Diversity and inclusion are part of every organization’s values but it can be hard to know how to *do* diversity and inclusion if we don’t identify our unconscious bias. In this talk, we’re going to focus on anti-Black racism and how to create a more inclusive environment. Transcript below!
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Welcome to the talk, “I’m Still black and You’re Still Racist, “AKA How You Can Address Your Anti-Black Racism.” So for those who don’t know me, my name’s Brandy Foster. I’m the mother of two black boys, the progeny of both the enslaved and enslaver in the United States. And a Detroit Labs team member of five years now, go Betas, where I’m an Android App developer. And our diversity and inclusion coach.
So this is going to be a hard talk. Hard for me to give, hard for you to hear. We are going to talk about race, racism, and specifically touch on some instances of gender racism. So I hear this a lot. Because it’s true. I do talk about race a lot.
But I think to understand where I’m coming from you have to understand where I came from. See, I was the first little black girl in an all-white block. My friends were kids of parents who as kids probably would not have let me sit on their swing set. And I’ll remember that swing set, it was blue and red. And a little blue-eyed girl looked at me and said she heard I was descended from monkeys. This sound of her head hitting that pole echoes through my head to this day. But my momma said never hit a little white girl in her face, her skin can hide the mark. Her parents were upset, their faces as blue and as red as that set, but I will never forget that the very same kids I called friends went home to evening meals where they heard tales that I was genetically inept. Judged for the skin I was born in. That’s why I ignore those tales to watch out for the monsters inside of your closets and be wary of the ones underneath your bed. ‘Cause truthfully, I’m more worried about the monsters trying to get inside of my head. See truthfully, I’m more wary of monsters that tell me that the perfection of my reflection is something that should be feared. Or that having any pride in the skin I was born in is something akin to racism. Reverse. Racism akin to skin-to-skin I was born in, I did not have a say. Though if I did, I might ask to have the shade replaced. See, maybe I’d rather be blue. Or perhaps even green. No, better yet, I’d ask my entire flesh be turned into a mood ring so then you could see what I was feeling. Perhaps then you could see that the flesh that covers my heart is truly just a covering. Maybe then the racists would take the time to get to know me. Racists.
So we have some idea or some opinion about what is a racist, right. KKK members marching in the streets of Washington. White nationalists marching in the streets of Charlottesville. Dylann Roof, who assassinated nine members at the AMU church. The El Paso Walmart shooter who was terrified of a Hispanic invasion. But at this moment, we’ve come to find that racist is kind of a slur, right. It’s a word we don’t like to use.
And we think we know what racism is. It is a thing of the past. Though this graph shows that as of 2012, about 62% of white respondents said that the cause of disparities were that black people weren’t trying hard enough. And it ended, right? With the Emancipation Proclamation that freed only slaves in the Confederate states, if you did not know that.
Or in 1865, with the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery except for punishment for a crime, which is why today we find that there are more black men incarcerated or entangled in the incarcerated state as there were enslaved in 1850. But definitely was ’64, right, with the Civil Rights Act. Though it was just in 2016 that a judge had to force a school to desegregate. And they say that racism, talking about it is what perpetuates it, and it might be true. This chart you’re looking at here was from an epidemiologist, David Chase, I believe his name is. His research team found that there was a relationship between where the word “nigger” is googled and death in black people.
There’s only one race, though, right? The human race. We hear that all the time. We all have team agreements, or most people, right. We have teams, teams have team agreements. Have you ever thought about how they relate to our laws? So team agreements set expectations for how team members should treat each other. And sets accountability standards and processes. And are made to be reviewed and updated, right. Team agreement written once, you’re supposed to look it over, eh, every year, but more importantly, as your team needs.
And our laws also do the same thing where they set expectations for how citizens should behave and treat one another. There are consequences for failing to meet those expectations. I.e., there’s accountability. An supposedly, they are made to be reviewed and updated as needed for the health of society. But I’d like you to think about racism as a living document. So you might not know, but racism was actually legalized in our laws.
As of 1705, the Slave Codes of Virginia had created chattel slavery, made that slavery hereditary, and tied it to the race. And then we legalized racism in our laws. By 1896, we find that citizenship was limited to white persons. The first time that showed up in law, I believe, was 1792. We fought a whole Civil War, like a whole-ass war to free the slaves, even though, again, the Emancipation only freed slaves in Confederate states.
And then we abolished slavery. Shout-out to Reconstruction. If you did not know, that is where that 13th Amendment comes from. RIP also because it didn’t last very long. States then begin to legalize racial segregation in almost all forms of public life. So we’re talking school, health, housing, everything. So people say, “I’m not racist, though. “I just don’t believe folks should mix,” right.
“There should be a separation between coloreds and whites.” But racism, though it feels like a bad word, and racist feels like a bad word, that’s just because we started to tie it to the idea of evil, bad. We want to tie it to intentions and hearts. But really, racism is just a structure that organizes races into a hierarchy. So where do you fall? And it can make us feel defensive because of that. And I get it, right. No one wants to be declared a bad person. But really, racists are just people who uphold that hierarchy through their actions or inactions. And I say all that, and it’s like, “Oh my God, we should just quit,” right? Like, “Obviously, this is hopeless.” And I get that.
There’s a Harvard professor, Derrick Bell, who wrote: “Faces at the Bottom of the Well.” And in that, he put up a theory that racism wasn’t just a quill in our fabric but the actual thread that holds it all together. That’s a heavy thing to think about because if racism is that integral to us, to the United States, that means it’s literally like a part of our DNA. And to untangle it, to undo that, wouldn’t that mean we’d have to undo ourselves altogether? The irony, I like to think of, learning, at least for me, is that the more I know, the more I do often despair. So reading the works of Derrick Bell was really challenging to my point of view. But he ends his book on what I think is the most hopeful note. That the work of undoing racism, the work of anti-racism, isn’t for a cookie. It isn’t for a promised land. It is for the righteousness of that work. For our deep-held beliefs inequality.
You are, all of you, I am, we are all racists. We have all, through just living in this world, absorbed anti-race, I mean, absorbed racist anti-black beliefs. I want you to think about something, right, just a little different. ‘Cause you might not be doing anything, right. You’re thinking, “Well, I don’t hate black people. “I don’t purposefully avoid them on the street. “I’m just floatin’ along in the world, “doing my best, being the best person.” But if you’re in the boat, even if you’re not rowing, you’re headin’ in the same direction.
We’ve already established that race and racism is codified in our laws, a part of our fabric. So if you want to do something different, you have to do something courageous. You got to jump off the boat. And once you get out that boat and into the water, you will easily see that the propellers that keep us moving forward slash into water and flesh the same way. And that the bottom of that sturdy boat that was holding you up is the same one that is holding people down. And that you were so busy looking at your horizon, the horizon before you, that you didn’t notice that other people didn’t get that view. Y
ou’ll also see that that boat doing all that work to hold everyone back is slowing the whole thing down. No one is winning in this race. So you jump in. And ya know stuff now. You’re seeing things. But really you’re just kind of treading water. Where do you go? How do you be anti-racist? What does that even mean?
So I have to pause here. And acknowledge that, again, I’m not an expert in any of this. I have to purposefully shout-out to the many critical race theorists that I read, that I follow. And just like black women really in the world just doing their thing. It is from them that this talk comes from.
So who are you? More importantly, what if I told you you are not who you think you are? What if I said that what you know of who you are is really just the tip of the iceberg. The second iceberg slide, you guys see that? We’re all in the same, two poems, two icebergs.
Like, that’s how we’re Labbers. What if I said that what you think you know about yourself is really just the tip of an iceberg? We go along, and what we think we are or who we think we are is really what psychologists will call your system two. And that system handles complex operations, your self-control, and it’s why you think that’s who you are.
But in reality, the main driver of you is your system one. That system is just workin’ on taking inputs, spittin’ out output based on its models. So what if I said that in order to be anti-racist or to undo some of those things, you have to confront that you don’t know who you are. You know some of who you are, you know some of what you do, but you don’t really know what’s driving you. Which brings us here.
Once we make that acknowledgment, once we’re like, “We are not the wholly logical, “thoughtful beings we think we are. “We have a whole set of operations “that is guiding 90% of our activity,” we can start this work.
So I like to think of our unconscious biases, our system one, as just runnin’ on stories. Right, there’s a bunch of stories in your head that started being written long before you came into existence, and they are what’s guiding your everyday life. Such as, if you were born to white parents, it is very likely that your mother received adequate care, that she got pain medication if she needed it, right. She was treated as a whole being, creating a whole ‘nother being.
Whereas if you were born to a black mother, your mother was not likely to get adequate care. And if you didn’t know, if your mother had you before Medicare, you were probably born in a segregated hospital. Because it was the Medicare, the push for Medicare that really got hospitals to desegregate. That was after the Civil Rights Bill, timeline-wise. Your mother was also not likely to get the pain medication that she needed. Studies have shown that doctors even today think that black people have better pain tolerance and thicker skin. And if you were in school and you were a white child, you learned a lot about you, and a lot about your history, and a lot about how awesome your people were who came from, you know, Europe and conquered this land and helped these savage people understand civilization.
And if you were not white, you learned the same things. The exact same things. But you also learned that your people were the savages. That the very blood, even a drop of it if you were black, had the ability to taint a whole line of people.
So we have these stories in our head, and we very rarely even think about ’em. We’re just going about our daily life. We think, when we see a group of black children, our system one goes, “Oh, you should grab your purse, “lock your car door, be extra cautious.” And we do those things, but we don’t think about why. That’s because those stories.
Those stories are only being read by your system one. They are driving you, and you are not challenging them. So the first thing I’d like you to do is stop. Like literally, just stop. Stop movin’. Stop pretending. And just face the fact that you are an automaton. And you have been programmed. And this might all be an illusion. Maybe it’s “The Matrix.” A thing that can help us understand where those stories are, though, is some objective measures.
The first thing I want to talk about is the unconscious bias test, to help you see your unconscious bias. Harvard has one that’s online. And what that test does is help you understand if you make automatic associations to things and people, or ideas and people, such as black and good, white and bad, or vice versa. Whether or not you associate, let’s say, the Islamic face with terrorism. I will caveat here that even the creators have shown that this is a test that has to be taken in aggregate, right. So taking it one time, and if you see an association towards white people, that does not mean you are a hateful racist and you should just grab a white cloak. That’s not what I’m saying. That’s not what they’re saying. They’re saying that that is an area you should look at. Right, that’s what that’s going to do.
Now, if you want to, you could take it aggregate. Take the same test multiple times, space it out over a course of weeks and kind of average it all together. But I do suggest you take the race and the color AIT. Why both? Well, studies have also shown that some people that show no unconcious bias in race show such in color, right. ‘Cause we have both those things working in our society.
Another thing I want to encourage you to do is do some unconscious bias training. The one I first suggest is Kirwan. They have a really great, really easy to understand unconscious bias training that is available online for free. And they cover pretty much all the same things I did. “Your system one,” and, “Why you’re biased,” and, “Why that doesn’t mean you’re a bad person.” And then also how to mitigate those things, which I think is the most important part. Start here. I am finishing up creating training materials for myself for unconscious bias. If anyone is interested in being an alpha or beta tester, hit me up, let me know.
And it is from that that I am going to move into this next part, which I’m calling “Racism, Knowledge, and an Action Plan.” Things that I think you could do today that could help you continue on this road. So actively challenge your anti-black racism. Root out the whys of your anti-black unconscious bias. Now if you grew up in an all-white neighborhood and had very few neighbors of color, odds are most of the opinions you got about people of color came from media, what your family said, and what your school said.
So ask yourself, “Where did I grow up, “and how did that influence my perceptions? “What did my teachers say about black people? “Did I learn black history, and if I did, “was it relegated to only the month of February? “Why?” Once you start getting to the roots, you should check in to see what you’ve carried forward. Are you still living in a predominantly white neighborhood? Do your children go to predominantly white schools? Does your family continue to say racist things in front of you? Is your media still made up of mostly white creators? And then get out of your comfort zone.
You can do this by enriching your entertainment. So like, literally check your physical bookshelves. I was talking about the mental ones. Go to the physical bookshelf, who are you reading? DVD rack, do people still have DVDs? I dunno. Look at your Netflix queue, I guess, is more relevant to the times. I do still have a lot of DVDs. I will never get rid of them. They’re like books to me, I love them. But who are the creators of the material that you are consuming? Purposefully seek out black creators that are talking about black life from a black perspective. You can find them. They are great.
Some of my favorites, Octavia Butler, W. E. B. Du Bois. If you like music, Duke Ellington. I mean, any blues genre, actually, pretty much will take you there. But do it on purpose, right. Seek out this entertainment. Oh, I missed a thing. And get out of your comfort zone. Like do that actually. Like not as a joke. Like literally go to a place where you are not in the majority. Sit in a room full of black people. Take up only space you need for your body. And just, like, exist and absorb. Research the cultures.
Now odds are, again, if you were educated in the United States of America, you had a white supremacist education. But you don’t have to stick with it, right. Like we have technology today that you could literally go, pull your phone out right now and google, let’s say, Kush. Do you know what Kush is? Kush is an empire that was in the African continent. Before Rome. It was a great civilization. We don’t know about that ’cause we’re not taught about that even when we take world history. So do that on purpose. Learn what you haven’t learned before. Also, I encourage you to learn more about race and racism in the context of the United States.
“White Rage” by Carol Anderson is fantastic. “Stamped from the Beginning” by, I’m going to say his name wrong, Kendi X. Ibram. Ibram X. Kendi. Ah, see, I always mix it up. Don’t tell him I said that, don’t tweet to him. ‘Cause he finally tweeted me back. And so I feel special, and if you tell him I messed up his name, he might not ever tweet at me again. But both those books explore the historic race and racism. It can really help you understand what you are seeing today.
Follow and listen to black people. Check your social media. Who do you follow? There are so many just black folks sharing black life, black culture, black perspectives, and more importantly, how to sink the ship of white supremacy like today on your Twitter. And they’re doing it mostly for the free, though many of ’em do have Patreon. Pay it. Like, go ahead. A dollar tip every now and then does not hurt. But do that so you can really understand where black folks are comin’ from today.
There is @AngryBlackLady, KimCrayton1. Careful with that one, like, definitely. Like, just follow her. Don’t tweet at her. I wouldn’t suggest you do that. But just follow, because she has a lot of really great information. Find your tribe. Find people who are your kinfolk, who are doing this work also. Come together with them. So you guys can process this learning together. It is hard. Like, as a black person, it is hard to be anti-racist. It is hard to undo anti-black conscious and unconscious bias in myself.
If you are not a black person, it’s going to be even more challenging, especially if you feel alone. So find people who are doing this work with you. Sit with them. And use that as the space to talk about your challenges. Because what you don’t want to do is like, bemoan how hard this is with the black people you’re becoming friends with. That won’t go well. You can talk to me, though. I am the diversity inclusion coach. That is my whole job. I promise I won’t side-eye you.
Like we can have those conversations. But like, not a random black person on the street. Don’t do that. Start having difficult conversations. So yes, talking about race and racism is hard. Even saying the words race and racism is hard, right. So do some learning. There are some books that are really great. “So You Want to Talk About Race.” I’m going to butcher her name, especially because my mouth is dry. Find the book. “Race Talk” is also a really great book that talks about how to have better conversations about race with all kinds of people, but particularly people of color. And once you start doing that learning, start having those hard conversations.
Talk to black people about their black experiences. Talk to white people about black people’s black experience. Talk to white people about white people’s white supremacy. Have conversations that are hard. But be courageous. Most importantly, you going to mess this up. Oh, you’re going to. At some point, you’re just going to be driving along and some, like, random thought’s going to pop into your head, and you’re going to be like, “Oh, Brandy, “you like rap music, right?” And I mean, I do, but like, why do you assume that I like rap music? So now I’m a little offended, and you’ve realized that you’ve made a mistake. Get good at apologizing.
That’s like saying “get good at feedback,” right. Like it’s not that easy. So what does that look like? First, understand that intentions are less than impact, right. Intentions don’t matter as much as how you impacted this other person. I know, we’re used to saying, “I only meant.” No one cares what you meant when you’ve hurt them. At least not in that moment. Then own that impact. So say, “Oh, Brandy, I didn’t realize I just impacted you “with a microaggression, assuming “that you like black music ’cause you’re black.” And then what is black music, right? You’re going to keep making mistakes. It’s fine. ‘Cause then you’ve just apologized for the impact. “You know what? “I’m going to stop here. “I’m really sorry that I impacted you that way.” That’s it. That’s the whole sentence. Right?
Again, your intentions matter to you. So then what you do is you go home, and you say, “Gah, how did my intentions “become so mismatched with the impact? “What could I do better next time “when I have such good intentions? “How can I change my behavior so my intentions “are showing up in the impacts that I am having?” And once you’re doing this work, and you’re gettin’ this practice in, then you can start rippling your effects. You can start bringing what you’re learning and what you’re doing into your everyday life.
Dr. Ibram says that an anti-racist is one who is “supporting and anti-racist policy “through their actions or expressing an anti-racist idea.” As in, you are racist. You don’t have to be. It’s not a forever condition, right. You can be anti-racist. But you don’t have to be. And that’s not a forever condition. And so it is, again, how we are showing up every day that determines if we’re being racist or anti-racist.
So how can we bring it to life? Bystander intervention. This is really when you’re using your actual presence to advocate. In the workplace, what could this look like? This could look like, if Brandy’s up for a promotion, and the panel’s talking about it, and they go, “Oh man, Brandy’s really aggressive though. “I don’t know if the team’s going to really take to that.” And you could say, “Oh, okay.” You could ask a question, right. “Well, what do you mean by aggressive? “Do you have specific examples “of aggressive behavior we can talk about?” You can highlight any inconsistencies. So like, “Oh, when Dan was up, “you said he was aggressive, and that was great. “Why is it not great when Brandy’s aggressive?” And, if you’re feeling courageous and in a comfortable environment, you can push all the way. “You know, things like that have been systematically used “to hold black women back from positions of power. “And so we should really just focus on concrete things. “If there’s any part of her behavior “that does not meet the rubric for the position, “let’s talk about that. “And let’s try to keep our conscious and unconscious biases out of it.”
You can also do this in the street. I will say, do this with care. I was going to wait ’til the end, but I’m going to pause here. Bystander intervention in the streets is something you should be careful about. But what that could look like is if you see someone suffering from racial harassment, let them know you see it. Eye contact, “I see what’s going on.” See if they need your help. Listen to what they say. ‘Cause it might be an instance where they’re like, “No, I’m good.” Respect that. If they’re like, “Yeah, could you stand here?” Do that, if you’re able. If they say no, but you’re worried that this might get violent, stay back and observe. And the thing we never want to happen is we have to make a police report. But in case we do, let’s pay attention to who this attacker is. What are they wearing? How tall are they? What is their gender? What is their race? We can’t be afraid to acknowledge those things.
Leverage and share your actual power. And we all have some level of power and privilege. Our society says that some people have more. Take what you do have, and leverage it in the service of others. Call it out. So this is you actually using your voice to challenge the system. And I know call-out culture has got a bad rap, but I really believe that silence is complicity. So silence in the face of racism is, at that moment, you’re being racist.
You’re agreeing, you’re in the boat, you’re going along. So what could this look like in the office? This could look like you saying, “Hey, we don’t have any black people in leadership. “Is this something leadership team thought about?” Right, just asking the question. Not, you know, “Hire Brandy on a leadership team.” So if you want to do that, we can talk about that later. But just raising that question, right. You see it, that’s an inconsistency.
We talk about things. Like just calling it out. It can be literally just that simple. In the streets. So I hear from a lot of white people that have racist uncles. Right, like every white person has a racist uncle. I had a racist grandfather, RIP. I love him, but he was horribly an anti-black racist. He did not like anything black. Like he literally would refuse to take his car to a black mechanic. Like, it was deep. And so I get calling out our family members, our loved ones, is like, hard, right. You don’t want to be the one to ruin dinner, right. But do it anyway. And I’m not saying you got to, like, flip over tables. I mean, if that’s your jam, whatever. I’m not going to judge you.
But you could just ask a question, right. Your uncle’s on that tirade again, you know, “Black-on-black crime is up in Detroit.” And you could say, “Why don’t we ever say white-on-white crime?” You point out the inconsistency, right. “Well, white-on-white violence “is statistically the same as black-on-black violence. “And this is per the DOJ. “So why is this phrase being used? “Why do you think it’s different, Uncle, Mr. Racist?” And if you’re really hardcore, you could be like, “You know what? “That’s some white-supremacist language right there. “And if you are worried about black-on-black violence, “if you’re worried about violence, “there’s a whole bunch of initiatives in Detroit right now. “There’s a whole bunch of people doing work “to reduce violence right now. “Why don’t we pull out your phone and look those up?” So I’m encouraging you to use your voice to declare your space, the space around you, anti-racist.
And we need to practice inclusivity. This is where you use your influence to push for inclusive measures, policies, procedures. What does that look like? So in the office, team agreements. Like, I love team agreements. I believe that they are a place where we could most easily use our power and our voice to practice inclusivity. When we’re writing that, it’s not just about, like, “We’re going to show up at nine. “Not really though. “Make that 10. “Make that 11. “What time’s stand-up? “Let’s make stand-up two.” You know, like it’s that.
But it’s also, “How do we make a decision? “How do we know when a decision has been reached? “And even more importantly, what do we do “when someone breaks this agreement? “What do we want to do?” And it might sound like it’s not super comfortable to talk about that in the beginning, but I promise you, having that in writing makes it really to refer back to. You can hold each other accountable when you’re like, “Hey, we said we were doin’ the one-mic rule. “Right now you’re breakin’ the team agreement “’cause you keep talking over another team member.” And I really encourage teams that if you have people of color, black people, on your team, that you really uplift their voice in these team agreement conversations. They are the ones who are most likely to be discriminated against, marginalized, in the team. Especially in meetings.
Voices are very easy, except for mine, to get drowned out, right. That’s what studies have shown over and over again. So really uplift that, ask questions, make sure that your team agreement is inclusive of the most vulnerable people on your team. In the streets, wherever you live, your neighborhood. Do you know if your neighborhood has racial compacts? Like, if the house you lived in had a racial compact? Because there is a huge percentage of houses, especially in the suburbs of Detroit that had those very compacts. “You cannot sell your house to a black person.” How do you think that affects your neighborhood make-up today? Bring that up at your next neighborhood association meeting. Right, like, “I did this research, I found this thing, “and maybe that’s why we literally have two black people “on the block, and they live in the same house, “and they just keep rotating in and out. “Like, maybe there’s a reason here that we should address.”
What about at your school? Even if you don’t have kids. But especially if you have kids. You have a lot of power in that. What are your school’s racial discrimination and punishment? I promise you, it exists, but how bad is it? Ask them. Ask them that literally. Again, speaking truth to power, asking that question is extremely powerful. Why is it that black kids here are punished more strictly than white kids for the same incidents? But more importantly, the best way to use this power is literally anyone who can legislate. Like, anyone. Your police commissioner, your mayor. Your neighborhood association block club captain, right. This person is making decisions for where you live. Push them all to be inclusive. Literally. Demand answers, ask a lot of questions and don’t take “no” for an answer.
Refuse to live in spaces that are exclusive, Jesus Christ. I’m workin’ on it you all, I’m working.
So I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in this space. I don’t want to be in a world where we are racist or anti-racist, where we are black or white, skinny, tall, short, where we are just constantly dividing ourselves up into smaller and smaller pieces. I don’t want to be here.
I don’t want to be thinking about how to balance these scales of inequality. How to make our world more equal. Like, we should just be able to exist. To just be humans. Right, human beings, being the best or worst humans we can be in our spaces. But that’s not where we are. We are here. We are in a country that has legislated race. Space where, yes, we are all human, and there is only one technical race, but the social construct we’ve created as race matters. And we can’t pretend that it doesn’t. And there are people who are being harmed today and every day because of that construct.
And in truth, right, I’m probably not going to live to see it. I’m not going to live to see the day where I don’t have to worry about my black sons driving in the suburbs. I’m not going to live to see the day where there are no racial inequalities in our prison system, in our hospitals, in our every-single-day life. I won’t live to see it. My kids probably won’t live to see it. But I don’t do this work, again, because I hope I will be rewarded.
I do this work because I love “Star Trek.” No, I’m not lying. I deserve “Star Trek.” Our world deserves “Star Trek.” And in order for us to see new civilizations, we’ve got to fix ours first. So that’s the talk. Again, I’ll send out some tips. I’m open to talking about any of this content later. I do thank you all for your time, attention, and vulnerability in this space. And I think it’s time for lunch.