242 : Centering Black Experiences (w/ Dr. Janice Gassam)

Zach welcomes Dr. Janice Gassam, Ph.D. back to the podcast to talk about the concept of centering Black experiences. She and Zach discuss the tremendous impact of enduring continuous emotional labor and implore any and all aspiring allies and/or white executives to compensate Black people when they’re asked to speak about their feelings, and Dr. Gassam also shares a bit about both her podcast and new book, both titled “Dirty Diversity” – check the show notes if you’d like to find out more!

Learn more about (and buy!) Dr. Gassam’s book “Dirty Diversity” on Amazon or Audible.

Interested in the Dirty Diversity podcast? Check it out on her website.

Read Dr. Gassam’s “Dear Companies: Your BLM Posts Are Cute But We Want To See Policy Change” piece on Forbes.

Connect with Dr. Gassam on LinkedInTwitter, and Instagram.


Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and look, you know, you know what we do. We have real talk in a corporate world, and we do that by centering marginalized voices so that we can actually amplify and center marginalized experiences at work, right? And so we’re having these conversations with thought leaders, with educators, with writers, with executives, with entrepreneurs and social influencers and activists and elected officials – anybody, really – all around, again, centering and amplifying the most marginalized voices in the workplace, and so today we have a returning guest – frankly, a friend of the show, you know what I mean? Dr. Janice Gassam. Dr. Janice Gassam is an educator, public speaker, a consultant, and a senior contributor with Forbes. Dr. Gassam, how’s it going?

Dr. Gassam: It is going well. Thank you so much, Zach. I really appreciate you amplifying my voice and consistently amplifying my work. I love that we, like, you know, have built this support system, and I think that’s so important, that we are, as quote-unquote marginalized people, we’re supporting each other.

Zach: Well, I mean, it’s not–you make it very easy. You do great work, and your work really is what needs to be centered and focused on right now. I’m really curious, you know, as white folks are apparently learning what racism is for the first time, how have your–what does it look like in your field? Like, are you getting more requests right now? I know last time you were on the podcast we talked about the fact that a lot of folks would ask you not to talk about race. You know, what does it look like when you have clients reach out to you with requests?

Dr. Gassam: Wow, that’s a great question, and things have blown up and have exploded as far as I’ve been getting so many requests for racial equity workshops, and that’s–you know, I’m partial to those workshops. Those are my favorite, but it’s just so ironic because even, you know, less than a year or so ago I would have these discovery calls with clients, you know, who want me to come in and do a workshop or a training, and they have specifically said, “Do not talk about white privilege. Do not talk about race.” They preferred me talking about the safe subjects like emotional intelligence, which I’m fine with talking about that, but I think that it’s limiting in that if you’re not willing to engage in the conversation nothing is going to change. So I’m very–I’m cautiously optimistic, and I hope that the momentum is still here after the summer is over. And I try to impress upon these leaders that, like, one workshop is not gonna change anything. Whether it’s me or somebody else, you need to be bringing people in to facilitate to these continuous conversations. I think that that is really important, and people seem like they’re starting to get it, so, you know, I’m just excited about this moment in time right now. I’ve never been busy like this before since my career started. So I think it’s an exciting moment, and I’m trying to take advantage of it.

Zach: And so let’s talk about that. So, like, you know, again, in the past people would say, “Don’t talk about white privilege, don’t talk about Black experiences, Black female experiences. Talk about gender, but don’t intersect that at all with ethnicity (or) race.” What does it look like now when people hit you up? Like, what are they actually saying?

Dr. Gassam: So, you know, I get emails primarily, and they’re like, “Hey, my company wants to–” And what’s funny, Zach, is that, like, there’s such a sense of urgency now, you know? These same companies that–I’m gonna be [?]. I’m gonna keep it 100,000% real. Some of the same companies that didn’t have money once COVID hit magically found the budget. You know, I had things lined up. And I get it, you know? They came back to me in March and April and said, “We don’t have the budget.” Cool. So now in June y’all found the budget, I guess. You know? Which I’m like, “Obviously you’re realizing diversity, equity and inclusion is a priority.” So it’s usually–you know, the requests come in the form of an email. I appreciate that people have really been sharing my content on social media. So people often find me either through LinkedIn or through Instagram and they say, “Hey, I saw you talk about race, and we need this at our company. So when can you find a time to speak? How much do you charge for a workshop? What do your workshops entail?” So that’s pretty much what it seems like, but with some of these requests it seems like there’s such a sense of urgency, and that worries me a little bit because I think that it’s not, like, a quick Band-Aid. You know, I’m happy to do the workshop. I’ve been doing these workshops. I’ve done many workshops, and I already know the structure and everything. However, I think that you have to have long-term objectives, and I don’t know if a lot of these organizations have long-term objectives. It just seems like they want to do something so it looks like they’re not doing nothing.

Zach: Right, right. What is concerning about that, anxiety-inducing for me transparently, right, is it’s very reactionary, and it reminds me of Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Like, that portion where he talks about the white moderate and, like, how they’re more concerned about false peace [than] with an absence of justice. And so even now in this moment I’m like, “Okay, are y’all just trying to mobilize something really quick just to say that y’all did something so that you don’t have uprisings within your companies, or are you really looking to create equitable and inclusive working environments, not just for the next couple of days but for, like, the foreseeable future as your company moves forward in this new normal?” Like, that to me continues to be, like, my ongoing question. I mean, I’ve had people reach out talking about, “Can you come in and do some unconscious bias?” No.

Dr. Gassam: And that is the worst. I don’t think unconscious bias trainings are trash by any means. I think that most companies are not doing them effectively. That’s, like, a nice way to say it, ’cause I think unconscious bias training doesn’t do a lot. “Hey, I go through this training and I find out I have a bias against Black people.” You might take an [?] association test and see, “Hey, I have a bias toward or against women, so what do I do now?” It’s like, “Cool, now I recognize my biases,” but if there’s systems in the organization that allow bias to persist, it doesn’t matter that now I know how to not say micro-aggressive statements, because there’s, like, bias entrenched and baked into the fabric of the company. Like, in the way that they hire employees, that they’re using a referral–many of these consulting companies, it’s all referrals, it’s all Jim knows Bob who knows John, and that’s how you get jobs. It’s primarily who you know and not what you know, and I think that there is benefits to referral hiring programs and systems, but I think that the way they’re currently being done is just, like, creating this echo chamber of the same types of people. So I always encourage organizations to look at their systems and say, like, “Are Black people being promoted at the same rates as other people?” Because it’s cool for you to say, “Look, no, no, no, we have a lot of Black people,” but they’re all in lower-level positions in the organization, but are they in senior-level positions, and if they are, how long are they staying? Because a lot of these tech companies, I love that they’re being transparent and putting out these diversity reports, but they’re not telling us how many of those Black people or those Latinx people or those women are staying in those roles, ’cause they’re like, “Look, 13% of our population is Black [?]. Yay! That went up 1% from last year. Yay!” Like, but it’s like, are those the same Black people, or did you just hire a bunch of new ones, and then those same ones with quit next–you know? So I think, like, looking at why there’s this revolving door, particularly of Black people, you know, like, in the tech industry and all of these industries. The fact of the matter is that, like, Black people, a lot of us are not staying in companies, and part of the reason–a large part I would say–is because of the hostile work environments that we’re working in.

Zach: 100%. I mean, so Living Corporate, we’ve put out a couple of whitepapers, but, like, there’s a few different reports, but they’re, like, very rare, that talk about, like, turnover percentages. So I’ve yet to see anything that explicitly says “The turnover for this group is this.” I’ve seen, and we’ve cited, sources that’ll talk about the fact that Black and brown turnover is, like, two or three times higher than their white counterparts, but you’re right. Like, there’s no annual reporting that shows, “Hey, you know, our Black employees are four times more likely to leave within their first two years than their white counterparts.” Like, that’s not anything–those rates are never discussed. But you’re absolutely right.

Dr. Gassam: I think it’s important, I mean, because these companies tout that they’re so diverse, and I think that that’s something important, that not just–we focus so much on the diversity piece. That is important to say, “Hey, look, we actually have diverse representation,” but also, like, are they staying? Because if you’re using stock images with Black people that look diverse that make your company look diverse but then I get there and I’m like, “Hm.” I’m, like, the only Black person. That’s, like, false advertising, and there’s a lot of that going around, you know? I know the new buzzword is, like, performative allyship, and there’s a lot of that going around with a lot of different companies that shall rename nameless, but yeah, I’m glad to see people are really calling them out, these companies out, and saying, “You posted Black Lives Matter, but you asked us not to wear Black Lives Matter stuff.” Or “You have no Black people in senior positions,” or “You have a hostile work environment where Black people don’t feel comfortable.” So, like, it’s cute to–I wrote an article, like, “It’s cute to post Black Lives Matter, but we want to see, like, policy changes.” That’s nice and fine and dandy, and I appreciate your statement because, you know, that’s better than your silence, but I want to see more, and I’m glad that people are demanding more of their company.

Zach: I wonder… I still don’t think that organizations–and your piece was incredible, and we’re gonna make sure that we link it in the show notes for those who didn’t see it, but what I don’t think organizations understand is that, like, if they come out here really loud externally about all these things they’re gonna do to combat racism and inequity and things of that nature, but then, like, internally their policies and their cultures, their practices, their behaviors don’t change, like, that’s going to create more resistance, higher turnover, higher disengagement, than they had in the first place.

Dr. Gassam: Mm-hmm, and as an employee, if I worked in that company, I would just be looking like, “Okay, y’all are, like, not really about that life.” And I’m not about, like, exposing the company that I work for unless I feel like I’ve been completely mistreated–and I’ve definitely felt like that in workplaces, but my industry is very small, so I just silently exit a company, and I might speak of it but not give specifics and names and things like that. But I think that you’re opening your company up to that type of negative publicity from employees if you’re not, like, authentic in the things that you do, and I mentioned this before in a few speaking engagements I’ve done, but I have a friend that works at a very well-known consulting firm. She’s been there for four years, and she said that–she belongs to a marginalized group. She’s considered brown, and she said that since–her company has a diverse referral program, but she said since she’s been working at the company for the last four years, they’ve never hired anyone from that diverse referral program. But it’s just, like–I call it cosmetic diversity, where you have something in place just to look like you’re doing something, look like you’re actually about that life that a lot of these companies are not about [that life]. So I think that that’s just not a good look. If you’re gonna like the talk, you have to also be doing things that show that you’re actually putting your words and your intentions into action.

Zach: I agree. And to your point around, like, negative press or attention, it’s–I think also, and all of this generational, because even I–you know, as someone… I’m 30, right? So, like, I’m not young-young, but I’m not older. I’m not old. So I think I probably still don’t fully appreciate how easy it is–like, for something to go viral, especially as something negative, but it’s, like, really, really easy. Like, there’s so many avenues and mechanisms to, like, share your voice now, and I just don’t know if organizations appreciate that AND the fact that, you know, doing that today, like, airing things out, putting people on blast, is not an automatic career ender like it might have been, like, five or six years ago. Like, if you put somebody on blast now, like, that doesn’t mean that your career is over. It means you just–like, you may be actually heralded as a hero depending on how you do it, right?

Dr. Gassam: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, and just like a lot of these racists who say and do things after a year or so and the public forgets and they’re able to go and get jobs, the same I think could be said for employees that put their companies on blast, because so many things are happening in our lives that we forget. Like, I don’t remember all of these people’s names. Are we still gonna remember Amy Cooper? Well, I guess there’s a law now with her name, but are we gonna remember all of the Barbecue Beckys? Like, what their actual names are? Probably not. So I do think that you’re absolutely right in that companies I don’t think quite appreciate and understand how easy it is for people to get information out and just share their story and just share, “This company has a crappy environment.” And you actually shared with me last year that internal memo, that Medium article, that those Facebook, those Black–I believe they were all Black, or some were Latinx–Facebook employees wrote about the toxic work culture and, you know, there’s so many avenues to write anonymous memos and things like that about your company, and so that’s not the type of press and reputation that you want. So I’m really happy that people are like, “We need to change. We are really–” Like, I’ve been getting requests, Zach, from, like, the most fascinating, like, industries that I never even expected, like, this person is reaching out and that person is reaching out. A fitness company reached out to me and said that they wanted me to do a webinar. A jewelry company reached out to me, and I was just like, “Wow.” So, like, it’s every industry. It’s industry-wide. So, you know, I think that has really been interesting to me, that everyone is waking up and saying, “Whatever industry we’re in, this is a problem that is, like, not specific to our industry. Everyone is having these issues and needs to figure out how we create an environment that is inclusive to Black people specifically,” because I think that a lot of times the conversation gets watered down and we talk about other groups but we don’t focus specifically on Black people and Black liberation and things like that, and I think that that’s a huge part of the reason we’re here, that we have more ease with talking about LGBTQ+ issues or gender issues than we do racial issues.

Zach: You’re absolutely right, and I think a large reason for that is because white people can be women and white people can be gay, but white people can’t be Black. So it’s like what does it look like to really shift and, like, have authentic conversations that center marginalized people? And it’s interesting. I was talking to some colleagues a little while ago and was talking about the concept of, like, decentering whiteness, and they were like, “What do you mean?” And I was like, “A large way that we center whiteness is just in our language, right?” Like, a lot of the terms and things that we’ve created, we create those terms to avoid Blackness and to avoid the reality of harm. So it’s like, we’ll have these conversations and we’ll talk about–you know, we’ll say bias when it’s like–and bias is, it fits technically, but what you’re also talking about is, like, white supremacy or just racism, right? Like, we’re not talking about–this isn’t, like–like, bias softens it sometimes. In certain ways, bias softens it in the same way that, like, you know, it’s not like I have a bias towards Coca-Cola versus RC Cola. Like, no, I genuinely think this person is less than me and, by relation, because of that, I treat this person differently. Like, that’s different. And, you know, even–yeah, so anyway, not to go on a rant. So I do think this segues well though into your podcast, Dirty Diversity.

Dr. Gassam: Yes. Yeah, so I actually started the podcast during Black History Month, and it was important for me to not only start it during Black History Month, but, like, the first episode was ironically, like, why your Black employees are leaving, because I don’t think that we’re talking about these things, and I think that we conflate people [of color?] with Black people, and we lump everyone together, I think for the sake of, like, conversation, it’s easier to just say “Black and brown people,” and it is, because a lot of these–your closeness to Blackness will impact your experiences, you know? And there’s Latinx people who are stopped as much as us when they’re driving, who experience racism just like us and things like that. So, you know, I think it’s easy to say that, but I think it’s important to put a particular focus on the unique experiences of Black people, and I don’t think we do that enough, and when I’m asked to do these trainings there isn’t a focus on–when that is the problem, Zach, it’s that you’re not able to retain Black employees. They’re leaving, but you want me to come in and do inclusion training. Your problem is not inclusion. The problem is you’re not creating an environment where Black people feel like they’re valued and they matter, so we need to focus on that specific problem, and I think that watering it down is what we’ve been doing for so long, and that hasn’t produced positive results or changes, so we have to just be bold and call it out for what it is. And I’m so excited, because I feel like I have been censoring myself–I censor myself on social media a lot because my colleagues follow me, so I can’t be like, “White supremacy–” I can’t be using that language a lot because, you know, my colleagues [?] me and all of these things, and I know in my field that’s gonna get you–that sort of thing is not gonna sit well with… but now I feel like I can say what I really want to say, especially in the workshops, and I think that that’s gonna make people [uncomfortable,] but for me, my goal isn’t to make people feel happy. My goal is to help you change and help you create better organizations, and the way to do that is I’m gonna have to say things that are uncomfortable and you’re gonna have to evaluate your role and how you’ve contributed to inequitable systems and oppression and things like that. And for a lot of people this is the first time that they’ve ever taken a look in the mirror, and just with speaking with different white women, they’ve said–and they’re millennials, you know? Like, they’re young, and they’re like, “This is the first time I’ve really taken an honest look at myself, and even though I have Black friends and, you know, I dated a Black guy, you know, maybe I have white supremacist views,” and it’s like, “Yes, you do.” Every white person who’s born and raised in the U.S. have internalized white supremacist views, and a lot of it is just baked into our American fabric, so it’s, like, recognizing that and using your privilege and your power to impact change.

Zach: And, you know, I think that really leads us well into the book that you recently–I think by the time this airs it’ll be published, so, like, let’s talk about the book.

Dr. Gassam: Yeah, and thank you again for the opportunity to just share my work with your audience. You know, I was–it was important to create the book, but now I’m already [thinking about] book #2 and how it needs to focus specifically on race. So I wrote “Dirty Diversity” as, like, a very simple, practical guide [for] implementable ways that you can create more inclusion and equity into your workplace. The thing that I’ve learned in the years that I’ve been–I’ve been in consulting now for, like, two years or so, and I’ve learned so much. When I started doing these diversity workshops, I knew nothing. I didn’t know anyone personally that was close to me that did any sort of–I didn’t know consultants like that, you know? Just people I went to school with who work at large consulting firms, but I didn’t know independent consultants, so I had to figure a lot of things out on my own. I had to bump my head multiple times. So the book is written in three different sections, and the first section is for managers, and it’s things that are so simple and easy to implement into your workplace you might say, “Why didn’t we think about this?” Or “Why haven’t we been doing this?” But it’s simple ways to create more inclusion in your workplace. The next section is for people who do diversity, equity and inclusion consulting and things that I’ve learned from creating workshops and ways that you can improve the effectiveness of the workshops, but one of the things that I emphasize is that one workshop or one training is not gonna make a change. You have to encourage the organizational leaders to do multiple trainings and multiple workshops. And then the third section is written for employees and just, like, simple ways and simple things you can include in your workplace to create more inclusion as an employee, ’cause I get that question a lot where people say, “How do I get my manager to care about diversity? And how do I get my manager to–” And I think that it’s not just get managers to care and to–it’s understanding the value of what this can bring into your workplace, but there are things that you can do yourself. Like, you know, I talk about an employee book club, and that’s something, like, super easy, and maybe petitioning your employee to sponsor an Audible membership–because everybody doesn’t read. For me, most of my books I consume them now on Audible. So, like, if you have an Audible membership, you don’t have an excuse now to say, “Oh, I didn’t have time to read.” You could, like, take a [?] minute walk and listen to a chapter of a book. It’s very easy now to me to, like–for things as an employee that you can implement into your workplace. So I felt like this book was really necessary, and I didn’t–I had no idea all of these events would be transpiring right now, so I feel like it’s even more relevant. And there’s so many–in the book I talk about some really simple things, low cost or no cost things, that you can implement to create more inclusion, and I think that there’s a perception that you have to spend a lot of money–which I do think you should be adequately compensating your consultants that come in, and a lot of times people ask me to come in and they expect it to be free, so I think that is part of the problem, but there are things you can do, like having a panel in your workplace. That’s something that is a really simple way to create inclusion that you probably didn’t think about. Inviting someone like you, Zach, to come in to speak with employees on a panel just about equity and inclusion and different things like that is just, like, an event your company can host, and often times on panels people are donating time or, you know, giving up their time for free. So, like, there’s so many simple ways. It doesn’t have to be this, like, extravagant sort of, like, training program that could help you to create equity and inclusion. So that’s pretty much, like, the goal. It’s a simple read. It’s, like, a little over 100 pages, and I think it’s just filled with things that you can do and can easily implement into your workplace to create more equity and inclusion.

Zach: I mean, I’m excited to–I’ve already got a copy, okay? So we’re gonna–

Dr. Gassam: Thank you so much, Zach.

Zach: No, no, thank you, and so we’re gonna make sure we put a link in the show notes for everybody to get a copy as well. And the book’s title though–is the book’s title “Dirty Diversity?”

Dr. Gassam: Yes. So same title as the podcast. The reason I titled is “Dirty Diversity” is because diversity has definitely become a dirty word. People are not into having diversity trainings. There’s a misconception about what diversity is, what it brings to an organization. There’s still diversity resistance and pushback. So when you say, “We’re gonna have a diversity training,” people in their minds have an idea of what that is. There’s a lot of research that indicates diversity trainings are not effective. So I really was kind of focused on, like, what are some things, in addition to workshops and trainings, that you can–what are some ways you can create more inclusion? Because I kind of resent the fact that–I’ve seen this meme going around, and I disagree–I think it’s cute and it’s funny, but it’s like, “The revolution will not be in diversity and inclusion training,” and I disagree with that. [both laugh] Have you seen that meme before?

Zach: I have. I don’t–I hear you though.

Dr. Gassam: I was like–I don’t agree fully. I think when done effectively workshops–if you’re having workshops every month in addition to a multitude of other things like mentorship programs, I think they can be effective.

Zach: I think authentic, intentional workshops paired with other systemic solutions are effective. I think most people when they think about these workshops, they’re not talking about the type of work that you do or the type of work that, like, Dr. Erin Thomas at Upwork, that she does, thinking more about the–you know, the very white comfort-centered diversity of thought -type workshops. Those are not gonna lead us to no revolution, but I agree with you about, you know, intentional, intelligent, competent workshops along with other things are very effective.

Dr. Gassam: Yeah, yeah, and that’s–you know, that was my thought. You know, everybody’s kind of–you know, and I try not to curse, but everyone’s kind of, like, crapping on diversity and inclusion trainings, and I do think that in itself one training is not gonna change anything, but the problem is those companies don’t even have ongoing trainings or workshops. They have one once a year if that. A lot of them have never had any sort of training, yet every year they have sexual harassment training, which I find to be interesting, you know?

Zach: Well, it’s typically to check a box, right, from, like, a legal perspective. Like, that’s typically what they’re doing so they can at least say, “Well, we do this, and we do it regularly,” you know? It’s not really about any type of behavioral change.

Dr. Gassam: Exactly. Yeah, so it’s like to check a box. So really, like, how to overcome this idea that diversity has become a dirty word. What are some really simple things? And I’m telling you, it’s such a practical, simple–I’m not using any, like, jargon that you wouldn’t be able to understand. It’s very, like, a simple guide. You open it, you read it and say, “Oh, this is something, like, so simple. Why aren’t we already doing this in our company?” But you’d be surprised. To me, like, something, like, a blind resume system. When people tell me they can’t find Black candidates, can’t find Black engineers, I’m like, “Do you have a blind resume system?” And they’re like, “No, what’s that?” And that to me is something that I think is so simple but a lot of people just don’t know. So that’s really, like, what the purpose of me writing this book was. Like, simple things that you think a lot of people know but they might not, and it’s just, like, so simple to implement into your workplace. It’s not complicated at all outside of just workshops that you can do to create more inclusion.

Zach: Man, this has been super dope. What else do we need to talk about, Dr. Gassam? ‘Cause I want to make sure I give you your space. So we talked about–

Dr. Gassam: So much! Thank you. [both laugh] You know, there’s so much. All of the performative allyship, all of the–

Zach: Oh, yeah. Let’s go in on that real quick actually. Yeah, no, this is good. So side note, y’all, for those who are kind of behind the scenes. Typically I send out, like, these very detailed questions before each podcast, but, you know, for people that like–you know, we kick it or, like, we kind of get each other’s style or energy, we kind of freestyle. So this is actually a freestyle, y’all. That’s why we’re, like, actively trying to think about what we talk about next. We have a little bit more time.

Dr. Gassam: And I really appreciate that, and we’ll talk about how to support each other after we get into the performative allyship.

Zach: Yo, let’s do that. Okay, so this performative allyship stuff is crazy, right? Like, I’m so tired of these people–and you know what’s really wild? It’s like–what we don’t talk about is, like, just… we don’t talk about this enough I think just, like, culturally, the importance of authenticity, right? So, like, I’ve had people who have harmed me with their racist behaviors hit me up now talking about, “Hey, just thinking about you.” Like, what are you talking about? Why are you talking to me, and why would the first thing when you reach out to me not about the harm that you caused, that you KNOW you caused? These are, like, [?], right? Like, these are things that, like, you gravely harmed me personally and professionally, right? It’s not like you walked by, you touched my hair and said, “Oh, this is like my little pet lamb’s hair back in my Meemaw’s house.” Like, no. This is “You harmed me.” And so it’s wild, like, that we have–how members of the majority… go ahead.

Dr. Gassam: I know. It’s just like–I’m getting a lot of people hitting me up, like, that are–you know those people that are in the periphery of your life? They’re not in your life, but they’re just, like, there watching from the–I get a lot of those, and there are people who have actively done things to prevent me from being successful, and they reach out to me, or on the other end people are asking of me, and I won’t get into too many details, just, you know, to protect myself, but there are people who are actively asking things of me without consideration of the events that transpired. You’re asking for projects from me and things like that, and I’m like, “Well, I’m not in a mental state–” And I’ve had to send emails like that where I’m like, “I’m not in the mental state to produce what you’re asking me to produce because there are Black people being killed and slaughtered, videos,” you know? And I just–and it’s “Oh, my gosh! You’re so right! I didn’t even realize it! Oh, my gosh. Like, it’s all because of Trump. This would have never happened if Obama was president!” [Zach sighs] And it’s like… I mean, it did happen when Obama was president.

Zach: It happened a lot [?] though.

Dr. Gassam: I was just like… “Okay, but thanks.” So I get those, where people are completely, like, oblivious to what’s going on and what’s happening and how maybe the Black [people] you know are impacted by this, so maybe I shouldn’t be asking for X, Y and Z, and I’ve had to let people know, but I’ve also seen, yeah, like you said, people who have actively caused harm to you, “Hey, how are you?” Without any acknowledgement of what was done, what was said, your role in how you contributed. Lots of snakes in the grass.

Zach: A lot of snakes in the grass! I think also just, like, the psychological–and, like, I don’t even think, like, even just considering the additional mental and emotional toll you put on that other person when you do that. So, like, now, as the person who’s receiving your random message after a year or after six months or however long, now I have to do the mental calculus if I’m gonna even gonna respond and then make a decision if I respond, “How vulnerable do I want to make myself in responding to you?” Knowing that if I respond to you and you get upset it could harm me even more. So it’s just so… so that alone is, like, ugh, such a rant. Such a rant-worthy topic. I do think that it’s, like, when we talk about allyship and–I just wonder, are people–I’m not curious about it. This is my belief. I don’t believe that members of the majority have the capacity to, like, really deal with being explicitly anti-racist for more than, like… like, for a sustained amount of time, right? Like, you’re already seeing on Twitter, people are getting burnt out. Like, “Ugh, I know that you guys are probably tired, but here are some tips that you can–” [Dr. Gassam laughs] “Make sure you drink your [?] tea.”

Dr. Gassam: You’re absolutely right, and it’s exhausting in that–and I know a lot of white people are confused, because in one breath we say, “You should be checking on your Black friends,” but in another breath it’s like we’re getting binged and pinged and all of this, like, left and right, and then you have to keep having to revisit the conversation of, like, you know, “Why aren’t you answering my text messages? I hit you up to check on you.” ‘Cause I don’t want to keep talking about the same–like, I appreciate that you reached out. I don’t–I’m not in the mental state. I want to go on a bike ride and just have the sun on my face and just not think about Black people being killed. I just want to listen to a podcast while riding a bike. Sometimes you just don’t want to keep talking about, keep talking about it, and what I’ve found is that–it’s interesting, companies want to give us space to talk about without asking us if this is something we want to take part in. A close friend of mine worked in a healthcare system, and she said her company was like, “Hey, can you be on this panel? It’s all Black people talking about their families,” and it’s like, “I don’t want–like, why do I gotta–you don’t even–” Like, it’s really like, “Hey, we want you to be part of this panel.” “No, I don’t want to.” I had another friend who was asked to talk about white privilege, and she was like, “This isn’t even my scope or my domain. I’m in PR. Why are you asking me to talk about white privilege? This isn’t even, like–what, just because I’m a Black woman you want, “Oh, yeah, have her talk about–“” She was like, “What?” And I had to send out an email to somebody that asked me to a part of a panel, and I didn’t want to be mean, but I was like, “When you’re asking me to regurgitate and keep repeating why I feel bad as a Black person living in America, like, you should be paying me,” you know what I’m saying? And I know that sounds like–it’s not a matter of being all about the money, but it’s a matter of, like, this is emotional labor, and this takes an emotional toll on me to be on 80 million eleven panels talking about why, what I feel as a Black person and all of this, and it’s just like–the idea of paying a Black person doesn’t often cross these people’s minds who are organizing these events, and I’m just like–at this point, like, my mind [?] so busy with these workshops–and also I teach as well, so it’s like with teaching and doing the workshops and promoting the book, like, I’m not gonna just be on a panel talking about how sad I am and my experiences as a Black person. There’s so many thinkpieces online with people giving this information to you already. You don’t need me on a panel to talk about what it feels like to be Black. And I hope I’m not being too raw, but it’s just that’s how I’ve been feeling lately.

Zach: No, you’re not being too raw at all. I see where you’re going and I will meet you there. So look, folks who are asking–please stop asking us to talk about our feelings for free. I need y’all to stop. Many of you listen to the podcast, right? And, like, when I say you I mean aspiring allies and white executives. Stop. Now, look, especially–like, not to be classist, but especially don’t be asking a bunch of degreed people to be doing it. Like, that’s crazy. You have people out here who have whole doctorates in sociology and psychology and you’re asking them to come on these panels for free. It’s like, “No.” Like, “I have the Western colonized expertise from an actual [?] institution, and couple that with the expertise of my lived experience, when you ask me for my time, I need you to pay me. Don’t even ask.” I’ve had people ask me for my time to do things and I’m like, “First of all, do you understand how much–” Like, I’m gonna feel drained after this, because I’m gonna talk about all these things and no one’s gonna come back to me with, like, any tangible resources or support. It’s just gonna be me, like, giving out.

Dr. Gassam: And it’s like–you have a podcast where you talk about all these things. You invite people to talk. You have–and then it’s, like, on top of that you write about these things, on top of that you work full-time, on top of that you’re a father and you have a wife. It’s just, like, y’all gotta think about all of these things. It’s like, “Hey, can you explain to me, like–” No, I can’t. I’m sorry.

Zach: No, I can’t. And shameless plug, like, Living Corporate, it’s not like we’re just, like, a random podcast. Like, you can go on our website and type in anything and a bunch of stuff will pop up. Like, we have a whole database, so you can educate yourself, and, like, there’s other free resources. I think it’s so inappropriate during this time, like, going back to what you said earlier about organizations and, like, predominantly white leadership who have, like, either intentionally or unintentionally been the cause for people to exit their places of work are now, like, sending out these emails with a bunch of different options to have quote-unquote “real talk sessions,” and, like, who made you a luminary on the subject one, but then two, like, why do you just presume that I even want to do this? But the challenge, Dr. Gassam, is, like, there’s also the reality–which we don’t talk about enough, and, like, shout-out to Brittany J. Harris of The Winters Group. I see you. She talked about it, like, explicitly–this was some months ago–about the fact that, like, power is, like, the silent “P” in DE&I, right? It’s like–we don’t talk about the fact that, like, yo, if a senior executive sends out something to talk, have one of these conversations, there’s gonna be a certain percentage of marginalized people who feel pressured to join it simply because the person who sent out the invite is in power, right? Like, there’s a power dynamic that we don’t want to address, and also when you ask people to do things–like, nine times out of ten the Black and brown folks you ask to do this type of work or, like, to randomly jump in this and it’s not even their expertise, they’re gonna feel pressured to say yes because you’re in charge, and then when they show up to do whatever you want them to talk about, white privilege, their own lived experience, whatever, they’re going to be pressured to not be as honest as they would even like to be because they know that they might get fired or they may be opportunities withheld from them if they say the wrong thing.

Dr. Gassam: Exactly, exactly, and I’m actually doing a workshop tomorrow, and the two individuals who reached out to me to do the workshop, they had told me they don’t want to be part of the facilitation because there are–there’s 500 people who are a part of this workshop, and they’re worried because in their industry it’s, of course, not what you know it’s who you know, and I sympathized with them 100,000% because I’m still–you know, I work in an institution, and I can’t fully say–I can’t go out and jump on a limb and say everything that I would want to say because of that power piece and because I know that there’s still many people who are uncomfortable when you’re speaking the truth and when you’re trying to–so it’s like you can only say but so much, and unfortunately it’s like–we need the raw, and we need it to the point, and I’m glad people are more open to that right now, but it’s still, like, a concern for us and for people who do this work and, you know, even you as a–not only as an employee but as someone in the podcast space, I’m sure there’s topics that you can venture into but not too, too much because you don’t–

Zach: Oh, Dr. Gassam. Ooooh, bay-bay. [laughs]

Dr. Gassam: You know? ‘Cause it’s like, “I know my audience.” You know, there’s stuff–I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff you want to say but you just–one day [I’ma?] have a tell-all.

Zach: Listen, one day–no, I literally tweeted this the other day, I said, “One day I’ma let these @s fly.” Like, I’ma really talk to y’all. But no, you’re absolutely right, the power dynamic, it dictates, like, literally everything. So, like, you know, I talk differently now because I work–I have a 9-to-5 job. Like, the day that I do Living Corporate full-time, I’m still not gonna be able to talk as free because I’m gonna have clients, and my clients need to know and respect the fact that, you know, I won’t air them out one day, you know what I mean? So, like, the only time that I think you ever really hear, like, Black people speak the truth, like, unabashed truth is when they have a lot of money, right? So you think about–you know, you think about, like, the Will Smiths and Kevin Harts and Dave Chappelles and Eddie Murphys of the world, the people who just–or people who just don’t care at all, and those voices are needed, but it’s just, like, I can’t shame people for not being 100,000% raw all of the time when, like, our survival is predicated on some degree of white comfort. It just is. We can’t just say–we can’t speak the truth like we want to. Like, I believe I speak the truth pretty consistently, don’t get me wrong, but there are certainly–like, I’m halfway joking, but there are things that I would like to be much more explicit about, but I can’t, you know? Especially [because] I have a daughter, you know what I mean? You have to be careful. So let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about supporting each other during this time. So we’re talking about, like, the emotional labor that we sometimes get pressured into performing or just the increased emotional labor during this time, but also just the general amount of labor just in being Black and brown in majority white spaces. When you asked or when you kind of suggested talking about supporting one another, like, what comes to mind for you?

Dr. Gassam: So many things. You know, I think that besides the Candice Owens and some of these people out here that maybe don’t [?]–

Zach: Oh, my gosh. Please don’t ever say her name again. Nope.

Dr. Gassam: [laughing] I’m sorry. Some of these people, you know, these people, I think for the most part we got us, and the community that we’re building and that we’ve built and the support that I feel from my fellow Black people just makes me really proud to be Black, and I have to say that in a lot of the–in April I was offering these complimentary workshops because I was transitioning from in-person trainings and workshops to online and I was acclimating and getting myself used to Zoom. So I was like, “You know, if your company wants a complimentary workshop just reach out.” And let me tell you, I did 7 complementary workshops that month, and all of the people that reached out to me were Black women. I love that Black women are always, always at the forefront of putting other–we’re always… I feel like we have such big hearts and we’re always trying to, like, save the world, and people need to listen to us more, but I just think that in a moment like this, the support and the camaraderie that I’m seeing among Black people but particularly among Black women is just what, like, warms my heart and reminds me why, despite all of the B.S. and what we’re going through, I’m so proud to be a Black person and to be a Black woman. So I think that just supporting each other, supporting Black businesses and things like that, just reaching out to your Black friends, I think–one of the many things that I love about us is, like, we’re gonna have fun and find entertainment in anything, and I’ve been like–we’ve been crying a lot, but I just find that we just make anything into, like, something funny, into a joke. Like, after the Verzuz of Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, I was just, like, so entertained by the memes and the gifs, and I was just like, “I love us.” Like, we are just so funny, and we’re just like–so that’s, I think, like, the fact that us coming together and just laughing and doing things that bring us joy and just, you know, the community I think right now is we’re building that and we’re creating these groups, and so I think that we should all be doing one thing that makes us feel joy, and whether that’s, like, meeting up with a friend, grabbing some ice cream, riding a bike, I’ve been trying to do that more and more. And just, like, [supporting] each other. I have friends that reach out to me and say, “Hey, I want to bring you into my company,” and it’s like, just that support of, like, “I see you, I see the work that you’re doing and I’m trying to put you on,” is I think what we need more of and what I’ve been seeing a lot, and I just love that.

Zach: Man, I love it too, and, you know, with that being said, if you haven’t yet, make sure that you get a copy of “Dirty Diversity,” Dr. Gassam’s–it’s your first published book, right?

Dr. Gassam: Thank you so much, Zach. Yes, my very first published book, so I’m awaiting–it is gonna be available Juneteenth, on June 19th, and both the e-book and the paperback will be available on Amazon, but I’m also awaiting Audible approval because I recorded the audiobook, so I’m just waiting on that process now. Hopefully it’ll all be good by June 19th, but I think by the time this episode drops it’ll be available via Audible as well.

Zach: Well, that’s dope, and yeah, we’ll make sure that we signal boost any of the promotions and advertising for it on Juneteenth, and then we’ll also make sure that y’all check out Dr. Gassam’s Dirty Diversity podcast. So Dr. Gassam, you know what I’m saying, she’s way more fancy than me, so her guests–I mean, we have great guests, don’t get me wrong. We have amazing guests, so let me not play, but I’m just saying, like, she’s–

Dr. Gassam: Yeah, you guys have amazing, amazing guests.

Zach: We have dope guests, but I’m saying your guests are nothing to sniff at, you know what I’m saying? So make sure y’all check out Dr. Gassam, you know?

Dr. Gassam: Thank you so much, Zach. I really appreciate it. Thank you for amplifying our voices and trying to use our platform to put more of us on. I think that that’s an inspiration to me, and that’s what I think we should all be doing, using our platforms and our power to put other people on, you know, other, our people on. But thank you so much, Zach, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your weekend.

Zach: Yo, same to you. Listen, y’all, this has been Zach with Living Corporate. You know what we do. We’re having these conversations weekly. So again, this might be your first time listening to Living Corporate, so as a reminder or as an FYI, we have Real Talk Tuesdays–that’s when we have these, like, you know, 1-on-1 conversations. We then have Tristan’s Tips on Thursdays, and then we have The Link Up with Latesha or See It to Be It with Amy C. Waninger on Saturdays. Like, those kind of interchange, and so we have essentially three different series a week, so make sure you reach out. We’re all over Beyonce’s internet, you know? Just type in Living Corporate, we’re gonna pop up. And then yeah, you’ve been listening to Dr. Janice Gassam, public speaker, entrepreneur, educator, consultant, podcaster, and writer of “Dirty Diversity.” That’s also the podcast. Make sure y’all check out all the links in the show notes. ‘Til next time. Peace.

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