This is a recording of our live webinar with our host Nubianna, and panelists Mary-Frances Winters, Gary Cooper, and Dr. Monica Cox about practicing authentic allyship to disrupt and dismantle oppressive systems using power, privilege, and sacrifice.
Hear perspectives on allyship, its role in creating systemic change, and how allies can make a substantial difference.
Read the Episode Below
Nubianna: Hey and happy Saturday. I’d like to take a moment to welcome you and thank you for sharing a part of your day with us. As more of us enter the room, drop your greeting in the chat and your current city. We’re all friends here, so let’s take a moment to look through the chat and tag someone in the same city as you and give them a quick shout-out before we get started.
Good morning, everyone. My name is Nubianna from Houston, Texas, and I’m your moderator for today’s dialogue on practicing authentic allyship. Now, this is a new webinar series, and if you’re tuning into Living Corporate for the first time, thank you for checking us out.
Living Corporate is a platform that has candid conversations to amplify the historically underrepresented voices at work through engaging a spectrum of thought leaders from various walks of life. With this new series, we’re designating a space and time to continue to build our culture of candor with you, our friends. In doing so it is our hope that these conversations will help us become a gathering place that equips people with actionable insights to fully represent themselves and others – we have an opportunity to listen deeply and learn from each other.
Our discussion today is about allyship, and particularly allyship as it pertains to combating anti-Black racism. So just out of curiosity, we have a quick poll that we’re gonna put into the platform, and we’d like to understand why you decided to attend today’s webinar.
So we’re getting a lot about wanting to learn about allyship. Let’s see what else is coming through. Okay, so we have about 46% saying they want to learn more about allyship, 27% saying our panelists, and another 27% saying because they love Living Corporate, and we really appreciate it.
Okay, before I introduce the panelists, I want to go over a few quick things. #1, Living Corporate webinars are recorded. If you don’t consent to being recorded, please drop now and watch the replay on living-corporate.com when it becomes available. The second one is let us know what your questions are about allyship, so type your questions into the chat as they come up. My teammate Aaron is in the chat, so we’ll try our best to answer questions as appropriate and as time allows. The last [?] is let us know how your experience was. So at the end we’ll release a very quick survey that we definitely ask you to fill out, because it’s the only way we can continue to improve our series and your experience. So let us get to it and meet our panelists for today.
Our first panelist is Dr. Mary-Frances Winters. Dr. Mary-Frances Winters is the founder and president of The Winters Group, Inc., a 36-year-old global diversity, equity and inclusion consulting firm. Mary-Frances Winters is a passionate advocate for justice and equity with over three decades of experience working with corporate leaders in support of enhancing their understanding of what it’s like to be other. Among her many awards and distinctions, she was named a diversity pioneer by Profiles in Diversity Journal in August 2007 and received the Winds of Change award from the Forum on Workplace Inclusion in 2016, honored as one of the DC Metro area’s most powerful women and one of Forbes’ 10 trailblazers in diversity and inclusion. Welcome, Mary-Frances.
Our second panelist is Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper is a diversity product manager at Amazon, leveraging his 15 years of data-driven experience. He builds equity and inclusion by conceptualizing, building and executing cross-company with external partner programs to improve the representation of minorities within the context of Amazon, creatives and executives alike. Welcome, Gary Cooper.
Our final panelist is Dr. Monica Cox. Dr. Monica Cox is a professor in the Department of Engineering Education at The Ohio State University. In 2011 she became the first African-American female to earn tenure in the College of Engineering at Purdue University. She is a public speaker, author, podcast host and undeniable change agent committed to diversity, equity and inclusion and to the demonstration of excellence in the workplace. Welcome, Dr. Monica Cox. Okay.
In general, studies have shown that the majority of people express the desire to be an ally, but they may not know how or even know what it means, and according to Deloitte’s [?] Inclusion survey, while 92% of people already see themselves as an ally in the workplace, only 29% say that they actually speak up when they perceive bias, and 34% simply ignore it. With that in mind, Mary-Frances, Monica, and Gary, how would you define allyship?
Mary-Frances: I think allyship is a process, you know? It’s something that you have to work at, and first obviously the desire has to be there, and I think today so many people are saying, you know, “I want to be an ally,” or “I’m an ally,” but really don’t know how to be an ally, because it’s about relationships. It’s about trust. It’s about being accountable, and most importantly I think it’s about the group that you want to be allying with, they see you as the ally. So it’s not so much about you. It’s more about the marginalized group that you’re trying to support as an ally, that they see you as an ally. So that’s how I would define it.
Nubianna: Anything to add, Monica or Gary? Does your definition differ?
Gary: I don’t know if it differs. You know, the only thing that I would add is allyship tends to be the most ill-defined and overused word in any of this work, likely, in my opinion, and really, like, what you heard Dr. Mary-Frances said in terms of practicing relationships, that it’s not a place where you arrive into, and I think too often many of us, especially folks that look like myself, feel like it’s a badge of honor. “It’s a place that I arrive into, that I’ve awakened, or I’m woke enough to be an ally,” and that ain’t it. It’s not a state of arrival. It’s just a continual process.
Monica: I would add that when I think of allyship I also think of someone not harming [?]. So when we think about an ally, I mean, we’ve heard it from our other two panelists, but it’s supposed to kind of comfort you in the way. You’re not supposed to be on edge and anxious because this person is in the room or is trying to speak for you, and I think that’s something that’s often misunderstood. It’s not about the ally and their comfort all the time, but it’s sometimes about that person making sure that sometimes they are reducing their privilege or their power so that they are speaking up for the people that they are trying to be the ally for.
Nubianna: That leads to our next question. Monica, you and Gary talked about some of the misconceptions already, but let’s go into some more details about the misconceptions of allyship. Monica, since you were last we’re gonna start with you.
Monica: I think that there’s this savior mentality that [?] allyship a little bit, like “This person is supposed to speak for [?], you know, from the person,” the marginalized person, and I think there’s a partnership. Like, there has to be a relationship or some common understanding prior to this relationship being kind of taken over by someone who is saying that they’re an ally. So I think that other misconceptions are that the person who the ally is speaking for is weak in so many ways. Like, there’s a lot of power that individuals have, and the ally is there usually because of something systemic. So it’s not that that person you’re being an ally for is less than or they don’t know information or they’re not competent, it’s just that we are looking at dynamics of power, and the ally is there to somehow make that voices are heard in the room given that system.
Mary-Frances: You know, Monica, that’s really one of the problems that I have with the concept of allyship, or at least the way that I think it is demonstrated. All of those things that you just said. I don’t know how an individual who’s an ally can really not in some ways feel that they’re to rescue the marginalized person or that they’re there to save them. So how do we actually support allies in not coming from that perspective, right? And the other thing that I think about, the issue that I have with allyship, is that often times allies are not in positions of power to actually change systems, and so they may, from an interpersonal perspective, speak up and they may be able to [?] an accomplice, but if they don’t have power–I guess you’re saying they have identity power, and I get that, but they still may not have power to change systems.
Monica: That’s a good point.
Gary: I look at it as this externalized aspect, right, that an ally or someone who professes to be an ally, wants to be an ally, is practicing whatever, that it’s externalized, that the problem is out there and not in here. And so I go out there to do some work. I make sure that I show up at the right rallies or say the right things in a meeting when somebody’s getting talked over or I use the right pronouns–and I’m not diminishing any of that, but that’s basic humanity level stuff. So at what point? And Dr. Mary-Frances, you and I had this conversation that allyship, the definition of it needs to mean “systems disruptor,” that you attacking systems of inequity and not just that 1:1–again, externalizing that, you know, you, Dr. Monica, are separate from a community of people, that you and I are friends, so I can show up for you, but I’m not gonna show up for the entire community because I externalize it and I think that you are an individual and not part of a collective group, similar as I want to be. White folks I think often want to see ourselves as individuals and not part of a collective system of harm, and so again, looking at that internal aspect, how do the systems of harm show up within me? What do I need to unlearn? What do I need to do? And then further, if I’m not in a position of, like, material power as Dr. Mary-Frances was saying but I operate within a system of harm, how do I then deconstruct that and opt out or do things differently that don’t operate within that system of harm? We often hear, right, that the system doesn’t need us to be bad people, and Dr. Monica was talking about the “do no harm” aspect. We don’t need to be bad people. We don’t need to be marching with tiki torches. We just need to operate within a system, and the system intends for the harm to happen, and so how do we disrupt that at any level that we’re at?
Nubianna: [This is] a conversation that we need to have today, centering around the actions that we can take to dismantle systems of oppression, because like we’ve been talking about – we often see people do things, we often see people say the right things, but the actions behind it are often very limited, right, and the change [?] is very slow because those actions are limited. We can get into more about that in our following questions. Let’s do Rapid Fire. Are you a morning or a night person?
Mary-Frances: Morning person definitely.
Nubianna: What was your first job?
Mary-Frances: My first job? I lived in Niagara Falls, New York, and my first job was the maid of the mist, on the Maid of the Mist boat, the tour boat, that takes people around the falls.
Gary: [?], North Carolina. Sound production at the local theater.
Monica: I worked at a department store called Gayfer’s in Alabama. I was a Gayfer girl.
Nubianna: True or false. Allyship equals friendship.
Mary-Frances: Definitely false.
Nubianna: Last one. Is allyship self-identified or bestowed?
Gary: Oh, bestowed.
Mary-Frances: Yeah, bestowed. I had to think about that. I think that somebody can self-identify and say that they’re an ally, but my definition of it, you know, it really has to come from the group that they’re trying to ally with, that they see the person is an ally. So from that perspective, it’s not self-identified.
Nubianna: Right. So we definitely have some questions going in the chat right now, and I think you just answered the question, Mary-Frances, that John had on why is it bestowed over self-identified. Anita says that it’s definitely bestowed 100%. Sahara [?] says it’s both. Neil said it’s bestowed. So let’s see, any other answers to John’s question?
Mary-Frances: Britney is saying “I like earned.” That’s interesting. I like that too. Earned, right? Allyship is earned.
Gary: You know, why bestowed over self-identified or earned? And again, everything I talk about comes from the white perspective, right, where at any time we call ourselves something, it just feels like we’re grabbing for cookies and medals, and I can’t get on board with it, so… a lot of this work needs to be in service of, in my opinion, like, in service of communities and not trying to [lead?]. The phrase that continues to run around for me is “How do you stay in the work without becoming the face of the work?” And we’ve seen it with Wall of Moms out in Portland and elsewhere, like, we’ve seen it in places where the best intentions still has people that look like myself itching to be the face of the thing versus the amplification or the support from behind.
Monica: Yeah, and I want to also add that I see a lot of titles that are going out. Like, I’ve heard recently where people will say that they’ve attended some kind of training or they have some type of [?], like, a gold status or something like that in DEI, and then that makes them an ally, and I think that’s very dangerous because sometimes there’s no assessment. There’s nothing behind that that says “This is what you’ve actually done,” and I just think you have to be very careful about people labeling who they are and putting it out there to claim that they are, like, anti-racist or that they’re allies when in reality their actions don’t show it.
Mary-Frances: Well, and I think sometimes the actions don’t show it because, you know, what are the actions of an ally? What specific–and that’s why I wrestle with this, right? So we talked about, you know, it’s not just going to rallies and saying “Black Lives Matter.” You know, what is it? How would I know [that I ?] an intermediate or an advanced–because I think it is always, we’re always learning, we’re always becoming. I remember that Maya Angelou said somebody said to her something about, “Oh, I’m a Christian,” and Maya Angelou said, “Oh, really? Already?” So it’s that kind of thing, right? You’re always working at it and always becoming, but how do you know if you’re doing a good job?
Nubianna: I think that’s the perfect question, right? So we have a lot of great responses, and one of the things that I think we can all agree to is that, as Christie said, “We’re all allies in training,” which is essentially is that we know it’s something that needs to be earned through the actions and the alliance that we show. So we started to talk about the conversation of how we could identify inauthentic allyship. It goes with what you were just saying, Mary-Frances, about “What is allyship?” So let’s start the conversation by thinking about what actions–well, I don’t even want to go there. I want us to focus on “What is inauthentic allyship?” Then we can segue into actual allyship and practices. Mary-Frances?
Mary-Frances: So I think the term performative, you know, we’ve heard the term “performative allyship,” and that’s obviously inauthentic, so you’re just speaking the words. You really haven’t done the work. You haven’t done your research. You know, you haven’t really investigated or understand the concerns, the issues, the experiences of those you’re trying to be in allyship with. You just sort of declare it and you perform certain things. “I’ve marched,” but you really haven’t done your work. I’ve been doing this work for 36 years. I’m getting up there, and, you know, I’m listening to so many different podcasts. This morning I was listening to the 1619 Podcast, and there’s so many things about, you know, the history of our people that I thought I knew, and I’m learning so much, and then I listen to Living Corporate’s podcast this morning, so y’all oughta listen to this latest one about allyship, and somebody’s gonna tell me who that was with–ReadySet, but just the learning that it takes, and it really is ongoing. It’s constant in order to be authentic. I know you asked me about inauthentic, but–and the inauthentic one is also the one who wants to be the teacher, right? So “I’ma be an ally, but I’m gonna come to you, Mary-Frances, as a Black woman, so you can teach me what it’s like to be a Black woman in America,” and that would totally be inauthentic.
Nubianna: Yep. Yes, I completely agree with those things that you just mentioned, Mary-Frances. Gary or Monica, would you have anything to contribute to that? I’m also looking through the chat to see what our audience is saying.
Gary: Yeah. The other place that I go is where are you putting your privilege on the line as an ally? Where are you putting risk at play? You know, I think about all the ways in which, again, in particular white folks, we are waking up in this moment, and we do two things, right? We start to then go attack for not being woke enough when we just learned the thing 5 minutes ago. So that’s performative for me, that’s inauthentic, where all of a sudden you’re gonna go attack others for something that you just woke up to. So you realize that, like, you needed a journey, you needed–and I don’t like the “journey” thing, but I get it. And then additionally, if my action is easy, it’s not allyship in my opinion. So again, I’ll go back to, like, getting pronouns right. It’s important, massively important to create safe spaces, to create a welcoming and belonging environment. It, to me, is not the definition of allyship, ’cause I’m not putting anything at risk. Nothing for me is on the line. I’m just using a different pronoun or a pronoun that somebody prefers or identifies with. That costs me nothing. In the system of oppression and “do no harm,” that doesn’t cost me anything. So whenever I see allyship being displayed that cost the individual like myself nothing, it doesn’t feel like true allyship. It doesn’t feel like you’re putting that privilege on the line.
Monica: [?] community and change, in that order. So if you [?] an ally, you hope that that person is teachable. Like, if you have a relationship with that person in whatever context, you [?] tell them, you know, “I don’t like being called this,” or “That’s really offensive when you speak to me in that manner or [?],” then you hope that your ally will listen and actually [?] out, “Okay. Maybe I never thought about that, but I hear you, and I’m going to do better,” or “I’m going to [?] that this is how I’m moving forward in the future,” and so that is a win. I think there’s also this developmental piece. When I say change, it comes from this area of you hope that the ally is better at the end than they were at the beginning. Like, if that person [was really?], like, part of that experience, then they will know how to do what needs to be done as an ally, almost like breathing, you know? Whatever situation you’re in, you don’t have to have the blueprint, but you know that this is what has to be done in this moment. And so I just want to encourage people to once again be teachable and know that you don’t know all the answers, even if you are in a place where [?], and two, it’s about change for you as well. It’s about growth. It’s about getting out of your comfort zone and actually being a better person as a result of your allyship. So that’s what I think authenticity looks like in this space too.
Mary-Frances: Absolutely. There’s a question about addressing harmful allyship, which I think we’re addressing, but when it comes from somebody in a higher position–this is what I hear. So we do a lot of work in organizations and corporations, and so, you know, in concept allyship sounds great, but if you’re at a meeting, you know, and the boss is in the meeting, and you hear something–and the boss is a white male, let’s just put that out there–the boss says something that’s harmful, you know, who’s gonna speak up? And I think that’s what we’ve been talking about, right? I mean, are you gonna speak up when your job could be on the line? And so I think that–and you were talking about risk, right, taking risks, I think that’s hard. I don’t know of many people who are going to put their job–if they think their job is on the line. I don’t know of many organizations, even though they say that “We want to make psychologically safe spaces where we can have the conversation,” and [?] “We can’t talk about that work,” [?] religion, politics, and other polarizing topics, and, you know, the conversation is not always okay to have that conversation, so how can you be an ally in a setting, in an environment, in a culture where having real talk and being able to call people out is not a part of that culture?
Nubianna: I think that’s a really valid question for you to pose, right, because it’s kind of who becomes that cultural catalyst as well, and to Gary’s point, what are we willing to sacrifice in order to become that catalyst of change? I know that, Monica, you were mentioning earlier that allyship should make people feel comfortable. I’m interested in hearing if you’ve had any experiences where you’ve dealt with quote-unquote allyship that caused you to become uncomfortable or if you’ve seen instances of allyship that were uncomfortable for the person that they intended to be in alliance with, and before you start I’d like to request for you to adjust your mic or something. We’re getting some feedback on your end from the last time you were speaking, so I don’t know if that’s something if you’re able to work with.
Nubianna: Anita said she’d love to hear the panel’s opinion on the term “accomplice.” A colleague recently called Anita an accomplice, and she wants to know if that’s a good thing. She worries that there’s a negative connotation with that term and wants to know the panel’s thoughts.
Gary: Yeah. I think I’ve heard Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, use the same thing – co-conspirator, accomplice. You know, I’m a person that believes that words matter and then owning the definition of those words matters. I don’t know if I’ve just gotten to a place where–at the end of the day, from where I sit and from my vantage point, I don’t really care what word was used. I just really care about the actions that are taking place, and if accomplice–certainly there’s a negative connotation to it, right? Like, there’s all the ways in which, like, we can envision in the criminal justice system what accomplice means, and so that becomes problematic, and yet what is the end action, the end outcome that we’re going towards, and what are the steps that it will take to get there? And whatever people call it to get there I don’t care, to be candid, I just worry sometimes that this is a place where we out-think ourselves and we try and think too deeply around, like, what is the right word to use instead of, like, forcing folks like myself to prove out the right actions.
Mary-Frances: I agree with you to a point. I think that words do matter, and I see what you’re saying. Individually you don’t care what you call it as long as you get to the point, but I think that from the social justice environment if you will, ecosystem, it does matter what we call things, and I think that we just keep developing new words, new terms, to try to get to the end that we’re trying to get to, and I think sometimes we get bogged down in–I’m not saying we’re bogged down this morning, but we’re talking about allyship and we’re just trying to unpack it, we’re trying to understand what does it really mean. Accomplice? How is that gonna be perceived? It does have a kind of negative connotation, and how will the dominant group, the white power structure internalize that? So we get caught up so much in the definitions and what it means and even within, internal to the social justice world, I’ve noticed if you don’t use the right term we can be pretty hard on ourselves, we can be pretty judgy in terms of others who are trying to help but may not say it in the right way. You may get cancelled, right? So I think we have to be really careful. I think words do matter. I think we have to be really careful to not put all of our attention on the words so that we’re not doing the actions.
Gary: As you defined that, it’s the ways in which in particular white folks will come in and co-opt the word to use it [?]. That just delegitimizes the entire [?], ’cause I agree. I think of all the ways that activists and those on the ground do and should raise the issues, define the issues, the terms, I just get worried that–allyship was so powerful for a while until, frankly, white people ruined it, and then all of a sudden we’re going to search for something else.
Nubianna: Thank you, Monica, for being able to adjust with us. Mary-Frances and Gary, I definitely agree with and enjoy both of those perspectives. One thing really we should be centering around action, and then the other one is thinking about being very intentional on how we identify our intent, essentially. So Dr. Monica, I wanted to circle back with you around the question that I posed earlier. You mentioned that allyship should make the person that they are in alliance with feel comfortable, and I’m just curious to know if you’ve had any experiences where someone intended to be in alliance, but really they just caused potentially more anxiety because of their partnering.
Monica: Yeah, it happens all the time, and I think that, you talked about the intent, yeah, I think sometimes people do think that they are being helpful, but it comes back to what I said about earlier about being teachable. When they’re not being helpful, you can tell if the relationship is going to get better if that individual hears how they’re making you uncomfortable and they make adjustments as needed or how you suggest that they could become helpful. I think so often there are people who–there are a few things that are here. One, I don’t think that we really have real conversations about issues of race, racism, and all the things that are happening. Like, that’s still very difficult in this day and age, and I think sometimes when we are using, like, all these terms, it’s to kind of cover up the heart of what’s going on, the heart that sometimes people are afraid that they’re going to lose power if they somehow bring someone else to the table. I think people are afraid that they’re going to be called racist. I think people are afraid that there are going to be consequences for what has been done in the past, whether they knew they were doing it or not. Like, these are all the conversations that we really need to have, and I think so often a lot of [?] comes in, because when you’re in certain structures–like, I’m in a higher education environment. We’re dealing with legal issues as well when we’re looking at issues of discrimination, so if someone admits that they did something that was wrong, are they now going to be sued because they discriminated against someone? So you can’t really have real conversations because of even the structures that we’re in and what it means to actually admit that you did some harm to someone in a way that connected back to their gender, race, or any of these other aspects of their lives, and so I just want to put that out there on the table too. Like, I think that we’re having great conversations, but at the end of the day, when we operate within corporations or organizations, these are not good conversations, and to be an ally is very political. No one wants to say that they are the one who oppressed someone, and if so what’s the consequence? So think about that.
Mary-Frances: Yeah. So in the corporate world, it’s just now that they’re even using the term “anti-racism.” So I’ve been doing diversity, equity and inclusion work, so diversity’s a fine term. Not even equity. I have clients who won’t even put equity into their description. So it’s diversity and inclusion because those are sanitized words that are okay, but to your point, Dr. Monica, if you say racism, then that means somebody’s gonna get sued, and they’re not willing to have that conversation. So what we’ve been doing is we’ve been trying to give definitions or provide definitions to help them understand, you know, when we talk about racism there are different levels of racism, right? And we’re talking about institutional and structural racism and the need to have that discussion. Somebody also put in the chat about terms like “defunding the police” and how that has become–you know, in the corporate world I have to talk about that, you know, “reallocating resources from there to others,” so “reallocating resources” sounds at least somewhat better than “defunding the police,” because people just go crazy when you start to say things like that. So I think language and words really do matter so much because they’re gonna be interpreted. They’re gonna get all over social media. So we’ve been spending a lot of time with clients. You know, the term “white supremacy,” right? When you hear white supremacy, people think you’re talking about the KKK or neo-Nazis, and we have to explain it as an ideology to help people understand to be able to use that, because if we can’t say the thing that it is, then we can’t fix the thing that it is.
Nubianna: I definitely agree with that. You have to name it in order to be able to address it. The next question goes with a question that Oki and Sharon raised in the chat, and so Mary-Frances, I know that when you and I talked I told you I would specifically direct this to you, so this is a question around privilege, and Oki says, “Can we also speak to cultural humility and privilege and the various ways in which they can be strategically operationalized in the context of allyship along the continuum to becoming a co-conspirator?” So essentially how does one use their privilege to participate in the disruption of oppressive systems?
Mary-Frances: I think that it’s really important to, from my perspective anyway, think about allyship, but also think about power brokers. So everybody who is an ally is not in the position to disrupt oppressive systems. The question also had to do with cultural humility, and so I think, you know, coming at this work–so the dominant group of people, white people, do need to come to this work with humility, meaning that there’s something to learn, that I don’t know everything, but a white supremacy mindset is what a lot of white people have just because that’s the environment in which we live, so that’s not humble, right? It leads to the saviorism, it leads to the whitesplaining and all of those kinds of things, which their privilege affords them to do, entitles them to do. So how do we operationalize this and how do we disrupt oppressive systems? Systems are disrupted when there is a critical mass that wants to go and has the power to take something in a different direction. So we have to have collective accountability and collective responsibility, collective desire, you know, to do this. It’s not gonna happen if just one organization or one structure–it’s gotta be a collective. So we saw all of those statements of solidarity that various organizations have made over the last six to eight weeks, right? “We’re gonna hire more Black folks. We’re gonna give more money to the NAACP,” right? All to me, like, performative kinds of things. However, if there was a real desire to disrupt–see, the thing is there has to be a desire to disrupt oppressive systems. That’s the first thing. You tell folks they have power and privilege. “Well, why would I want to give it up?” Right? “I’ma keep my power. I’ma keep my privilege. I don’t want to give it up,” right? So there has to be the desire, and so the only time desire seems to come is when folks start tearing stuff up and saying, “Listen to me,” right? “Listen to me.” So then people start saying, “Oh, we gotta do something,” right? But it’s still pretty much performative. So to answer that question, in what ways can people with privilege participate in the discussion, I don’t know if the people with privilege want to. The people who are the power brokers who can actually change systems, we don’t have enough people in positions of power, we don’t–let me just talk, we don’t have enough Black people, people of color, people who have come from historically marginalized groups in positions of power to change systems, and bottom line, people in
power don’t want to change ’em.
Monica: And I talked about that change aspect, because if things are kind of going okay for you right now, then why would you want to do something different where it could not be as good as it is right now too? Or even in your mind you may think that it’s not as good, and so there’s even a different conversation of what that looks like for people. What does this look like when you do have more representation and positions of leadership, and what happens when, you know, we have these conversations? So you’re right. I feel that something is missing, so thank you, Mary-Frances, for bringing that up.
Nubianna: Right? Mary-Frances, I was not prepared for your statement. It was very true and honest. I’m sitting here like, “I wasn’t ready for that.” But the reality is that’s true, and Monica, as you were talking about change, what starts to come to my mind is what Gary mentioned earlier. Like, what are you willing to sacrifice, right? And so what I’m hearing is that we don’t have enough people willing to put their privilege on the line, willing to put their power on the line to institute the type of systemic change that we’re looking for. And then the other side of me is thinking, “Well, what do we do?” Until we get those people into positions of power, if ever, like, what do we do to really operationalize this and move forward? What can we do? This is something that we’ll just reflect on. Yes, Gary?
Gary: One of the things I’d like to I guess offer is that reframing and redefinition of what power is, right? Like, at the moment, power in many contexts, right, is the hierarchical power over someone, and so we see that as finite because there’s only so many positions of power over other people, and again, that communal power, that collective power, that power between people, that tends to surface as infinite. There’s an infinite amount of power between communities and collectively, and that framing of power as over–now, again, this is a utopia, right? Like, I guess I’m just kind of rambling at this point, but it feels like starting with that redefining of what power can and should be may be a place to start. Recently the other piece that’s running through my head and that, you know, as Dr. Mary-Frances and Dr. Monica are talking, that representation absolutely matters, and yet where the moments where representation, meaning more Black and brown people at the top, is merely putting new designer curtains on a condemned house, and if the house is condemned, then does that representation even disrupt a system? That’s something that sticks with me at the moment. Not saying that we shouldn’t.
Mary-Frances: That is so powerful, because I was just sitting here thinking–you know, I was listening to a Michelle Obama podcast the other day, and they were talking about the power that Barack Obama had in the White House. However, she was saying that Black people criticized Barack Obama because he didn’t do enough, right? He didn’t push far enough, but he was in this position where if he looked like he was pushing too far, right–so when Black people do get in power, people of color do get in power, there’s just this strong need in order to keep that power for any length of time to in some ways assimilate, to in some ways not exercise the power that would change the system. That was really powerful, Gary.
Nubianna: [?] excited and writing down notes because these are things to reflect upon, and I’m viewing the chat, and Neil brought up that South Africa has been able to successfully make this transition, and from my own personal experience being in South Africa, I felt good in many aspects. It was like America with the exception that Black people, Black South Africans, seemed to have been able to better their positions in a way that we haven’t been able to despite the amount of time we’ve been having this racial change or freedom, right? So apartheid ended in the ’90s, and yet if I visibly look at what’s happening in South Africa, I can actually see how there are a number of Black South Africans in positions of power with businesses, not to say that we don’t have our businesses, but definitely it looks significantly different than it does here in America. So I’m just thinking about the things that I’ve experienced and then putting together some of the things that you all are saying, you as panelists, you as the audience, and just really starting to think on a couple of things. As we wrap things up, are there any other questions, one more question, that someone in the audience would like to ask? And I want to say, for everyone that–if there aren’t any other questions the audience would like to ask, I would like for us to start to close this out with another Rapid Fire.
So same premise. A couple of questions that will be asked in a matter of 60 seconds. Audience, please feel free to answer them as well. Let us start. Okay, answer in any order. Music brings people together, so what is your favorite song?
Mary-Frances: For me it would be a James Brown song. I don’t know which one is coming to mind. “I Feel Good.” That’s my favorite.
Monica: It’s a cop-out answer, but I don’t have a favorite song. I have too many.
Gary: I don’t know. That’s the hardest question of the day right now.
Nubianna: All right, next question. Fill in the blank. When things get hard, _______ keeps me motivated.
Mary-Frances: For me, what keeps me motivated is work. My work actually keeps me motivated, yeah. It’s inspiring for me to resolve and solve problems.
Monica: I’ll say the future. The future keeps me motivated. Always the future.
Gary: Yeah. My family and hope.
Nubianna: Yep. Okay. Well, I definitely appreciate the time that you all have been able to spend with us. One last question so that people can know how to connect with you. LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter?
Mary-Frances: LinkedIn. LinkedIn would be my preference, yeah. LinkedIn.
Gary: Yeah, LinkedIn for me.
Monica: Twitter all day @DrMonicaCox. [all laughing]
Nubianna: Okay. Thank you, thank you. I definitely appreciate your perspectives and being able to provide some great dialogue and things for us to think about as we think about allyship and how we can make a substantial difference or how others can make a substantial difference as we walk along this journey of truly combating anti-Black racism. To the audience, I would really like to thank you for your active participation, engaging with us. You putting in comments and talking and asking questions helps us to keep our energy up. If you liked this experience, I will ask for you to provide us with some feedback. I am including our feedback form into the platform, so please take a couple of moments to click on that and provide us with some overall feedback so that we can improve. That also includes feedback for me since I will be a reoccuring face for these webinar series. You can check us out at all of our social medias, right, Instagram @LivingCorporate, Twitter @LivingCorp_Pod. We’re on Facebook. We’re also on LinkedIn. We’re on all of them.
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Panelists: Thank you.