Racial Trauma in the Workplace (w/ Ashley McGirt)

Zach sits down with racial trauma expert Ashley McGirt to examine the concept and realities of racialized trauma at work.

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Connect with Ashley on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Check out her personal website.


SPEAKER 1 0:10

What’s up, y’all this is Zack we live in corporate. And you know how you got 12 Days of Christmas, right? We’re doing this thing 12 days a podcast. So that’s 12 days a podcast, leading up to Christmas Day and a little bit after because it’s 12 days, really excited about this one to make sure that y’all hear some of the great content that we have in our vault from earlier this year, that we didn’t release because of timing or scheduling and coordination. But we’re still really excited about it. So the next thing you’re going to hear is a conversation that we had earlier this year. I really hope that you check it out, and you enjoy it. And before we get there, we’re going to tap in with Tristan.

SPEAKER 2 0:53

What’s going on y’all, it’s just enough lay field resume consulting, and I’ve teamed up with living corporate to bring you all a weekly career tip. Today, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Don’t tell anybody. We’re going to talk about the best day of the week to apply to jobs. Do you even think about what day it is when you’re applying to jobs? If your answer was no, then I was like you not too long ago, I used to apply for new jobs sometimes during the week after I got off work or on the weekends when I had time. I never really thought about there being a quote unquote good time to apply. But apparently research says otherwise. A study conducted by bright calm a job search site looked at more than half a million job submissions and found that applicants are more likely to advance in the hiring process, aka receive an interview if they sent their resume in on a Monday as opposed to any other day of the week. According to the study, one out of three people who applied on a Monday move forward in the process. I’m sure you’re wondering, well, why is Monday the best day. Unfortunately, bright.com study didn’t really have an explanation. But one of their senior analysts hypothesized that recruiters received these resumes at the start of their workweek, which means they are more likely to read them while the week is still fresh. As the week continues on the resumes pile up and get lost in the job searching black hole we know as a recruiter’s desk. Now keep in mind there are factors in play other than just a submission date or time. These can include industry differences and the length of time the job has been posted. Not to mention a significant variable your professional documents like your resume and cover letter. So no matter what day or time you’re applying, be sure to have your resume cover letter and LinkedIn ready so you don’t have to get ready. This tip was brought to you by Tristan of lay field resume consulting, check us out on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at lay field. Resume or connect with me Tristan lay field on LinkedIn.

SPEAKER 1 2:55

Today, we do have our Condon guest. Her name is Ashley McGirt actually regarded as a psychotherapist, international speaker and author. Ashley has received a master’s of social work from University of Washington. She also holds a Bachelor of Science in psychology. Ashley has over 10 years of extensive experience working with vulnerable populations. She’s worked in prisons, medical and psychiatric hospitals, homeless shelters, schools and long term care settings, where she has served as director of social services. Ashley currently serves as a full time hospice therapist and owns and operates her own private practice and our private bank, she focused primarily on racial trauma, depression, and anxiety. Ashley, welcome to the show. How are you doing?

SPEAKER 3 3:37

I’m good. Thanks for having me.

SPEAKER 1 3:40

Now, it’s a pleasure to have you here. So let’s just talk a little bit about your journey. Right? Like, how did you actually get into this work that you do? It seems really draining. Even just reading and I’m just I’m, I’m tired, right? So like, what? What did they look at? What does it look like for you to get started? And what sustains you in the work that you do?

SPEAKER 3 4:00

Yeah, so I actually had an interesting process to get into the work that I do now, because I started out wanting to be an attorney. So I was going to go to law school, all of that, you know, I really aspired to be like Johnnie Cochran, because growing up, he was one of the first black attorneys that I actually seen in mainstream media. So that was my goal. And then my grandmother died. And my life changed. I went from a state of grief to major depression. And I ended up having to see a counsellor. And there were no black counsellors available to me at all. So I ended up actually saying, well, white woman and my sessions were really me explaining to this white woman what life is like for a black child in America. And it was really an education session for her and I never actually got the healing that I needed. So as I was going through that process, I was like, there has to be other black people who are feeling the things that I’m feeling and they shouldn’t have to educate a person. On their culture in the session, they should have some sort of cultural awareness responsiveness to what’s going on, like understand the role of grandmother and black families. She was really dismissive to my feeling she didn’t understand my family makeup because we’re very diverse. So my brother’s half white, he’s mixed my sister, we have the same parents, but she’s extremely light skinned. So then I had to explain how color works. And it was just really, I’m a child, why am I explaining this to you? And why are you even asking these questions about why my siblings look different than the way that I look? And then you’re further ostracizing me. So I got in that process. And because I was a child, that time I wanted to work with children. So that’s why my backgrounds been all over the place. I found that working with kids was just way too difficult for me, I wanted to take them all home, I couldn’t personally like walking my own life, knowing that these kids were suffering and the traumas that they went through. So I actually ended up working with adults who I see now. And I also do hospice therapy. So I work with a lot of seniors. But the unfortunate part about the work that I do is I serve in South King County. And that’s typically where a lot of the black people have been pushed to do to gentrification out here in Washington. And majority of my black patients on hospice are aged like 30 to 55, which is way too young. Yeah, way too young to be on hospice. And I’ve noticed that most of them are dying from chronic stress related illnesses. And I really attribute it to the racism that we face. And I even look at my own family, like my grandmother died, which is what got me into this work. And she died at 62 from a stroke. And the leading cause of strokes is, you know, stress, she was stressed out. She was dealing with so many different things, and just looking at other people in my family and the ages that they’ve died, that it’s extremely young. And it’s a pattern, and it’s a pattern that I’m really wanting to break. And I feel like therapy is one tool that can help us like pro Long, long is because we’re all going to die at the end of the day. But we should at least be able to live full lives. Because my white patients on hospice, they’re well in their 90s. They’re hundreds. So they’re living full lives. But that’s because I have a hunch I have 100 year old patient right now, we’re actually getting ready to discharge because they’re not dying. And you have to…

SPEAKER 1 7:30

Wait a second.

SPEAKER 3 7:32

I know, we’re discharging them.

SPEAKER 1 7:35

So this person came in hospice like, and they’re 100 ready to die. And now you’re like, Wait, you’re not dying.

SPEAKER 3 7:42

Right. And we can’t have someone on hospice who’s not showing signs that they’re dying. Because you have to, you know, that’s what Hospice is for is for people who are actively transitioning. And if you’re doing too well, it’s like, we have to discharge it. And sometimes it’s a blessing. People are excited, they still have life in them. But it’s like when you’re 103, I don’t know.

SPEAKER 1 8:02

103 you talking about? Man, I thought about to pass and then your genes over your life.

SPEAKER 3 8:06

Haha. Right. So and I don’t experience that with my black patients, but my white patients, you know, but they live in a world that is designed for them. The healthcare system is designed for them. And the other unfortunate part about how racism works in health care is that oftentimes, if you’re on Medicaid, they will force you into hospice, because they don’t want to do expensive, aggressive treatments on you. And they’ll ask you questions like, do you want to be comfortable? Well, of course, you want to be comfortable. Most people want to be comfortable. But they don’t realize that when you go on hospice, you don’t get aggressive treatments, you don’t go to the hospital, we’re not doing anything to save your life. And that’s not explained, what is explained is that you can get comfort care, you can get these services in your home, but they don’t tell them that you’re no longer getting a fighting chance at life. So I’m getting these people on my caseload, who are 50 years old, who literally could do some aggressive treatment, but because they’re poor, and they’re black, the healthcare system is like just put them on hospice, let’s just let them die. We’re not going to spend money and treat them. Wow. And then I see them and then I have to advocate. And then I’m always kind of a troublemaker, but I’m always going to speak up and advocate and make sure this is what my patients really want and that they understand what Hospice is and that you’re not going to get any type of you know, treatment to help your illness. You just want to die at home comfortably. And most people in their 50s that’s too young.

SPEAKER 1 9:40

Wow. Yeah, no, people don’t want. A lot of people aren’t looking to just die not in their 50s.

SPEAKER 3 9:46


SPEAKER 1 9:46

I mean, like I think about my parents, like my parents are both turning 56 this year. And like neither one of them. Now my father has a very common phrase. He says I’m healthy enough to die today. So he’s prepared for like conception. He understands that he could die. But he also has me and like four other children. So he’s not just looking to pass on my mom certainly the same. So Wow, that’s really, really sad. I’m not going to lie to you. That’s okay.

SPEAKER 3 10:16

Yeah, it’s hard work. And everybody’s not meant to do this work, I definitely believe it’s God’s work. And he put me in a position. And to be able to do this, one of my favourite books was Tuesdays with maurey. And Tuesdays with maurey is about a journalist spending every Tuesday with a dying man. So I really learned so much from the dying. But I also am compelled to really fight for them, and I see the impact that racism has on us. So in my private practice, I tend to work a lot with millennials. I do have some older clients who aren’t millennials, but I’m really in graining into them practices that will help prolong their life and de stress, because racism is not going to end tomorrow. But there’s things and tools that we can incorporate in our life to help sustain so that we aren’t ending up on hospice at an early age or when we’re asked certain questions from the healthcare system. We know how to actually stand up and advocate for ourselves and like, well, what does comfortable really mean? What is that going to look like? Now? How is my healthcare going to look?

SPEAKER 1 11:19

So you know, you talk about this being really hard work? I mean, it sounds, it sounds draining, it sounds hard. What are your personal processes on recharge?

SPEAKER 3 11:28

Well, I have a really strong support system, most of my family members are in the health care system. My mom’s a registered nurse. I’ve worked in so many different settings. And everywhere I’ve worked, she’s work. She’s worked in the prisons, the psychiatric facilities, the hospitals. So she gets it. And she understands she understands hospice, my sister does. So just having people who understand the work that I do, and who I can talk to, with and communicate with, that’s been a lifesaver. I also travel a lot. So I take breaks, I know the signs and symptoms of burnout, and compassion, fatigue. And I like to really incorporate a lot of laughter and joy in my life. And because I do work with the dying, and I know so many of the things that they regret, like when someone’s on their deathbed, and they’re thinking about the life that they lived. A lot of the things are, they wish they worked less, they wish they spent more time with their family. So I really find ways to work less, I’m doing a lot of work. And people are like, how do you do it all. But the way that I manage my time and the units of energy that I put into it, I’m able to really devote more time back to my family and back to the things that really matter. Because when you see someone who’s dying, it’s like, you know, what’s really important to you? And what are the things that matter. So just again, incorporating joy and family, because that’s something that I care about in traveling, I just want to see as much of the world as possible, because I know no one’s guaranteed tomorrow, and just really help heal my community. Because I mean, when slavery ended, nobody sat down the free slaves and offered therapy, Jim Crow, like all of these things happen. And our community was never really given the tools. But of course, there were things that we did and practices like even before we got here on this land that we did, which is why we’re resilient people. But we could be even better people because right now, black people are dying at disproportionate rates and younger than every other race out there. And that’s a problem.

SPEAKER 1 13:33

Oh, yeah, absolutely. Right. You know, we have sound effects and stuff on this podcast, but like, the topic is just so heavy. But I really wanted to drop that to this day. Because you’re right, like it’s, it’s true. To this day, we’ve been a more resilient people by need of survival. But the reality is, we do need help, like Jesse wooden said, just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real, right? Like this idea that like we have been surviving in a certain in a certain way for time, but that doesn’t change the outcomes, right. The outcomes are still like what you talked about, like the, the disparate, or the difference in ages, when you’re talking about some of your patients and hospice, and the reality of our stress and trauma. You know, I really want to get to this because, you know, the internet is great. But one of the biggest challenges I think social media has created is that we’re introducing academic language, in new settings with little context. So like considering your background, I do want to talk about the concept of trauma because I feel like we use that word a lot. But I think it can mean a lot of different things. Considering your expertise and your lived experience, your professional experience your education. Can you talk a little bit about like practically what trauma is?

SPEAKER 3 14:36

Yeah, and trauma is definitely one of those buzz words that everyone’s using any type of event that happens, oh, I’m traumatized, or this is trauma. And that can be true. The reality is trauma is really just anything or event that is disturbing to you. And so now there’s lots of things in this world that can be disturbing to you, but what takes it from just that span Oh, yeah, that’s disturbing, that hurts. Or I can see the impact on that that makes it actually be trauma is that it’s actually impacting your ability to cope. It’s causing feelings of hopelessness, sadness, it really diminishes your ability to be able to actually experience a full range of emotions from an event because sometimes you’re numb, or you’re in shock, so you can experience it. And there’s different types of trauma. So there’s what I call big t trauma, which are those things like sexual assault, getting in a horrific car accident, witnessing murders, things like that. Those are the big t traumas that most of us kind of recognize, especially with like military vets. And then there’s a small t traumas, which is really just anything that’s distressing to you that causes that impact where you really can’t cope. It could be for some individuals, sometimes a song comes on and you have like a full on panic attack, you can’t breathe, you can’t really differentiate from where you are, because the impact that that song has on you. Because whatever Association you have, and to somebody might be like girl, like that slow slog, like, Where are you tripping, but it’s really personal. So you can’t tell someone? What is trauma and what’s not trauma. I mean, I can look at the DSM and say, these are what actually makes PTSD. But any event that you experience is traumatic SpongeBob coming on TV, okay, if that really is impacting your ability to cope, then I can’t argue with you that SpongeBob isn’t traumatic. And I think sometimes we get into that, where we try to tell people what’s trauma and what’s not. But if it’s causing an impact on their mental health, and their well-being, that is trauma to them. And then there’s racial trauma, which is what I specialize in. And racial trauma is really just a form of race based stressed. And so that’s the stress that comes from people of color, how we react to dangerous events, whether it’s real or perceived, because you know, everyone wants to talk about, oh, you’re just pulling the race card. It’s not real, right. But if we perceive it as that, and we say it’s about race, and it’s distressing to us, that is racial trauma, and these type of experiences can be like anything from threats of harm, injury, humiliating and shaming events. And it causes anxiety, depression, it mirror regular trauma, but it’s just different and the fact that it’s associated with race.

SPEAKER 1 17:36

So then, can we talk a little bit about like, you talked about, like humiliating, or perhaps like being isolated or other rising someone like, Can we talk a little bit about where those things can rank or what that looks like, or how that can create racialized trauma for people?

SPEAKER 3 17:50

Yeah, so again, it’s going to be how the person perceives it. But it can cause things like loss of appetite, or an increase of appetite. Physical symptoms, which is why a lot of black people are ending up on hospice, is because trauma really takes a toll on the body. So you know, we’re resilient people, we’re not feeling it, but our bodies are. So we’re getting things like high blood pressure, chronic heart failure, stroke, stress, like all of these things take place in the body from being stress induced. And it couldn’t be just white colleagues, not saying hello to you, not looking you in your face, that’s a sign of disrespect, not acknowledging you or your role, creating a hostile work environment, daily microaggressions lots of those things are going to take a toll on a person, whether they acknowledge it or not, that the body does, and I always say the body keeps the score.

SPEAKER 1 18:45

It’s interesting that you say, like, the body keeps the score, or like, just because you’re not reacting to something externally, your body’s still, like logging that and reacting to it internally. And I think about that, like when I talk to my friends, like my black and brown friends, right? And I’d be like, Man, I’m just, I can’t sleep or Wow, I really can’t hold food down. Oh, I really gained a lot. I’ve gained like, 10 pounds. I don’t know why. And the reality is our bodies are holding us accountable, even when we may not want to face whatever that stress is, it’s happening to us at work.

SPEAKER 3 19:17

Yeah, our bodies will definitely let us know and they’ll shut down. And then we don’t really pay attention to it until it’s too late when we’re in a hospital or things like that, which is why when I’m working with my clients and my private practice, I’m doing like head to toe assessments and asking individuals how’s your head feeling? How’s your neck? How’s your shoulder? Like? And then when an incident happens, also asking where do you feel that in your body? So when Trayvon Martin died? What did you feel it? Did you feel it in your chest in your gut? Like where was that feeling stored?

SPEAKER 1 19:48

Wow. Yeah, you know, it’s interesting too, because when I think about that, and like, especially like in high burn high churn and burn environmental, you think about like professional services or like consulting law firms or tech, or healthcare, right? Retail like these very like, either physically demanding or like mentally demanding type jobs. And you think about the fact that unless someone asked you, you probably wouldn’t even I know for me, there’s been times when like, I’ve been in like really high stressful environments for months at a time, or just abusive environments for months at a time. And then I finally sit down with somebody, and they talk to me, and I’m like, oh, wait, I guess this does hurt, or there is a pattern. And then I wake up, and I, you know, I’m coughing, or, you know, I wake up in the middle of night, I can’t sleep, you know, like, there are parents where I’ll stay, I can’t go to bed in the first place. Like, you know, that’s, it’s scary. Because, like, a lot of times, I don’t know, if we always even give ourselves the grace to slow down, like, what advice would you have for people in these types of environments, who have yet to really do any type of self-assessment on where they’re at? How can they get started with that?

SPEAKER 3 20:55

Well, you just named it rest. I feel like in our culture, we have this mistaken belief that we just need to, to work, work, work, and we can’t take a break. If you’re sleeping, you’re not getting paid, or all these other things that we say, in our culture, that’s really killing us. Because when your body needs rest, we are meant to actually sleep. But it literally goes back to slavery, because you know, we were beat for sleeping too much. We weren’t allowed to be caught sleeping. And then it’s passed down now, in our music and our language, you know, asleep without die? Well, guess what? You’re going to be on my hospice caseload at 45. How about that? Wow. So you might want to actually rest. And that’s one of the biggest things that I see with like people in tech industries, I do a lot of work with individuals in tech, because it’s such a fast paced environment, and things are constantly changing. And it’s like, I got to be up on the next one. So they’re not sleeping, and they’re trying to constantly stay up so that they’re relevant. But it’s like your body needs a break. So rest, reflection, self-care, especially in communities of color, because self-care is really frowned upon. It has been because we have to take care of the community. You know, who I am, because we are. But at the end of the day, if you’re not taking care of you, how are you going to show up in this community, when you’re not even good to yourself, you’re not going to be good to the community. And then we also have to look at what our community needs healing individuals need healing. It’s the whole collective experience. And so I’m just doing a small part in it to really work on the individual. And then sometimes I go out, and I do large scale community work. But all parts, Mind, Body spirit, we all need to work together, and constantly feel like it’s a lifelong process. And I’m always telling my clients because they’re like, well, when do you think I’ll be healed? Or I’ll be fixed? Well, you’re one you’re not even broken. But this is a lifelong journey. I’m a therapist, and I’m still constantly doing the work and modelling the things that I tell my clients, I incorporate it into my own life I have to.

SPEAKER 1 23:07

So you know, we’re talking about things. You’ve actually talked about some different systems and like the historicity of trauma for marginalized communities, and like, you know, again, where those pressures and that culture can be attributed to, or at least where some of it can be. I’m curious, though, as we talk about systems like, what are some things that you believe organizations can do, and leadership within those organizations can do to reduce trauma for marginalized employees?

SPEAKER 3 23:32

Well, for one, I feel like they need to implement policies in place just like we have for sexual harassment, those same policies need to be in place for microaggressions for racism. And right now, it’s not there. And it took time to put those sexual harassment laws in place. Lots of people didn’t think they were actually sexually harassing people in the workplace. So it took some time. But we need to lobby and talk to our policy makers. And if you’re in a position of power, a manager or a leader, you can actually rewrite the work policies and incorporate that. I also feel like there needs to be some sort of funding for mental health because it’s like, yeah, you provide insurance. But in order to go through insurance, you have to have a diagnosis. And not everybody who needs to go to therapy has an actual DSM diagnosis. And then if they do, that diagnosis sticks with them for life. So say they ever want to get into a government job or adopt a child, then they have to disclose that they have that diagnosis. So if there’s some sort of funding outside of insurance that they could pay for. Some employees have the employee assistance program, which is amazing, but they only cover like five to 10 seconds, it should be Unlimited, or there should be a pot of money for individuals to be able to use it for the service and not have to have a fear of having a Label associated with them but so that they could talk freely with someone they need to bring in like, a therapist in the workplace have a wellness expert on site coming in maybe quarterly or monthly or whatever the process is having these conversations creating time for the employees to have a break. Cuz you know, legally, you got to take that to 15 minutes and the 30 minute break, but people aren’t doing it. So we need to cultivate a work environment where they can actually rest and take breaks.

SPEAKER 1 25:31

Man, this has been a super dope conversation. I appreciate you coming on. Before we let you go. Can we talk a little bit about your practice? Like, what’s the information what makes you put on the show notes? But where can people learn more about the work that you do? Where can they get in contact with you? All of that information?

SPEAKER 3 25:47

Yeah, so you can find me on Instagram at therapy with Ash on LinkedIn, Ashley McGirt and then I have a Facebook business page, which is just McGirt counselling and services. And as far as social media, that’s it and then my website, www dot Ashlee mcgirt.com. And that’s where I’m at social media wise. And then in terms of my practice, so I’m located in Seattle, Washington. So I see clients, here, individuals, typically working on things like racial trauma, or any type of trauma since I’m a trauma therapist, and then I do a lot of different speaking and just work around healing communities.

SPEAKER 1 26:24

Man, this has been great. As to before we let you go, any parting words?

SPEAKER 3 26:28

I would just say it’s okay not to be okay. But don’t stay that way for too long and go to therapy. There’s nothing wrong, it doesn’t mean you’re crazy. It doesn’t mean you’ll have a label associated with you. Unless of course, you’re going through insurance, but there’s ways that you can work with your therapist about that, but just go to therapy. Go go go.

SPEAKER 1 26:50

Awesome. Ashley, thank you so much for being on the show. We consider you a friend of the show. Friend of the pod excited to have you back again. So please, let’s make sure we stay in touch and y’all. This has been the living corporate podcast you’ve been listening to me Zack nine. Make sure to check us out on Instagram at living corporate Twitter at living Corp underscore pod. And then look we all own Al Gore’s internet, right. So if you just Google live in corporate, we don’t pop up. I didn’t want to sit back and list all these DSPs that we are we are we are all over here. Okay. You make sure you send us a listener letters and hit us up through social media. You want to email us at living corporate podcast@gmail.com. Until next time, this has been Zack, you’ve been listening to ask McGirt trauma therapist specializing in racial trauma. Peace. Listen, I want to thank you all. I hope that this holiday season is treating you safe that you’re staying warm, and that you take care of yourself. We’ll catch you soon. You know what it is we’re creating content that centers and amplifies black and brown folks at work. We do this every single week. Make sure you give us five stars if you’re not you a hater, but I love you anyway. Alright, peace.

SPEAKER 4 28:09

Living corporate is a podcast living corporate LLC. Our logo was designed by David Dawkins. Our theme music was produced by Ken Burns. Additional music production by Anton Franklin from musical elevation. Post production is handled by Jeremy Jackson. Got a topic suggestion. Email us at living corporate podcast@gmail.com. You can find us online on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and living dash corporate.com. Thanks for listening. Stay tuned.

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