Our amazing mental health experts chat about cultivating allyship on this episode of The Break Room. Join us for medical tips and tricks – we’re 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. Want to catch the next Break Room? Click here to check our schedule and sign up!

Dr. LaWanda Hill (00:11): Hey, y’all, welcome to The Break Room.
Dr. Nikki Coleman: Welcome to The Break Room. We’re excited to have y’all.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (00:18): Welcome Rutherford and Justin, Matama and Chris, Debbie, Jordy. I like to call people by name so that they can feel seen. So welcome to The Break Room, y’all. If, for those of you, this is your first time coming in The Break Room, we want to pause to introduce ourselves and tell you a little bit about the show and what you can expect, and then we’re going to hop into this topic of cultivating allyship. So I am one of four cohosts of the show. I am Dr. LaWanda Hill. This is the amazing…
Dr. Nikki (00:50): Dr. Nikki. Her pronouns – she, her, hers.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (00:55): Yes. Say it.
Dr. Nikki (00:55): And one thing, I gotta get the crispy lighting that you have, Dr. LaWanda. I need that crispy lighting.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (01:04): It’s happening.
Dr. Nikki (01:04): The glare annoys me too. Anyway, I’m present.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (01:10): Listen, when you get on camera, when you start saying things and critiquing yourself on all the things–[?] so I’m Dr. LaWanda Hill, she’s Dr. Nikki Coleman, she, her pronouns, and we are two of the cohosts of The Break Room. So The Break Room is all about centering Black mental health at work because we know institutions, organizations, well, we know the U.S. to be anti-Black, and therefore organizations, institutions that Black people have to move and work in as well. And over time, that wears and tears at our mental health. So we have created a web show with four Black doctors. We were recently featured in Forbes, y’all. If y’all haven’t checked it out, Dr. Nikki can Google and drop it in the chat. Y’all can check it out.
Dr. Nikki (01:51): I can definitely do that.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (01:52): We were recently featured in Forbes because we are four Black doctors who’ve come together to talk about Black mental health at work. And so the structure of the show is that we check in, we usually do some tea. The last couple of weeks have felt very inappropriate to talk about any tea, which is any gossip that’s going on in the world that we want to weigh in on, and we just really been talking about recent events, and we’re going to do the same thing tonight. Dr. Nikki is going to weigh in with her reactions. I’m waiting on my reactions to the verdict, the recent murder trial. And so, yes, I’ve been bracing myself for that. So we usually start off with the tea, and then we hop in to a topic. And tonight, I think it’s timely. We’re going to talk about cultivating allyship, because that is something that gets co-opted. It’s a verb. It’s not a noun, it is a verb. It is a action thing to do. And we’re going to talk about what that looks like. We take some questions, so feel free as y’all are listening, drop questions, drop reactions, and we will address them. And then we close out with The Last Nerve. Dr. Nikki, you want to tell people what The Last Nerve is?
Dr. Nikki (02:59): It’s so many things. It’s layered. The Last Nerver is an opportunity that one of us, as hosts, gets to have a moment to just relate, relax, and release something that we have been holding on. Something that has really happened over the past week, that has worked our last nerve. It’s my favorite part of the show, to be honest.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (03:24): But we turn our timers on and we go into The Last Nerve, and that is the structure of the show. So if y’all feeling it, y’all digging it, it gives you something. Then definitely come back next week, bring a friend, tag a friend. We are live hosting, but you can get the recorded version. So let’s go ahead and hop into it tonight. So, the news. Well, what do we start with? Which one is fresh on your mind?
Dr. Nikki (03:48): Well, and I’m gonna try not to cry, but it’s been a heavy week. It’s been a very long, heavy 13 months. But this week has felt particularly heavy. And part of it, for me, has been the murder of Ma’Khia. I’ve heard people say Makia, Ma’Khia. I’m not sure. I’ve not heard someone who knows her authentically say her name. So I’m going to offer both. Makiah, right? No, Daunte, right? God bless, Ma’Khia Bryant. That is a conversation in and of itself, that there are so many names, but this 15-year-old gorgeous brown skin, young Black child was shot four times in the chest by a Columbus, Ohio police officer, because apparently she was a threat to him because she was holding a knife of some sort. I have intentionally not watched the video. I have set a practice of not watching videos over the past however many years. I think Alton Sterling was the last video that I actually watched and realized “This is absolutely not good for my well-being or psyche,” so I haven’t actually seen the video. And I tried to. I worked really hard to avoid it. I did. And yes, it’s devastating. And I think that one hits home in particular for me, Dr. LaWanda, because one, not only is it another loss of life, not only is it another loss of life because of unnecessary violence, not only is it a loss of young, Black life and potential, just think about all the potential. Think about where you were at age 15 and if your life had been cut short. But for me it has been particularly problematic because I’ve heard Black folks in the community justify the need to use this level of force. And in particular, well, just Black folks in general. It hurts it different whether I hear it coming from other women than I do for comes from Black men. And so that cuts a little bit deeper, and that has always been my experience, that what I perceive to be internalized racism when I encounter it, it always cuts deeper. That’s where I am.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (06:25): Yes. I’m reacting to both. I think definitely it’s the use of force, of deadly force for me, that lingers with me. I too have made it a practice ever since, I don’t know if it was 2015, not to watch any videos. I don’t think it’s helpful. I choose to want to see them living their lives and not them losing their lives. So it’s that piece for me, and it’s the use of deadly force and just the internalized perception of a threat of a 15-year-old with a knife. And I just keep thinking about the stark contrast of, back when, I don’t know how old the white male was, a 16-year-old carrying a rifle through the crowds made it out alive.
Dr. Nikki (07:13): Kyle Rittenhouse. That’s his name.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (07:13): Kyle made it out alive. Was a threat. Had a threat, a legit gun, and made it out alive, and they can find ways to deescalate that. And then, the same thing with Dylan who shot up the church back in 20… I’d never forget in Kentucky on internship. And it’s just the stark difference, and that’s the piece that always frustrates me and angers me for her specifically in this case, and that’s where the justification for people come in. Now, when it came to George Floyd, which was another heavy thing that we experienced on Tuesday, I think? Wednesday? I don’t know.
Dr. Nikki (07:51): So, today is Thursday, so it was Tuesday. And then, that same night she was shot.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (07:58): Right. And so, it’s people comparing and contrasting, and it’s just all of these lives. The verdict was heavy. Waiting for not justice, but accountability was heavy. So it’s been a lot, and it’s so hard to actively try to pursue your mental health and be Black in America. Joy is just a radical act in and of itself. Here’s one of the purposes of this show. And so that’s not the tea, but the news, y’all. And I don’t have an answer for that. I don’t have a solution for that other than we need to sit with it, because it is a reality, and it’s a lot of people’s realities. I do think it’s timely though, because these backdrops, these structural state-sanctioned violence, these systems that have been put in place by white terrorism and white toxicity, is operating and it’s impacting our lives. And so, I think that you would be great, Dr. Nikki, to really set a backdrop of why there is even a need for allyship, and then we can talk about how it looks and what it does not look like and how to cultivate it.
Dr. Nikki (09:05): Yes. Whew. So allyship to me, let me talk about it in this way. My understanding of all liberation movements, regardless of whether we’re talking about race, or gender, disability, is that all liberation movements happen in coalition, that in order for there to be systemic change there has to be systemic recognition that there is oppression. And so, that means that everybody involved in the system has to participate, and that requires that our folks that are like-minded, that understand the world intellectually at the least but has a capacity for empathy, for the understanding of other people’s oppression, are required to engage in ways that help disrupt. And for me, those are the fundamental pieces. When we say, “Black lives matter,” there is such a profundity in that statement. So for me, when I unpack that and think about allyship, I’m thinking in particular around recognition of the fact that you have to see humanity in me as a Black woman to be able to recognize that the way that systems are set up dehumanize me. That’s a fundamental tool of truth that you have to buy into. And then you have to also realize that your life, as a white person, as another person of color, is diminished in some significant way by anti-Blackness, by white toxicity. And then, you therefore have to make a decision that you choose to do something about it. And I always think about, for me, when I think about allyship and my personal litmus test, it’s always the freedom riders of the 1960s. There was the Montgomery bus boycott, and Black folks in Montgomery, Alabama boycotted for a year, a solid year walking everywhere. Refused to take the bus, but then the youth decided, “Okay, we can get this taken care of in Alabama, but if we want to see change? What about folks in Chicago, or folks in Indianapolis, or folks in Miami, or…? What do we do about that?” And so they realized, well, buses that travel state lines now become a federal issue, because now we’re crossing states. And so let’s then challenge that, and that happened in coalition with young, white people, and there were young, white people that gave up their lives, lost their lives in acts of violence in the process of working for liberation for Black folks, working for the right to vote, the right to be treated as full citizens. And that’s sort of my litmus test. Are you going to ride with me? Literally, will you ride with me?
Dr. LaWanda Hill (11:57): I love it. Literally.
Dr. Nikki (12:00): Literally and figuratively. So for me, that’s where the verb part comes in. And then the why. I always talk about the ship. We talk about relationships. That’s why we add ship to it. You have to feel a sense of connection to the individuals for whom you have empathy for. You have to have some recognition that “My well-being is limited.” As long as your well-being is limited, there’s an indigenous quote from Australia that says, “If you’ve come to help me, you’re wasting your time.”
Dr. LaWanda Hill (12:34): Yes.
Dr. Nikki (12:35): “But if you come because you recognize your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together.” And what I see a lot happening in these streets is a lot of hashtagging. I want to talk about this trend that I’ve seen. So part of my pursuit of radical joy has been at night, instead of death scrolling through Facebook or whatever, I’ve now gone to TikTok. I feel that’s where the real comedy lies. That’s where I find my joy, in these TikTok crazies.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (13:04): That’s where the comedy lies.
Dr. Nikki (13:09): And so, I’ll be scrolling through TikTok. I don’t follow a lot of people. There was no rhyme or reason. I just go on there to be entertained and to laugh out loud. What I have seen though is a number of what I would call white want to be allies. There seems to be a trend. I’ve seen a couple videos with white women angrily talking about how anti-racist they are. They’ll give an example of–I saw this woman last night saying, “I don’t know what it is about me that makes people think that they can be racist, say racist things to me, but they had the wrong one today,” dah, dah, dah. And another person was, “I went out to the store and I got to the door, realized I hadn’t got my mask, and I had to run back into the car to get my mask because I was afraid they thought I was going to be a Republican.” And then someone else that’s a mommy blogger, vlogger was saying, “Why is everyone else talking about microaggressions?” There’s crickets on my page. You comment on everything else. You like everything else, but the moment. And so there is a real sort of phenomenon that’s happening, but because of my experiences with white fragility, with white comfort, it makes me go, “Would you ride with me? Is this beyond a TikTok movement? Is this beyond being on trend? Is this something that would require you to sit in your discomfort? Are you so connected to this movement of anti-racism? Are you so connected to the hurt and harm of anti-Blackness that you would do more than post a TikTok video? I don’t know. I don’t know.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (14:54): Because that ain’t that uncomfortable to me. So we were talking about cultivating allyship. One of the things I hear for sure is that we need to know that all liberation happens in coalition. This is not one thing that we can do alone. And that’s number one, at least, the intellectual understanding of that. And then the humanity part of it, the emotional understanding is that you have to be able to see our humanity and see specifically when we’re talking about anti-Black racism. You have to be able to see the humanity and see that I am not seen as human or afforded the same privileges or afforded the same well-being, but you now want to be an ally. Part of what I’m hearing you say is that it’s comfortable in the social media worlds to do this because you could just post a video and feel good and be done. I remember there was a survey prior to maybe the 2016 elections, I think, and somebody was doing some research on how actively involved were you in the elections, and it was, “Did you repost something? Did you like something? Did you get out and go to the voting?” And I was like, “Whoa, okay.” So I didn’t get caught up in this reposting thinking like that is a significant major action, and I think that’s what happens. It’s, “Okay, I reposted it, Black Lives Matter,” or I am getting on TikTok saying XYZ so that makes me an ally. No. One of the steps of cultivating allyship requires discomfort. It requires that you be uncomfortable in those moments where it would be easier to do nothing or to not say nothing, to just post a TikTok and be done. So you post that TikTok, but are you talking to your family members? Are you talking to your friends? Are you truly, before you even post to TikTok, [inaudible 00:16:32] back up and cultivating allyship. One of those things to do is to be willing to be uncomfortable. But have you even educated yourself and done the work? That’s a critical piece. Because if you’re not careful, you haven’t educated yourself on systemic oppression, state-sanctioned violence against Black folks, then you are misinformed, and you’re moving and you’re not, and I feel the most dangerous person in the world is the unaware person. So have you educated yourself enough, begin to get understanding, and then not centered you? Because part of that TikTok feel like you are centering your willingness to wear a mask, your willingness to check somebody out. Is it about you, or is it about the coalition we try to go towards the liberation train?
Dr. Nikki (17:19): Is it about the image? Is it about the image? And I’m so glad that you eventually said centering. I think part of whiteness–and I will say in particular, at least in my experiences in the professional world, of which there is a long history. So graduate school back in the late nineties, all the way through now, I’ve been in [inaudible 00:17:49] spaces, in close proximity and professional settings with lots of white women. And my experience is that white women are particularly skilled at centering themselves in any issue.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (18:02): Very skilled, very skilled.
Dr. Nikki (18:05): And so, that education piece is a recognition. If you’re going to do real education on self, then you have to learn how to not center yourself. It ain’t about you, cheese. You’ve gotta get on over here, sis. Be quiet, be silent, listen, learn to listen for understanding, learn to listen for empathy, learn to listen for understanding about yourself. Not about me. Learn to listen for understanding about yourself. And how do you hold yourself accountable I think is also one of the other requirements. Meaning when you backslide, because you will because that is the sort of [?] that is white supremacy, it’s the goal, to keep itself moving–how do you hold yourself accountable? How are you willing to sit in the discomfort when you’re called out on your centering, on your detouring, on your white fragility, right? How do you sit in there?
Dr. LaWanda Hill (19:07): And I think that requires another step of cultivating. And this is not a step-by-step. So I’m saying step just to throw out nuggets for people who may be listening in there, but this is not linear.
Dr. Nikki (19:16): It’s not linear.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (19:17): It’s not a linear, upward progression step by step, but it is necessary for you to be hearing different things. I think it’s important to be honest. So the reason why the last three things that we mentioned is so hard when you’re trying to cultivate allyship, specifically amongst white people, is because of white dominant norms, which is all about perfectionism, which would preclude you from being able to be honest, that you have made mistakes, or that you have messed up. It also is about a lot of individualism. Individual “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” as opposed to collectively working with other people to achieve a goal.
(19:54): So these values that you are socialized with require some unlearning and some undoing, and that requires honesty to say, “Wow, I can’t tell you how many times me and Dr. Nikki had been talking,” and it may be, “Oh, this may be my internalized egotism coming up or my internalized anti-Blackness coming up or my internalized homophobia coming up.” We all have biases. We all have prejudices. There is a very cis, heteronormative, able-bodied, and all the rest of the -isms projection of what normative is, and we’re socialized around that. And so you internalize those values, whether you know them or you don’t. It would be in our best interest, particularly if you’re trying to cultivate allyship, when they come up, it’s, “Oh, okay. I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing. There it is. How do I do work to undo it?” And that requires some honesty and vulnerability. That is required to be in allyship. Because you have to do the work. You absolutely have to do the work. So, I also think it’s important that we think about what sort of indicators we might want to give for Black and brown folks that are listening.
Dr. Nikki (21:03): That’s good. That’s good. Because just as all liberation work is coalition, if you look at any of the data, pick an article, pick the outlet, pick a research study, Forbes, Fortune, New York Times or whatever, you know that the C-suite of the major corporations in this country do not reflect diversity. Period. As my colleague Dr. Laura likes to say, “[?]”.
(21:37): It doesn’t. And so when we think about it, that’s part one. Part two we knew for sure, but we have had to manifest in a very different way, our understanding of how much over-representation there is of Black and brown folks in lower paid positions and all of these essential workers, but you don’t pay them essentially. That’s a different podcast. So we know there’s an imbalance in the structure. And so, when we think about how we want to leverage all the resources we have available to us in these systems, in our places of employment and worlds of work, there has to be folks that we can count on as allies. And I really am at a place where for me being an ally is like an entry ticket, but it’s not VIP. I need you to actually be an accomplice.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (22:32): That’s good. Can we get that? Being an ally is an entry ticket. It is not VIP.
Dr. Nikki (22:40): It’s not VIP.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (22:41): That means for me, and the way that I navigate the world of work is, I can build relationship with you. I can likely be more genuine with you if I perceive you as an ally, but if I perceive you as an accomplice, if I perceive you as a sponsor, then I have some requirements for how you will then help me. That means that I have identified that you have a different level of leverage in this system, that you have a different level of access, that you have a different level of understanding the nuances of this particular culture, and you are willing to use that to my advantage. And I think that is the thing that we want to talk about in terms of how do we spot those people, how do we help you make sure you’re given the tea to the right people? Because Karens will stab you in your eye, not your bag. They’ll stab you in your eye before you realize it. So it’s important for us to also recognize that part of our mental health is being vigilant and being aware and being protective of what we allow to get close to us in the world of work. I think that that’s really good. And we should spend some significant amount of time on that. I see you were shocked [inaudible 00:23:57]. Y’all got me over here, same face on my phone, all these gems. I want to reiterate that, because I think that’s so critical to Black and brown mental health at work, being vigilant about who is an ally, who’s performing allyship and who is an accomplice, and who’s a sponsor and who’s performing it. That is a biggest lesson that we can learn. Who is truly doing it? Who’s performing it? Because that’s going to protect your mental health in a completely different way. And it’s unfortunate we have to move through the world like that, but we do. So one of my indicators is that you don’t have to–one of my mentors at Stanford is Jan Barca Alexander, and one of the things that she says is, “There’s no one way to do Black.” We’re not a monolith. We are definitely a diverse people. She’s like, “But when you’re sitting at a table, you’re most certainly going to be at some tables with some power,” and I would say this is my indicator for allyship, like, allies and accomplices. You’re going to be sitting at a table with power. I don’t need you to act Black and I don’t need you to be Black, but I do need you to think Black. When they have a policy, when they have a procedure, when they’re making a decision, I want you to think about how this is going to impact your Black and brown folks, and I want you to use your voice and ask those questions, and if you have your power, I want you to use your power to make decisions that will not further marginalize me. And when I’m hearing you at the table, thinking about “Well, there’s not representation here,” or “There are opportunities,” where they’re asking less threatening Black people to be at the table and you know that my voice is more skilled or I have more expertise around that topic as opposed to you. Because people will sit at a table that they don’t belong to be at with no expertise, because part of white supremacy is to hoard power. They will sit there. So are you giving up power? Are you thinking Black about how these things are going to impact me using your voice to do it? And are you sharing your power and your access with me so as to be less marginalized? I’m about action. Telling me, “Wow, that was a tough verdict. Well, I’m thinking about you,” or what have you, really doesn’t really mean a lot to me. Action means a lot to me. When I see you in action, I can spot you as a potential ally or a potential accomplice.
Dr. Nikki (26:08): Yes, absolutely. And for me, the correlate of that is I don’t need you to run and tell me nothing. If you’re doing it, do it right. You should be doing it whether I’m present or not, whether I’m going to give you a cookie for it or not. I had a friend that said that recently somebody at their job was, “I just want to give you a hug,” and they texted me, “Everybody is putting on extra right now, because this stuff is back in the public spotlight. Everybody’s checking. All the non-Black folks are checking on all the Black folks at work. I’m just checking on you, and how’s it going?” That don’t do nothing for me, speaking for me personally, so when they texted me and they were, “I just want to give you a hug,” I was like, tell them to go hug their mama. Go hug somebody else. That won’t do anything for me. And for me that again is about centering themselves. How dare you think I don’t have communities to go to? How dare you think that we haven’t developed and perfected generations of ways of surviving this? We have our mechanisms that serve us. We don’t need… Your hug is not a balm to me.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (27:28): Oh yeah. Your hug is not a balm.
Dr. Nikki (27:32): Yes, your hug is not a balm. So that’s the thing. It’s not about what you run and tell me that you’ve done. It’s what I hear about what you’ve done when I am not in the room, what have you said on my behalf, or for me? When you have the opportunity to speak out, do you take that opportunity? When other people are talking about me, do you come back and tell me that? That’s what you can come run and tell me. Basically they’re undercutting your contributions, or even though this was your sort of intellectual labor, your name wasn’t mentioned. Those are the details you can give me if you’re working in allyship with me. That is the way that you then begin to leverage, and yield your power.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (28:19): Yes. I would also even argue, “To what extent have you been immersed in and understand the culture?” Because I think people read a lot about Black folks. They watch a lot of TV, which is rooted in a lot of stereotypes and one-dimensional depictions of Black folks. But to what extent have you been a minority and understand Black culture and been immersed in that space? I’ve been a minority–well, collective is cultures, the global majority, so let me be clear, but in terms of the only Black person in spaces sometimes. It’s been a significant amount of times. I’m not uncomfortable being the minority. But if you’re uncomfortable being around Black culture and you haven’t been to any experiences that will give you a more firsthand nuanced understanding of Black culture, I’m really questioning to what extent are you comfortable. And if you’re not comfortable, can you really see my humanity? Because I’m exposing myself to cultures all the time. I’m inquisitive. I’m curious. I want to know more. And once I know more, I can learn more about your experience. Once I learn more about your experience, I can more readily identify the forces that are operating against you, that keep you from moving freely in your experience. And so, because of that, I now have a more nuanced understanding. I have an accomplice, who I feel is an accomplice [at least,], that I work with at Stanford. And I remember the first time I met her at work. I saw that she had a bag on and it was that look like the Association of Black Psychologists bag, and I looked and I said, “Hmm, you’re a part of the Association of Black Psychologists?” She’s like, “Oh, no, I go to the conferences, and I can immerse myself in different cultures and understand, and be uncomfortable, so I go to them and this culture, go to this conference. I go to this conference,” and I thought, “Have you been to an AAPI conference, LaWanda? Have you immersed yourself in understanding? So I think that part of it is showing a level of comfort and nuanced understanding of a culture, and not just from a spectacle observer perspective but being immersed and being comfortable in it.
Dr. Nikki (30:22): Yes. I would agree with that, in the sense that you really can’t do the work on it. It’s like you’re gonna tell me how to fix something, but you’ve never actually seen the problem. How are you going to do that? How are you gonna tell me how to fix my computer if you’ve never worked with this particular computer? You don’t know what the issue is. So you do have to have a front row view. I remember this was years ago, but I was in graduate school, and I developed a good relationship with a white male colleague, and he was a single parent, and he had a little girl, and we would go out to restaurants or places. And this was so fascinating to me, because they would look at me to ask me what she wanted for her dinner or what she wanted to eat. And I would be like, “Clearly this is a white man and a white child,” I’m sitting on the other side of the table, but people’s gender bias is such that, “Mom knows. You don’t engage Dad in these things. This is Mom,” or “This is the Mom-like figure,” and “It’s got to be this thing,” that we sort of sat back and began to observe how it happened. People just looking over the whole fact of race, in this particular instance, because their gender bias is just that strong, and that was a whole new level of awareness for him. And then there was always the assumption that he was going to pay, which was fine by me, perfectly fine by me in graduate school for sure, but we would talk about that. And so being privy, being in relationship with me, seeing me as a fully human person, but then getting sort of a bird’s eye view and my experience, was extremely eye-opening for him. And that led us to have more conversations, and I think that’s the other thing that I would say around spotting allies or cultivating allyship. Part of whiteness is to get too comfortable too quickly, like, too familiar.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (32:22): That’s not good.
Dr. Nikki (32:23): Too familiar. Too familiar too quickly. And so can the person respect your boundaries? Can they hear you? “Can you assist me with this? I can engage with you on this, but there is a line here for which you cannot cross.” Meaning, “If I bring you into spaces, can you be respectful of how you need to conduct yourself in those spaces?”
Dr. LaWanda Hill (32:45): That part, that part, that part. And, I see that happen all the time, where I know it’s performative or you haven’t done enough work. For example, I remember doing the [inaudible 00:32:57] uprising. We were in the heart of the summer. And working at Stanford, it was so many different acts of anti-Blackness on top of what was going on globally, on top of students just developing, emerging. So we held space at the Black community service center. We held space for people to be there, and to gather, and people wanted to volunteer to go, that are not Black., to assist. I mean, it is an emotional burden to carry all of the weight of the students. So you do want some support, and the other Black colleague was out, and one of them was on maternity leave. So it was just me. And I’m thinking, “Who is going to come into this space and not center themselves? Who is going to come into this space and allow people, the Black folks in here, to have their experience, and not feel compelled to talk or feel compelled to be a white saviour, feel compelled to add anything, but just be present?” Know how to act when I take you somewhere, because bae, my name on this. If I brought you in this space, they’re looking at me like, “Dr. Hill, you brought somebody in here that’s not Black. Can I trust them?” And if you ain’t got but one time to mess up your credibility, you’re gonna miss up mine too. So I need you to understand boundaries and be able to respect boundaries, and we can have a candid conversation about that, but that’s a good indicator as well. Do you over take up space? Do you not respect the boundaries when you are in a communal space? Because there are norms.
Dr. Nikki (34:16): Absolutely. So here we have a question from Rashada and it says, “I believe Dr. Hill said the most dangerous person is the unaware person. How do you address an individual who’s performing allyship and isn’t aware that their efforts are not actually making meaningful impact?” Speak on that. Dr. Hill.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (34:38): Hmm. Performing allyship. That’s one conversation.
Dr. Nikki (34:44): I think they know. I think they be knowing.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (34:49): And that’s a conversation, because my initial reaction to Rashada–I’m very confrontational–would be, “I’m experiencing you as inauthentic,” and I’ve said that to people. “I’m having a hard time connecting to your… I don’t perceive this as authentic.” So it was a disconnect for me. So the performing allyship I think is one piece. Not having an impact is a separate conversation. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this, Dr. Nikki, but my initial stab at it is I usually say, “I feel people are rushing and they’re jumping to action without being fully informed, without having people on the team who can inform them.” My friend says it all the time, who was a former athlete, around DEI efforts–because everybody wants to be a part of the Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion efforts–”You don’t coach a basketball team because you’re passionate about basketball and you’re interested in it,” which is what people do. Usually, people who are allies will try to do these DEI initiatives. So why do we not do that? Why do we feel we can do that with DEI initiatives? We don’t go get a coach who is an expert, who has a track record, who has a winning record, who knows how to make the impact, who knows how to move the ball forward. So when it comes to the impact piece, I usually try to pause and say, “Hey, have we evaluated what we even doing right now? Do we even have all the pieces here? It’s not being impactful. In fact, I think it’s wasting time. So how can we have a conversation about that?” Now, based on the answer, that will determine the follow-up.
Dr. Nikki (36:27): So what I would add is yes, I don’t think I’m as confrontational as Dr. LeWanda. I’m really positive. But I am a direct communicator. I will say that. I deeply value direct communication, of me being able to transmit it and you being able to receive it. And so I think for me around the performance piece, it is going to depend on how much time I have that day. It’s going to depend on how invested I am in you as a person to begin with. Are you worth my time and energy? And I’m going to make some determination of that. Is the energy I make expanding this conversation worth any benefit? Is it going to shift something for me, for other Black folks in the space? It might not always be transactional just for me. But I do try to think about, “Is this going to help some other Black person at some point if I take the time to plant the seed or engage?” And that is my bottom line, “How much energy do I want to give?” And so then, related to that, part of the way that I may get at it without being as direct, or confrontational, is I like to use curiosity. So “Tell me how you think that’s contributing to [inaudible 00:37:55]?” Or “I’ve heard you say this, tell me what’s your motivation for that?” I want to [inaudible 00:38:03] curry their insight on it to see, because I do think folks have a good indicator. You know good and damn well if you’ve only done hashtag thoughts and prayers on social media or you repost somebody else’s article on LinkedIn, but you’ve never done one thing. Then I think you have a good sense that you’re still living in your own bubble. And then, to Dr. LaWanda’s point, I’m going to get a better gauge of how much more I might want to invest or not based on your reaction to that. Is it defensiveness? I’m out. If it’s at least taking a moment to pause and be reflective to say, “I hadn’t thought about that,” then I’ll probably say that might be some space where you want to start again, and then I will move on. If there’s a genuine opportunity for engagement, then I’ll consider about what I might be willing to do in that way. So that’s sort of how I think about that. I think that if you look at the broad population, folks that are unimpacted by any particular -ism, the folks that are actually willing to be allies in the way that has meaning and impact and merit are a very shallow amount. Otherwise the systems wouldn’t keep working. The systems work because the vast majority of people participate in the systems. And so that means that everybody who’s calling themselves an ally ain’t an ally. These are just facts. And I think one of the things that I would give for Black folks too, I spend a large amount of time wasting energy on trying to convince, or deal with, one of the things that comes up when you question whiteness and its motives is white fragility and defensiveness. And so, you know, that defensiveness is just there to keep them from moving forward, having to see themselves or see their socialization. And I spent a lot of time in the throws of that, and so that contributes to exhaustion, that contributes to burning out and mental health and so forth. And so I would say to be very cautious and be thoughtful about your energy. Your energy and your time is precious. Your intellectual capital is precious. Your words are precious. Who do you want to, I call them, what soil is ripe? What soil is ripe for me to sew some seeds? And the rest of y’all got weeds and stuff growing all around it. I don’t have energy for that. But if I’ve seen that you’ve done the work and I’m positive, and I’m asking you some questions and you are there, then I may sew some seeds. But if you not, [?] “Hmm, that’s interesting,” and then go back on mute. That means that I don’t have nothing else to offer because it is not worth my time.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (40:46): Absolutely. So are there any other indicators that we think we should mention that we haven’t talked about? So, to be clear, I just want to make sure we’re recapping.
Dr. Nikki (41:02): I’m not at all interested in [inaudible 00:41:03]. I wish I could say, [?], but I think there may be an assumption that we’re talking about this in a transactional way, and I don’t mean to intend that it’s transactional. What I do mean to intend is the folks that are genuinely invested in your well-being as a person of color, genuinely invested in your success in the workplace as a person of color–and by genuine I mean they are willing to be uncomfortable, they are willing to actually to give something up, they are willing to say, “I actually think this person is better for the job,” that is what we’re really talking about, and in my experience in the world of work, those folks are few and far between. So then for me, and thinking about matters of survival, we’ve all bought into the system of capitalism. We all have to get bread. We all got to go do something to get money, to live life, and when most of us want to have as much to live as comfortably and safely as possible… that is a fundamental human desire. That’s a motivator. And so then I think it’s an indicator of our wellness. When we think about “How do we find folks to maximize our well-being? How do we engage with individuals in ways that will maximize our well-being?” And if there is opportunity for deeper richer connection? Absolutely, let’s be open to that. I say this tongue in cheek, but with all seriousness too. I have a good white friend, and one of my closest friends is a white woman, but she’s shown up to be who she is every single day that I’ve had an encounter with her. Anytime there’s been a [moment?], I’d be like, “Let me see what she gonna do this time. This is going to be it.” And this has been, oh, 17 years of friendship, 15 years of friendship, and [she] shows up in ways that not only lets me know that she is genuinely invested in doing the work for me, but she shows up in ways that she’s genuinely invested in doing the work for my daughter, that the ways that I see her white children talk about justice, the way that they engage me around equity and justice lets me know that even when I am not present, she’s told them, taught them, shown them the ways that they should be in the world, but I think those people are few and far between. That is just my expereince.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (44:08): They are.
Dr. Nikki (44:08): But we have to go to work every day. And most of us, especially when we get to a certain level of elevation in our career, we are not going to be surrounded by us. We don’t live in the world of Boomerang. [over talk 00:44:22]. We don’t live in Boomerang. We don’t live in Wakanda. We don’t live in–where’s Coming to America? What’s that kingdom?
Dr. LaWanda Hill (44:34): Oh my God. Shoot. Somebody put it in the chat.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (44:47): Zamunda.
Dr. Nikki (44:52): Zamunda. Thank you so much. That’s not the world we live in. And even when we have Black products and services and spaces, there’s always white folks there. This is just our experience. And I also want to be clear that there could be other brown folks that are also white-identifying, white in their ideology and world view.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (45:12): White-aligned.
Dr. Nikki (45:13): And so I think it is unfortunate that we have to talk about it in this sort of transactional way, but I also think it’s a reflection of ways that we work to be healthy and well in a dysfunctional system.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (45:27): Right. And it’s just where we are as a society. It’s where we are as a society, and we have to function as such because we are going toward that liberation. Not there yet. So I think it’s good. I’m going to give a recap. Here’s just a few tips. And for those of you who just coming in at the end, think about, check yourself and see if these are parts of the things that you do. Actually, we’ve got that one. You do not name yourself an ally. You are named an ally by Black folks. You don’t get to say, “Oh, I’m an ally to the queer community.” “Has the queer community named me as an ally?” So that is an earned thing. It’s not something that you can give a self-label as yourself. You can do the work, and that should be enough. So it’s not about you. It’s not about you. So whiteness and the socialization centers itself. It’s not about you. It’s about that coalition towards liberation, and it’s toward doing your part and not being complicit in a system and participating in it and by you benefiting from it further marginalizing others. Listen. Listen. Listen to people’s stories. Listen to understand, listen to gain knowledge and insight. Before you even speak or do, listen. Be honest with yourself. Be honest. Recognize real. We are all socialized in a white toxic society and we have biases based on those things, and so to be honest, you’re starting there, you’re not starting above it. You’re starting there. You’re starting with anti-Black internalized sentiments. It’s the reality of it. Nobody escapes it. Talk to your friends and family. I want you to do that. Work that emotional labor so I don’t have to do it, so that they understand it, because you most likely have more emotional capacity to do it than I do. That’s going to require you to get out of your comfort zone, which will be the next tip. Get out of your comfort zone. Equity requires that you give up power, that you give up something, and giving up something means that you’re going to have to be uncomfortable, and that’s it. If you can’t give up your discomfort, some people have to lose their lives. What’s your comfort?
Dr. Nikki (47:28): Let me just say the other thing about talking to friends and family, talk to colleagues and peers. That’s what I always say too about the workplace, because white folks talking to other white folks about anti-racism has way more impact and meaning than us being on here for thousands and thousands and thousands of hours of podcasts. It just doesn’t hit the same. It’s the same way that men can engage men differently in talking about their own [inaudible 00:47:56], their own homophobia. It hits different when somebody that looks like you, lives in the world like you, speaks about someone else’s experience, and the least that you could do is to have an uncomfortable or difficult conversation with someone who says that they love you and is invested in you. The least you could do is have an uncomfortable conversation with them.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (48:18): Give up your comfort so somebody else don’t have to lose their life. That’s how I feel about it. It’s really not a tall order. And the last one is to educate yourself. Please be informed. There’s a lot of invisible forces, a lot of -isms that you may not be aware of that’s interacting. So educate yourself, and then learn from your screw ups. Learn from your mistakes. You’re going to mess up. You’re going to say the wrong thing. You’re going to get familiar. It happens. You’re going to think you can touch my hair. No. You gonna think you can talk shit about… No, no, no, no, no, no. And when I have to confront you about that and say, “Hey, you went too far across the boundary,” conflict supports a relationship. Just learn from it. Be better. [inaudble 00:49:06].
Dr. Nikki (49:07): Yes. I think those are great. And so those are all the things that we would offer for folks that are listening to this that want to be an ally, that believe they have been engaging in allyship. And then for those of us that need allies and accomplices in the workplace, these are the sort of indicators. Are folks that you are aligning yourself with, are they demonstrating these characteristics? Have you seen them do this? Are they willing to do this over and over again? One of the things I also wanted to add was for number six, we have be informed. I added stay informed, but a huge part of it is unlearning. There’s so much unlearning you have to do as a person who holds power, and so the correlate for me has been two specific areas where I’ll continue to evolve and grow, and that is around my understanding of gender. Even when I thought I had a working understanding of gender, the more trans folks that I have in my life and the more that I engage and listen to the voices of trans folks, the more I realize how much more expansive [inaudible 00:50:17] and how much more growth I have to do around that and really challenging myself and where my discomforts have been and why I am not uncomfortable by that, and then around my ableism. So many things that you take for granted as an able-bodied person, because so much of the world is designed quite literally, physically, our material world is designed around able-bodied, normative-bodied individuals. And so, when I sit and think about the work that I’m willing to do around that and how I’m holding myself accountable, and also what it brings to me, how much more expansive I am in my humanity? The more that I do that work, then I should have no less standards for folks who are wanting to partner with me around my Blackness. As a Black woman in my systemic oppression, if I could be willing to sit in my discomfort about my relationship to power dynamics with other identities, you for sure ought to be doing it as a white person.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (51:23): Exactly.
Dr. Nikki (51:23): Because you got it on multiple levels. Multiple.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (51:27): No excuses. That’s good. That’s good. I hope y’all have gained something, been inspired. I have appreciated you, Rashada. I hope you’re back in the mix.
Dr. Nikki (51:40): I know. We missed you.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (51:40): Part two of this–for those of you who are in the room, listening silently, I hope y’all will be back next week, and bring somebody. We have made it to The Last Nerve. I give it to to you, Dr. Nikki.
Dr. Nikki (51:53): Really? I feel like I just had it. I feel… Okay, Oh, God, I don’t even know. I don’t even have the same vigor. I really just want us to have a real honest conversation about policing, and a real honest willingness to acknowledge that police are an extension of white supremacist thought ideology, and they are the enforcers, and they enact terror and violence on the lives of Black and brown people every single day. Every time I think I’m weary, there’s another layer, how within the past two weeks did we re-witness the four-wee murder trial of Derek Chauvin for committing murder against George Floyd. Four weeks it took for something that we all witnessed around the globe. Four weeks for the accountability system to work. And in the context of that four weeks, another young Black man was shot 10 minutes from where George Floyd lost his life. And within hours of the sentencing, I mean deliberation, of Derek Chauvin, a young Black girl was killed. That picture says so much about the state of anti-Blackness, that it’s state-sanctioned violence and terror that exists. I spoke with my mother earlier. So my mother was born in 1945 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She graduated high school in 1963. Desegregation didn’t happen until 1965. And so I think about what is that context for her? What dreams has she had for her life to come true to then watch sort of come full circle and be back to the same spaces of worry and fear for me as her child, or for her granddaughter? And the attack of our hope as people. And for me, it is not just the violence, it is the persistent attack on our hope. It is the persistent attack on our ability to thrive that I think is the ultimate goal, and how much energy and effort we have to put into fighting against that, day in and day out. And I’m sick of it. I’m sick.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (54:29): Yes. That’s real. That’s real. I think that’s the perfect Last Nerve. It’s just do the work, and do better, be better, do better and be better at the end of the day. And white guilt is a real thing. You should have it constantly. It should be something you work hard to get rid of, because your guilt comes from a place. Guilt, emotions, give us information. You’re guilty because of something. You feel something. It’s because of exactly what we just talked about, that, you know, that it’s state-sanctioned. That, you know, that it’s an attack on hope. That you know the power you have, you’re hoarding. Do something with the guilt. Turn it into action and not let it be about you. Don’t let it be about getting rid of the guilt, but making it more safe for people that look like me, that look like Dr. Nikki. That’s that on that.
Dr. Nikki (55:24): Y’all come back next week same time. We’re going to have Dr. Dixon and Dr. Bamishigbin here with us next week, because Dr. LaWanda and I are going to be out. We’re super excited to be going on vacation. We’ll miss you all, but I’m sure the fellas will hold it down, and then we’ll see you all sometime in the month of May.
Dr. LaWanda Hill (55:47): They always do. All right, y’all, be well.
Dr. Nikki (55:49): Peace.

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