#017: The MLK Episode: How to Have Difficult Conversations about Racism

podcast Jan 12, 2023

Imagine this.

I'm crying in a bathroom at work.

I barely made it out of the room where an almost all white creative team had just made racist assumptions about Black art and Black people.

Every time I think I can pull it together, I start crying again.

I'm trying to be silent but the sobs won't stop.

Finally, my Chinese American friend, Grace, comes in and refuses to leave without me.

We are going to walk through those doors together.

Grace and I do it.

We spend hours talking.

Eventually, I leave the company.

I was twenty-two years old.

Has this ever happened to you?

Have you ever been flooded by feelings and embarrassed or ashamed?

Have you ever wished that you could hold on to your words and your temper?

Well, I've got something for you!

Over the three decades since that experience, I've developed a 5-step process that has transformed my conversations.

I share the 5 Steps during the episode.

If you’d like to delve deeper, check out my digital course Transform your Conversations about Racism.

To continue the work of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement, we need to be able to to have authentic heart centered conversations with people of good will.


[00:00:00] . So I want to tell you about how I transformed my own conversations about racism.   In my twenties, I found myself in a public bathroom crying. And what tipped me over was a meeting where I was the only black person. It was a white led, predominantly white team where I, you know, I just felt profoundly disrespected and black people's experience was being disrespected in the.

[00:00:26] It broke me. It was a thing that had been building up over time in that situation. You know, I left the room, I went to the bathroom, tried to pull myself together cuz I didn't want to cry in front of these people. And eventually I left that company. And,  , you know, we had some conversations here and there before I left.

[00:00:44] But what I want you to know is that I did not leave empowered,  , I left hurt and frustrated and,  , , and of course this is a common story. Fast forward a couple decades later, I'm sitting at work and I get an email from a coworker saying,  , he would like to talk with me about,  , black Lives Matter. You know, I read his email and I knew from some previous exposure he was really wanting to talk about Blue Lives.

[00:01:20] and he's really want to talk about,  , how Black Lives Matter was harmful to white people. I decided not to engage him right at that time. I kept up on a path that I was on, which is where I was starting to do some work on self-compassion and, you know, looking at how the mind works. And after I've been doing this for a couple months, I went to find that guy his name was, So Pete and I start this car, start this conversation, and I listen and I decide to listen from my heart and I listen to him say a lot of things that many of you maybe have said or you've heard other people say to you.

[00:01:59] And as I listened, I just kept breathing, you know, just breathing. And  , after he had shared for quite a while, I said to him, do you want to, what's like for. And he, I just remember the moment we went eye to eye and he said, yes. I said, well, when my child leaves the house, I wonder if he's going to make it back, or if I'm going to be like one of these other mothers, Black mothers out here trying to get a hashtag for my kid.

[00:02:32] And,  , we, we just held. and I complete the conversation. I moved on. I'm not going to exhaust myself trying to persuade him. I'm not going to be putting my, like, you know, my humanity on the line in this conversation. My job wasn't until I give him statistics to try to give him mass incarceration one-on-one or History United States.

[00:02:59] I mean, I've done all those things. I'm a Professor , I have done. , I felt satisfied. I felt grounded. I felt connected. I felt honored, like I had honored myself. I'd spoken my truth, but I'd also stayed inside myself. I hadn't reached all over trying to get there into PE and shake something into him. So I, I, I started to like, try to piece back what had gone differently in this conversation than my previous conversations where I felt so exploit.

[00:03:31] And I realized that,  , it was cuz I owned my power. There are five steps I took in this conversation and I'm going to share them with you because I want you to own your power and I want you to have the conversations. I don't want you to run away from them all, but I want you to own your power and,  , come from a space of,  , just spaciousness and presence.

[00:03:59] So the first thing I recommend you do, everybody but women of color in particular, I want you to check in with your wise self. Check in on how am I feeling in my body? How is my heart today? If you cannot be emotionally and physically present, then I want you to divert, decline, or. The conversation. You may think this is selfish, but this is the first and most important step because if you're going to be an instr ent of transformation for someone, then you the instr ent have to be in good working order.

[00:04:37] If you are hungry, if you are really tired, if you are hurting about something, it may not be the time for you to have a difficult conversation about racism. Decide do you want to defer this conversation? like I did with Pete. Do you want to comp decline it completely because you think the person is maybe,  , just wants to bait you or is inauthentic in some way?

[00:05:03]  , or do you want to divert the person to some kind of resource before you talk to them so they come to the conversation with a little more preparation? If after checking with your wise self and you're like, I'm ready to. Okay, I'm good. Maybe I don't know everything. Maybe, you know, I, maybe I still feel a little nervous, but, you know, I got my feet on the ground.

[00:05:25] I got my breath. I'm ready to go. Then I want you to go to step two. Step two in the conversation is to hold space for transformation. And that is in effect to create a field, you know, a vibration, an intention. That there's going to be trans transformation here, but the way that we're holding space for it is we're not going to force it on somebody.

[00:05:50] We are, in fact going to be the spacious vessel for,  , transformation to occur. We do that by getting our feet planted, getting into our breath, so we're slowing it down.

[00:06:10] And then we're getting into touch with our hearts. And for me, you know, my mentor, Niyonu Spann,  , defined holding space for transformation as being unconditional love and unconditional acceptance. Because when I get my heart in that space, I'm allowing something bigger than my ego to work through me to fill me up so that I can be that space for someone else.

[00:06:39] And when you create a space of transformation, when you hold space and create that kind of bubble, that juiciness, not by your words, but by your actions, feet are on the ground. I'm breathing purposefully, purposefully, and I am being unconditional love and unconditional acceptance that shifts other people's energy.

[00:07:01] The third step that I did differently than I've done before is I leaned in to listen. And there's a specific way to listen, you know, when you're listening, to argue when you're like, mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . Mm-hmm. . Even if you don't interrupt the person, you're like, mm-hmm. . Making your little notes about, you know, how you're going to rebut on all that stuff.

[00:07:24] But in this scaffolding, I want you to lean in. With your heart because when you listen from the heart, you are allowing a connection to be made. This is why it's so important to come from strength and from a full cup. , because you can't do this if your cup is empty. But if your cup is full, you can lean in and listen.

[00:07:50] And I have literally found,  , I had an experience where I was talking with another,  , white man. This was someone who was very successful as a consultant, who literally in the middle of his talking, he said to me, Amanda, I'm just going to shut up . Literally, he said, I'm just going to shut up. I, I don't know what I'm talking about.

[00:08:08] I can, I, can you please talk to, I want to listen to you. And I was like, okay, so how you listen actually has an impact? Next step. Would you like to hear what it's like? For me? This was a game changer for me asking people this question. I want to be very honoring of myself, so I don't need to be like just.

[00:08:31] Saying stuff, if you don't want to listen, then I don't want to say it to you. I don't want to share it with you. So when I say, would you like to hear what it's like for me? I'm giving the person over there an opportunity to cue in and say, oh, do I want to hear what it's like for her? You know, I'm reminding them that they have a choice.

[00:08:52] This whole conversation is a choice. And when people say yes, they listen differently than when you launch on them. . You know? Or when you say  h ,  ,  h . Okay. Well, here's what I have to say to add . I'm just telling For real, for real. Would you like to hear what it's like for me? Step five, reflect on yourself after these conversations, difficult conversations about racism.

[00:09:21] Some of them are going to go like, wow, that was so fast. Or, wow. I feel good, or, oh my God, I don't feel good. What happened? I want you to reflect on yourself. Look at what worked, where did you lose yourself along the way? Where did you feel oppressed or stifled?  , what was happening for you? The reason why I say this is because,  , when we reflect on ourselves, especially if we have a mentor or we have an accountability partner, someone who loves us and who's also.

[00:09:56] Help us to stand for justice, both things. Someone who loves us and someone who's going to help us stand for justice.  , then we can build on what worked and we can forgive ourselves or let go of what's getting in the way. So some of us,  , they have an ongoing conversation that gets in the way of, I don't know enough.

[00:10:18] I don't know enough. I don't know enough. I don't know. And so we're finding we're getting these difficult conversations about racism, that we feel frozen because all we hear in the back of our head, I don't know enough. If you have an accountability partner or a mentor, you can practice detaching from that tape that's running in the back of your head.

[00:10:39] When you reflect on yourself, you can check in and say, okay. ,  , did I really check in with my Y self before I started this conversation? Did I say yes too soon? You can say to yourself, oh, okay, I see what we did. What happened? I'm going to call so and so back and ask them to meet with me again because I want to complete the conversation.

[00:11:05] So when you reflect on yourself, you give your an op yourself an opportunity to learn. To grow and to practice self-care. One thing I'll tell you about Pete, so I didn't know exactly how I felt in that conversation because he moved, but he came back a couple years later when I was writing my book, based on my experience of having conversations about racism.

[00:11:28] It's called Stop Being Afraid, and  , spoiler alert, that's going to be the free gift for you at the. Well anyway, that co-worker came as I was like editing it and he goes, he goes, “Amanda, I see you're really busy. I don't want to bother you, but I just want you to know you changed this white boy's life.”



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