Episode Six: "Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism" with Austin Channing Brown

Transcript: 

Simran Jeet Singh:
Welcome back to our program, "Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism." I'm your host Simran Jeet Singh. This is the third week of our program, episode number six. And today we're joined by Austin Channing Brown. She is a New York Times bestselling author of "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World made for Whiteness," and I'm super excited to have her, because I've learned a lot from her work. And I'm excited for you all to learn from her too. Before we turn to Austin, I just want to give you a word on our program. Our vision is to offer two things that we believe the world needs badly right now. First we want to offer you insight into what's actually going on with racism. What does it look like? How does it feel? And the goal there is to really help people, all of us understand better how racism affects people on a personal level and on a societal level as well.

The other thing we really hope to do here is receive guidance from our expert guests on how to move from just understanding racism, into taking action. And this may come in a variety of forms. It could be ways to look at the racist ideas embedded within ourselves. It could come as guidance on actions we can do to take on the racism all around us. But the goal is at the end of the day, we want to make some change and be better both internally and, and social way. The ultimate goal of this conversation is to really learn from Austin about her own journey in the faith space as a person of faith herself, and to really dig deep into what it looks like and what we take away from anti-racist practice. And so let me just introduce her very quickly.
Austin Channing Brown, whose book is now number four on the New York Times bestsellers list -- if you haven't read it already, you definitely should. It shares the experience of what it's like to be a Black woman in a predominantly white space. And it's super honest, and it's also very gentle and inviting. And so, I found, it's a really accessible, beautiful read, and I really encourage you all to grab a copy. So, Austin, thank you. Thank you for joining us. I can't imagine how busy you must be, with your book going. How are you doing? How are you holding up?

Austin Channing Brown:
I am good, but it's definitely still weird to hear you say New York Times bestselling author, like -- wait, me? Is that my book?

Singh:
Yeah. And what have the past several weeks been like with the, with the pandemic and the racial justice protests and your book coming out of that? How have you been holding up?

Brown:
Oh my gosh. Every day feels like a roller coaster. Yeah, I mean, it's a tough season, you know? And I was recently chatting with Brené Brown on her podcast and at the end of it, it's like, Brené, can you be my therapist for just two seconds? Help me process through these highs and lows, because it's a lot, it's a lot to carry, but I'm also grateful, you know, I'm really grateful.

Singh:
Yeah, that's great. I mean, I think a lot of us have been following you for a long time, and some of us are new to you and your work. But I think the grace with which you've been carrying yourself the last few weeks, and I think, pretty much every single person in the world listen to that interview with Brené Brown, at least... And so I know a lot of folks are tuning in today, excited to hear from you because I've gotten messages from them, you know, about how much you've meant to them. So, yeah. Thank you. Thank you for joining us. And, you know, I want to jump right into the conversation. We don't have that much time, and I want to ask you to do some illumination for us. If you don't mind sharing with us, the first memory you have of being subjected to racism.

Brown:
That's a really hard question to answer because I'm sure it was happening before I was aware of it, you know? But my most vivid memory is being at the library where we went all the time and I had a pile of books, which was not unusual. And I hand the librarian my card so I can check out all my little books and I'm fully prepared for her to be like, what is happening right now? Because of a fine, I always owed fines. And they were always ridiculous. I had to pay down the fine to be able to check out the book. So I was expecting her to be surprised, but she got my card and she said, is this your card? And I paused. 'Cause I'm maybe eight, eight, nine, something like that. I'm like, well, it could be my mom's. It could be my little brother's. So I'm kind of hesitant. And she says, this card says Austin. And I'm like -- Oh, I see what's happening here. Because I'm very used to people assuming I'm going to be a boy. And so when she was confused, I thought -- Oh, Oh, I got it. So I hand her, I say, yes... My name is Austin. That's my card. She says, are you sure?

Now I'm offended. Do you see the number of books I'm trying to check out? Do you really think, I don't know what my name is. So I march over to my mother, 'cause I'm like, mom, why did you give me this name? That confuses people everywhere I go. And she sent me down and she said, Austin, if you had been a boy, you would have been a Junior. So we already knew what we would have named a boy, but we didn't know what we would name a girl. And we were just tossing out names. One of us said, Austin, which is a family name. And we loved it immediately. I was like, -- Why, Ma? You know? And she said to me, because we knew if nobody had seen you before, your name was just on an application that they would assume you are a white male.
I was like, okay, yeah, did not see that answer coming. Oh. But that was the moment that people's reaction to me finally made sense because sometimes like this woman asking me if I'm sure that my name is Austin and that that's my library card. I couldn't understand why people felt like I was deceiving them. Like there are lots of girls who have boy's names. Like, I don't understand why people seem so confused. And so that was my first memory when people's reactions to me, my body and my name have finally made sense.

Singh:
Yeah. It's a really interesting reflection. And for those of you who haven't read the book, this is, this is sort of the story. And it's so powerful, I think for a lot of reasons, but I think one of the things that really struck me was this idea that, well, let me say it this way. There's so many studies now that come out and validate that, right? Like when your parents gave you the name, I'm guessing those studies weren't out yet. Right? Or at least they weren't aware of, like -- I learned about these studies that let's say, you know, researchers have found that if you have a name that sounds ethnic or Black in particular, then you're less likely to get an interview, a job, all that sort of stuff. And like, it sort of reminds me of the difference between lived experience, right? Like your parents, they didn't need a study to tell them that thing, that this was reality. Right? And so, yeah, it's such an interesting example because it's so real as part of like, what I think about when I submit an application, I'm like, what are people going to think? Or when people pronounce my name and I'm like, yeah, it actually does matter to me for these different.... So like in a name, it, it carries a lot of weight in this world. Right?

Brown:
Oh, totally. And honestly, it surprises me that there are so many white people who are unaware of that because I don't know a person of color whose parents, weren't thinking, what do I do? Right. Even if they decide on a name that quote-unquote sounds ethnic, but that wasn't a decision that was made lightly.

Singh:
Right. Right. Exactly. Even for my wife and I, as our kids were born, we have two daughters who are two and four. We worked very thoughtful about what, you know, the tradition and the history and the meaning, but also like, it was a very important factor, especially in my wife's mind that like we choose names that can be pronounced and don't seem too [inaudible] or intimidating people. So, I didn't feel that same way, but I respected it because my wife has had, she has a more difficult name than mine. And she's had to deal with it, it's a real thing. I want to read this passage from your book that I think speaks to your approach. And then I want to ask you about it.

It's on page 23, for those of you are following along, she says in here... I'll show the cover so people can see it. You say, I learned about whiteness up close and in classrooms and hallways and in offices and sanctuaries. At the same time, I was also learning about blackness, about myself and about my faith. My story is not about condemning white people, but about rejecting the assumption sometimes spoken sometimes not that white is right closer to God, holy, chosen, the epitome of being, I was so interested when I read that because you know, I'm not you, I'm not Black. We didn't grow up in the same area. I'm not, you know, all these differences we have, but like that shared experience of realizing -- Oh, hold on a second, I'm aspiring for whiteness because it teach... I'm being taught that white is right. And my question is, it seems like you saw that at a much earlier age than I did in your story. And I'm super interested if you could talk a little bit about how you came to see it, maybe a couple of examples of what it's like to think that white is. Right? And then what do we do once we realize it? What do we do to overcome it?

Brown:
Yeah. First I want to say that, I think I did realize it pretty early in my life, but that I was not good at doing anything about it. And I want to be honest about that. It was something that I always lamented that I wasn't more outspoken. And then I didn't speak up more in that, yeah, that I was aware of this thing in the air, but I wasn't sure how to navigate it. But what really helped me be able to see it was the first thing is that I had so many teachers who had no idea what my life was like or what my culture was like. And I was very aware of that first. So even things as simple as teachers saying, well, kids make sure you wash your hair every day.
Like -- Nope, I'm not doing that. That is a very bad idea for me actually. And other small ways, the music that I listened to, the movies that I watched in my home, that it was just so clear that my teachers thought that their experience of the world was universal. And I knew so much that they didn't know, but it didn't really become clear for me actually, until I stepped out of being in these predominantly white spaces and into being in a predominantly Black space, because I realized -- Oh, I hate to even say this, but it's the truth. I realized that I had picked up the same narratives about blackness that whiteness already had. So for example, being in a summer camp with all Black kids, let me tell you -- so loud. So playful and things that I would have considered disrespectful, right?

Like this is not how we behave and realizing that the way Black kids were behaving was far more fun, far more interesting and entertaining was far more creative and realizing that I had been taught a lie, I had been taught a lie about which culture is best or better. And, yeah, and that always stayed with me. And that happened when I was about nine years old. It happened after my parents got divorced. And so, it happened at a really young age, but I was so aware that I had been taught a lie about what it means to be Black and have a different culture.

Singh:
So, what do you do as, as a nine-year-old? I mean, or as a 35-year-old as I am now, what do you do when... So, let me say it this way. A lot of us, a lot of people are in the context of the pandemic, really seeing the cracks in our society around inequities, right, are along multiple lines, but especially around race. We're really seeing white supremacy and its impact in a way that we haven't before. And so a lot of people now are realizing -- Oh, maybe this isn't the truth we thought it was, or this isn't the superior way to live as we thought it was. And like, we do have problems we didn't see. And so, you know, you saw that as a nine year old. A lot of us are seeing that now and then, and then what do you do? So I guess, what I like about your approach in the book is you're not here to attack, or condemn, you just say that there's a different way, right? Like our way is unperfect and then there's something different. So what is, what is it that you see that we could be doing differently?

Brown:
Yeah, I think as a Black woman, the first thing I had to do was actually decide for myself well before we had the phrase Black Lives Matter, I had to decide that for myself. Do I really believe that? Do I really believe that my culture matters and that my food matters and that the way I joke with my friends matters and that my music matters, you know, that the way I show up in a world and the way other Black people show up in the world, that matters, that it's good. And that it's amazing. And that I have nothing to be ashamed of. And I think that is often what whiteness teaches inevitably, right? That if whiteness is right, then that means the way you and I show up in the world is something to be ashamed of. And I had to decide for myself that I would find beauty in blackness, and then I wouldn't let whiteness tell me otherwise.

And I think what that means for all of us is that institutions, organizations, communities that don't recognize the value of who we are, the value of how we show up in the world, not just for the things like music and dress and although those things, but not just that -- all of those things then shape a worldview. They shape an understanding, they shape an experience that could also be valuable as we think about schools and wealth and health and police and right, but I have so much to contribute, that you have so much to contribute. And if all we think is that whiteness has all the answers that you and I, we don't get to contribute.

Singh:
Yeah. I'm really struck by that answer. And I'm thinking... So I resonated with everything you're saying, and I haven't thought about it this way before, but as you were speaking, you turn to the phrase Black Lives Matter and, what's going on there. And like, I guess for me, I've always thought about it as, the lives of Black people matter. And like trying to make sense of this idea that there is inequity. And so like everybody's equal, we should care about Black people. And when you say is like -- the way we really come value Black people is to say like Black lives matter and Black life matters. And like to see blackness as something that is productive, as I suppose it's something that's the right name. Right? That's the difference.

Brown:
Absolutely. Yeah.

Singh:
It's super interesting to me, especially as I'm thinking about... So, you open up the book and then this really interesting comment you made is like, I'm not a stereotype of a Black person. My story is not sensational. Or, you know, you say something like I grew up in a suburb, I grew up around mostly white people, just like most of America. And so like, how do you do this thing where you say blackness matters and there is a collective culture, but also the diversity within blackness, right? There are all sorts of who experienced blackness differently. And so like, how do you, how do we sort of square that thing together?

Brown:
Yeah. It's no different from for me saying that your life matters and saying that the kid whose jeans are slung low and listens to nothing but hip hop, that his life matters too. Right? Like his experience isn't mine and your experiences at mine, but I can still make space for that just because, right? So what I'm not doing is, I'm not trading, right? I'm not saying, Oh, Black people are the only people that matter. And actually we hold everything that is good and right in the world and all the rest of you need to go have a seat. You know, that's not what I'm saying, but I'm saying is that as a practice, we have to make space for the beauty that exists outside of ourselves. So yeah, I have multiple degrees. I am an author. I'm actually pretty introverted.

But give me an adrenaline rush and I will pretend to be extroverted. And that's how I show up in the world. Right? But I have girlfriends who have long acrylic nails and who had braids long before I tried them. And who talk with a hood accent. And there's beauty in that. There's beauty in that. I don't need other Black women to be like me and I don't need all Black men to be like my father or my brother or my husband. I need all of them to be who they are, because if I give them space to be who they are, then I can also give you space to be who you are.

Singh:
Yeah. That's beautiful. That's beautiful. I love that. I mean, it reminds me of this moment in your book. Well, let me say this, if you're just joining us. This is Austin Channing Brown, the author of I'm Still Here, number four on the New York Times bestseller list. And, if you have comments or questions, you can leave them in the comment section and we'll turn to those shortly. But what you're describing right now, it really reminds me of this early portion in your book where you talk about belonging. You talk about belonging a few times, and you talk about moments where you actually felt like you belonged for the first time and what it was like to like what that feeling was like. It was really powerful as someone who knows what you mean when you say, like -- you felt like an outsider and so all of a sudden you didn't, right?

Like when you're... I think it was your teacher, your professor, who talked about a relaxer and nobody else knew, and it was sort of a wink-wink kind of moment. And yeah, so talk to us a little bit about this idea of belonging. You're, you know, you just had this reflection on making space for others. What is belonging? How do we create it in our places of work? So like socially, but also, you know -- you talk a bit in the book about creating that space within yourself. So, [inaudible] spiritual practice.

Brown:
Yeah, the first... I think that belonging is layered, right? So I always felt a sense of belonging in my own home, right? Surrounded by Alvin Ailey posters and gospel music and Zora and Tony and Alice Walker on, you know, their books on the walls. And so there was a certain level of blackness that I was very familiar with. But it wasn't until I ended up spending summers in Cleveland, but I found all this other music and all these other ways of doing blackness that I had never encountered before. And at first it was really frightening. At first, I did not feel a sense of belonging. It was like -- Whoa, this is really different from anything I've experienced before. And, thankfully there was a little girl who lived four houses down from me who kind of invited me in, she handed me newspapers and she let me practice the latest dance moves in her house.

And she invited me to the neighborhood stuff that I was frightened to go participate in, like kickball or riding our bikes or whatever. I would have happily stayed indoors with my book, reading Judy Bloom, just fine with me, but she invited me in. And because she invited me in, I found a sense of belonging and she didn't expect me to change everything about who I was. She didn't expect me to suddenly become extroverted. She didn't expect me to be the best dancer ever. She just invited me in and let me kind of figure out what fit and what didn't fit. And I think that combined with my first experience attending a Black church -- Whoa, Whoa. I don't think I'll ever forget walking into that church for the first time. And just seeing the sea of Black people who did church very differently from anything I had experienced until then.

And I feel like if you're not familiar with service at a Black church, it could feel really chaotic. Okay. Obviously not every Black church is the same, but there's a good portion of them who are not going to give you a program, and even if they did, it's probably not accurate because we just know how the service is going to go. We just know. And there was a sense of the longing and community that I still have trouble putting into words, but I think most of it is around shared culture. It's around knowing and understanding. It's around not being surprised by what's happening, it's around knowing all of the anecdotes and all of the stories and all of the metaphors that I'm not translating in my head, which is what I had done. So often in school, I don't know anything about skiing or hockey or sailing or, you know, all these like, references that were getting tossed at me on a regular basis. And I just pretended to understand, so there is some level of belonging that I'm not wholly convinced can be recreated. And I think that makes people very uncomfortable. I think that makes people really uncomfortable to think that there is something so special about blackness, so special about being Latinx, so special about being Japanese or Chinese or Korean, that it can't be recreated, that there is simply nothing like that level of belonging.

Singh:
Yeah. That's that is really interesting. Especially as I'm sitting here thinking about -- my mind always ends up going to the pragmatic, right? Like, what can you do? And you do a lot of that in your book, and you talk about the workspace a lot, but yeah -- I'm like, okay, there's on one level, and I agree with you, like, you can't recreate that same sort of thing, but on the other hand, you have these experiences that you talked about in the book where it was pretty good, right? It's not the same, but it's like... and then you've had other experiences where they were not very good. And you share those. And the question is, how do you imagine creating that sort of space? Right? Like if the option is, things can suck or things can [inaudible]. As a teacher in a classroom, right, I'm wondering this for my own classroom, as an employer of small business or in the nonprofit space where you've been like, what do you think are some of the keys there?

Brown:
I think we have to recognize that we're creating something new, right? We're not trying to recreate my Black church experience. And we're not trying to recreate my time in a Cleveland suburb with 10-year-old kids, you know, like we can't recreate that. But what we can do is decide that we're going to create a new culture. So, I'll use this as an example, and this isn't explicit in the book, but my last place of employment, before I became self-employed, was at Calvin College. And for those who aren't familiar with Calvin College, it's located in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It is Reformed and historically Dutch and is not like me.

Yeah. And when people who are familiar with Calvin found out that I worked there, their immediate reaction is -- Oh, did you survive? Okay. And the answer is, yeah, I really did. It was one of the best places that I have ever worked. And the reason for that is because even though there are all these institutional issues of being a predominantly white Dutch Reformed Christian institution, there was a department that made space for me. There was a department called ResLife that decided, even though there's this overarching culture, we're going to do something different. We're going to have meetings where Austin can be herself and she can speak freely. And she doesn't have to worry about microaggressions being lobbed her way. We're going to have a culture where Austin can challenge us. And she can say -- this conversation about all students is really great, but I'd really like to have a conversation about students of color because they're experiencing something specific.

And we're going to have a culture where we read things that make everybody in the room uncomfortable. And we're going to hire people who are interested in having that conversation. So they don't have to have read the things. There's no test. There's no anti-racist test to take in order to qualify, but they do have to answer. And during the interview -- what have you been reading or what have you been watching or, or tell me the last thing that you learned about someone who has a different culture, because what we want is a whole team of people that we can trust to build this culture together. And so, I hope that as I am even talking about this, that that gets people excited, but I don't have a like 10 step plan for everybody form an anti-racist culture that you get to do that all your own and you get to have fun doing it and you get to be creative as you do it. And you get to think about what kind of culture you want to create. Even if you're a part of an institution that's not doing that so well.

Singh:
Right. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense to me. And I think what I'm also resonating with is hearing you say that it's a constant process. So like, I'm thinking about my classroom, for example, like the way that I create the classroom environment. And there's a general framework of like, what do you do? But then there's also like every, every semester, every year you get new students and you tailor it. Like, that's how I think it's all about, for me, at least I see it as like -- this is all people-centered, right? It has to be people-centered. And so you have to learn about the people you're working with and learn how to serve them. I think that's an important part of it. And then also there's the humility required to evolve and to say, you know, I'm learning too. And along the way, what am I reading? And what am I watching and who am I learning from? And then how do I implement these new ideas? And again, being okay with this expectation, or I guess letting go of the expectation that you have to be perfect with it, right? Like...

Brown:
Right, right. I think a huge part of it. It isn't just humility. It's so cheesy, but it's the fun of learning, right? It is trying something new and being like -- Oh my gosh, did you see how well that went? Or -- Ooh, here's what we got to do differently, that did not go as planned. Right? But it's choosing to learn together, right? That nobody is out there on their own where we have all chosen this work, whatever that work is, we have chosen this work and here's how we're going to make that happen together. And if we fail than it is -- we failed. Not me, not I, and now we are going to talk about how we can do this better. And that is invigorating. That is filled with energy, not as sort of a personal referendum on whether or not I'm a good or bad person.

Singh:
Yeah. That's a really interesting way of thinking about it. It's so... okay. I'm going back to, my head's going back to, the Brené Brown podcast that every single person I know has sent it to me and told me I need to listen to it. So, alright, I'll listen to it. It's taking me back to this part of your conversation. So you've touched on this a little bit -- what do we, what do we get personally out of this work, and spiritually, right? Like how does this nourish us? You talked a lot in that conversation, not a lot, but enough that like, I really wanted more runs around the ego and the role of the ego in anti-racism work. So let me just, I'd love to speak about that, but I guess the question comes from this frustration that all of our conversations around anti-racism, I mean, they focus on transforming people around us, and saying for our society, and we constantly just say like, we should do it because it's the right thing to do. In an ideal world that would do the trick. And so I'd love to hear you say, like, what is what's at stake for us personally, spiritually? Like, what do we get out of anti-racism work by divided, by engaging?

Brown:
Wow. So I really believe with my whole heart that becoming a person who cares about justice -- and for me, that specifically lands on anti-racism work -- really does make us better humans. And I feel like white people often will say to me, you know, I really believe that most people are good. And, you know, like you said, like, it's just about reaching them. It's just about changing minds, transforming hearts. People love to transform a heart. People are very interested in terms of our hearts and sure, sure, I suppose, but I think... Sometimes I think sometimes our American notions of individualism get in the way of what we could be building through anti-racism work, which is that the community matters who we are as a community matters and who we are as community is informing who we are as people, that those two things aren't separated from each other. So, in the sixties, there were a lot of police, pastors, fireman, who were a part of communities that would have said they were good people, but also believed deeply in segregation.

Well, maybe they were good people to their neighbors. No doubt. I don't doubt that they were good people to somebody, good people to their children, good people to their congregation members, but they weren't good people to me, to my ancestors, to King, to Rosa Parks, to write to this larger community that we're all a part of. And so while we can't not talk about individuals, right, like we have to talk about ourselves as individuals because we are each making decisions. But I wish we could spend more time thinking about ourselves as a community of people and how we are interacting with other communities of people and thinking about what that means then for whether or not I am a good person.

Singh:
Yeah. It's such an interesting reframing of the question and not of the question, but of the way we think about what it means to be, but what it means to be good, but also giving a pass to ourselves for, I mean -- and I think this is a big takeaway from your book. We all give ourselves a pass by being like, I'm not a bad person, so I can't be racist. And you make this comment that like, we're so focused on not being perceived as racist, that we're not willing to grapple with the actual...

Brown:
Whether or not we are. Exactly.

Singh:
That's great. No, I appreciate that. I want to move into a couple of questions that we have here, and I'll start with the question from Mary Anne who's going back to this theme of teaching -- as a teacher, how can I help students of color to achieve the sense of belonging, especially with teens who often struggle with belonging, regardless of ethnicity and race?

Brown:
Yeah. So I think one thing that we should probably do is we should probably start asking, like the students, like -- teenagers have thoughts and agency. Why not make the first assignment -- please write an essay on what it means for you to belong to this classroom or, write an essay about a time you didn't feel belonging in a classroom. Right? But sometimes we are like toiling in our minds when we could just ask the community that we're concerned about, you know -- I think for me, the classrooms that I felt the most sense of belonging, they were classrooms that didn't ignore my culture. So there were classrooms, English classrooms that didn't just have me read at Edgar Allan Poe and Shakespeare. They also had me read Toni Morrison and Maya Angelo, and that we were expected to have the same deep, thoughtful conversations around both.

Singh:
Yeah. Yeah. You talk in your book about this. I've never heard anyone say this before. So it was really validating to hear you to. I was listening to it as an audiobook this morning, again, to hear you describe your experience, but it was like this thing of -- in your classes where your teachers would assign something and then you would figure out how to make it about how to bring visibility to your blackness in some way. And so like -- and you even had this line in there, which made me laugh because it was me too, where you were willing to take a hit on your grade. I think it was a letter grade off for not doing [inaudible], and you were doing you wanted. And so I think that that really made me think about my own teaching and, what are we assigning? What are we asking our students to do?

Like, it's not just about, you know -- in high school, we read To Kill a Mockingbird and write all those Animal Farm and all the sort of standard everything. And it was completely white-centered. Then there was... there's also the question of, you can diversify what you assign, but then how do you build in a belonging with them? Your essay is right. Like, what are you asking people to do with that material? And maybe the answer there is just to open it up, like you're saying -- ask your students what they want to study, cater that, and then also assess your assessments based around that. So that's great. I've seen a question from Katherine -- and if others of you have comments, feel free to drop them in and I'll try and get to them -- a young adult in my book study group asked how a white person can convey other than verbally to the Black people in their lives or that they encounter that they're an active ally. So how do we make more spaces and experiencing welcoming and safe, without centering the white person's feelings?

Brown:
Yeah. So the people who have been allies in my life didn't walk up to me and shake my hand and say -- Hi, nice to meet you. My name is Richard and I'm an ally -- right? They sat in meetings with me where I spoke, or I took a risk, where I was brave, and said something to counter everything else that was being spoken. And Richard said -- Oh, I think that was a great idea. Okay? You know, being so much of being an ally is being verbal. It is speaking, but it isn't speaking to me so much as it is speaking in support of the marginalized people in the room.

It is uplifting other people's voices. It is paying attention to the inequities that are impacting who gets to speak and who gets to listen and whose ideas are accepted and who is praised and who gets the promotions and who gets the raises and whose ideas make it onto the whiteboard. You know, that it is so much, again -- I think this goes back to this idea of the individual, right? That being an ally is less about you, the person, and more about your ability to recognize injustice, then choose to do something about it in the moment whether we ever have a conversation or not.

Singh:
Right. Right. Exactly. No, I, you know, the way that I'm thinking about it as you speak as -- they're really like two types of ways in which we could see this, right? Like if you could slice it a bunch of different ways, but one way to slice, it would be in the context where you have relationships and you can... you have the power and the agency to do something. Right? And that's how I should. And then I'm also like laughing to myself with the other kind of category, which is people you don't have relationships with, and I want to ask you if this is true for you.

So a lot of times, when I walk down the street, like people will go out of their way -- Well, you know, all the ugly stuff happened, so like, that's its own thing. But then there are also, you know, plenty of folks who are going out of their way to give me a smile. And then, you know, I grew up in Texas. That's just how you did it, but I'm in New York City now. So like, if someone smiles, they're doing something they're not supposed to [inaudible] conscious effort. Like I get that a lot in my neighborhood, all over the city., and I know that it comes from this like good place where people just want me to know that, you know, don't worry about me. I respect you, whatever. And I appreciate that. But then a part of me also sort of laughs and it's like, there's something that like cultivates a sense of belonging and trust and like, for sure, right? Like, that matters. And on the other hand, I'm like, this is such an... It's almost like an empty, like a meaningless... Like it's not making a difference in my life. It's probably making that person feel better about their own white guilt. Right? Not that it does anything else. So I was wondering if that's something that you experienced and, I don't know, how you process that?

Brown:
It is like, I just don't have time. You know what I'm saying? I don't have time to be wondering whether or not every single person I pass is racist. So smile. That's great. But in the grand scheme of things, what I am far more interested in are the people who are directly impacting my life, you know? So when one of the best allies I ever had was at an organization where I felt zero sense of belonging and everyday that sense of belonging got like cut in half the day -- before every day I got cut in half. I just could not figure out the language of the organization. So much of the history of the organization just remained like, like foggy for me. I couldn't figure out what my supervisors wanted from me. Like it was just... It was not a great experience, but I had one white woman in my life who would come into my office before I had a meeting with my supervisors and she would be like -- Okay, so what are y'all talking about today?

And she would literally coach me on what language to use and what words to stay away from and how to show up in the meeting. And she would give me a backstory on things that I had no idea about, but she was literally like my little coach, my little ally coach, and trying to make sure that that I could keep myself safe, that I had the tools to keep myself safe. Even if I would never succeed in that organization, we didn't have enough time for that, nor was I honestly that interested, but to at least stay, right, to not lose my job. And it was one of the most profound aspects of allyship. And she never told anyone she never bragged about it. She never, you know, behind my back was like -- you know, Austin didn't even really know X, Y or Z, you know. Like she was really intentional and kind and protective of me, but in ways that were helpful to me, not in ways that were helpful to her.

Singh:
Yeah. Yeah. I mean the word that I'm hearing is selfless, right? Like Katherine's question, I think, it's such an important thing she added on at the end to say, it's not without centering the white person's feelings because what you're describing here, like the difference between the selflessness and the selfish self-centered, right. It's the world... it makes all the difference in the world. You could be doing the exact same thing, right? Like if you're doing that work and it's selfish and like showing up for you and coaching you and mentoring you and it's selfish, like it's not doing the same sort of work. Right? And so, yeah, it just takes me back to this question of ego, right? Like if you're anti-racism is rooted in ego, I mean, that's still going to have... That's still white supremacy. You're still going to think you're better than everyone. It's not going to change.

Brown:
We know it. And so you could theoretically be saying all the right things or using all the right terminology, but we still know that this is ultimately about your own self-importance and not about creating this new community or creating this new culture in which we all get to thrive. We can feel the difference.
Singh:
Yeah. Oh, that's such an... okay. So here's what I'll do. We'll pick up from this next week. We have Kaitlin Curtice, who is going to speak... she's going to speak to us about white supremacy and colonialism, settler colonialism, and indigenous experiences. And really like the connection I'm making here is -- what we're talking about is the difference between an ally and a white savior, right? Like if you're coming in as a white savior, it's not about me. It's about you. That's, I mean, that's what colonialism was. Right? So, so Kaitlin will help take us in that direction. But I want to let you get back to your world of your fancy New York Times bestselling life right now. So thank you, Austin. I know it was -- if you haven't read her book yet, "I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness." It's available as an audio book, as I mentioned, too. Just read it. It's a quick read. It's so enlightening, and it deserves to be number four on the list. So thank you, Austin, again for taking time, and sharing it with us, especially, especially, given....

Brown:
Oh my God. Stop it. It was my pleasure. There, I get a lot of emails these days, but when I got one from you, I was like, yes, yes, please. I am such a big fan of your own work and your own approach to anti-racism and I'm grateful that you are in the world.

Singh:
And it was my pleasure to talk with you today. Thank you. Thanks, Austin. Really appreciate it. And yeah, best of luck with staying on that list for the next several weeks. Take care.