The Break Room : Spotting Allies

This is the podcast adaptation of the tenth episode of The Break Room! This one’s centered around spotting allies. Special thanks to all four of our amazing hosts! Part of the Living Corporate network, The Break Room is focused on mental health, wellness and healing for Black folks at work. You can expect real talk from real experts about the real ways Black folks can protect and heal themselves from racialized trauma at work. Catch a new episode every Thursday at 7PM Central! (Note: The Break Room is currently between seasons. Catch up while you can!)

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Dr. LaWanda Hill (00:09): Welcome to The Break Room. We are a group of four Black doctors who join every week at 5:00 PM, Central Pacific Standard time to talk all things Black mental health at work. And I am coming together with our amazing co-hosts, who I want to allow them to introduce themselves because everybody may not know who we are. We’re coming in with some bitter-sweet sentiment, and we’re going to own it tonight, and we’re going to talk through that tonight. So, I’ll introduce myself first. I’m Dr. LaWanda Hill, a licensed psychologist in California and Texas, and then I’m going to throw it to Dr. Jide to introduce himself, and then Dr. Brian and then Dr. Nikki.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (00:54): All right. Hi, everybody. My name is Dr. Jide Bamishigbin. I’m an assistant professor of psychology at Cal State Long Beach. I’m a health psychologist who studies the relationship between stress and mental health and physical health. And I’m a father of two boys. So, go on, Dr. Nikki.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (01:12): I was muted. Sorry about that. I’m going to get it together though. My name is Dr. Nikki. I’m a licensed psychologist here in the state of Texas. I’m a counseling psychologist by training. I see clients in private practice, specifically women, but Black women and individuals dealing with either racial trauma recovery or relational or sexual wellbeing, as well as provide DEI services in academic and corporate settings.

Dr. Brian Dixon (01:45): Well, I’m Dr. Brian Dixon. I’m a child and adolescent and adult psychiatrist here in the great state of Texas, which ain’t so great lately, but we’ll get to that later. I am also an entrepreneur and I believe in the power of mental health. And so, I’m lucky to be here with these wonderful co-hosts. So, thanks for having us.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (02:04): All right, y’all. So, for those of you who are new, welcome. We’re going to tell you a little bit about what to expect. For those of you who are recurring, thank you for sticking with us, grinding with us and trying to create a space that is going to be therapeutic and healing. So, usually, we open up with the tea. We do a spill of tea, what’s going on in the world, what’s happening. We give a little bit of time to it. Then we introduce our topic and then we have a little discussion, we take questions, and then after that, we wrap up with the Last Nerve, because usually being Black in America specifically, and more so at work, is something is going to get on your Last Nerve.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (02:43): So that’s how we spend our time. But tonight, with everything that’s going on, we just didn’t feel that it was appropriate to even be talking about spilling the tea. We just really want to pause and check-in with each other, to see how we’re doing, how we’re navigating, having to bare witness to so much Black death, so much Black trauma by carrying it from… We just want to model that, and hopefully y’all will be able to do that for yourself. So, I‘ll pop us off, instead of talking about the tea, I just really want to check in and say that I am feeling kind of centered tonight. I think that the only reason why I’m feeling that centered is because I have actively disengaged from media and social media to be able to take in so much of the trauma, because I recognized that prior to this I was already maxed out on trauma. And so my body said, “Hey, sis, you can’t manage. You can’t handle this.” And so, I’m feeling anxious and I’m having to lean into it and talk about it tonight because it is inevitable. That’s where I am. How about you, Dr. Jide? Where are you?

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (03:55): You know, times are hard right now. Times are really hard. There’s a lot going on, and I think it definitely makes me scared for myself. Like, what’s going to happen to me. I have two young boys. I’m always worried about them. Like, everybody sees them and they’re like, They’re so cute. They’re so great. They’re so wonderful. But in 10 years, how are you going to feel about them?

Dr. LaWanda Hill (04:18): Right.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (04:18): So it’s really scary right now. How about you Dr. Brian?

Dr. Brian Dixon (04:23): Yes. So there’s a psychological term that everybody gets to look up. It’s called sublimation. So it’s where you take in an unsavory impulse and you bring it to your consciousness and then you drive it into something that’s more productive. That’s what I’m doing, because I’m so damn pissed off. I am the angriest person I know, and most of my days I wake up and I just think, “Okay, channel my anger, channel my rage,” because I can’t disengage like Dr. LaWanda. So I’m working on it. I’m trying to compartmentalize all this shit, and it’s not working. So I’m just going to sublimate my rage because I’m pissed off and tired. I’m just really, really tired. So, Dr. Nikki, what’s up with you?

Dr. Nikki Coleman (05:09): So, thank y’all for holding this space. What I have been really wrestling with, I mean, we could name the litany of Black men and women whose life has been cut short by white supremacist police-sanctioned state violence. But I definitely feel like for many of us George Floyd was a tipping point or not a tipping point. It was a different moment in time. And so, since that has happened, the only way that I’ve described it is to say there is no word in the English lexicon for this amount of weariness and grief that I feel resides in my body. I really don’t think we’ve named it. I’ve been trying to talk about it as Black grief in specific. And so, that’s where I am and I have this really interesting… I don’t think survivor’s guilt is the right term, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t disengage because I feel like I need to be informed. I feel like if I haven’t lived it, then I need to acknowledge it. I don’t watch the videos of the deaths. I’m intentional about that part. I don’t know. For me, it feels like a responsibility to be informed. And I vacillate with that sense of “Is that healthy for me or not?” They all sort of hit me. I know people say this, but I am a big empath, and so, I think about not just the loss of life, not just the traumatic loss of life, but I think about, like, that ripple effect. And so all of the children that now are part of this clubthat they never wanted to be a part of, all the mothers that are apart of this club that they probably prayed would be the last thing that happened to their babies. All of the partners that have lost or even witnessed their partner’s grief. And I think about what is the impact for us, not just in this moment as a community, but what are–what do we know about epigenetics? What are the long-term consequences for us collectively? Like, how do we ever fucking heal when there’s a constant onslaught of terror as they [assault us?]? And what does that mean for me in terms of what’s required of me for my liberation work, what’s required of me personally in my life for what I want for my daughter? So it’s hard for me to stay centered. I think all of my work and my energy centers around it, like you, Dr. Dixon. Like, I do think that I’m intentional about what resistance am I putting out in the world, what joy am I putting out in the world, what healing am I putting out in the world, but some days, whew…

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (08:05): Thanks. Thank you.

Dr. Brian Dixon (08:06): Preach.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (08:09): Now that’s real. And I think what I’m hearing is that–there’s a combination of things that I want to acknowledge that there is a strong, emotional reaction. That brings up all the other things that we’ve already been carrying, which leaves drafting for reactions that we’re having. Then there’s this like psychological wrestling with “What do we do? How much do we engage? How much do we disengage? What responsibility do we feel?” Because we are collective as a culture. We are communal. So, we want to be able to grieve with people who grieving and be joyful with people who are being joyful. And so it just really speaks to the very nuanced experience of Black people as we bear witness to the ongoing institutional state-sanctioned Black deaths, and we’ve heard that in all of our reactions, and I just want to name that, and that is what we’re going to unpack tonight. So what Black people have to often do all the time is pivot. Dr. Ebony said that we have mass camaraderie, and it was probably after young Treyvon’s murderer got off and maybe when he was murdered, and she said that there’s no post-trauma for Black people. There’s always just moments in between the next one. Whenever we think of post-traumatic stress disorder, there is trauma, and then you keep beyond it and then have this reaction after the trauma, and you’re like, “Don’t worry, you can heal.” But for Black people, It’s always a trauma and a trauma, and there’s moments in between, and so while we want to talk about [inaudible 00:09:42]–that doesn’t even seem appropriate to me. I think we’re going to talk about it in ways [?]. We hope that you can help us move forward with these white toxicity and so forth. What we really want to talk about is the cumulative impact of what it means for Black people to constantly bare witness to traumatic Black deaths that are state-sanctioned, that’s institutional, that activates our prior traumas and what the collective impact is on that. And we also want to hold space for hope, right? We need to honor it, even if we hang out in it for a minute, we have to get back to a place of hope, and I think the only place we keep to that is to move through it. So, we want to talk about a little bit about that tonight because it’s relevant, and so, I think what would be most appropriate probably is to just contextualize our experience, contextualize what’s going on, what we’re experiencing, and what’s happening to give people some language of what we’re experiencing and why, and then you can kind of unpack it a little bit more.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (10:52): Yes. Absolutely.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (10:52): Can I jump in real quick, Jide?

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (10:54): Please.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (10:54): Because it strikes me we haven’t named the thing. We’re talking about it, but we haven’t named it. And so for context, for those who may come across this in two months or six months, I think it’s important also just to give homage to the lives that were lost. So, I’ll name part of what I’m experiencing, is one, we were already in the midst of retraumatization through having it aired on every news outlet that I was aware of, the Derek Chauvin trial for the murder of George Floyd, we had been under that for the past four weeks, and in the context of that another young Black man was killed with the excuse that it was an accidental murder by a police officer. What was it? A 10 mile difference, 10 minute difference from Minneapolis. So, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, almost simultaneously with that coming out, some additional footage came out from the state of Virginia about an Afro-Latino servicemen who was in his Army fatigues that was assaulted by two police officers, threatened his life. And so both of those things have been sort of released out into our airwaves, and so we’re not just managing the ongoing trauma of trying to understand what might happen with George Floyd. And I think the other piece, LaWanda, about this one is your mention of hope. I think there is a sense of hope for many of us, that this is such an egregious experience, that there were so many worldwide eyes on it that this might be the one time we get a conviction.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (12:40): Yes.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (12:40): But I think that hope can also be, like, a dangerous thing, right? Like, everything becomes much more fragile, and so I think a lot of Black people were already hyper vigilant–which is a symptom of PTSD–already hypervigilant, and then these two other instances happened sort of back to back. And so, it becomes a thing of when do you catch your breath? And that is a part of the current context, but what Jide is going to help us think about and talk about is this ongoing broader context with which these moments in time live.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (13:17): Yes, absolutely. So, thank you, Dr. Nikki. Thank you, Dr. LaWanda. So, absolutely. These things happen in a broader context, right? So, according to the Washington Post, in the last year, about 991 people have been killed by the police. Okay. Like, murdered by police. And that’s actually a relatively stable number. Every year it’s been about a thousand. Every year that it’s been tracked, but interestingly, it’s only been tracked about, like, the last two or three years. So before there was actually no federal tracking of how many people were killed by police. So that’s just one context to put this in. The vast majority of people that get killed by police are men. In fact, they’re often mostly white. In sheer number, it’s mostly white. But Black men are disproportionately likely to be killed by the police. We only make up 13% of the population, but make up about 33% of those people killed by police. And Black men are far more likely to be killed by police while they’re unarmed in comparison to white and Hispanic men. Dr. Nikki, thank you for bringing up the case of Daunte Wright, the unarmed Black man who was killed by the police officer Kim Potter in Minnesota in Brooklyn Center. Caron Nazario was the Sergeant or the Lieutenant who was assaulted by police officers on camera. Matthew Zadok Williams recently was killed in DeKalb County, Georgia, and they’re trying to say he lunged at police with a knife, but witnesses say that’s not what happened. Just recently Adam Toledo, a 13 year old boy in Chicago, was killed by a police officer when his hands were up. They just released the video today. His hands were up, the police officer said, “Stop running, put your hands up.” He turned around and put his hands up, and then he murdered him. Mayor Lori Lightfoot, before it went out, she raised the bridges in Chicago, the bridge that connects the poor side and the rich side, and that’s always something they do when they know that there’s about to be a protest or something like that. Peyton Ham, a 16 year old white kid, murdered by police in Maryland for holding a pellet gun. And that still matters. That still matters. It’s not acceptable for that to happen. The officer who shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake at the end of March, really, really quietly, they put him back into duty and said he didn’t do anything wrong. Last week, a Pentagon police officer shot and killed two Black men who were driving away from him, because he said he thought they were robbing his car. And this is what we live with every single day. Like, every day you read the news and it’s something else, it’s something else. It’s something else. There’s some research by Professor Sirry Alang, who is a professor at Lehigh University. She published this paper in the American Journal of Public Health. It’s a really, really great paper. I highly recommend you read it. It’s on police brutality and white supremacy, and she points out that police brutality impacts Black health on an individual level, on a communal level and on a structural level. So what happens doesn’t just impact the person who it happens to, it impacts all of us. So let’s talk about some of the ways how. Well, one, it kills people. That’s one way. It kills people. Just off the rip, it kills people. And even everybody who isn’t killed, there are people who suffer from severe injuries for the rest of their lives because of the things that police officers do. Two, there’s adverse physiological responses that increase morbidity. So this is a direct quote, “Witnessing or experiencing harassment, routine unwarranted searches, and deaths that go unpunished send a message to Black communities that their bodies are police property, disposable and undeserving of dignity and justice. Defending the character of loved ones after the police have killed them can also be excruciating, eliciting more negative emotions.” I mean, how many times have we seen the character assassination that goes on of young Black people after they die? We saw it with Breonna Taylor. We saw it with Sandra Bland. We saw with Trayvon Martin. We see it with anybody you can think of. There’s always the character assassination that comes on afterwards. These police brutality incidents, there’s racist public reactions that cause a lot of stress. Black people often have the task of explaining to their non-Black friends,” and this is another quote, coworkers and strangers, the connection between instructional racism and the latest police shooting. This is a profoundly stressful process to undergo while grieving these deaths.” So imagine all this happening and you go to work and your coworkers like, “Well, he shouldn’t have ran. Well, you know, he had a warrant. Well, you know, he should have been complied. He shouldn’t have XYZ’d,” right? Trying to justify the deaths of mostly young unarmed Black men. Next, police brutality often results in arrest, incarceration, legal, medical, and funeral bills that cause financial strain. Another quote, in addition to the job loss after incarceration,” because remember a lot of people who don’t die, they just take them to jail afterward. After they beat your ass, they take you to jail. Survivors of brutality have to deal with the disabilities from the police use of excessive force. Police brutality also affects the economic productivity of Black communities because loved ones have to take time away from paid work to grieve, to plan and attend funerals and organize protest,” and these events result from police brutality and they take away resources from already often poor Black communities. And then last, these are also just signs that police brutality is an integrated oppressive structure and it causes systematic disempowerment. Another quote, Excessive police force and inadequate prosecution of perpetrators might increase feelings of powerlessness in the Black community, diminishing perceptions of gains made by the civil rights movement. Frequently, the only semblance of justice for victims of police brutality is to gain sympathizers in the court of public opinion. To do this, Black people seemingly have no other option than to make public the videos or photographs that show the private and last moments of loved ones’ lives.” And this was published in 2017. This wasn’t even published, like, today, and all this is absolutely, absolutely still relevant. So my question that I pose to all of you, we live with these experiences all the time. How does this impact us? How does this impact our ability to work and what do we need in allies?

Dr. Brian Dixon (19:53): Yes. I’ll jump out there first. So one of the things that I kept thinking about when Dr. LaWanda said “The body keeps the score,” and it’s the idea of kind of learned helplessness, and in this case we learn helplessness as a protective mechanism because every time we go to do something that we’re supposed to be doing, we get shot and killed and disenfranchised. “Hey, let’s go vote,” and then they changed the laws. “Oh, hey, let’s go for a walk.” There’s another video I saw where a dude was just walking on the damn sidewalk and this white guy was acting a fucking fool. We can’t even walk on a sidewalk, on a public sidewalk. It’s not his sidewalk, the guy’s sidewalk. So yes, and after a while, when you get beat down enough, you learn not to do stuff. The problem is, and it’s not our fault, in that case it’s a protective mechanism because our bodies and our minds are keeping the score. And so, yes, it’s really hard, to Dr. Nikki’s point and Dr. LaWanda’s point. I’m trying to find the hope. There’s a term called cognitive dissonance, and I struggle with that because I’m around white folks all the time, and I’m like, “Yes, I would like to think that they’re looking out for my best interest, but now I have to wonder, are they? And what the hell does that mean?” And I struggle with that, especially on days like this. And so, yes, I don’t know what it means for a Black person at work. It’s hard.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (21:18): I have so many reactions. Thank you for sharing that. I just have so many different reactions, and I keep going back to this. I guess what lingers with me the most is, like, [inaudible 00:21:32], and I think about what it might feel like for somebody to be traumatized but they’ve had to share their trauma in hopes that you may find them human enough to be able to react as an ally. That’s my first reaction. My second is really for what you shared, Dr. Brian, which is this work helplessness, and I can say as someone who has struggled with work helplessness that I think that that’s important for us to name for people who may be listening, who may be having a reaction because it’s very real, and I think it’s a psychological conditioning that once you’re… Let me go back. So you learn helplessness in a certain context, because that’s what you need to survive, and then that context shifts and you still feel helpless. And so I think that can continue to perpetuate the marginalization, the oppression, all the different thoughts that are running through my mind that if you don’t recognize it, you may just surrender. You might just surrender.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (22:47): Thank you, Brian, for kicking this off, because I had also lots of reactions. So for me, it’s not the learned helplessness, it’s the cognitive dissonance, and this is what I’ve always wrestled with in the sense that I don’t frame it. I don’t experience the learned helplessness because I’m clear it’s a systematic disempowerment. I’m clear it’s a set up from jump. Where I really struggle is, you then expect me to treat you with civility, professionalism”, which we know is a dog whistle, but there’s been a level of expectation of kindness that I’m required. No, niceness is not kindness. Let me be clear, niceness is that I’m required to extend to you in professional settings to make you feel comfortable about my grief, about my trauma–and that’s the place where I would always get stuck. And I got to a point where I would be at work and you’re like, Hey, how are you?I was like, “Well, you know, they killed another Black man in the street yesterday, so not great.And they were like, Yeah, all right,” and they move on. I think this is why I always talk about racism as being a perpetual catch-22 for Black people, because I want to work in an environment in which I have colleagues, and many of us need colleagues. We need more than allies. I think we need accomplices. We need sponsors. We need champions in the workplace to be able to navigate it. But you leave me in such a position with my rage, with my forced disempowerment, with my grief, that I don’t want to make that connection with you because you are not perceiving me and my humanity in a way that allows me to center my humanity in a culturally congruent way. And that’s where I always get stuck. I just want to flip tables. So I just really want to be able to hold up a sign like the old church says and be like, “I ain’t fucking with you today.” And just, that’s it. That’s all I got for you.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (25:00): What does the right response look like in situations like this? So something happens on Sunday and you have to go into work on Monday. What does a supportive work environment look like for that? Is it a place where we talk about it? Is it a place where something happen and we talk about it?

Dr. Nikki Coleman (25:17): It’s not work.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (25:17): Yes. It’s not work.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (25:18): So can we just throw that out? And I know that’s not the reality for anybody, but we’re talking about aspiring and you want to know how you could be an ally, how you can be an accomplice. Don’t expect me to produce. That is capitalism that is locked up in white terrorism and toxicity if I’ve ever seen it. “Forget what’s happening, remove your humanity and produce anyway.” No, that’s not human. That’s not how our spirit is set up. That’s not how our psyche is set up. Don’t expect me to produce. Let’s just put that in the atmosphere as one response.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (25:53): And don’t punish me when I don’t produce. Don’t change the evaluative standards. Don’t change my performance review as a result of that choice. Because that’s how the system kicks in. That to me is really how we talk about structural and systemic racism, because the system is set up to not see you. So even when you create mechanisms for me to be seen, it’s not big enough to actually fully accomplish what I need. Oh, it needs to be both hands.

Dr. Brian Dixon (26:22): Yes. And I would add there are mechanisms that exist in every workplace to be able to give space for times when you’re not feeling well. So if you’re sick, you can call in. If someone dies in your family, you can take time. If you’re having a child, you can take time. We need to be that aggressive with Black mental health. We need companies to recognize, “You know what, Black folks are going through some things, not of their own choosing or in their own control, and we need to be more aggressive on the corporate front to recognize that.” Because the mechanism is already there. You can give somebody a damn day off or a week off. You have that mechanism. Right? So yes, I agree.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (27:07): I mean, most of what I have seen–and I’m happy to hear from other folks if there are better models, but–the model that corporate America seemed to take on post-summer 2020 was “Let’s find all of these not-for-profits that are already doing the work and partner with them by giving them a hundred million or a lot of hundred millions over five years to these eight different groups,” which we all could do math. We could all do that basic math. That ain’t a whole lot of money. Take that money and then pour it into your actual employees. [?] you actually have employees who have had to sell dinners, who had to take up collections, who had to put up GoFundMes to bury their loved ones. Put money into that. Put money into–these are set aside, paid days off for experiencing Black grief. Anti-Asian grief. And it’s still in Black grief, right? Because white supremacy is at an all time high in these 2021 streets, and it comes back with a vengeance. So there’s resources.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (28:13): And I will say I agree with that. I think that needs to be a category where you upholding the time off or whatever. Black grief is real and we’re going to experience it, and I think about for me, it brings a real practical example to me about what allyship is. At this stage of the game, I am looking for an accomplice, but if you want to be an ally at this point, let me give a practical example. So all of this stuff is going down. We are watching the trial of the murder of George Floyd. We see another Black man who was unarmed, who was murdered [by state-?] sanctioned violence, and most Black people are at work and still having to navigate. And we’re in a meeting and I’m just like, “All right, y’all, [inaudible 00:28:59],” and one of my white colleagues, who considers himself an ally–and by the way, I do believe don’t refer to yourself as an ally unless a Black person says you’re an ally. You don’t get to call yourself an ally. You have to earn that title. And you definitely have to earn being an accomplice. I’ve made them [inaudible 00:29:17] as an ally. Like, you know, one day I just want to acknowledge [inaudible 29:20]. Now, recent [?] of, like, people in the trial. Do you think that it would be helpful [to?] take on some of this emotional labor that I’m holding, that I’m carrying [?] as a Black woman? You expect me to produce all the time. Do something that matters and alleviates the pain.

Dr. Brian Dixon (30:06): Amen. I harken back to one of our podcasts six weeks ago with Black excellence and John Henryism. Dr. Nikki, you taught me this term, and now I just feel it in my bones every time I wake up and I work my three jobs. and yes, if someone came up to me and said, you know, “I see you, I hear you. I see what’s going on. Let me do this for you.” If you want to be an ally, that’s a great place to start.

Dr. Brian Dixon (30:33): Whenever we lose somebody in the Black culture, we celebrate and we support that family, right? We go to the house, we get the food going, and “Hey, let me let me clean up the dishes. What can I do for you?” And this is one of those times we are culturally mourning. We–every single Black person is in mourning again and again and again because all this shit keeps happening. And yes, help a brother out. Do some shit and get some shit done so that then we don’t have to run around and have our heart burst like John Henry, because we’re trying to do the most to keep up and catch up in this context.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (31:10): I think one of the most important things that you’re all mentioning right now is that it’s not just support, it’s action with the support. Because one thing a lot of white people like to do is send you a little message. Like, “I’m thinking of you.” Right? And it’s like “No, that doesn’t mean anything to me.” That’s essentially the thoughts and prayers. All of you mentioned that it comes with a bit of action. It’s like, “I see you, I feel you, how can I help you? What are the ways that I can do to assist you?” How do y’all feel about your boss holding space to have conversations about this? You know, let’s say they do give you a week off. Right? How do you feel about a boss saying, “Let’s hold a space and let’s have a meeting to talk about it.” Are you against that? Do you want that? How are you feeling?

Dr. Nikki Coleman (32:01): Miss me with that. I don’t want it.

Dr. Brian Dixon (32:03): Yes. I don’t want it either.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (32:05): But here’s what I do want, and this is what I want in a part C answer to the previous question. For me, real allies do the work when I’m not around. I don’t really necessarily need you. I mean, I’ll take it if you want to buy me some wine or chocolate or give me a meal. I’m never going to say no to those things. You want to run the meeting, go for it. But what’s most important to me, “Are you talking to your granddaddy? Do you talk to your brother? Do you talk to your friend’s husband who’s a good cop, one of the good apples?” Talk to them, get them together, check them. You’ve been going to all these trainings and reading and doing all of these things and really listening to your Black coworkers, then get with your own people, because you have more leverage with them than I will ever have, than seeing my people get gunned down in the street will ever have. Use that leverage when I am not present to make changes in the spaces where I won’t be but people who look like me might be, who might live another day because you’ve opened up someone else’s thoughts about how to see themselves in the world.

Dr. Brian Dixon (33:14): Yes. I am always impressed at how much or how many times white folks run from that uncomfortable place. They, especially on social media, just don’t say anything. Yes. It’s like coming into the break room at work and they just say nothing. Now, I don’t need you to be my therapist, because again, we’re The Break Room. We’re all about therapy and empowerment and we can have therapists outside of the workplace. So I’m not trying to have you be my therapist and process trauma with me. What I am saying is that when you don’t acknowledge it, you perpetuate the trauma. So acknowledge it. “I’m really sorry.” Validate. “I’m really sorry that happened. I don’t know how to help, but I’m going to go do my work and then go do your fucking work.” Because at the end of the day, I can’t do your work for you. You have to do it yourself. And yes, Dr. Nikki, I’m with you. You have to do the heavy lifting with your family and your friends and your neighbors because you probably live in a white neighborhood. Our white allies, they probably live in a white neighborhood and go to a white church. Go do your work. And then as Black folks, reach out. One of the healing things about The Break Room is we all get to kind of commiserate and process this stuff together. And it’s really, really important.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (34:28): Because it’s really about undoing your conditioning. If you want to be an ally, here’s one thing I need you to really [inaudible 00:34:37]–no one escapes conditioning. No one escapes conditioning. No one escapes socialization. Period. That means messages that are systematic over time that work together to create a perception of reality that [inaudible 00:34:59]. Nobody can escape socialization, and no one therefore escape racial socialization. It is inherently biased. It is apparent with the dehumanization, invalidation, stereotypes of Black folks specifically. Here’s why when you see a Black male you can see the threat and you don’t perceive humanity. Let’s just stop pretending that we don’t. We do. Everybody [inaudible 00:35:28], because none of us are safe, ultimately safe. Number one, if you want to be an ally, stick with that tune. Wrestle with that truth, take it to your families, and not to your Black families or neighbors. Take that to your [inaudible 00:35:40]. Nothing is constant but change. Everything that you think you know about a cultural group, about Black people, about brown people is not true. Unlearn it. You can intellectually understand some shit, but ultimately you got to internalize it, and that takes work. So if you just read a book by Robin DiAngelo on how to be an anti-racist, I’m here to tell you you’re just in kindergarten, because there are levels to this shit about unlearning. You’re nowhere near that. You need to have the fundamental concepts to understand what it means to be racist, what it means to perceive people in a biased way. If you want to be an ally, try to be quick to get to action and then [inaudible 00:36:28] your guilt. You’re not fit with the people who are marginalized. Do the fucking work to unlearn. Period.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (36:36): There’s this cartoon. I wish I could pull it up, but there’s this cartoon of this Black guy. He’s got hiking boots on, shorts, his backpack, and there‘s a white dude in, like, business casual. He’s got on, like, a sweater and some loafers, and he’s bent over like, “Let me catch my breath,” and the Black dude is like this, and the post says, “Recognizing race is a problem in America, but doing something about it is still on a higher elevation.” And that is exactly what I thought of. The first time you’ve ever talked about this stuff was summer 2020. You’re still in the head start. You’re not ready for this PhD level conversation. You are not ready. And let me be clear, the idea that you think you’re ready is a very function of your white privilege. It has taught you that other people’s experiences are objectified, that you can read it in a book and automatically you are at the same level as someone else. There’s a certain level of expected familiarity in white culture that does not exist in all other Black and brown cultures. You need to relate to that. If you want to actually do the work of being an ally, you need to get in that mindset that you’re not ready for these big girl conversations and big boy conversations. But you can have head start conversations with your other head start friends. You can do that all the time. Do your own work. It really will serve us better as a collective if that is how you choose to use your time. If your intentions are genuine. If they are ingenuine and not performative. I will post that on my social media tomorrow. Have a head start conversation with your head start friends.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (38:27): Because when I [inaudible 00:38:28]–maybe let’s say undergrad. When I began to understand the fundamentals of this topic, you don’t read, “Oh, wow, this is what it means to have [X?] disorder,” and think you’re ready to go diagnose and treat. It’s humility. It’s levels to this. So you don’t read a book and think that you’re ready and that you understand your condition. You have to humble yourself to that process. It is a process of unlearning, a process of undoing, and that is not all. It is in part intellectual, but it’s not all intellectual.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (39:17): Absolutely. I think we got a great question. I want to pose it to y’all. All right. “What do you do at work when your white boss literally leads inclusive leadership trainings but censors you when you want to bring up the pay gap or promotion policy issues your organization has when discussing DEI for fear of criticizing the organization?” I want you to know this is not something unique to you. Thank you for asking the question, but this is—whoo, that’s not something unique to you. So go ahead. Who would like to answer that one?

Dr. Brian Dixon (39:50): I’ll throw out the easy answer, which is hopefully they’re using some kind of paperwork or some kind of written something and you can then pull that back to them and say, “Yes, so I’m not really understanding how you’re doing this, and I’m saying this. Like, help that make sense. Make that make sense to me.” Because at the end of the day, if you challenge his manhood–because that’s toxic masculinity. If you challenge his whitehood, “Oh, ooh, ooh, ooh, man,” that’s white toxicity. I was like, “Wait a minute.” So if you do that directly, he’ll get defensive. It’ll be a hot mess. It makes your day go real, real long. So instead I would say stick to what’s written and then put it right back in their face. But the DEI experts are here, y’all, so what you got?

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (40:36): I have a quick response if I could get in. My response is at this point you’re kind of… And this is the thing about being Black. You’re damned if you do, damned if you don’t. You’re damned if you don’t because you’re not going to get paid, you’re not going to get paid what you need to be paid. Right? You’re stuck. You’re damned if you do because you’re going to say something and then you might get retaliated against, you might get fired. They might turn the office against you. You know what I’m saying? At the end of the day, I would always say say what you have to say. You know what I’m saying? Be mindful, be careful, but say what you have to say. So at least you could say you said it, because often times you’ll regret not saying anything later on. So that’s what I have to say.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (41:18): I want to get the question again. I was too busy testifying because it hit me in my spirit. So I’m not sure I got the question right. Could you read it again, please?

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (41:26): “What do you do at your work when your white boss literally leads inclusive leadership trainings, but censors you when you want to bring up the pay gap or promotion policy issues your organization has when discussing DEI for fear of criticizing the organization?”

Dr. Nikki Coleman (41:47): Okay. Well, here’s what I would say. I agree with what my esteemed colleagues have shared so far. One of the things that I think you have to always… That saying “If you stay ready, you ain’t got to get ready,” and I really think that’s a mentality Black people in a professional work setting have to have, that at any point there could come a forced point between you choosing to stay in an institution and leave it, and that is a complicated set of factors around your time put in, your compensation, what your life circumstances are, all of those things. I’m not diminishing the complexity of that, but I do think most things in life are simple. At the end of the day, we talk about solutions. So I would keep that in mind. And then for me, I use the “Can I sleep at night?” test. I use the “Can I look my daughter in the eye?” test, and if it’s something that I cannot abide by in either of those spaces, then it’s up to me to figure out how to strategize and appreciate. So here’s where the real work of allies and accomplices come into play. I believe Dr. Dixon’s approach is [?], right? Like, often times a direct confrontation, that is a big distinguishing hallmark between most communities of color, but especially Black folks and white folks is direct communication. And so even when we are being our softest and our most reserved, we still are threatening. Right?

Dr. Brian Dixon (43:19): Intimidating, aggressive.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (43:20): Intimidating. So one, I am a huge proponent of put it in writing. I’m happy to bring it up in personal conversation, but I would come with documentation. Here’s what I know. Here’s a little bit of the national data. This is where the John Henryism comes in, because we got to do the extra work to even be able to make a small point, but go in prepared for the meeting and say, “I understand that this institution has high esteem and we want to keep that way, but part of our capacity to continue to innovate is to be able to move nimbly through these complex situations. Can we partner together to figure out the best way to make it happen?” Because that would mean then he gets to step up and do his white man thing and take credit for what you’re going to do anyway, and then you follow that up with the “As per our conversation, I attach these documents, because I know we couldn’t really integrate it all while we were having our one-on-one.” So they’re here going forward, and then you say, “I want to circle back to that conversation that we had, Steve, three months ago. I haven’t seen any move, but I know performance season is coming up. Could we revisit that?” And then when Steve doesn’t respond, then you go to your accomplice and say, “Hi, Kaitlin. You said you was an ally. Could you holler at your boy Steve?” Because you know what affects women too? This is how you play the game. And then you have to decide if you’ve done all those machinations. When you play all the cards that you have, is it worth it to stay there? Or do you take your talents and skills somewhere else where you will be valued and probably compensated?

Dr. LaWanda Hill (45:08): That part. And I want to name that because I think that [inaudible 00:45:11]. But I want to–whoever asked the question, I want you to understand that if you do [inaudible 00:35:18] , like, in a lot of ways, it’s what we’ve talked about. “You’re [inaudible 00:15:24] here, how could you be an inclusive ambassador?” I think it’s the only thing, that I am of service to minority voices. You haven’t internalized this yet. This is a game, how to play the game. “How am I going to play the game?” And then, you know, you do that test. “Can I look myself in the mirror at night knowing that I played the game? That I’ve been playing the game for years? Or do I want to go somewhere else where I don’t have to play your game on this level?” It’s always a contest for us, and I think that [?]–I’m pretty sure you’re valuable, and I’m pretty certain you have an amazing skill-set that some people would appreciate and [inaudible 00:46:12], but you still are empowered to make your own choices. Do you want to play the game? How much energy do you want to give to the game? Or do you want to take your talent, as LeBron said, to Miami.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (46:24): To South Beach. And we want to acknowledge that it really sucks that we have to play this game. We don’t want to downplay the significance of the fact that when you’re a white man, you don’t have to [play?] the game, right? They offer you the maximum salary from jump street. It sucks that we have to play the game, but we want you to do your best, get your coins. That’s what we want for y’all.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (46:49): There’s another question, right?

Dr. Brian Dixon (46:50): Yes. So the next question–and yes, keep sending those questions. Yes, absolutely, and if you have a question or you want to email us privately, so So the question is for y’all. “How do you know if you were accurately reading your current emotional readiness to engage in that kind of heavy emotional lifting with the people that are harming you either passively or intentionally? Can you trust your own self-assessment in the midst of this continuing trauma?” And damn, that is a question.

Dr. Brian Dixon (47:24): So let me jump in first and then I want to pass it off. So yes. So how do I know if you’re accurate? So I love the “Listen to your gut,” right? So when you start to get heartburn, when your heart starts racing and your hands get clammy, sometimes it’s a panic attack, but sometimes it’s you need to listen to what’s going on. It may not be that right moment to then jump in, because sometimes when you say things and your blood pressure’s up and your heart is racing, sometimes you might say the wrong thing. So if you’re one of those folks, take some time, think about it. There’s always the next day. That business ain’t going nowhere. Or I say, “Go for broke.” If you’re pissed off and you feel convicted, go for it. That’s kind of how I do it, but how does everybody else do it?

Dr. Nikki Coleman (48:18): So that was my response, but clearly I think it is a function of white supremacy to teach you not to trust yourself. Because whites tend to…

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (48:30): Say that one more time. Please say that again.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (48:31): It is a function of white supremacy to teach you not to trust yourself, because part of white supremacy thought is that everything is codified and only written knowledge is legitimate knowledge, and we know that we have access to a wide variety of sources of knowledge and wisdom, and if everything in your body says “This is some bullshit,”–it might not be bullshit for Brian, it might not be bullshit for Jide, but it’s bullshit for you, and that is enough. That is enough. I’m at this place. I don’t know if it’s because I’m in my mid-40s or whatever, but we ain’t got time, sis. Literally, they are killing us in the streets. For Black women, they will kill us in our home. There is no time for you to doubt yourself on this. So how you want to move forward there requires a level of sophistication that you can engage, but some days you might also not be at a place to do that, and I’m okay with that too. I will be honest to say I think Black men get away with expressing their anger much more so than Black women, that the sanctions are not the same for them as they are for us, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to have access to that for yourself.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (49:57): What about you, Dr. LaWanda? What do you think?

Dr. LaWanda Hill (50:01): I think you’re right. This is what I need people to come back to. The white toxicity that comes through our brains [inaudible 00:50:17]. We are connected to something greater than us. We move as spiritual beings. We move as interpersonal beings, and to discount that is fundamentally against our existence. We’re not those people. We’re not those people. We’re people who have intuition, we have discernment, we’re collectivists, and when we start to discount that, then that’s how you know it’s a product of all of these toxic things that I just named. So how do you get back to that? You got to get back to that. You got to get back to your form, man. Sometimes that means disengagement. Sometimes that means reserving your energy. [inaudible 00:51:08]

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (51:13): I love this question. Thank you for asking. I have a really quick response. Building on what Dr. Brian said, sometimes it’s cool to take a second. There’s nothing wrong with taking a minute to yourself and processing, repeating to yourself, maybe writing down what happened. That’s often a good thing in the moment, writing down what was said to you so you can remember that. And this is why community is important. You should have a trusted Black person in your life that you can go “Sis, bro, bruh, can I talk to you about this real quick? My boss said X, Y, Z to me. Am I tripping?” Like, that’s a common question that Black people ask, “Am I tripping? Am I bugging? Let me know if I’m bugging,” and you can go from there. That’s one way as well. But thank you for your question.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (51:58): I’ve also been known to draft a mad ass email, but maybe there’s something cathartic to hitting those keys and reading somebody for filth and then I’ll save it as a draft, and then I might have that conversation and then I’ll go back in and edit it. I’ll probably go all the way, open up this mouth, but I might make a more edited version. Yes, I love that. But at the end of the day, the take home is your experience is valid, right? The whole reason we have The Break Room is a universal recognition that Black people at work are marginalized, diminished, oftentimes distorted in our perceptions of ourselves, underutilized and overworked. It is a universal experience. How it shows up and manifests in your particular world of work varies from person to person. The experience is a phenomenon of yourself that you bring too. It varies from person to person, but this is a collective universal experience. And that’s why we’re here.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (53:10): All right. We covered a lot. I think this has been cathartic. My hope for y’all is that when Black people are killed and murdered and we all feel it and we all are having to navigate this systemic racism that impacts us psychologically [inaudible 00:53:27], we doubt ourselves. We begin to question ourselves and submit ourselves to things that we may or may not have to endure. So I’m really hopeful that somebody was moved by this episode, that you go back and you put it on repeat however many times you need to do it, but we want to make certain that we just validate, number one, name being validated and acknowledging experience in some language, because we can’t address what we can’t name. Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of language for the things that we’re experiencing. [inaudible 00:54:02]. I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve been [?] this experience to be able to lean in, be vulnerable. Those who are navigating that at work, I hope y’all have [inaudible 00:54:22]. So we’re at the end of our episode where we have the Last Nerve. This is going up. First it was 50 seconds and then it was 90 seconds. I don’t know. It may even be [inaudible 00:54:26], I don’t know. But we talk about what has gotten on our Last Nerve, because I do think that being able to name something and get it out but to move through it [is important?]. So what has been the Last Nerve? We haven’t decided.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (54:55): I have one. So, I don’t have the time or whatever, I’m just going to go. So after the shooting, the murder, the state-sanctioned murder of Daunte Wright on Sunday–because that’s what it was–Joe Biden came out, President Joe Biden came out and said I’ve seen the video, but there is no excuse for looting.” Okay, and that is the whitest fucking answer you could ever give. I absolutely hate that, because there’s no excuse for killing unarmed Black people. I’ve never–in fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard the president say, “Police, stop killing unarmed Black people.” Have you? I’ve never heard it. So…

Dr. Nikki Coleman (55:42): All I’ve ever heard is a few bad apples.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (55:43): A few bad apples. They don’t spoil the bunch.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (55:49): Spoils the whole fucking bunch.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (55:49): No, no, no. That’s bullshit.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (55:49): I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I took over while you were talking.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (55:54): No. I’m happy we could share this moment together. But, like, “There’s no excuse for looting.” There’s not enough money in the world that’s worth Daunte Wright’s life or Adam Toledo’s life or Peyton Ham’s life. Nothing. S, you know what? Burn down The Dollar Tree. I don’t care, because that doesn’t matter. Another Black person’s dead.

Dr. Brian Dixon (56:16): Yes.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (56:18): So that got on my Last Nerve. I forgot that he said that, and that’s just the whitest response, and it’s like… people are dying.

Dr. Brian Dixon (56:25): Yes. White and dumb. Because at the end of the day, he has multiple layers of people who know better and are advising him. He ain’t dumb. He knows how to win elections against another racist dude. So don’t bring that shit up in here. You know better. Just shut your damn mouth. Ooh, Lord.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (56:44): This is what LaWanda just talked about. I will say this, that’s that unconscious bias. That’s that socialization. His 70 whatever year old world, he was still in that space of “You got good Negroes and not good Negroes.” Now he ain’t going to never say that out loud. He’s not that dumb. But it comes out. Like, in that language, it comes out. And what triggers me always about that, Jide, is that what it does is fundamentally erase my humanity. That lets me know you have no emotional connection to this experience, because if you understood the amount of rage Black people have to suppress every single day to continue to participate in this society, you would never once fix your lips to say “peaceful protest.” That is an absolutely absurd reaction to blatant violence used to police us and terrorize us, quite frankly.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (57:51): Thank you. I’m happy we were able to share that Last Nerve. It was nice to share.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (58:03): If y’all missed that episode of The Break Room, go back and check it out, because unfortunately it still stands. There’s levels to this. 2020 while Black is 2021 while Black.

Dr. Brian Dixon (58:15): Yes. And one of the great things–just got the notice, y’all. Y’all’s Break Room is growing up. We got our new email address. So it’s So that’s on the record now. Send us emails. We love to hear from y’all because we’re growing up and we are super, super stoked to support y’all in the workplace.

Dr. Jide Bamishigbin (58:34): Thank you. We want y’all to be well. Thank you.

Dr. LaWanda Hill (58:36): Be well. And we will see y’all same time, same place next week. Take care.

Dr. Nikki Coleman (58:42): Peace, y’all.

Dr. Brian Dixon (58:42): Bye, y’all.

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