In a world where the blindfold of privilege often shields us from seeing the full picture, preventing us from truly understanding the experiences of others, it becomes crucial to peel back the layers and unravel the complexities that lie beneath the surface. Join Roxy Manning and Sarah Peyton as they embark on a transformative journey of curiosity and self-discovery, seeking to illuminate the hidden truths that go unnoticed when wearing the blindfold of privilege. In this thought-provoking episode, they delve into the multifaceted aspects of our society, challenging listeners to question their unconscious assumptions and indulge their curiosity. Together, they explore the harm of staying silent, the importance of bringing your full self, and the antidote to microaggressions. Through engaging conversations about race relations, the labor of education, and the cost of speaking up, Roxy and Sarah invite us to remove our blindfolds and recognize the profound impact of our actions. By doing everything within our capacity to mitigate harm and fostering a culture of inclusivity, we can create a world where voices are amplified, assumptions are replaced with genuine understanding, and our collective growth and progress know no bounds. Join in!
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The Blindfold Of Privilege: Mitigating Harm With Roxy Manning & Sarah Peyton
I am sitting here with Sarah and Roxy. I was drawn to speaking with them because their work is around having antiracist conversations and doing that from a place of authenticity and heart, which is what I aim to do with everything in life. I know that I have a lot to learn about antiracism, being an antiracist and a better advocate ally. It feels challenging for me because there is a lot to learn.
One thing that spoke to me when I was reading about Sarah and Roxy’s work was this phrase, “The blindfold of privilege.” I have been examining the privilege of ignorance but the blindfold of privilege is another way of looking at it. I wanted to begin with a little story that I’m curious to hear Sarah and Roxy’s perspectives.
Last summer of 2022, I was visiting my hometown. I was with a few friends. I grew up in a predominantly White town. Anybody who wasn’t White stood out to me. It is interesting as a child how someone stands out. Maybe you notice them but as children, we might not notice our differences unless they are explicitly pointed out.
I remember noticing the students of color. There was one in particular who became a friend of mine. All these years later, I met up with him for the first time in several years I saw this man. We ended up having some conversations in which he was revealing his experience at our school in this small town. I was shocked as an adult to hear some of the ways he was treated.
I noticed how much of a blindfold I had as a White person in this predominantly White town because I didn’t even realize what people of color were experiencing. It was an interesting moment to recognize that through his sharing how teachers I loved and had great experiences with, he had poor experiences with. He had experiences of feeling like he was being targeted. It was heartbreaking. I noticed my ignorance and privilege in a new way there.
I also noticed how I wasn’t sure if my questions to him were perhaps inappropriate because I became curious. I wanted to know more about his experience. I’m then wondering, “Was I inadvertently being microaggressive? Was I being racist by asking him questions? Was I bringing up old trauma for him?” I realized I don’t fully know how to have an antiracist conversation. I thought that would be a good place to begin with Sarah and Roxy here. They are educated and dedicated to the subject matter. How do we begin to navigate through this type of ignorance?
I was moved by hearing you ask and having curiosity about whether you were doing more harm by, in some ways, indulging your curiosity when he was sharing this with you. I like using that word. It was indulging your curiosity. That is one of the places where I always want people to start. Whenever we have these conversations, he has a purpose in sharing this with you. There was a need that he was trying to meet.
I’m not sure what that need was. It might have been to finally be known for his experience. It was no longer the secret or something he had to hide about. It might have been for deeper authenticity with you. If I’m going to have a friend and we are going to be real friends, I want to be honest about my experiences they have no clue about. In that case, if those were his needs, you asking him questions might have given him permission to continue to share things. Perhaps he tried to share in the past and people were like, “I don’t want to hear that.” They were questioning or challenging him. I could imagine that might have been supportive.
What I think you are picking up on is that sometimes when we are indulging our curiosity, it is not what they are wanting. Maybe what he wanted was not to answer your questions about his experience but to hear your reaction and vulnerable expressions around how you were impacted hearing that. What is it like for you to know that we were walking in the same hallways and having such a vastly different experience? He might have been wanting your vulnerability, mourning, grief or anger around what had happened that would let him know that he wasn’t alone.Sometimes when we're indulging our curiosity, it's not what they're actually wanting. Click To Tweet
One of the first invitations I have to people is when someone comes to see with information like this, check in about what would serve them. Your curiosity is real and valid but ask them, “Are you wanting me to ask more questions? What would be helpful? I can share what is coming up for me as I hear this but what would serve you in this moment?”When someone comes to you, check in with what would serve them. Click To Tweet
That is a helpful framework and the type of information I’m interested in learning because I don’t want to do more harm but I wonder if I inadvertently do. That is part of the challenge of navigating racism as a person of privilege. As a White person, those questions have come up a lot for me, especially with all the social justice movements that have happened in the last several years, recognizing the racism I wasn’t even aware of. There were times when I thought maybe I should be quiet and not say anything. That is almost a selfish move I started to feel because being quiet doesn’t feel like you’re being antiracist. It feels easier to be quiet because there is a fear of making it worse and saying the wrong thing.
I didn’t even understand microaggressions. I would love to learn more from each of you about that because once I started learning a little bit about microaggressions, I thought, “I have said some things that have done more harm even though I had no idea they were doing harm.” How do you know when something you are saying is a microaggression if it is not coming from that? That is why it feels tricky. Is it about the specific words you use, the timing or the context? How do you stay away from that?
One of the first things, before we go to the microaggressions, is a cool point from the book, The Antiracist Heart, which is the hard thing about antiracist conversations and action is we don’t want to do harm. What we have to start to understand is that we live in a world where it is impossible not to do harm. If we begin to accept that, we can move into these conversations with the curiosity that Roxy is inviting us about, “Here I am. What would serve you? How can I catch you the way you want to be caught in this conversation?” In itself, that warm curiosity about the specifics of another person and what their needs are is an antidote to microaggressions.The hard thing about antiracist action is that we don't want to do harm, but it's impossible not to. Click To Tweet
Knowing that we do harm, which there is an entire chapter about in The Antiracist Heart, allows us to let go of any agreements we have with ourselves, which are not doable possibility to live in this world and not do harm. Once we let go of that illusion, we are like, “I’m doing harm but I’m right here. I’m going to bring my full self.” That opens the door to us checking in with Roxy because she does amazing work about microaggressions.
I want to riff off what you have said, Sarah, because this idea that I’m not going to do harm is another way that I see White folks. I’m going to talk about racial microaggressions since that is what the book is about. This can happen to anybody in any of the dominant groups but it is one of the ways that I see White folks not engaging in these conversations and it is another form of privilege.
If I’m walking through the world and experiencing harm all the time, I don’t have a choice. That harm is happening. When someone says, “I don’t want to do harm. I’m going to stay silent.” What you are saying is, “I’m going to protect how I’m seen and how you are viewing me by staying silent because I’m scared I’m going to say something and you are going to judge me.” I’m being judged all the time.
One of the ways you can show up is to take the risk that you are going to say something. Maybe it will cause more harm. The way that you show up is to decide, “If I tell you that didn’t work and it caused more harm, be open to that feedback.” It is not about not taking the risk. It is around, “What do I do when I find out that something I said or did might have caused more harm than I wanted?”One of the ways you can show up is to take the risk. Click To Tweet
This is so helpful. I’m grateful to be learning from each of you on this because it is something I am eager to learn but I feel like it has been a little hard to find. Maybe that is coming from a place of privilege. There is an abundance of books about antiracism. I’m trying my best to read them but there still feels like elements of maybe it is a matter of time, experience and learning through the mistakes.
Something related to what you said, Roxy, that I’m curious about featured your perspectives on this is there was another element to the conversation I was having with my Black classmate, which was that one of my White female friends was there. There were three of us. She was visibly and verbally uncomfortable with my questions to him. She kept stepping in and saying things like, “You don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.” I noticed that and it was a little strange. It felt like she was setting boundaries for him that he wasn’t setting for himself.
After he left, it was me and my White friend. She said, “You were asking inappropriate questions.” She verbalized to me privately that she felt like I was talking about things that she didn’t think were right or that might have been making him uncomfortable. That was a hard thing to process because I felt unsure. Was the discomfort from her or was the discomfort from him? He didn’t seem to be setting those boundaries or giving me the feedback like you’re saying, Roxy. It was my White friend doing it. Was that her perspective? Was she picking up on things I wasn’t noticing? Maybe it was both.
This is one of the complexities of these kinds of conversations. There is no way to know. It is possible that they have a relationship where she knows that he doesn’t want to be grilled about these kinds of questions and they might even have an agreement. I have made this agreement with some of my friends, “If someone goes there, can you step in? I don’t want to do this labor anymore.” You step in and say no. That is one of the great ways we can show up in support of someone.
It could be that she was sitting in her discomfort. It was like, “We are not supposed to talk about race in this country and you are talking about race. This feels uncomfortable.” The only way you will know is if you ask them. If you did the more uncomfortable thing, say, “I want to pause and talk about a dynamic I’m noticing. I see that when I ask this question, you keep pausing and saying, ‘You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to answer.’ I’m wondering if there is an agreement you all have or some body language I’m not picking up on. My Black friend, would you rather I don’t talk about this? Would you like me to drop this? What would be comfortable for you?” We often don’t even check because doing that feels uncomfortable. We are opening Pandora’s box.
That is something helpful that I can take forward in the future because I have been sitting with this experience. I want to learn from it. You can’t go back and change the past. I can use this information and not have it centered around me. I have almost wanted to reach out to my Black friend and apologize or check in. I’m wondering if that even makes sense or is that still centering that about me that I have a heaviness here? Would it make something worse to revisit something from the past? Would that feel helpful to apologize for something?
I would be concerned about leading with an apology because I don’t know if it is wanted. A lot of times and I talk about this a lot, we apologize and offer them but it is a request for absolution. I’m going to say, “I’m sorry. You are going to tell me it is okay and I’m going to feel better.” It is another way that, in some ways, this White supremacy centering of my discomfort in making me feel better shows up.
If you are concerned about his experience, you could say, “We were having this conversation about race that is in some ways not done in our society and community. I was wondering if I showed up in a way that was hard for you. If I did, I would love to hear that.” That way, if he says, “Yes, you did,” you can connect about that. That is when you might offer an apology if he wants one. Leading with the apology means if he wasn’t feeling that, he has to do that labor of helping you feel better about what is going on when he might have been like, “I’m fine. Why are we going here?”
The topic of labor has also been interesting because I was aware of it not too long ago. I remember it coming up in an educational setting in which there was a diverse group of people. We started talking about racism. One of the Black members of this setting started talking about how they didn’t want to be in that position of doing the labor of educating a White person.
I have been sitting with it ever since because it wasn’t my intention. It is similar to harm. It’s not an intention of harm or labor. I realize I have a lot of ignorance about what that labor is like because I have never had to experience it. Could you talk more about that side of doing the labor to educate somebody or any emotion?
I love the awareness that you have of labor and inquiry. I love for Roxy to come and weigh in on this but even before we go there, one of the things that Roxy and I write about is the importance of self and compassion as we are moving through this territory. There is quite a lot of sweetness to catching ourselves no matter what and knowing a little bit about the neuroscience of the way that privilege impacts brains, which is why we use the phrase the blindfold of privilege.
What it does is whenever we have more power, money, social position or social influence than somebody else, what happens to our brain is, for the people who have less than us, we stop seeing their facial expressions and picking up nuance. Your question for Roxy a little bit ago was, “Was there some body language I wasn’t picking up on?” This is such a great question because part of the blindfold of privilege is that we don’t pick up on body language and facial expressions.
Going in and knowing that, we bring what Roxy’s offering in terms of like, “Let’s make it even more uncomfortable. Let’s talk about the meta experience of this conversation and make sure that we got everybody’s consent for what is going on.” I want to celebrate some of the questions you are bringing out and the consciousness there in them.
I’m glad you are naming this, Sarah, because this is one of the challenges of the whole dialogue about race relations in our country. It is understandable but has become this binary, “You are good or you are bad. You got it or you don’t got it.” We don’t hold the spectrum of some of this is out of our conscious control. Even with the best of intentions, some of the ways that my brain works are going to filter out what I’m aware of and what I pay attention to.
It is not to say that is an excuse that because this is the way my brain works, I’m, therefore, off the hook. It is also to hold ourselves with a lot of compassion and say, “I did not show up in the way I wanted to. That doesn’t align with my values.” That is hard. That is an invitation for me to try harder and take this extra step of knowing, “Do I check in with somebody first? Do I question myself before I do the thing I’m going to do automatically?”
I want to tie that back to the question that you had asked about this group where the person says, “I don’t want to do the labor of educating you.” That is one of those unconscious assumptions we make. In my mind, enslavement in this country is this unconscious idea of who works for whom. If you are Black, you work for White folks. If I’m White, I don’t work for you.
In this field you are talking about, if I’m curious as a Black person, I go look it up on the internet. I find someone else to ask. I don’t go to the White person and say, “I’m curious about your experience.” That is risky in a lot of different ways. If I’m a White person and I’m curious about a Black person’s experience, even though there are a million things written on the internet, there is still this automatic assumption I get to ask you that and you get to answer me. It is supposed to be okay like that is the normal way of things. We don’t even recognize how ingrained the belief is that you are here to answer my questions when there are many other strategies that could be available to us.
Thank you for explaining it that way because it helps me understand that dynamic that I have had the privilege of not having to understand. It was tricky because I would rather learn from an individual. Each individual is bringing something different to the table. That is where that consent comes into play. “Are you interested in teaching me?” Could that be a question you ask?
The other thing I hear White folks say is, “I don’t know what to say anymore, who to ask or who to talk to.” Ask for people like me who say, “I’m here. I’m willing to answer your questions. This is my life’s work.” There are other people who are saying, “I want to have a friend. I want to talk to you about crocheting. I don’t want everything to be about satisfying your curiosity about race.” It is about consent.
Consent is such an important thing that has been, in my view, centered around things like sexuality and romantic relationships. We think about asking for consent. I don’t think we are taught or encouraged to ask for consent in other elements of life that can be uncomfortable. We don’t have a lot of clarity as a society about boundaries, triggers and getting into that practice of asking someone versus assuming that they are okay with it because not everybody is going to even be comfortable expressing they are not okay with it.
I’m beginning to think consent about moving away from the idea of harm and more to the idea of interest like, “Are you interested in teaching me?” It is such a great question. To begin to notice the different kinds of speech because there is a speech we use for talking about crocheting. There is a speech we use to begin to investigate questions of race, privilege, wealth, mobility or class.
One of the things we hear about in the United States sometimes even less than race is questions about class. Do we get to talk about these things? Is the other person interested in talking about these things? It is more fun to wonder about interest than it is to wonder about the harm that lands for both of you but I’m interested.
I want to speak about that a little bit because the question of harm can’t be separated from the question of interest. I might be interested in having great conversations with someone about race but walking through the world in this body, I never know where it is safe to do that. This comes up a lot. People are in the workplace, something has happened out in the world and all of a sudden, the entire job wants to talk about Black Lives Matter and what harm has happened here in the workplace.The question of harm can't be separated from the question of interest. Click To Tweet
As a Black person in this workplace, I have been trying to tell you all about harm. What has happened when other people and I talk about it is I watch my friends get pushed out and turned down from certain positions. The interest might be there but the consequence and the cost of doing that is huge. That is the other piece I want people to hold when they say, “I want to talk to you about it. Don’t you want to make things better?” There is a little risk for the White person talking about it. There is that risk of maybe I won’t belong and will be judged. That is the risk I’m also holding all the time.
The risks in terms of, “Are you going to lose your job? Are you going to be targeted?” All of these risks are things that we are not sharing equally. I don’t want people to think that folks aren’t interested in having these conversations but I can’t always separate our interest from what harm or danger you are asking me to step into to have the conversation with you, especially when I don’t know you.
The consequence is being able to take that into account.
That resonates with me because I have been reading this book called Inclusion on Purpose. It is specifically about inclusion in the workplace. One of the elements of the book I have read thus far that I have been sitting with and that stood out to me was around that risk that you mentioned, Roxy. I did not realize statistically the risk factors.
The author pointed out that people in a place of privilege, especially White people in the workplace, can advocate for antiracism in the workplace by speaking out when they see racism happening. They don’t face as high of a risk as a person of color who might point out racist actions or ask for antiracist accommodations, changes or shifts in the environment.
That felt like an important piece of information because I have been wondering where my place is in the antiracist space, diversity, equity and inclusion. I’m very passionate about it but sometimes I wonder, “Who am I, as a White person, to be speaking on this?” I love to hear your answers as well as your response to this idea that maybe my place is to speak on things because I don’t have as much risk or consequence. Would you agree with that?
I want to reframe it a little bit. I love this question at first. I want to say a little bit more about it. It ties into this idea that we are always talking about harm but I also think, especially in a workplace setting, risk shows up in a lot of different ways. If I start to talk about racism in the workplace, there might be all of these consequences that we talked about but another consequence that could look like a good thing is people are like, “You got to be the person to work on this. This is the Black groups barely like.”
All of a sudden, I have my full job to do. I’m tasked with holding the DEI initiatives for the whole company with no reduction in my workload. When I start to drop something because I can’t do everything, I’m targeted. I’m not a good person or worker. I’m inefficient. There are lots of subtle risks. When you say something like, “Is there a role for me to talk, speak up and take action,” absolutely, but that role needs to be guided.
It is not about saying, “I see something. I’m going to jump in right away and fix it.” It is about saying if we were in the same workplace, “Roxy, I noticed something. I want to check in with you about how I could support you in addressing this.” I have shared this example in the past. I was in a class. I had a professor who was incredibly sexist. He is always standing over a woman, looking down at their shirt and making all of these inappropriate jokes. He had been at the school for a long time.
A lot of the women in the class were like, “I got to take this class to graduate. We know that he targets you if you speak up about it.” Our stance was to try not to take that class with that person. If you are in it, try to get through it. One of the men in the class saw what was happening and was like, “I don’t like what is happening. You need to stop. This isn’t okay.” The professor turned and was like, “Woman, is that okay with you? You are fine with what I’m doing, aren’t you?” This woman has to say either, “No, you are fine. Don’t worry about it,” or, “No, I don’t like it,” and then have all of these consequences.
If that male student had checked in with that woman and said, “I’m noticing what is happening. What would be supportive,” she might have said something like, “Don’t say anything to him because he targets us. I don’t want to be put on the spot but maybe you can find a way to change the subject.” We can tell you what would be supportive rather than having people jump in with those blindfolds on and taking a strategy that is not going to work for us.
That reminds me of the terminology of the White Savior. I don’t know if it is considered the White savior but also examples of people who have gone into other countries and cultures and tried to help and assuming they wanted a certain type of help, like by giving them access to food and water in a way they might have had access. It ends up making things worse because that is not what they need or want. That is not the right form of resources. It shifts the entire dynamic around in a negative way and creates more harm. Does that resonate as something similar? Does that fall into this White savior example?
We got any privilege with that blindfold of privilege and then it creates the savior complex or that tendency. Roxy is telling the story about the male savior. We got the White savior and the person with wealth savior. Whatever it is that we got, this is such a wonderful thing to name as a part of this complex blindfold that we carry because the weight of it for the progression is blindness, discovery and horror. We get caught in an avalanche. That is a result of the discovery of what we have been blind to all along.
This circles us back towards what microaggressions are because, more than anything else, microaggressions are the obliteration of the other person as an individual who has their experience in their unique way of being in the world. It doesn’t have anything to do with whatever groups they belong to. We are coming around full circle. I’m glad we are because I love that we get Roxy to talk about microaggressions. You might have some other stuff to say, Roxy, from what we were talking about before we go here.
There was something I wanted to say about the White savior. One of the ways that blindfold works is, “I think the strategies that work for me are going to work for you.” We were talking about the fact that we have different levels of risk and consequence. Sometimes I hear people say, “Why don’t you speak up and say something?” I’m going to speak up and say something because they are not aware that the cost of speaking up is different for you than it is for me.
If you speak up about racism, everyone is going to be like, “What a wonderful, enlightened person.” If I speak up about racism, it will be like, “She is pulling the race card again.” Even doing the same action might land differently for different people. If we are not aware of that and we are only using our lens to imagine what is possible and what the outcome will be, if we take these steps, we are missing the other person. It goes back. We keep talking about looping back. Go back to consent, check in with the person and what serves you and then let them help us know where to go.The same action can land differently for different people. Click To Tweet
As you were speaking, I was thinking, “How do you know when you are being inclusive versus performative? How do you know when you are being inclusive versus looking for tokenism?” That is part of being performative but I’m bringing this person in so I can look, pretend or have a false belief that I mean inclusive but I’m using this person for my gain.
How do you navigate that and check in with yourself? I wonder a lot about myself, with the show even. I want to ensure that my guests don’t feel I’m bringing them on because of their identity. I want them to feel they are being brought on as a full person. That feels tough because I have my biases. How do I check in with my agenda?
There are a couple of things I want to say and this might get uncomfortable to say. You are bringing me on because I’m a Black person and for my identity. It is okay to say, “I want to bring in a different experience and let that help educate my readers.” It is not necessarily bad that you want to do that. I always want us to move away from this like, “I can’t do anything if I say it is about your identity because I’m being X, Y or Z.” You are going to do that. This is one of the explicit choices I’m asking people to make. That is the first piece I wanted to say.
The other question is I ask myself in those moments, “How would I feel if this person said no?” Whatever it is I’m trying to do, how do I feel if you say, “No, thanks. I don’t want that?” If my response is like, “I’m hurt. I’m upset. No, you have to do it. What is wrong with you? Don’t you see what I’m trying to do for you,” I’m doing it for me. I’m not doing it for you. If I offer you something and you say no and I’m like, “I’m so glad to hear that and you are letting me know what works for you,” I know that I’m not being performative. I’m centering your needs. That is one of the first places I will start. Imagine the person giving you a hard note, whatever it is that you are offering them. I know you are truly okay with that.
I have a lot of questions. I’m so grateful that you are both here and willing to answer them. You are willing to do the labor of education. It was your words, Roxy. I feel like I have so much to learn from you. Another scenario that reminded me is based on your stories. I love that you are bringing in your personal stories because they are helpful in helping me understand but also remind me of experiences I have had that work hard.
Part of my learning experience was opening my eyes in the last few years. I had that blindfold of privilege and still do in many ways. I’m not even aware of it yet but I’m started to take it off and peek through it over the last few years. I was a bit shocked to discover that the great majority of my friends and people I worked with were White. I did not have diversity in many ways. It wasn’t about race or ethnicity. It was gender, sexuality and religion. I was like, “I have been in a bubble of specific types of people, mainly people that looked, lived and thought like me.”
I started to notice it in other environments, such as projects I was working on. There was this one project that was based on interviewing people. The person who hired me was a White man. Their team members were both White. Every single guest that they had as part of this interview series was White. I asked them if we could have more diversity in the type of guests. I don’t know if I asked the right way but my ask wasn’t heard or loud enough because they took no action after my ask to create more diversity. I felt very uncomfortable because I don’t want to be part of a space that doesn’t have diversity. I’m curious. How can I ask for that? Is it my place to ask for that too?
This takes us back to what Roxy was talking about with consequences in some ways. Do you have the personal power or do you lose something when you are dogging for your needs and you are coming back around and saying, “Here was this request that I made and I didn’t hear anything about it. What’s up with that?” Do you get to do that? Do you have the power in that situation? Do you get banned from this show that might be important to you? That is part of what we want to know.
We want to know, “What does your integrity want? How does your integrity want you to speak up? Is it pushing you toward that inquiry and connection?” It can be a genuine curiosity and it can bring interesting conversations. As the voice of a woman speaking to men, sometimes that is where it gets lost. It doesn’t even get lost in our Whiteness. It gets lost in our gender. We are always dealing with many different forms of privilege and lack of privilege, whomever we are.
One of the things that came to mind as I heard this question was, “Should you intervene at this moment with the podcast?” It is thinking about what your purpose is. “What is my intention at this moment? Is my intention to get more diverse folks on this podcast? Do I want to shift the person in charge of the podcast? My goal is to shift what he is doing long-term so there can be a meaningful shift about what is happening.”How does your integrity want you to speak up? Click To Tweet
Depending on what I want, I approach it in a different way. If I want that long-term shift, it is not about I can yell, scream, do things, shame and guilt him into getting more folks on the podcast but nothing has shifted inside of him. That is not that effective. I’m not going to be there forever. I want there to be true inclusion. First, I would wonder myself, “Why would he not do this?” If he heard my requests, what possible reasons could he have for not bringing people on to podcast?”Depending on what I want, I approach it in a different way. Click To Tweet
This goes back to what we were saying before that sometimes we might have the desire like, “Yes, I want to do this but is he afraid? Is he thinking that if I get folks on this podcast, I’m not going to know what to say to them or I’m going to make myself look stupid?” It might be then saying to him,” I love to have us get some more folks representing different identities on this podcast. I like to brainstorm with you to think about who that might be and what the questions might be so that we can prepare for what comes up.”
Think about, “What are some of the steps I need to take to get him along so that he is ready to do this?” A lot of times, we make a request, drop it and think, “If you are not doing it, it is because there is resistance. You don’t want to do this. You haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid.” “No, I want to do this. I just don’t know how. I’m scared. I don’t know how to say that because it is not okay to say that.” That is one of the thoughts of what is coming up as I heard you.
I hadn’t looked at it that way. That is an interesting perspective because I jumped to the point that he didn’t hear me and I was afraid to speak up again or he did hear me and it went ignored. I didn’t consider that maybe he doesn’t know how to do it because he hasn’t yet or it is not important to him and he doesn’t know how to say that.
Since I have been working in the health and wellness space for quite a long time, which this project was part of, I noticed that it is dominated by White voices. There have been some people coming to point out that there is a lot of privilege in the health and wellness space. I don’t know if that is something either of you can speak on but that was part of what I learned in the last few years.
I would want Sarah to speak on that but I want to go back to, “Maybe he didn’t want to do this at all. It is not important to him.” That is also important. You take the time to say, “I made this request. I’m not sure if you didn’t hear it or it’s something that you might need to troubleshoot to figure out how to do it or something you are interested in.” We often don’t even ask that because we don’t want to hear, “I don’t want this. That is your thing.”
I want to get that information because if I know that you are not interested and this is important to me, I have the information that lets me know it is time for me to look for another job, something more aligned with my values. I won’t know which of these options unless I check in and have the conversation. Part of what the book is about is thinking about some of the reasons and needs that are driving all of these different conversations we might have. What information do I need to know about how I want to move through the world?
I would love to hear your answer, Sarah, to that point and/or the wellness point. I want to thank you, Roxy, because I have to also check in with myself. Am I afraid of the answer? There was a little bit of fear of standing up for my beliefs to a White man because, as Sarah points out, there are power dynamics in a patriarchal society we are in but there is also a fear that might reveal information that I wasn’t, at that point, ready or willing to hear.
It is good to name the Whiteness of wellness spaces, mourn it and move toward opening an invitation and co-creation and as much as possible, use whatever we got to begin to make those inquiries about what people want. How do they want to participate? What interests them? How do they want to contribute? How are voices being silenced?It's important to name the whiteness of wellness space and to name it. Click To Tweet
How can each of us use whatever we got in accordance with our desires, intentions and integrities to make the world more juicy, interesting and richer? We got Whiteness going on. It is boring. Let’s have something different happen. I noticed that we might be getting a little bit shorter on time. I have a deep desire to get Roxy to speak a little bit about microaggressions.
I was thinking about microaggressions when you were talking about the wellness space because that is one of the reasons it is so hard sometimes when we enter these spaces. I’m a large Black woman. When I enter some of these wellness spaces, I can sometimes receive a surprise because I’m there and the only Black person. I’m there because I want to work out and do something that supports whatever goal brought me there.
All of a sudden, everybody who is there will come to me and say, “I’m so glad you’re here. Can you tell us how we can get more people like you in this space?” That is your agenda, not mine. All of a sudden, that is not a space I want to be in anymore because I don’t trust that I can focus on what my needs are or I enter these spaces and I’m knowledgeable about a lot of things.
I’m a psychologist. I used to work in a suite clinic or a primary care clinic. I know a lot about helping people with behavioral change. I got many medical appointments. The minute I walk into the room, no matter what I say, I get, “If only you lost weight, everything would be fine.” I’m thinking, “I know how to lose weight and all the behavioral steps of what it is supposed to take. I’m also clear that this is not about my weight.”
I tore my meniscus. I had knee pain for a long time because I was training for a triathlon. Every doctor I went to kept saying, “You have to lose weight. You can’t run.” I went to a doctor at Stanford who worked with the Stanford football team. He said, “There are a lot of football players who weigh a lot more than you do. This is not about your weight. We need to figure out what is going on.” It turned out I had this torn meniscus that no one was paying attention to.
That is an example of microaggression invalidation of people’s experiences. It makes it hard for me to decide I’m going to go to the doctor. How many times am I going to have to tell and convince you that what I’m talking about is not attributable to the cause you are attributing it to? It is something else. There is something wrong. It is exhausting.
This is where educating professionals about microaggressions, unconscious bias and all the research that talks about the different decision makings. People die because they don’t get offered important heart medication. That is the standard of care simply because they are Black. If we don’t know about that, we can take steps to say, “Have I gone through my checklist before I jump to this conclusion?” I just go there.
Thank you for bringing that into the conversation. It is a helpful example of a microaggression. Sarah, thank you for addressing that before we wrap up.
The more we learn about them, the more we become empowered to come back to our first thing to do no harm. Even though we are walking through the world and doing harm, we can do everything we can to mitigate that harm. A part of mitigating that harm is learning about microaggressions. Roxy brought this example of medical microaggressions where people don’t receive the medication they need to survive, which is fatal.
There is also the cost on bodies that are receiving microaggressions of millions of paper cuts that we have researched that lead to heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and situations where people get more cancer. Even without the medical microaggressions, we are not looking at microaggressions, learning about them, learning how to be with people, let go of our ideas and what our ideas are about people based on the way they look.
Let go of them and start to move into relating person to person. Take the risk, know we are going to do harm, have the inquiry, ask consent and be interested in another person, what they need and how we can serve. If we don’t come with this attitude, we are inflicting paper cut after paper cut on people we love. We don’t want to have paper cuts. The blind working with the blindfold is important.If we're not looking at micro aggressions and letting go of our ideas about people, we're inflicting paper cuts. Click To Tweet
One of the things that came up was that old childhood saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never harm me.” Words kill you. There’s another thing I wanted to loop back to a question you asked at the beginning. “Is it a microaggression? If I don’t have an intention, how do I recognize that I’m doing a microaggression?”Words kill you. Click To Tweet
That is a great place to look at because one of the things I always want people to understand about microaggressions is it is not about your intention. I’m not the first person to say this and I will not be the last person. It is about how it impacts the receiver of the microaggression, the person to whom you said or did something.
The way that I help people explain this is when I experience a microaggression, I think of a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is what you said or did to me. Ten percent of the pain is coming from the fact that you said or did something to me. Another chunk of my pain is when you said or did this thing, it brought up a lot of memories, history that I have and stories I developed in relation to this piece.
If I go back to some educational microaggressions, which seems appropriate given the Supreme Court’s decision, one of the microaggressions I experienced and talk about in the book was having this professor who said, “I’m going to give you an F on this paper because you didn’t write it. It is too good. Black people don’t write like this.” This is a microaggression that is mind-boggling. It is huge.
The words that he said were painful and had a lot of impact. It also felt that many times professors and teachers didn’t see me. They told me, “You shouldn’t take this class because you are not good enough.” It started to feed my stories that maybe I’m not good enough. There is something about me that’s problematic.
Anybody else who says anything that I might interpret as articulate of doubting my intelligence is stimulating all of that pain. It is also stimulating pain at this systemic level that I’m also aware of that this is not just about me. This is a pain connected to and this is the experience of countless people who look like me. Countless Black students who walk into a classroom are pushed into the vocational track versus the scientific track, not given credit for their work and accused of plagiarism.
There is a great cartoon in New Yorker by a young Cal student who has won awards for his art. The professor said, “You didn’t draw this art. You couldn’t use language like this.” It is still happening. If you make a microaggression, it might give you permission to say, “I stimulated pain in you. I want to take responsibility for that. I want to recognize that part of why this is painful is that it ties into how often this happens to you and how often it happens to people who look like you. This is larger than me.”
If I can hold that, I find a place where even if I’m beating myself up that I did this thing, I want to intervene so that this doesn’t keep happening to other people. I want to intervene at that systemic level. I want to find ways to speak up and tell professors, “That is not okay.” I have had conversations with this person about this book. Whatever it is, I find a path to action. It is not just that I’m the only reason you are feeling pain. This is so huge.
You both have said many profound things that have helped me and hopefully opened up the minds, the hearts and give action steps for the readers. Before we wrap up, I love to know how you two come into each other’s lives. Why did you decide to write a book together? Is it one book so far? Have you done multiple books together?
There are two books. Roxy wrote How to Have Antiracist Conversations. Together we wrote the handbook, The Antiracist Heart, which is about neuroscience, self-compassion and lots of exercises to work on the stuff that Roxy and I have been talking about. The story of the book is magical because I was like, “Roxy, I want to write a book with you.” Roxy was like, “I want to write a book with you but I want to have my book.” I said, “Let’s go. Shop this around and see if we can get some publishers to take it.”
We had a couple of publishers who turned us down. We ran into this publisher who said, “We will take it if you can prove that you can sell it.” Roxy did this fabulous fundraiser or crowdsourcing Kickstarter. We reached out to our communities and got pre-purchases. How many books did we get pre-purchased Roxy?
It was $30,000 worth of pre-purchases.
It was wonderful and the publisher said, “Yes.” We went with the two-book deal, which is Roxy’s book and our joint book.
I want to add to that story because there is another subtle piece in there that I sometimes want to lift. For me, this partnership was an example of how to have uncomfortable conversations. It took me a while to say, “Sarah, I don’t want to write just one book with you because if I do, you are a White woman and you are published already, everyone will say, ‘This is Sarah’s stuff.’ I won’t have my voice. My contributions will be erased. I need to write my book with my content because that’s the only way I trusted that I would be seen.” A lot of folks would have gotten defensive but Sarah was like, “That makes sense. Let’s make it happen.”
What a beautiful example of the partnership.
Roxy and I got to meet by both being nonviolent communication trainers. We’re loving each other’s work.
I’m in awe of the two of you as individuals and as collaborators and how you did not lean on each other but lifted each other and turned to each other to answer things from different perspectives and the joint perspectives you share. You have done so much good in my life to teach me how to ask different questions and check in.
We talked about consent and blindfold, which is such a powerful metaphor. We’re learning how to mitigate harm by making inquiries. The partnership the two of you have together is a beautiful example of how we can work together to have an influence, make an impact on change and address some of these hard, uncomfortable things we are dealing with. I appreciate the grace which you have taken here with me but also all of the work that you do is incredibly important.
Thank you for answering my questions. I’m going to leave this conversation with a lot more awareness and tools. For that, I am deeply grateful. Thank you, Sarah and Roxy. It has been a wonderful conversation.
Thank you so much.
Thank you, Whitney and Roxy.
- Sarah Peyton
- Roxy Manning
- The Antiracist Heart
- Inclusion on Purpose
- How to Have Antiracist Conversations
About Roxy Manning
Roxy Manning, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist and certified Center for Nonviolent Communication (CNVC) trainer. She brings decades of service experience to her work interrupting explicitly and implicitly oppressive attitudes and cultural norms. Dr. Manning has worked, consulted, and provided training across the US with businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations wanting to move towards equitable and diverse workplace cultures, as well as internationally in over 10 countries with individuals and groups committed to social change. She also works as a psychologist in San Francisco serving the homeless and disenfranchised mentally ill population.She is the author of How to Have AntiRacist Conversations: Embracing Our Full Humanity to Challenge White Supremacy and the co-author with Sarah Peyton of the companion text, The Antiracist Heart: A Self-Compassion and Activism Handbook.
About Sarah Peyton
Sarah Peyton, Certified Trainer of Nonviolent Communication and neuroscience educator, integrates brain science and the use of resonant language to awaken and sustain self-compassion, particularly in the face of such difficult issues like self-condemnation, self-disgust, and self-sabotage.
She teaches and lectures internationally and is the author of the Your Resonant Self-book series. She is also the co-author alongside Roxy Manning, Ph.D. of The Antiracist Heart: A Self-Compassion and Activism Handbook.
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