracy when it comes to storytelling and representing diverse cultures. This is a really rich conversation. Hope you get a lot out of it. And now onto the episode.

JENNIFER BROWN: Hi everybody it’s Jennifer. Hey Mita.

MITA MALLICK: Hi Jen. How are you? Good to see you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Good to see you. Thanks for doing this for me. [crosstalk 00:02:33] with me, I love it. Everybody, Mita and I go back and we were just reflecting on how many times we get to dance together in various places about a variety of topics and how much I enjoy being in your brain, Mita, and being on your LinkedIn is like being in your brain because so you have the best shares about the most timely things. And you have wonderful engagement with your audience. And I learn almost as much from your comments and your commenters as your posts and the resources that are shared. And in this case of what we’re going to talk about today, it’s a window into a cultural identity that I was sort of a fly on the wall and observer and a listener and a reader and a watcher, and a viewer of the show we’re going to talk about too, and had my own issues with this show.

And then when I saw your post, I thought we’ve got to hop on and make sure A, I want everybody that tunes into this to learn, check out the episode, and then look at it critically in the way that we’re going to talk about today, because this is the muscle I believe, and I know you agree, that we have to exercise, is looking critically at our sort of sources of information and where we collect our cultural knowledge and how discerning we are about whether it’s lazy. This shows writing has been called lazy, how inappropriate, how misappropriating it is. This is a muscle that I think is part of the journey of inclusive leadership is starting to be able to discern and be critical on our own behalf, in our own culture, but also on other cultures behalf.

And that’s what felt challenging for me to say, so how would I analyze this as somebody that’s not in that culture, but what were the signals and the words that were chosen and the scenes that were chosen and would I know enough to be critical? And so that was an amazing aha moment. And then to read your post and then to deepen my education, and then to be able to talk to you about it is just really wonderful. So Mita, I’m sure people know who we are that are tuning into this, but do you want to tell everybody and fill them in on what you’re doing these days as a way to start?

MITA MALLICK: Yes, I’m a passionate storyteller focused on multicultural marketing. I’m a DE&I executive, and most importantly, I’m a mother. Still hanging on this pandemic. March will be two years. I’ve been working from my bedroom like many of us. I have a six and nine year old, and I have the privilege to be having this conversation from home. So a shout out and a big thank you to everyone who is a frontline worker right now. And I’m in Jersey City, New Jersey.

JENNIFER BROWN: Awesome. Thanks Mita. Thank you for contextualizing your life like that. And so everybody, the thing we want to unpack and Mita already started doing this in her LinkedIn post, but it is the episode six of And Just Like That, which is the reboot of the Sex and the City series from, I think, 17 years ago. I think that number is in my head, but there’s a lot of criticism about the show. Cringeworthy is one thing overly overdone wokeness is another, lazy writing, but this particular episode, Mita, I’ll just hand over to you and let us know sort of your own reaction. How it felt for you to watch it, how it felt to share about what it felt. And then what you witnessed in terms of the outpouring agreement. And maybe we can start there and then we can broaden it into, so who was paying attention to this? Why did it happen and all those juicy question.

MITA MALLICK: Well, I appreciate this. And I just thank you for being an ally, Jen, and reaching out and wanting to have this conversation and being vulnerable to say, there are things I saw in that episode that until I saw your post and a big credit to [inaudible 00:06:25], I hope I’m pronouncing your name right, [inaudible 00:06:26]. She is the writer who wrote the piece for Vogue India that I posted and added my own thoughts in, but also really interesting that the US press did not pick this up. And because everything is global right now and you just Google things that shows up, but it was not picked up, at least I saw by any major US publication, which is something else to unpack. But I think Jen, my history with the show starts sort of as like the history with Friends, which is also a celebrated show.

No one on that show looked like me. They weren’t my friends growing up and the same with Sex and the City. Of course I did watch episodes of it, but I sort of watched it through what I would say a glass wall. I would never have had a seat at that table if we watched the first, I don’t know how many seasons they had. I don’t recall the main characters as the press has said, having deep relationships with people of color or other individuals. And that didn’t look like them, act like them, and think like them. So I was really excited for the reboot to see what they would do. And I know there’s more we want to talk about in terms of the whole show and what’s happening.

But I was excited about Diwali being someone of south Asian descent. I saw the name of the episodes. I have to watch this and it was, oh my God, it just fell, flat isn’t even the right word. Misnomers, misappropriation, really disappointing and really sad. And I think it starts with everything from what’s the sari versus the lehenga. Indians only talk about arranged marriage, this idea, which we’ll talk about throughout the entire show, the woman who plays the real estate agent, the brown actress, making Carrie feel comfortable because at some point the character says, I’m going to wear a sari to your parents Diwali celebration, their home, is that cultural appropriation? No, it’s cultural appreciation. This constant wanting to make the characters feel comfortable. We see that theme throughout and just diversity washing.

Because it’s lazy storytelling, as you said, and we want to make it easily digestible and so let’s make it easily digestible because here’s the thing… I’ll just start with the first point we were talking about, which is the sari versus the lehenga. They go to a shop which only shows really lehenga’s, which is a different type of Indian attire, which is stitched garments. It’s what you would describe as maybe a large skirt from a Western view and a stitched blouse bodice with [inaudible 00:09:20], a scarf that you can put on it. A sari is an unstitched piece of garment, but a sari to the Western audience is something we hear more often. So let’s just call it something that it’s not so people can digest it. So the whole point is Carrie never walks out wearing a sari. She wears a lehenga to the party and then also in this article as the Vogue writer points out, this cartoonish caricature of her hair.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. The mohawk. The floral mohawk as it’s been called.

MITA MALLICK: [crosstalk 00:09:56] you’re like, what’s going on? Yeah. So that’s an example of oh, let’s just call it something that it’s not because the predominantly, let’s say white audience, will digest it easily.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. And just calling it even the Diwali episode when the scene lasts like three or four minutes, right?

MITA MALLICK: Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: So there was that. Let’s talk about parental stereotypes. I thought it was interesting because I went and listened to the writers podcast, the podcast that accompanies the show and listened to the intent of the writers. And it was so interesting and they actually have an Indian woman who’s one of the writers and she said, I didn’t want to stereotype the parents. I didn’t want to perpetuate a stereotype of strict Indian parents. So it was so fascinating to listen to her attempt to break a stereotype and then to have the same exact scene be interpreted in the way that so many in our world interpreted it. And there were many examples of the difference between the intent and the impact, even among those perhaps that are at the writer’s table in community, so to speak.

But you have to kind of wonder so what was that process of being maybe heard? What was the creative back and forth where decisions were maybe input given, but decisions were made and that gets to inclusion, not just diversity. It makes our point of if you’re at the table, how are you heard and how courageously do you feel? How difficult is it for you to stick to your guns and say, no, we’re going to call it this or no, I insist or to up the ante and say like, I refuse to be a part of this if this is how we’re going to treat it. You know? And the question is asked like, well, why didn’t anybody say anything? How did this get produced? And so I just find that really fascinating too.

MITA MALLICK: Yeah. And as someone, as you know, who’s had a long career in marketing, I always say the whispers are sometimes the loudest. Listen to the whispers. The one person in the room who makes the comment and says, this makes me feel uncomfortable. We’re perpetuating a stereotype. And everyone’s like, oh, it’s been tested. It’s been tested. Don’t worry. We’re going to push that [inaudible 00:12:10] out. We’re going to push this episode out.

And so what actually is really interesting and why I love LinkedIn is when you post something like that, there’s so much engagement in the comments. And there was a lot of back and forth because a lot of viewers were saying, well, the actress of Indian descent and the writer of Indian descent both should have stopped it. And just because, we know this, just because I’m given a seat at the table, doesn’t mean my voice is heard or it counts. So we cannot continue to put the burden on black and brown voices to do the work. Where were the allies is another great question. So if we’re sitting together and if we were the ones at this writer’s table and I brought up and everybody else was like, oh, Mita, you’re making a big deal out of it.

Jen could be the person who’s like, no, actually, I support Mita. I want to unpack and understand this. I think back to your point on the poor writer who’s bearing the brunt of this now and what her intent was. Like you said, it’s the Diwali titled episode and the Diwali scene is only five minutes. And so when we don’t really get to know people authentically and characters, or in real life, they become sort of stereotyped. So I’m sure there’s more to the parents than what they presented in that scene. But what they presented in that scene was, again, the pressure for Indian women to be married and settle down. So if there was more space to develop, then I don’t know how many more episodes they’re left.

So maybe there’s an opportunity to get to know them better. But I think the space is so limited, right?

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. You can’t do much, but could they have given the audience more credit? It feels like maybe in the writer’s room, they thought they were breaking stereotypes, but it was sort of a 1.0. And then I feel like some of us are asking the 2.0 questions and expecting a higher bar. And then it begs the question what is the audience really ready for? But I think their audience would’ve been ready for lehenga, the concept of a lehenga [crosstalk 00:14:19].

MITA MALLICK: [crosstalk 00:14:19] Carrie Bradshaw is one of the most fashion forward characters we know. And the fact [inaudible 00:14:23] had never heard of Diwali, which is very strange. That was also something that comes up at the end when her friend after the Diwali party ties the red thread around her to represent strength and warding off evil spirits, which again comes off sort of tokenistic without explanation. And as the writer from the Vogue piece says is like, your non-white friends are not your mystical saviors that they show off. And so I think that’s really interesting as well. And I think it is for people who are practicing that religion, it is their life experience. It’s minimizing a lot it. And so that’s the lens in which we have to view it through as well.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. It’s almost like maybe it was enough sometime in the past to mention things, to sort of throw the words in or throw the symbol in, but the world has changed so much. And it sort of begs the question if you want to tackle something in an episode and you have limited time, is it better to do a hack job like this and sort of touch on it in extremely imperfectly and perhaps even offensively or is it better to really give it the time it needs or not do it at all? So that kind of struck me too, but I still believe even in five minutes it could have been a beautiful-

MITA MALLICK: It could have been beautiful, but I think if we zoom out of that episode and I think we have a lot to talk about in terms of [inaudible 00:16:00]

JENNIFER BROWN: There’s a pattern.

MITA MALLICK: There’s a pattern throughout the show. The thought that came to me as I’m sort of digesting all of this is this show is a reflection of what’s happening in corporate America when it comes to DE&I. Everything is about making it digestible and palatable to a majority, let’s say white audience, not wanting to rock the boat and make people feel comfortable. You can look at that through many different lenses. I know as someone who identifies as part of that LGBTQ plus community, we were talking about all of the misnomers when it comes to misgendering [inaudible 00:16:46] Rose is wanting to be called Rock.

And it seems clumsy throughout. And I just would love your perspective on that as well, because that’s another theme that I’ve been seeing throughout the episodes. And for me as someone who’s trying to be an ally to the community, it’s exactly how you felt about Diwali. It’s [crosstalk 00:17:02] cringeworthy [inaudible 00:17:04] I can feel.

JENNIFER BROWN: You can feel it.

MITA MALLICK: I can feel it. And you might not have the language to describe the Diwali episode the way I did, similarly, it’s not my lived experience. So I’m unpacking it.

JENNIFER BROWN: And I’m witnessing you unpacking it. And I’m learning from your unpacking. And I love that your allyship is developed to a point where you’re uncomfortable with the stereotypes of non-binary folks and the LGBTQ conversation. It is cringey how I think Harry and Charlotte go through their kid wanting to be called a different pronoun and be called Rock instead of Rose. What the show gets wrong is underestimating… It’s disappointing to see these characters struggle in this way.

And they seem to almost have the moral struggle. I can understand the struggle of, I don’t know what to say and I’m not used to this and I’m going to need to practice it, but it doesn’t just stop at confusion. There’s some, oh my God, my life is going to be ruined. What are we going to say to our fancy friends? So that piece, I was really disappointed in the characters’ response. I thought they should have been a lot further along. And we were chatting and you said a really real moment when Harry and Charlotte… Are they in their therapist office I think?

MITA MALLICK: No, they actually are meeting with the school and they walk out.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right.

MITA MALLICK: And I exactly forget what he said, but it seemed like a very raw, emotional moment [crosstalk 00:18:44]

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Dad was like, I just don’t know what’s happening. I’m so confused. And you and I thought that was a real moment because it’s a legit… I would love that to be the reaction because that then leads to curiosity, it leads to, okay, we need to get on board. What do we need to learn? What do we need to know from our kid? What does our kid want? But it spoke to me of I don’t know what’s going on could be like the sentence for the whole moment we’re in right now for people who haven’t really been awake and are sort of waking up in the last couple of years. What is going on? What am I supposed to say? I don’t understand it.

There’s a lot of that. And so watching them go through that on one level was, I guess, realistic, because I do think a lot of people are there, but it was a disappointment. I don’t know if we want our characters and shows to be role models and whether that’s fair to say, or whether you have hopes for a character to sort of be doing their work and be complex and not without struggle, but yeah, the way they’re drawn is disappointing. And I wanted to see an exemplary example of a parent getting it. I craved that. I want it and I don’t know.

MITA MALLICK: I did too as a parent. I thought it just is very awkward all of it and clumsy. [inaudible 00:20:13] I would say is that to your point, I would’ve hoped that some of the characters would’ve been further along in their diversity, equity, inclusion journey. They all seem like they’re in the basement and not even lobby or at level six and you’re all very early. And part of what I think the show is struggling with is that they’re making up for 18 years or whenever the show was on. And so they’re trying to cram every single issue under the sun and not doing it very well. And so it’s like checking the box [inaudible 00:20:55] list of all the issues that are discussed and it’s like, check, check, check, check, check, and you’re just like what is… I think even the dynamics when it comes to race [inaudible 00:21:06] Charlotte becoming friends with a black mom in her daughter’s school.

And that episode where they’re very anxious, which I think was a real emotion that they wanted to make sure that this was not the only black couple [inaudible 00:21:24] to dinner at their home. But there also is something in me like, I don’t know if I would have that worry. So it was interesting that they’re having that worry and awkwardness of trying to invite the neighbor. Listen, I just have a good memory. I haven’t watched this many times, but I just remember this because it was a [crosstalk 00:21:43] the trying to invite the black neighbor to come. And then the part really upset me was when she shows up at the dinner with her husband, Charlotte does, and it’s an all black guest list.

JENNIFER BROWN: Dinner party. Mm-hmm (affirmative)

MITA MALLICK: And she, again, what I say is please don’t mistake me for the other brown woman. She ran up to one of the women and said [inaudible 00:22:09] I forget. But it was like, whoa, hi Jen, it’s good to see you. And Jen’s like, I’m not Jen, I’m Abigail. [inaudible 00:22:16] Jen, I haven’t seen you in so long. The last time I saw you and you know what upset me about that is exactly what happens in our workplaces, is let’s have that uncomfortable conversation. And maybe I’m expecting too much from my TV show, but I found that the black character made her feel very comfortable. It’s okay.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. There’s a lot of that.

MITA MALLICK: It’s okay. And you’re like, well it’s not okay. And so I find that that’s what’s happening in the show is that the burden is on the characters of color to sort of be like, it’s okay. It’s okay. Don’t [inaudible 00:22:47].

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. It’s not okay. In this day and age. They’re in their mid fifties. And living in New York City, the point is made that none of this should be a surprise and it shouldn’t be happening unless you’ve been living under a rock and sort of almost intentionally choosing not to be a part of how the world has changed. It’s bizarre, I know. Oh my gosh, you just remind me of that cringey moment, too. There’s so many.

MITA MALLICK: But I also think those scenes are playing out every day everywhere.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes they are. We know they are.

MITA MALLICK: [inaudible 00:23:21] the conversation we’re having is there’s so much power in media and storytelling. So there’s a greater responsibility to not have lazy storytelling and perpetuate stereotypes. That’s a huge platform. Here we are, here you are inviting me and we’re dedicating 45 minutes to have this conversation because there’s so much to unpack. So wow. It’s a great opportunity to change hearts and minds on so many issues. It’s just a missed opportunity.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. When we were writing Beyond Diversity… And there’s some folks from the Beyond Diversity community and some writers here attending, I see you all in comments, but we had inclusivity readers for the book and it was such a priority for us to get it right and to choose the best and most powerful examples and to make sure that we were representing them as optimally as we could, given our limitations as writers in our own lived experiences.

And we divvied up the chapters. There were a lot of ways we could have done it. We could have worked with one person, but we worked with 12 people and we had 12 chapters and we sort of mixed and matched and had people give feedback on the same chapter from three or four different lenses. And it was excellent. It made the book so much better. And these sensitivity readers, or in the media, the version of that is who’s at that table, cultural consultants. I think Lauren Minya was commenting on their LinkedIn. She said, we need culture boards for everything.

MITA MALLICK: Yep. And so she has culture boards.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. And do culture boards… Do you know how prevalent they are and is this what they serve? Is this the way that they are engaged?

MITA MALLICK: It is exactly as you did and you don’t have as many resources as the Sex and the City reboot does.

JENNIFER BROWN: Isn’t that true. Yes.

MITA MALLICK: [inaudible 00:25:14] I don’t want to miss… But I’m going to guess you don’t have the kind of resource-

JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you [inaudible 00:25:19], thank you for acknowledging [inaudible 00:25:21]

MITA MALLICK: How could you not have had cultural producers? How could you have not brought more voices into the room on all these different topics? Not just the Diwali topic.

JENNIFER BROWN: The ageism.

MITA MALLICK: Ageism. We could go on and on. So that’s where I’m just like the culture board concept is I am here using I, this is what I thought. This is what my experiences were when I saw the episode and then connecting it to my work as a DE&I leader. I don’t speak for all brown women. I don’t speak for all Indian women. And so you cannot put that burden on a writer and the actress, the actress who is trying to deliver the content in her lines and whatever pressures they’re feeling. So the culture board concept up is, get as many voices as you can represent-

JENNIFER BROWN: And support it.

MITA MALLICK: Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: excuse.

MITA MALLICK: there’s the saying, and I always say from marketing, it’s like nothing for us without us.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. I love that.

MITA MALLICK: not just me. Here’s Mita. And some of the best brands will do this. They’ll bring in people from… They’ll bring in Jen, they’ll bring in an influencer, they will bring in someone who runs a nonprofit. Because even when you are looking to serve, let’s say the black community, there’s so many voices. And so getting the intersectionality piece perspective and industry, and it’s so important. And so that is sort of this notion of a culture board is you have a board of directors who are exactly as you did. [crosstalk 00:27:04]

JENNIFER BROWN: Yep. This fell so far short that I heard that cisgender white guys have a problem with how cisgender white gay guys are represented on the show, Anthony’s character. You just don’t expect to see those stereotypes much anymore. People do better. Writers do better, shows do better these days. So, our expectations have really changed too, but to have even that bar be so low and so out a date is for sure it could have been different. And so anyway, I think the D&I role of what’s happening in companies and in what you might have taken away from this episode and the pain of realizing that this exists, it was written by certain people for a certain audience. Did it remind you of anything?

Did it kind of check you on… I hope not on your hope for where we are with change and where we’re not. I guess how is it staying with you in terms of how of the work we do in organizational context? Is it a reminder… Misses like this are very helpful for all of us, I think. They teach us a lot. Allies have a great opportunity to engage and to learn and to kind of deep dive into, like I said at the opening, really sensitized ourselves to when a culture is being misappropriated. And if we miss it, the note to self is why did I miss it? And I even miss stuff about LGBTQ. It shocks me that I am not the watchdog. That’s why I was so grateful to even have-

MITA MALLICK: I’m asking you your opinion as someone identifies with the community, just like you asked me, but your opinion, we’re using I statements, I don’t represent the entire community, neither do you, but it’s interesting because I literally was like, this is exactly what’s happening in organizations across the country right now and DE&I. And why do I say that? You do this work and you work outside the system, but you come in into companies. I’ve chosen to do this work within the system. And when you choose to do the work within the system, and I think you do this as well, very well, because you work with lots of companies is I have to meet people where they are. and it’s really exhausting when they are still at the basement and haven’t taken the elevator up one flight or two flights.

And so what was exhausting to me watching that was having to meet the characters where they are and make them feel comfortable. Make them feel comfortable. So when you mistake the black woman for another black woman, the black woman is, oh, it’s okay. She was very gracious. I find myself doing that a lot because I’m like, it’s okay. I smile. I’m like, okay, but that is part of my job. So let me tell you, it’s not okay when people make sexist, racist, homophobic comments, I’m not saying that. I call people out. But when you’re trying to teach people and it’s one-on-one interactions, I’m going to kill psychological safety. If I see you, Jen, that was such a sexist comment. How could you do that? So it exhausted me. And it was like, wow, this work is exhausting. I’m exhausted watching this show. Does that resonate with you?

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh yeah. Yeah. All day long. We’ve got to meet people where they’re at and we can hope that they’re accelerating their own journey and there’s only so much we can do and we have to pick our battles. Mita, you and I know about the fatigue of meeting people where they’re at. It’s beautiful and it’s extremely loving. It’s really kind, it’s really gracious, but there’s a cost to it. And I think is what you’re saying. And-

MITA MALLICK: I think so.

JENNIFER BROWN: … then where do you put?

MITA MALLICK: Yeah. And I think also I’m sort of at this place having watched the show and the two years of this pandemic, we’re almost in, I’m just exhausted. It’s like, no, I need you to walk five steps towards me. I’m not walking five steps towards you anymore. So that’s the difference now. I’m sorry. I go back again through the episodes and all those missteps where a number of times the characters of color are making the white characters feel like it’s okay. It’s okay, don’t worry, or whatever situation we’re talking about. It’s almost like the person who has committed the mistake, made the sexist, racist, whatever comment, whatever context, it’s okay, Mita, it’s okay. We know you didn’t mean it. [inaudible 00:31:49] watching it.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.

MITA MALLICK: And so that’s in our workplaces. It’s like, well, no, you’re a leader right now in this time, your jobs is to… We talk a lot about creating psychological safety, increasing digital skills, all the things that leaders need to know from a business perspective. On top of that list is cultural competency. Why is that not something we’re talking about? That is the number one skill to be leading in 2022. And so do the work and walk five steps, meet me, and I’ll help you.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. And if you hear somebody say, oh, it’s okay. I wonder then the self accountability to say, no, it’s not okay. It’s not okay that I did that. So that it, again, doesn’t put the burden on the person affected. But I think the true accomplished reaction would be I want to talk about it because I want to understand and come out of this conversation interaction with clear understanding of how I’m holding myself accountable to change, do things differently next time. And it can be tough because I would give that advice to these kinds of characters. But I also know that sometimes the person on the other end doesn’t want to engage for very real reasons, probably because this happens daily, you can imagine. So you might want to have the conversation, you might want to have your learning.

You’re like, wait, I have to unpack this and analyze it and you have to help me and that can be really self centering in its own way and perpetuate the uncomfortability of the situation. Maybe the advice, I’d be curious to hear your advice, is to take it and go work on it. And then at some point loop back and when you’ve done all that work, take those five steps towards the person, say I’ve reflected, I’ve read, I’ve come to understand that this happens all the time. I understand exactly what I did, why I did it, and here’s my apology and here’s the accountability. And wow, imagine those kinds of conversations, but we almost lack, is it the courage? Is it the language? Is it our want to resolve something that’s super uncomfortable in the easiest way in the moment and then never really owning it?

MITA MALLICK: There’s so much there. Yeah. I think that one of the things I’ll try to separate is my work as a DE&I leader and the power dynamics and the power and privilege I can hold in that role to help leaders and have that conversation to say, Jen, it’s actually in a quiet moment, it’s not okay. [inaudible 00:34:26] tell you why it’s not okay and help you understand that. So I need to own that and do that more, which is the whole it’s okay, no worries. [inaudible 00:34:35] right, rather than saying, no, I’m going to make you a bit uncomfortable. Make you comfortable enough that you are kind of stepping towards me and that’s the work of anyone who’s on a journey to be an ally, which we’re all on a journey to be an ally for somebody.

I will tell you as a brown woman who has worked in corporate America and now in tech for a long time, it is exhausting and the power dynamics are real. So when I am constantly called Shilpa, true story, starting out in my career, please don’t mistake me for the other brown woman. Only two brown women in this, I would say, division, so it’s like multi teams. Shilpa was tall, Shilpa had short hair, Shilpa looks like me. I am 5’1, nothing. And it was the ongoing joke. And it was not we were included in wrong invites. We were called into meetings to present and it confused [inaudible 00:35:34] constant. And where were the allies because it’s exhausting. The power dynamics for me to constantly be like, hey Jen, that’s not my name. Where was the other person who could have been like, hey Jen, this is Mita.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah.

MITA MALLICK: And so that’s the difference. And so the easy way to protect myself and my energy is to be like, it’s okay, don’t worry about it because it’s exhausting. It’s exhausting.

JENNIFER BROWN: So allies need to step up. We need to notice, we need to intervene. Mita, checking with you, I think an important nuance of this is if I notice that people are getting confused and I need to have a word, I wonder the check in to say, I need to say something about this. Are you okay with me saying… I’m going to take matters in my own hands and checking. I think that was a big learning for me, but sometimes we need to act and we’re not able to check. So that’s another thing I want to us to think about is is if you have the opportunity to calibrate with somebody and say this bothers me and it’s not right.

And I like to exercise that ally muscle right now and hold somebody accountable and then continue to hold them accountable so that you don’t have to, imagine if you knew somebody had your back all the time and they were looking out for things like this and there’s nothing quite like that feeling. For me, it’s like straight allies or it’s male allies really checking in, noticing, noticing, and then even before I realized that it’s not okay, because I likely said it’s okay, it’s all right. And I try to [crosstalk 00:37:21] move on, but wow, I’ve learned so much from allies who are not okay with something. It’s actually reinvigorated me in a way, because I kind of went to sleep in a system where over and over again, you just lose the heart, you lose the guts and you take the easier path because you’re, like you said, calibrating to save our energy. It’s so important to conserve these days. It’s getting spent very liberally and [crosstalk 00:37:50]

MITA MALLICK: [crosstalk 00:37:52] for people of color and I’ll speak about it for myself. It’s like this is my lived experience all day, every day. So it’s not like this happens one time. I have 2 other stories, which if you’re not listening to my podcast with my friend [crosstalk 00:38:04] Brown Table Talk, which is where we spill the tea on all the stories that happen to women of color that we don’t talk openly about. And what women of color can do to go beyond surviving and thriving and what allies can be doing to help. And so that’s where I think it important for people to understand for allies, this is not just a one story I’m sharing. If this is happening all day, every day, this is why it’s easier for me to just say it’s okay, which is what the show is perpetuating as well.

And then Jen, to your point, it’s never too late to do the right thing. So if you’re in that meeting and you feel uncomfortable because you are still on your journey to be an ally, to say something, and to come to my defense to step up, you can always pull the leader aside the next day and get a coffee. You can check in with me. How am I doing? How would you like me to approach this?

There are some things that I think are pretty clear to step in in the moment. And there are others where you might be concerned, how am I feeling? And I think as we start to develop our muscle, as we’re trying to serve in the form of an ally, you start to under stand those things better. Like you and I have a relationship, so you felt like, oh, I’m going to host this session and invite Mita because I am struggling with what’s happening with the show and I’m struggling with what happened in this episode and so you felt comfortable enough to do that. So I think it just depends on where you are.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I’m so grateful that I felt comfortable with and we’ve earned that over time too. So a big call to action from this is thinking in your life about, do you have a pairing like Mita and I have where I know how Mita deals with me is from a space of generosity and accountability if it’s needed and vice versa. But yeah, I really challenge leaders at all levels to think about our cross identity relationships and how many different environments we have experienced that in. And then the ability to check in authentically without having it be the first time. And then sort of having that thread between you that’s always connected so that you can just send a note or ask somebody to yes, speak from your lived experience, even though you’re exhausted, Mita, I really appreciate you unpacking it for this audience with me.

I love that you noticed the LGBTQ blunders also makes me feel seen and heard, not just by our community, but by somebody that I’m so glad is carrying that message into rooms that I’m not in. So it’s a wonderful thing. And I love that you and I demonstrate it and make it real and then make it an aspiration I think for all of us to say who’s in your life that we can have these conversations with and unpack and be better for it. And one plus one equals three, because I think what you and I can create in terms of understanding for others, it lives between us and our lived experience and so it overlaps in such a beautiful way, but it’s so distinct and so unique at the same time.

MITA MALLICK: Well, thank you so much. This has been an amazing conversation. I hope we have more of these and please hire a cultural producer [inaudible 00:41:35] board. Bring in your voices upfront, whatever you’re working on because that’s the beauty of innovation. Diversity of thought doesn’t happen without diversity of representation. I don’t care what you’re working on.

JENNIFER BROWN: Nothing about us [crosstalk 00:41:48]

MITA MALLICK: [crosstalk 00:41:49] sell like an eyeliner, coffee, trying to get me to watch a show, whatever it is you are putting out into the world, voices that contributed to it. That’s the question you have to ask yourself. [crosstalk 00:42:02] question. What’s the question for allies, hey, this is a room with all white writers and Mita. I’m making that up.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. That’s probably what happened here.

MITA MALLICK: So what are we going to do about this? Can we have that conversation and why does it need to be me that has to say something? Why can’t it be [inaudible 00:42:20], which I’m sure she would, or anyone else.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah, no, you’re right. One is not enough. I don’t know if it was Ariana Huffington, the rule of three, three out of every 10 on a board. So one will be tokenized, one will likely not feel that it is safe to make the point as strongly as you might. There’s a lot of risk to being the first and the only, but once you start to have 2, 3, 4, there’s safety numbers. And it also reminds me of that other wonderful story about Obama’s cabinet and how some women gathered together and planned and gamed out how they were going to be heard in a room of largely men, because they were getting talked over and all of it.

And to have each other’s back, they decided to echo each other, they decided to say each other’s names, they made eye contact, they broke eye contact and created new focus in the room and threw their energy very intentionally around. And so the diversity is getting to that table, inclusion is being meaningfully and truthfully being asked to contribute and having those contributions be heard and heated is the 360 degree dynamic that we want to find. But if you fail at any point in that, you’re going to end up with a product or service or whatever like this abysmal episode. So, Mita, I think people will go and watch it if they haven’t seen it just to be horrified.

MITA MALLICK: Watch and see what it is. Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. And everybody, if you loved this, send us the most offensive episodes of other shows. We were kind of joking.

MITA MALLICK: We will dissect. But I think as we end too cultural producers, but cultural competency for the writers that are sitting around the table. We can say bring in more diversity representation, which we should, but it’s very interesting to think about some of those writers may have been a part of the first, I don’t know, I don’t know the history of the show, but maybe they also need upscaling as well. And they probably can use Jennifer Brown to come in. It has to be parallel path. You bring in diversity of voices, representation, but also who has a seat that’s going to… You’re adding more seats. You’re not taking seats away. You’re adding more seats and people who are sitting there already, what are you doing to increase their cultural competency?

JENNIFER BROWN: I love that. That is the call to action for aspiring allies. You’re only an ally if someone in an affected community calls you an ally. So that work should be happening. You’re right. Yeah. And it’s very clear that it wasn’t happening here. Real good intentions maybe. And as far as I know it was, but checking on the impact could have been way differently. Oh, Mita, Thank you so much for doing this for me at dinner time here on the east coast. And thanks everybody for joining. And I see a bunch of friendly folks and comments. Thank you for coming. Let us know what you think, what you’d like us to discuss maybe, and this will become a thing and check out Mita’s podcast, Brown Table Talk, right?

MITA MALLICK: Yes. With DC Marshall. Yes. Thank you. On [crosstalk 00:45:36] and apple and anywhere you can find your podcast.

JENNIFER BROWN: You finished season two. Is that right?

MITA MALLICK: We’re going to be launching season two shortly, yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh my gosh.

MITA MALLICK: Season one you can go, I guess, binge listen.

JENNIFER BROWN: Binge listen, everybody, you will learn just exponential amounts of info. Mita, thanks for the work you do.

MITA MALLICK: Thanks so much.

JENNIFER BROWN: Good night everybody.

MITA MALLICK: Bye.

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.

DOUG FORESTA: 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 in 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.