Zach and Mary-Frances Winters, the founder and CEO of The Winters Group, Inc., sit back down together to have another conversation, this time themed around the concept of Black fragility. Mary-Frances talks a bit about her upcoming book, Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit, and summarizes what we’re going through right now from her perspective as a Black woman and leader in the workplace equity space. She also shares how she processes folks saying that they “didn’t know” that racism is still a systemic issue in American society.
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Zach: What’s up, y’all? It’s Zach with Living Corporate, and you know what we’re doing, right? I mean, you should know, but every listener is a first time listener, so for those who don’t know, Living Corporate is a platform that centers and amplifies Black and brown voices at work. And I say the word platform and not a podcast because if you go to our website, living-corporate.com or livingcorporate.co or livingcorporate.us or .tv or .org or .net… anyway, if you go to our website, what you’ll see is a whole grid of podcast interviews that have been categorized by industry and theme, and then you’ll also see a lot of blogs, right, you’ll also see webinars. And so it’s all searchable ’cause it’s all been transcribed, so we really consider ourselves more, like, a database of thought leadership for diversity, equity and inclusion, and what makes us unique even beyond that is that we center black and brown people, not only in our topics but in our dialogue, the people we speak to, right? So we’ve been blessed to have incredible guests, and today is no different. We have the great Mary-Frances Winters. Now, this is not the first time that you’ve heard Mary-Frances. If you haven’t heard her before on Living Corporate you need to get familiar, okay? So we’re gonna have all of her links and stuff in the show notes, but Mary-Frances, welcome back to the show.
Mary-Frances: Thank you so much. Appreciate being here, and I appreciate everything that you’re doing. Your platform is absolutely amazing. When I walk in the morning, I listen to Living Corporate. So y’all need to be listening, ’cause you do have some incredible, amazing guests.
Zach: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. You are leading the vanguard in the vanguard, so I appreciate you. So let’s get started, right? So first off I want to just give you some space to talk about–give me a summary of this moment, right? Let’s start at George Floyd’s murder, Breonna Taylor’s murder, Tony McDade’s murder, up to now, and when I say now we’re recording this in July. So kind of talk to me about how you would summarize what we’re going through right now, of course not just as a Black woman, which you are, but also as a leader in this workplace equity space?
Mary-Frances: Yeah, thank you for that space. And so it is July, and it is July 18th, and I just want to recognize that we lost a giant yesterday, John Lewis–actually two giants, C.T. Vivian, both really vanguards in the Civil Rights movement, and so when I think about them and I think about now, I think about the struggle, you know, in the ’60s and the ’70s, and you know John Lewis was jailed, you know, 40 times and hit in the head, bashed in the head, all of the things that he went through, but still, you know, he rose, and his voice was so loud. So I juxtapose that to, you know, what’s going on now, and I say, “Wow,” you know, “Then is now.” And he was 23 years old, right? So we see the young activists out there right now who are saying, you know, “Enough is enough,” and I think the confluence of, you know, the coronavirus and people dying of that and people, you know, dying in the streets of all sorts of other things, you know, dying at the hands of police, right? You know, but it’s just a time when I think it was a confluence of these events that said “Enough is enough, and we’re not gonna have it anymore.” And what really was surprising to me–I’ve been doing this work for 36 years now, so I’m getting up there myself, but one of the things that was so really surprising to me was that white folks were saying, “We didn’t know. We didn’t know that racism still existed in America. We didn’t know it was that bad.” And so, you know, clients are coming out the woodwork. We had to do anti-racism training. We had to do it yesterday. We got to do it right now. And I know some of your other guests have been saying that too, and I guess maybe I’m naive that I’m like, “Y’all, we’ve been telling you this, at least I’ve been telling you this, for 36 years, and we’ve been talking about this for over 400 years, and you didn’t know?” I had corporate CEOs–I’ve been doing town halls where they have 15,000 people in the virtual town hall, and the CEO of a major corporation will say, you know, “I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t know,” and that’s just blowing my mind, that people are saying they didn’t know.
Zach: So let me ask you–let’s pause there, because I have more questions about this moment, but when you hear folks say that they didn’t know, like, how do you digest that?
Mary-Frances: Well, I digest that is that you didn’t want to know, that you didn’t care to know, but you really did know. You just blocked it. You just–it wasn’t important to you, you know? So even when we–let’s go back to the 2016 election and wondering, “How did that happen? How did we get Trump?” And, you know, it’s obvious that he’s, you know, a racist, a sexist, a homophobe. All of those things, right? He just says it. But then when you have to think about it it’s like, “That’s better than the chance of having anybody,” you know, “another black person, another woman,” and so you just see it. You just see that the racism is just so deep, and I think that, you know, those white people who are advocating for diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, you know, those are all–you know, those are all soft code words, right, for “We just really want the status quo,” but I don’t believe–I know that people knew it. We do trainings and they say–I give some statistics, right, and I’ll say, you know, “1954, Brown vs the Board of Education made segregated schools illegal. 2019 headline – schools are just as segregated, just as unequal,” you know, public schools, and I say, “What statistics surprised you?” “Well, the one about the schools surprised me.” Come on, now. That’s in the news all the time, right? So you just tune it out. It’s not–so, you know, white supremacy, you don’t have to know about it, you don’t have to care about it, it doesn’t have to be a part of what you think about until folks start burning stuff down, and now all of a sudden people are saying, “How do I be an ally? How do I come forward?” And so I make sense of all of that, and you asked me how, and I just say, “Shame on you.” You know, “Shame on you.” But when you look throughout history, that’s the only way we get people’s attention. Violence is the only way to get people’s attention. Rebellion is the only way to get people’s attention.
Zach: And I think it’s just so intellectually dishonest that we don’t have those conversations. I remember back in, like, 2016, I was having a conversation with some colleagues at work, one of whom happens to be a really good friend of mine now, like, we’re very close, but I was the only Black man at the table, only Black person at the table, and we were talking about protests because there were some protests happening in Baltimore at the time due to the murder of Freddie Gray, right? So we were talking about this and I just said–as you know, this has become, like, an established line of argumentation around protests and the history of protests in this country, but I just, like, was very plainly like, “Look, like, if you look at America and, like, the formation of America and, like, really sort of all the policies that we have, they all come from violence,” and they were like, “Well, not really,” and I was like, “No, it’s true.” I said, “Beyond just the Boston Tea Party, like, if you go back and you look, there was a lot. There were a lot of labor riots and protests that sparked a lot of the labor laws that we have and the civil rights laws. You think about Pride. Pride was started through protests, through protests started by a Black trans woman, but my point is, like, I just don’t think that we’re being honest when we say that peace is the answer, quote-unquote, when that just isn’t–for good or for bad, that just is not the language that we–that is not the means by which we affect change in America, and it’s not the means by which America helps affect change around the world for good or bad, so I don’t understand where that–beyond y’all just… and when I say y’all I mean, like, the powers that be, beyond those who are in charge just simply trying to manufacture or maintain control, that’s just not honest, you know what I mean? Like, that’s just not true.
Mary-Frances: No, it’s not honest. It’s not, and yes. We do a little history thing now that we’re doing, and part of our sessions that we do–’cause folks just claim they don’t know American history period, right? And Black history is obviously a part of American history, but they don’t know it, or they, you know, suppress it, or it’s okay. You know, it’s okay for white folks to ask for justice or to demand justice through violence, it’s just not okay for Black people to do so. That’s what I take from that. You know, we can do it. I mean, we saw it with, you know, the not wanting to wear masks and the storming of the Michigan Statehouse, right? And they were all armed, right? And no police came at all, right?
Zach: Nobody came… I was like–
Mary-Frances: Nobody came! [laughs]
Zach: You know what was wild about that is when I saw that picture I was like, “Oh, is this some type of, like, art installation?” ‘Cause I was like, “There’s no way–” I just couldn’t wrap my mind around what I was looking at because it was just, like–it didn’t make any sense considering–I said, “First of y’all, not wearing masks and y’all got wild guns in there, and I can y’all got clips in there. Those are loaded guns. So what is this?” You know what I mean? So to your point though, I would like to talk about, you know, how do you manage your own mental and emotional well-being during this time? First of all, you know, we’re in a time right now where we’re surrounded by death, and specifically we’re surrounded by predominantly Black and brown death, but we’re surrounded by–everybody’s dying. You got police killing people from every ethnic group, which is insane. You have the coronavirus impacting, killing–the death count is, at this point in time, like, the last number I saw was, like, 135,000 people, and you’re seeing all of this in media and social media every single day. So, like, you have that element of just as a person, as an American and as a Black woman, so there’s that piece, but I’m also curious about the work that you do. Like, it seems as if this would be exhausting to manage, and I know that you’ve been doing it for 30+ years, but I’m just curious about what does it look like for you not to be burdened down with that?
Mary-Frances: I have to be honest – it is truly a burden. I’m tired, you know? I’m exhausted, and, you know, my book is coming out September 15th, “[Black Fatigue:] How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body and Spirit,” and I think that I’ve never felt Black fatigue than I’m feeling it now. I’m feeling it because, you know, in some ways I feel helpless even though, you know, we get accolades about, you know, “This was so helpful,” you know, “Thank you for helping me.” And I learn so much, you know, from millennials and from the Gen Z’s who are saying, you know, “Hey, we need to rest.” You know, rest is a form of resistance, and it’s not our job to teach white people. When I first heard that–and I wrote about that. You know, what really sparked me to write the book Black Fatigue were you all, young folks, who were saying, “Wait a minute, we gotta have a different model, you know? We’re tired. We’re exhausted,” you know? [laughing] And I was like, “What? What y’all, 30 years old? How y’all getting exhausted already?” And they would look at me like–you know, with that side-eye like, “Wait a minute, now. We respect you, now. You’re older, but don’t be telling me I’m not [?], ’cause I know tired when I see tired,” right? And so yeah, so it was a new framing for me because–so through a colleague I talked to Andrew Young, and we asked him about fatigue. “So when you all–you know, in the ’60s, did y’all have fatigue?” And he said, “No.” He said, “Fatigue wasn’t the word we used.” He said, “I used to get migraine headaches,” and he said, “Dr. King would tell me, you know, “Get on that plane. The headache will go away once you get on the plane.” So even though we were tired–you know, James Baldwin talks about being tired, right? They talk about it, but it wasn’t in such a way that, you know, we were going to do something about it, but now what you all are saying is “We’re gonna do something about it,” you know? “We’re gonna rest. We’re gonna take self-care.” You know, I’m a Christian. I’m a pretty strong Christian, and [? songs?] like, “I don’t feel in no ways tired,” right? [both laugh] You know? And I’m saying, “Yeah, I do. I feel–” You know, I do feel tired, so I think that it is important–and I’m learning, and I think that it is important to set those boundaries. I think that it is important to just say no. And I have not been able to, in the business–let me tell you, I’ve been in business for 36 years. I’ve not been able to say no, because as a Black woman in business–and we’ve seen this with the coronavirus, with the loans, the PPP loans, paycheck protection loans that small businesses, you know, small Black businesses were not necessarily able to get the loans, so I didn’t have a real strong relationship with a bank even though we’re a multi-million dollar company because banks have not done me well over the years. I’ve been screwed by banks, okay? Even though I’ve always had good credit. So when the PPP loan came out I didn’t have a strong relationship with a bank, right? Not a bank that was a–but I knew a brother at a bank, right? [laughs] So yeah, I went to the brother at the bank and he said, “Don’t worry. I got you,” right? Because all my stuff was in order. I knew my stuff was gonna be in order, but the point being that it is tiring, you know? It has been tiring, it has been fatiguing, and I’m learning from, you know, Brittany J. Harris on my team, and I’m learning from people like her who are saying, “You know, Mary-Frances, we gotta put some boundaries around this. We don’t need to take all of the business that comes along and this sense of urgency, which is a part of the white supremacy culture, right? “Everybody needs to do something tomorrow,” and, you know, I just jumped through hoops for a potential client. Just jumped through hoops. I worked last weekend. Got the proposal, da-da-da-da, and then he said, “Well, you know, I got these two other people on the board,” and they were two white people, right–so I just learned yesterday, “Oh, we’re gonna go with somebody else who said that they could do the work immediately.” Uh, I said we could do the work immediately. That’s why we got the proposal into you. But anyway, the point is that I have to learn, right? I have to learn to put boundaries on myself, and the reason that I’ve done this over the years is because when I left the corporate world some 36 years ago they said, I heard through the grapevine, “Oh, let her go. She’ll be back anyway. She’s not gonna make it.” So it’s always been for me, “I am not gonna go groveling back to a corporate job because I couldn’t make it on my own.” So I think we–the drive, I think we do it to ourselves. We do it to ourselves because it’s like, “I gotta make it. I can’t fail,” ’cause it’s–hey, taking its toll. You know, in the book Black Fatigue I talk about, you know, racism literally makes us sick, and it does.
Zach: You know, and it’s interesting because I think about my own life, right? So before I was, like, explicitly doing diversity, equity and inclusion, like, through Living Corporate and also in certain parts and elements of my job now as a consultant, I think about just how exhausting it is just to experience it, right? Just to experience being marginalized, otherized, otherized, isolated, excluded, and the impacts it has. Like, that’s not me even speaking out against it. That’s just me experiencing it, you know what I mean? And so then, like, to compound it by you trying to speak up to, like, an audience that will treat you as hostile or, in certain instances I believe, gaslight you into thinking that, you know, this isn’t real, then it becomes a challenge. Let’s continue to talk about black fatigue as it pertains to you showing up in spaces in spaces as a Black woman doing this work. You know, there has been, like, a collective pushback against this work and this space, right? So you’ve seen–there’s been some articles that have released about Dr. Robin DiAngelo. We’ve some stuff come up come out about Howard Ross. Like, we’re seeing, like, a pushback right now, like, really just the start of it frankly, against this work in this season, and I’m curious to know, like, what does it look like for you to protect yourself as you do this work and as someone who continues to do this work?
Mary-Frances: Yeah. And so I would say the pushback is already, you know? Because we had this really swift kind of “Oh, we need to do this work, right?” Because corporations have not been doing anti-racism work. Let’s face it. They’ve been doing diversity work, which, you know, puts everybody in the bucket and we’ve gotta–and I’ve been told many, many times, “Let’s not talk too much about race, Mary-Frances. We can’t make this too much about race. We’ve got to make this about–you know, diversity is more than just about race.” We’re hearing that already. Clients are saying, you know, they want us to come in and talk about race, and I just got an email from a client that said, “Well, you gonna talk about the other isms?” And I went back and I said, “No, because you all asked us to talk about racism,” and so there’s never been a point in time in this work, that I’ve been doing this work, where race can have its own place, race can have its own discussion. And why? As Dr. Robin DiAngelo says, you know, white fragility. White people are uncomfortable. If I’ve heard “uncomfortable,” I’ve heard that word–if I had $100, maybe I wouldn’t be a rich woman, but at least I would be wealthier than I am if I had $1,000,000 for every time that I’ve heard in the last six weeks, “We are uncomfortable,” you know, talking about race. So they had been uncomfortable, and so when I come into a space as a Black woman, I have felt like I have had to disarm people, make sure that they know that I’m going to talk about all the other kinds of, you know, isms and diversity, make sure that they know that diversity is everybody and that white men are in the equation when we talk about diveristy. So I’ll say things like, “If you have two people in the room and they’re both white men, you still have diversity. They might be a different age group. They might come from a different geography.” And so making white people feel comfortable, this is what I feel that I have to do as a Black woman because I have been accused of talking too much about race even when I don’t even talk about race. I did a generational session a few years ago, and some of the feedback was “Well, she talked a lot about race.” I looked back at the deck, Zach. Wasn’t nothing about race at all. I didn’t even go there. I mean, I didn’t even go there to say, you know, “If you’re a Black millennial,” you know, or “If you’re a Black baby boomer,” or–I didn’t even go there, but just my presence, my existence and presence as a Black person, made them say that I talked about race. So as a Black woman doing this work, I have felt–and I’ll be real honest with you, I’ve been jealous of people like Howard Ross. Tall, you know, white man, and I’ve been told, I have been told, you know, “We went with Howard Ross because we think that our white leaders will hear the message from him better than they will hear the message from a Black woman.” Yeah, many times. As a matter of fact, let me just tell you this story. I had a call one day. I didn’t know who this person was, you know? Picked up the phone and she said, “You don’t know who I am,” she said, “but I’ve worked at 3 different companies in the diversity space,” and she said, “Your company’s name comes up all the time, and people talk very well about your work, and they talk about the fact that you’re, you know, leading edge and that you push, and they also said, “However, we can’t hire The Winters Group because our leaders are not ready for a Black person, Black woman business to come in and give them this message.” She said, “I just wanted you to know this because I want you to know that your work is really not in vain, however you’re not getting hired. If you want to know why you’re not getting the proposals, not getting selected, that’s why you’re not getting selected. That was probably about 10 years ago I had that.
Zach: It’s really interesting how that then shapes, like… these individual actions, they tie into then, like, greater, larger systemic problems because–so then you don’t get picked up for work, so then, like, you gotta think about, like, the consequence of that. So you put your name out there, your thought leadership out there. You’re clearly established in this space. You don’t get picked up for work, you’re not getting hired, so then you don’t get certain logos attached to The Winters Group. So then over time, even though–and again The Winters Group is of course extremely respected, there are certain logos that The Winters Group doesn’t have, and then people then question the very competence or authenticity of The Winters Group because, “Well, they didn’t go to So-and-so, and they didn’t–” It kind of feeds into itself, right? Like, you end up–so that’s frustrating.
Mary-Frances: And here’s the other thing that happens with it. So I want to be able to pay people what they’re worth, right, and so if I’m not getting the contracts or feeling that “Okay, I’ve got to low ball this in order to get in,” right, because I hear about, you know, some of my white colleagues in this work are making, and I’m telling you, I can’t ask for that money, and still even today with what’s going on, everybody’s scrambling to try to get business, which they still come back and say, “Well, can you give us a discount? We don’t have that in our budget,” and I’m wondering, do they ask for that same kind of thing with some of my other colleagues? Maybe they do. I don’t know. But the point being is that it has this ripple effect, you know? So no, we don’t have the big logos–we are getting the big logos now, so we do, you know, we’re working with the big ones, but it took 30 something years to be able to get there, right? And it took, you know, the books. You know, “We can’t talk about that at work,” and this new book I have coming out next week Inclusive Conversations, and so that gives you some cache. “Oh, she’s written a book! Oh!” Right? But yeah, so it impacts how I’m able to compensate, and so who I’m able to–you know, I attract people who have a passion for this work, right, but am I able to pay and compensate at the level if we’re not–so we’re getting there. I mean, I don’t want this to be a whole complaint kind of a thing, but I just want the listeners to understand how the system works and–and we know this–that we’re asked more often to do stuff for free, and let me tell you that for years, for years I did it. I did it to get the exposure.
Zach: Here’s the thing. People have been talking about it on Twitter, but I’m for real. Like, the people that ask for my time or ask me to do things–and, like, don’t get me wrong. I will do things for free. Like, there are certain things, especially, frankly, if you’re, like, Black or brown-owned and you ask me to kind of show up to your webinar or, you know, contribute to a piece or even give you feedback on something or take a call, like, I can do that, but I’ve noticed–I’ve taken a few calls with folks who–they are attached to money, okay, and they ask me for, like, 30 minutes of my time, and I’m like, “That’s consulting.” “You’re asking me for consulting.” And then I’ll see those same people who hit me up take my advice and go do it with somebody else, and I’m like, “Wait…”
Mary-Frances: [laughs] Yes! That’s what I’m talking about, right? And you say “Wait a minute… I told him that!” [laughs] Yes.
Zach: You want me to review this document, you want me to review this huge thing you have… it took me, you know, half a day or a couple hours, whatever, and then you take it, I don’t hear nothing from you, but then I see you post something. I’m like, “What is this?” So I’m right there with you. I think that it’s wild that even right now, right, people are asking for free work.
Mary-Frances: Oh, yeah. Even right now. They absolutely are. And what I’m learning, and, you know, your generation to me is just, like–you are just this new voice, new activists that are saying, “Uh-uh. No, we’re not doing it for free,” you know? And even now I’m hearing, you know, advocating for those in corporations who are a part of the employee resource groups or leading ERGs and they’re doing that in addition to their job, you know, saying, “Y’all need to pay folks for that. Y’all need to compensate folks,” and that’s new stuff for me.
Zach: And I’m heavy in that camp because all that Black ERG–like, right now, right, these companies, what they’re doing–see, this is the thing. They don’t think that we’re hip to the game. This is what they do, okay? These organizations will have these, like–my wife calls them “heart circles” where you–[both laugh] you come together, and some white folks who have been harming Black folks in your organization for years facilitate a conversation where “Let’s sit down and have a conversation about race. Let’s have a courageous conversation.” So then these Black people come up and they start crying and sharing all the ways that they’ve been hurt and harmed, and then the white folks in charge and then the token Black or brown person or white-adjacent person that they’ve, you know, put as the overseer over all the sad Black people, they all nod, “We hear you. No, this is hard, but, you know, today was good, you know?” And they’ll say something like, “But this is the first step. We gotta continue going,” right? And what they do is they then, like, pool all of that pain and trauma that these Black folks have shared with these white people that don’t care, and then they take that and they make a whitepaper on it and they put it on the website, and they use it as marketing collateral to sell diversity and inclusion work. That’s what they do, right? And then the other thing that they do–[both laugh] is they’ll take these employee resource groups, and they’ll set up these ERGs as beacons of collective, you know, sameness, whatever the relative sameness is, but what they’re really trying to do–now, my old pastor would say they’re really trying to de-niggafy niggas, but I’m not gonna say that. [both laugh] I’m going to say that the goal is to drive assimilation, right? So they want these non-white groups to be more non-white, or if you’re not gonna be white, at least be not white over there, right? Group yourselves over there and stop, you know, blocking up your space with all of your not whiteness. But then they also use these groups as, like, free labor innovation hubs where they essentially task them for being responsible for dismantling oppression, right? So they offset the labor, right? They offset the labor of the hard work and responsibility that they have, and the people who actually have the power, and they just give it all to Black people. And, like, my whole thing is I’m not tripping on the game because that’s the game. We live in a capitalist society. But if you’re gonna do that to us, you gotta pay us extra. You gotta pay us, you know what I’m saying?
Mary-Frances: Right, and so the capitalism piece is–where I thought you were gonna go is to say that they take these groups and they say, “Okay, how can we sell more whatever to Black folks,” right?
Zach: That’s true, yes. They do that too.
Mary-Frances: And they’re now called “business resource groups,” right? They used to be employee resource groups. And the business part of it is “We want you to help us to market to your folks,” right? “So what will your folks want? How do we communicate to your folks?” And again, that’s extra. That’s additional. You’re taking my intellectual capital, my knowledge, and you’re using it for your gain, and you’re not paying me extra for that. And I’m probably being underpaid in the first place.
Zach: Agreed. And it’s wild because when you think about… that thought leadership is worth SO much money, and you’re getting it for free. Like, you’re getting it for free, and that is–and just the exploitative nature of that is infuriating. So yeah, you’re right. There are a lot of us now who, like, we’re just, “I’m not playing no more.” So at my job–this was some time ago, but we were doing some work around… ’cause, you know, this whole jig is not new. It just happens to be really heightened right now as we already talked about. But I remember I was having a conversation with somebody and I presented something and they were like, “Oh, I’ve already shared this with So-and-so,” and I said, “Wait a second… so you took my work and shared it somewhere else?” And, like, I was already–you know, this was at a job. So I wasn’t–this was not my full-time job, so I did this, I wasn’t getting paid. I said, “Look, I recognize that y’all are not gonna pay me, like, y’all aren’t gonna literally add to my paycheck today,” I said, “But the least you can do is introduce me to the circles that you’re presenting this content to and give me the opportunity to present my own work.” Like, “That’s the least you could do is give me credit. Since you’re not gonna pay,” but, you know, I just think that part of this, like, really white supremacy at work is exploiting Black labor. Like, it’s part and parcel of, like, this work, which I think ties back into the reality of Black fatigue, you know what I mean?
Mary-Frances: Exactly, and we’re tired of it. We see it, we know that it’s happening. Sometimes we’re hard-pressed to really do anything about it, but the extra labor that you had to go through, the extra burden that you had to go through to even have that conversation, right? To say, “Wait a minute. What’d you say? You did what?” You know? I mean, that in itself is fatiguing. That in itself is stressful, right? Because you’re saying, “You did what?” And so that’s gonna create some kind of physiological response, right? You’re gonna be angry. You’re gonna be frustrated. So there’s some kind of emotional response that happens when those things happen, and, you know, that’s not healthy. It’s just not healthy. You know, we’re getting ready to do some stuff around micro-aggressions, right? So in Black Fatigue, in the book, I’ve crossed out “micro.” Every time I say it I cross out micro, because I don’t think that the aggressions are micro. Because they’re compounded, right? And so that’s not the only thing that I’m sure happened to you in that particular week, right, in terms of something, and I don’t know what it was, but I know something else happened, right? So these aggressions, they’re not micro. Why are we calling them–who named ’em micro anyway, right? Well, I know the person who named ’em. I got it in my book. But the point is why are we calling these things micro? They’re not micro. They’re macro, because they are fatiguing us, they are impacting our health. You know, the scientists who are now saying it’s racism that creates poor health outcomes. Not race, but racism. The continued exposure to racism gets into our cellular system, something called epigenetics. And I’m not a scientist, so I’m not gonna go far into this, but it gets passed down from generation to generation. So the stress that happens gets into our cellular system and it causes all sorts of maladies and then it gets passed down, you know, generation to generation, and that’s about racism. That’s about all of the things, you know? We have to be fearful. You know, Dr. Robin DiAngelo talks about white fragility. I want to talk about Black fragility. I think Black folks are the ones who are fragile. I mean, we’re the ones who–I mean, you don’t know if your loved ones are gonna come home, right? You don’t know if you can go to this place and be safe, right? And so the vulnerability of Black people in space. I mean, we heard a couple weeks ago, was it in Indiana? This man was almost lynched. He was in the park.
Zach: Almost lynched. I was like, “My God.” Like, that was awful. Like, just think about that. That is wild. So I’m over here just scrolling on Twitter, I’m minding my own business, I’m holding my daughter Emory in my arms, and I just happen to come upon this Black man being accosted by a bunch of white people about to get lynched in the woods. Like, how is that possible in 2020?!
Mary-Frances: He was going to the lake with friends… and white friends, right?
Zach: You’re 100% right. We are fragile. So here’s the thing, I think it’s become really popular–and I’m not saying all the takes are unwarranted, I just think it’s highly, highly, highly relevant content, and we live in a–you know, content creation is king or queen, so a lot of these pieces about Robin DiAngelo I don’t think are really fair, but I do think–there’s little bits of pieces and things I’m like, “Okay, I respect that.” So, like, one thing about that language, fragility–and I think Brittany Harris talked about that, like, the language itself kind of hints to there being some type of, like, inherent gentleness or, like, we need to handle it with care, but the reality is Black folks, Black and brown people, have been crushed and broken and broken and broken and broken and broken over and over in this country. Like, the fact that we’re still alive is a miracle, right? And so when I think about that, when I think about fragile, I think about something, again, that’s been, like, broken and pieced back together. And I’m not saying we’re a broken people, don’t get me wrong, because we are a strong, resilient people, but that survivorship that we’ve had to, like, continue on and thrive in a lot of different areas, that’s come at a collective cost, and I don’t think that we talk about that enough. I mean, I’ll give a personal example. So when I was 14, my dad and I were pulled over by the police. We were pulled over by the police and guns were put–I had a gun put to my head. Of course it was loaded, cocked, everything, right? And a gun was put to my dad’s head, in front of our home in a very white, suburban neighborhood, and, you know, I never went to counseling. I never went to counseling for that until earlier this year in January, ’cause some other things happened, just some other, like, racialized traumas that I experienced, and I had that conversation and I realized, you know, since I was 14, every time–every time, it doesn’t matter what the context is, that I see a policeman, I tense up. So think about that. There’s policemen everywhere. Like, I had a project where there was a policeman in front of the lobby and I had to see them every single day, and every single time I saw them I got scared. But it was, like, a–[Zach snaps] You know, it was like a flash, snap moment, and then I let it go ’cause I was like–
Mary-Frances: But that automatic reaction, that still creates–you know, and again, I’m not a doctor, but the fight or flight kind of a thing. Yeah, it impacts you physiologically, not only psychologically but physiologically too.
Zach: And that was something that my psychiatrist, like, we talked about it. He was like, “Your body is still responding to things even if you don’t acknowledge it.” You not acknowledging something doesn’t change the fact that your body has a physiological response. So when you say, “Oh, I can’t really sleep,” or “I’m having panic attacks, da-da-da,” and he starts just asking me all these questions, I’m like, “Well, dang. Wait a second. I guess I didn’t–“
Mary-Frances: Yes, and you don’t associate it with–and that’s what I talk about in my book. So the book is for both Black people and white people. I keep saying the book is more for white people, you know, to help them understand why Black folks are fatigued, but it’s for Black people as well because we don’t even recognize sometimes. We don’t make the association, right? We know we can’t sleep. We know we have panic attacks, but we’re not necessarily relating that to racism. We’re not necessarily relating that to this incident that happened when you were 14 years old, which may be manifesting in all sorts of other places. This thing of resilience. So I have a thing about resilience. You know, we talk about we’re resilient. Yeah, we’re resilient. We need to be resilient. However, that’s not the endgame, because resilience means you bounce back, right? So resilience doesn’t mean that we’re fixing the system. It doesn’t mean that we’re fixing what caused you to need to be resilient in the first place. So I reject resilience as the endgame. “Just be resilient. Just bounce back.” Because it’s basically saying, “You need to get over it. It’s not gonna change, and you need to figure out a way to deal with it.” So all of those folks who are talking about, you know, healing and doing all of those, self-care, believe me, I believe in it. So don’t get me wrong. I believe that we have to do that. We have to do that to survive and to thrive. However, I have a sense that a lot of the white folks in power, you know, ’cause they’re promoting this resilience thing in the corporate world now, is that it’s all about resilience, it’s all about bouncing back. You’re addressing the symptoms when you do resilience. You are not addressing the root of the problem.
Zach: 100%. So, you know, white supremacy can be practiced by anybody, just like you can internalize and practice white supremacy you can internalize and practice patriarchy, is if you’re sitting and you’re telling a bunch of historically marginalized people, you’re just preaching on the concept of bouncing back and you’re not talking about dismantling systems, you are by some varied degree supporting white supremacy, because, like–and that’s really where my heart is today is, like, “Okay, I’m really over–” So I kind of alluded to the Howard Ross piece, and I’m bringing that up again because it’s hyper-relevant ’cause I just saw it, and it’s making the waves. So I don’t agree with the intention of the article. Actually I think the intention of the article is bad. I do think that there was something that was said in there that was really interesting, which was that there was a lot, like, in the methodology [?]. Again, this clearly was a hit job. The post was wild inflammatory, but there were elements of it that caught my eye. So, like, there was something about essentially a hyper-focus on, like, individual behaviors, right? So it was like, you know, “White people at your job, y’all need to struggle with and wrestle with your complicitness in white supremacy and understand that virtually every white person is racist,” and it’s like, there’s language and there’s some discussion we can have about that, but if we just start pitting–so if you talk about, like, at a class level, if you start just pitting the workers against each other and we’re not having a conversation about the systems at large, like, I’m more so interested in the systems. Like, me pitting Bob against Kendrick, who both work in the same department, is just not productive. Like, we can have those discussions, but if that’s where your work starts and stops, then I mean… you created a lot more harm than you have solutions, so I think the real work–which is scary, because what we’re talking about is challenging the people who actually can control whether we live or die because they can control whether we can actually make any money is really, like, the powers that be that create these systems and structures that even allow for these problems to persist, and so, like, that’s what I’m really interested in, Mary-Frances, like, in this next phase of work, like, still having the conversations where we need to, but really looking at, like, ecosystems, you know what I mean?
Mary-Frances: Absolutely. And so what I want to say about that is, you know, everybody’s talking about allies today. “We need more allies. We need allies.” So allies are not necessarily in a position of power to change systems. Allies can be helpful at the interpersonal level, right? They can speak up–unless an ally is also what I call a power broker, and so I’m calling for power brokers, right? Those people who are in power. If you look up what power broker means, it means somebody who can influence systems and influence change, right? So allies often times in the corporate world are individual contributors who are just saying, “Hey, you know, I really want to be an ally. What can I do to be an ally?” We need power brokers. We need people in power who are willing to change the systems. That’s who can change systems, and we’ve seen that happen over the last six weeks where, you know, they’re talking about defunding police departments. You know, somebody just made a decision as a corporation, “We’re gonna have Juneteenth as a holiday.” Not that I think that is gonna change any kind of system, right, at all, however, you can decide to change things that will impact the system. For example, you can decide that you will not have inequities in pay. I mean, that’s easy to fix. That’s a tangible something. Easy to fix. We do a lot of audit work at The Winters Group, and so we just did a big audit for a corporation, and we looked at performance evaluations. So why is it that Black people’s performance evaluations is clustered in the 3 on a 5 point scale, right? Disproportionately clustered in 3, right? So you’ve got 12% Black people in the organization, and 40% of the Black people have 3 ratings versus, you know, a disproportion in the other way for white people, right? You’ve got 60% white people in the corporation and 80% of them have 5 ratings, right? So what’s that about, right? Is it that Black people are inherently less likely to perform well, right? We know that that’s not true. So interrogating the system and the data to look at, you know, “So why in 36 years is it that there aren’t Black people in leadership roles?” In 1984 there was a headline in the Wall Street Journal that said, “Executive suite elusive for Black people.” 7 months ago, December 2019, a study was done and the exact same headline, right? I mean, those are things that are tangible and can be fixed in the system if you want to fix them. People have power in corporations. The CEO has power, and we are seeing how power is abused in the government, right? Presidents have power, and so that’s where systems have to change. Allies are not gonna change systems unless allies happen to also be power brokers, unless they also happen to be in power. So it’s the people in power who have to say, “We’re not gonna have these systems and have these outcomes.” So I talk about reverse engineering. I don’t even know if I’m using it right, but the point is here’s the outcome, right? We had this outcome. Now let’s go back and figure out how we got it. Let me give you an example. So we did it an audit for an organization a number of years ago. They had a goal. Their goal was they wanted to put more women into leadership roles. This was a financial institution. So they had 100 openings that particular year. No, they hired 100 people from the outside that particular year. They hired one woman into leadership of the 100 that they hired. So what’s that about, right? So we looked at it. Women applied at the same rate as men, right, so they had a lot of applications, and so I said what we need to do is we need to backtrack and look at every single application that came in from a woman. We need to understand what happened with that application. We need to look at interviewer notes to see how the interviewer talked about women, the women who applied, if the woman did get an interview, and what they said about the men, and so you could clearly see what they said about women were more about their attributes of personality. They were “nice” and da-da-da. What they said more about men was more about their competency for the job. So to me, you can interrogate systems pretty easily if you want to. Does it take time? Yes, it takes time. So now you gotta go back and then you gotta look at “Who are the people who interviewed these women,” right, and “Why did they say this about these women who, when they look at their resume, they’ve got the same credentials as the man?” “You told us you had a goal of putting more women into leadership. We didn’t tell you that was your goal, you said it was your goal, and then you didn’t reach the goal and now you’re gonna sit back and say, “Oh, we didn’t reach the goal?” To me this is ludicrous. If you want to change systems, you can. It’s not hard to change systems. You just have to have the will, because you have the skill. I mean, look at your data, and then you interrogate that data, and then you make those changes. You just say, “That’s not gonna happen in this system anymore. We’re not gonna have this disproportionality in this system anymore.” Right? Just say it, declare it, and you do it. Anyway, I’ll stop, ’cause I just get frustrated because–you know, when organizations want to change a manufacturing system as an example, right, when they want to say “This system is obsolete,” or “This system is not effective anymore,” they know what to do to change the operating system, right? They know what to do. They know how to do that. But why don’t they know how to change racist systems, white supremacy systems? And going back to what we talked about at the very beginning of this conversation is they don’t want to. They don’t have the incentive to do so. Why would you want to give up power and privilege? You know, we talk about giving classes and having classes on power and privilege. When we tell people they have power and privilege, if I was a white person I’d be sitting there saying, “Oh, okay. That’s cool.” [laughs]
Zach: Right. You know, I’m just really thankful you were able to come on Living Corporate today. I mean, you dropped a lot of gems, but I want to give you at least space to do any parting words or shout-outs before I go.
Mary-Frances: All right, thank you. I appreciate you having me on. Thank you so much. I always enjoy the conversations with you. But I just want to invite folks to check out my new book, Inclusive Conversations: Fostering Equity, Empathy, and Belonging Across Difference. I talk about power a lot in that book and how power dynamics get in the way of having equitable conversations, and you’re not having inclusive conversations if they’re not equitable. And then I’d invite you to check out–both of these books are ready for preorder on Amazon or wherever you buy your books. Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body and Spirit, and with that one I say I want Black folks to read it, but I also want when white folks ask you to be their teacher, I want you to say, “Here’s a great book that can support you. I can’t do it, but this book will give you some gems about why Black people are fatigued and what you can do to support being an anti-racist, what you can do to support being a power broker, being an ally.”
Zach: I love it, I love it. Y’all, this has been Zach with Living Corporate. You know what we do. Every single week we have this content. Now, look, again, every listener is a first time listener, so you know that we have three episodes a week, right? So on Tuesdays we have these longer-form, real talk conversations. On Thursdays we have Tristan’s Tips. That’s our professional coach, Tristan Layfield. Does, like, two minute blurbs, really topical, poignant, relevant career tips for you, and then on Saturday we switch it up and we either have The Link Up with Latesha or we have See It to Be It with Amy C. Waninger. The Link Up is, like, a longer-form career advice episode, and then Amy C. Waningner’s See It to Be It is a really technical deep dive into some Black or brown professional’s job and how they do their job and how they exist in their job considering all of their identity, right? So really cool content. I’m really proud of this team. Thank you so much. Thank you to Mary-Frances Winters. Shout-out to The Winters Group. Make sure you check out all the links in the show notes. The preorders for those books are gonna be in there. Make sure you check them out. If you are an organization that needs, and frankly all of y’all need it, help when it comes to making your workplaces more equitable, The Winters Group is the space for y’all, so make sure you check out the content in the show notes. We got bitlys on the links so we can track to see when y’all clicking, so I’m gonna be looking at you. ‘Cause I know you’re listening to this right now. You’re driving in your fancy car, right, or you’re taking a walk in the middle of the day time while your team is working really hard and you’re trying to listen to something real quick on the low. Listen here. I know you’re listening to this. Make sure you check out the links, okay? Check it out. ‘Til next time, y’all. This has been Zach. You’ve been listening to Mary-Frances Winters, CEO and founder of The Winters Group. Peace.