Interns, Not Allies

You’re listening to Medicine for the Resistance

Speakers: Patty Krawec, Kerry Goring, Leticia Jones

Patty:  Interns not Allies

Yes. Yeah, that was where this came from.  I don’t know, I think I just get preemptively annoyed with people some days and I was just preemptively annoyed with something and so I popped out that what we need is “interns, not allies” because something had happened on Facebook and that’s what usually happens in my life.  Something will happen on Facebook and then I’ll go bitch about it on Twitter rather than dealing with it directly.

The idea of “interns, not allies” is for myself too.  Dealing with queer spaces or Black spaces or others I don’t know what I don’t know, right? And there’s areas of privilege that I have within my spaces, connected with my spaces and being an Indigenous woman. But I don’t know what I don’t know. And so to come in and say “I’m going to be an ally” it just sounds so much like “I have all of this stuff to offer, I’m going to come and help you.  I’m gonna help you because I have this and I have that and I know things and I have access”.  I’ve heard it explained as “opening the doors” or whatever it is.

Like that I can open the door.

Kerry:  I love that.

Patty:  So what I was thinking is – in those spaces, when I’m when I’m engaging with the migrant workers rights (I know a local activist) I feel very much like an intern in that space, when I’m helping them with things or engaging with them on things like that because there’s a lot that I don’t know.

So I’m not there as an ally to bring my strength and power. I’m there as an intern to learn.  “What can I do to help? Do you need coffee?”

<laughter>

Kerry:  Which I thought was so brilliant.  I did chuckle when I read that part of it.

Patty:  We always need coffee

Kerry:  I, for myself, when you mentioned intern, I always use the words “holding space”. And in that, it is in that it’s coming into that understanding that it’s not about me taking up this space.  It’s there for me to bolster, to support, to bring the coffee, to be in that space of service and learning.

How can I be of assistance? 

Kerry:  So I thought it was a really great way, when you said internship, to bring that front and center.  I thought it was just a beautiful analogy for what we need. And as we’re growing into these … I think we get caught up in the word speak. Sometimes allies seemed very noble.  And I do understand the placement of that in it coming front and center. But as we are growing into this space, as we are growing into these dynamics now of wanting to level up. I’m using that as a kind of interesting word too “leveling up” some spaces of support and what this is going to look like.  I love this idea of intern.  It gives room for that growth to begin. What do you think about that?

Leticia:  I think what I love about it, because I do in my work use the term ally or allyship, but it’s also because it’s interesting that I feel like with words sometimes there is the _definition_ which is slightly different than the _concept_ in the public lexicon which is slightly different than _the way it may be in more liberal progressive spaces_ which is different…  You know words are funny like that, right?

I know that when I’m doing my work (I was actually just finishing some pre-planning for a workshop that I had this Saturday) my goal and my purpose was me talking about “Okay. If you want to be an ally in this space, if you want to be supportive in this space, you don’t come in, when you open the door…  We’re excited that you’re there. You’re late. The class has already started sit down, take notes.”

<laughter>

Leticia:  You know?  It’s one of those things because I have a background in film and television, when I think about the narratives that were taught about, like these people who come in and save the day. I’m thinking about how Avatar the James Cameron Avatar movie.  Aargh, everyone’s like, “Oh, god, what is this?” Because we’re just gonna have this random white dude go to this native population, all of a sudden and he’s better at this thing that they love is that?  What is this atrocity?

Kerry:  Right?

Patty:  And they created the problem in the first place.

Leticia:  And they created the problem in the first place.

Patty:  And he’s only set up as the hero of the mess that they created.  But your military people were the ones who came in and created the problem and now you’re going to rescue us.

Leticia:  Right? And also rescue I’ll rescue you by manipulating a legend that was already in the culture.

How dare you? Right?

So that’s like one of many examples of this white dude or lady hero, ie Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds coming in and saving the minorities from themselves. If you’ve been taught this narrative – that you will always be the hero – that you will always be the one coming in to save the day – that you’re Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai.  (Another thing that doesn’t make sense.) You’re Matt Damon in the Great Wall.  Again, doesn’t make any kind of sense.

Patty:  Scarlett Johansson in everything.

Leticia:  Right, right.  And suddenly Emma Stone is half Hawaiian.

Patty:  Yeah.

Kerry:  Yeah.

Leticia:  These are the stories that a typical white writer, white director, white production staff thought that this was a story that needs to be told to primarily white audience to tell them about themselves and their role in the universe.

Then when you feel like you have a purpose and you have something to finally contribute, you be like, boom.  You’re like “Okay, I’ll galvanized, <voice rises> I’ve got my warrior strength and then go in and see the thing…” 

No!  So to continue using stories, because I’m just gonna keep on mixing analogies, I’m thinking about Star Wars, the first one A New Hope, here we have Luke Skywalker. The rebellion was going on long before he showed up.

Patty:  That’s right!

Leticia:  Long before he showed up. But he gets to be this innocent little farm boy who does happen to have this little special talent that helps to blow things up? But it’s like “No, you don’t get it.” As far as like when we are talking about our liberation, we’re talking about our war against the dark side.

We’ve been working this for a long time. So kind of like when Princess Leia, she’s trapped in the Death Star and Luke shows up saying “Hi, I’m here to save you.” And she does all the work.

Kerry:  Which is a whole other layer to that piece. 

Leticia:  That’s entire layer to that piece but I’m just like, if you’re coming into a space where people already doing the work, you don’t come in like you know what’s going on.

You don’t come in like “Here’s the battle plan.” You don’t come in saying I know all these doors to open.  You come in you sit and you listen. And maybe someone will be there to be like “Hey, what can you bring to the table? If you were invited let us know. If you were not, get us coffee.

Kerry:  You know I love once again this is candid, right? We’re kicking the real here and talking about this as it should be. I’ve been an interesting spaces over the last little while where I’m finding that I’m getting this dichotomy of what has once been considered white power. So I have a lot of white women approaching me lately and recognizing it to a degree where they’re coming in going “I really know nothing. I want to bring you coffee.”  But it’s really an uncomfortable space to do that for me.

Where does bringing you coffee even matter? You get what I mean by that?  That sense that they are still themselves sitting on the fringes of their power line and while I’m encouraged by the gesture (I say that and notice my voice goes up at the end) there’s still once again I feel layers that need to be unpacked.  Even in that understanding of whiteness and how it fits into this idea of service or just stepping back? And what is the level to which you’re willing to go in it?

You know, I had a conversation with a woman the other day.  I said “Would you be willing to give up like your position of power? You know, what I mean? And say “Hey, I’m going to hand it to X Black girl X Indigenous woman?” Are you willing to take it to that level? To make this an even place?” And that to me, when you ask that question, it starts to get really uncomfortable in the room.  They can’t hide the flush. You can’t hide when the flush starts coming on, you know what I mean? And I don’t know what I think about that, though. Are we? Is that an expectation?

Leticia:  I mean, is it the concept and the idea of giving up power is hard for anybody.  You know, and it’s… Have you guys seen Lovecraft country?

Kerry:  I was just about to bring that one up. While I was bringing it up, read the book.

Leticia:  Like, I haven’t finished it. But I got into spoilers. But yeah, don’t worry.  I am going to finish.  One thing that I read about was the idea of, and I forget the woman’s name in the show, but she’s in a really interesting position where she has access to more power, both monetarily and in their world

magically being the Black characters in the show. But in her own space she is a very limited being.  Right?  I feel like in many ways that’s been a really interesting relationship with the work as a whole and white women’s place in it. Because it’s very much like there’s this access and there’s power and there’s this very kind of “women on a pedestal thing” that if you follow these rules you get to be up here but you still don’t have agency.

And yet that position, even if it’s problematic is still more than most people get. It’s this really complicated thing.  And then, because there is this like agency, there’s oftentimes a relationship, I’m like, “Okay, I think you can kind of get where I’m coming from, I think you can kind of get where I’m coming from.” but the real conversation really needs to happen with white men and no one’s quite sure how to talk to them because they’re really sensitive.

Leticia:  It’s also just this really interesting play on power dynamics. And who has it? And when do you have it? Also one of, I’m not sure if messed up is the right word, but when you are someone who has a combination of both privileges and oppression, which all of us do in many different ways. I feel like if you lack that one thing that would stop you from ascending into the pinnacle of privilege. This is kind of goes across.  If you’re “I’m a Black man who has all this money, but I’m not a white dude.  And I’m just missing this one thing that could give me power”.

Or it’s sometimes really interesting because I also find myself in queer spaces and when you talk sometimes with other queer people, “You know white dude sort of gay.” and they’re like “They are missing that one thing that could give them more power.”  And how that changes the relationships with other people in and now. Do we have that solidarity? Do we have the connectedness? It’s just, it’s really interesting and complicated.

Leticia:  One thing I describe it in my workshops is that we all hit different aspects of privilege and different aspects of oppression all the time. I’m a Black woman so they’re like “Oh, my gosh, you really hit the oppression lotto. Whoo hoo”  I’m like “Yeah, I got my stuff.” But I’m also college educated, which comes with privileges in this country. I’m also neurodivergent, but can mask it so that comes with some privileges.  I’ve got this, I’ve got that, I’ve got this other thing, you know?  What stops me from seeing certain issues that people have.

So when I go into these spaces, that’s when -I am- the intern.  I have to be “I’m ready to sit.” But then also, because of my experience, I also don’t expect to understand everything. I don’t expect someone to guide me through it.  I expect that I’ll miss things and it will be okay.

I feel like sometimes when you are someone with a lot of privilege and power and you’re trying to be in a space, sometimes it is so uncomfortable to realize that you don’t get everything – that you don’t understand everything and not everyone’s gonna stop and wait for you to catch up.

It is highly uncomfortable to realize that you actually have to do a lot of work on your own. It’s a skill set and it’s a skill set which not only I feel so many people are not taught but the society almost like aggressively stops you from learning.

Leticia:  I can watch movies and films about cultures which I’m not a part of knowing that there’s going to be a significant part of it -I’m not going to understand- and -that’s okay, I don’t need to know-, right?

I remember I was talking to this woman on a plane about Black Panther.

     And she’s like “Yeah, me and my husband didn’t like it. 

     And I said “Why?” 

     And she’s “Um, uh” 

     So I said “Because it was about internal politics?” 

      “Yeah, no, it’s just not…”  

      “So you needed “a you” to relate to it?”

Just like, and my friends who are on my core booktubers are like “Yeah, there’s no white protagonist. So there’s no way I could connect with this.”

And I’m like “Bitch.  Do you know how much I love Jane Austen. Like shut up?”

Patty:  When I was in college, studying social work. One professor was “Oh, you know, could you imagine walking into a room…” How did he put it? It was about being in a room of people where everybody was different from you and how would that feel? And we all immediately were like “Oh, yeah, it would be super awkward” and then he says “So how do you think Black people feel when that happens to them?” And they’re like “Oh, yeah, wow.” Because now we’re empathizing with how that would feel? And he’s like “No, that’s everyday life. That’s just life. They’re always surrounded by white people.” 

So this idea that you have to see yourself… I mean, representation matters, I’m not going to sit here and say that it doesn’t, because it does matter. It is important for us to see ourselves. But when white people use that as an obstacle, that’s just internal work. That’s just work that they need to do. And I feel like sometimes when people come to me and say “Well, what can I do?  What can I do?” I give them a reading list.   “Well, how about you read this? And let me know what you think. Read this, listen to this podcast.”  That’s some of the conversation that I have.

Patty:  But I think one thing, and this is coming out in when I talked last week about Nora’s book and I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. When we’re talking about interns, we’re assuming a structure, right? We’re assuming, I think, something for interns to -do-.  Somebody for them to take coffee to. Some tasks for them to do while they learn. A lot of our movements are so event oriented that unless we’ve got a vigil going on we don’t have work for them to do.

Whereas I know and I think Black Lives Matter has done a really good job of creating not just a series of important events but a multinational organization that has actual chapters and accountability structures. And so when somebody wants to intern and they want to learn what they can there’s an organization they can join with work they can do so that people are getting organized rather than events so that when the thing happens … when something bad happens or a policy comes down from government … that something happened that we need to react to we’ve now got these people that have been coming out to meetings or kind of working within this structure.

Patty:  I know here in Niagara we really lack these kinds of formal structures. There’s Parent Teacher Associations there’s unions there’s all kinds of stuff. There’s an Anti-racism Association. There was one it fizzled, another one it fizzled. Now, there’s another one that’s happening that’s going on.  Cities are starting anti-racism committees.

But I feel like we really need to have that kind of organization so that we can talk to each other. We can have the hard conversations about race. But as long as we’re atomized into these small groups and individuals we’re not going to affect policy. We’re just not. We don’t have the numbers to affect the vote, to get the right people in. Even if we do look at our choices!  You guys know better than us, like y’all got Biden now!

Leticia:  I don’t know, we got Biden ‘ish.

Patty:  We got trying to be cautious, hopeful that things would be okay.

Kerry:  Right. I was like “Is it a great thing? You bought a pipeline?” You bring up an interesting point.  As you were speaking there, Patty, I’m sitting there going “Okay, great. We’re putting these organizations in but the choices, if we’re going to bring it down to the example of what has happened in the States and the political pundits that were there, you take a look at those are representations of what is happening amongst the people to some degree. Do you get what I mean? Like, even though you put these organizations in play and they are powerful, is there another level? This is just something right off the top of my head – is there another level that can be created to change what is in the attitudes, the hearts, and the souls, the programming that we have had instituted into those spaces? How do we tackle that end of it? Because we might be able to, on a political front, make some changes? We hope, sort of, but CAN we? 

The crux of what the space is, what is happening is that idea of power conceding power. Of the structures we have set up that have afforded an entitled sense because I have a lighter skin color than somebody else.  The whole fundamental core and basis of why we have created a racist society. And the prejudices that we hold. That, to me, is the philosophical debate.  I think there’s been shifts in the way that we see race, that we see color, that we see the social impacts of what it looks like to be queer or sitting in those spaces. It’s those attitudes that we need to realize.

Patty:  I think whiteness is nothing if not malleable, right? I mean look at what whiteness was at the time of colonization versus what it was 100 years later. The Irish weren’t always considered white.

Leticia:  You know what it was even 50 years ago? I was watching oh my god I don’t know it was some movie … no, no, no, they were talking about do the right thing.  It was an actor, it was Nicolas Cage or another white actor and they used the term “an ethnic European dude”.

And I was like “What?”  As a Black person, just kind of with my own little blinders They do this?  White folks put themselves in these like little categories and one is better than the other? “Really?”  You do that?  <shock and incredulity> 

Just because it had never been a thing.  Kind of like, if you talk about the way that various white ethnicities have been sequestered via class, which is kind of a fascinating example of itself when you can just kind of look at it and observe and also, in my opinion, that’s something that did come over from Europe and how they were sequestered and who had access to what? Granted, in our racist society, which has been racist since this since this land had a large, not white population of natives here.

Leticia:  They had to figure out well “How are we gonna live here, all of a sudden, there was this new way of defining of defining different people from the other, even if someone was poor, and someone who’s rich. And then I’m thinking of me as a as a Black person and my ancestors.  The difference between the master in the big house with all the money and the overseer who’s broke.  If both of them can whip you, you don’t care if there’s a difference between the two of them. It doesn’t matter. But it’s interesting thinking about kind of within that society, it does matter. It matters a lot. And it’s really complicated and really interesting.

So I feel like when we’re talking about how people move through the space in and out …

Kerry:  If you’re listening to this, Patty just put up a book.

<laughter>

Patty:  The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter.   It’s fascinating because we don’t pay attention to that.  We don’t.  When you look at who’s in charge, it is a very small subset of white people. When you look at who holds the power, it’s not (I slide the Russian mafia aside) it’s not Eastern Europeans.  It’s not even the Irish, although they use the policing to really achieve whiteness and social power. 

It still really is the English patrician. Those are still the people who held power at the beginning and those are still the Mayflower families.  They still hold most of the power and that’s kind of the pinnacle. 

Whiteness just constantly evolves and adapts itself to maintain power. But just to go back to what you were saying, Kerry, about changing people, about changing people’s insides. For all that I host a podcast and don’t shut up on Twitter about wanting to change people’s minds.  I really don’t care that much. I want them to stop shooting Black people and if they do it because it’s illegal or they do it because their heart changed, I really don’t care.  I want them to give people stable housing. I want these tangible material things. Because I think the change in people will come afterwards. I’m not going to worry.

I think like CS Lewis who had said that he wasn’t going to worry so much about whether or not he loved his neighbor, he would just act as if he did and then the love would come. You know that’s behaviorist theory.  If I change your behavior then the “heart and soul” stuff will come, will follow along, because it’s the behavior that’s killing us, it’s not people’s attitudes? It’s the behaviors that are causing us to fill the jails. We can have the nicest police officers in the whole world, policing will still fill jails with Black and Indigenous people.

Leticia:  I mean, I thought that’s kind of in many ways the crux of it is as much as you want to work with people, and that’s the thing about kind of folks who do want to come in even if they kind of don’t know how, there’s a lot of work that already went into that, that was there already. Before you got to me, if you had decided that “Okay, I want to be active. I want to be part of this. I think is important.” You know, while the level of work may be different, there is still work and separation that happened before you got to me.

So, for me, I’m like

     “Okay, if you already done some work on yourself to be like …”

      “I believe this is important because I believe humanity is important and

     we are human and this is what I’m working on and this is a problem

     I need to get better.”

      “Okay, you have some foundation that I feel like I can work with.”

< Latisha’s volume increases>

Leticia:  If you are someone who was committed to my oppression, I can’t work with you.

I’m sorry. Cuz working with you will hurt me and will continually hurt me especially if you’re someone who’s not interested in listening, if you’re not someone who’s interested in self reflection, especially if we think about the way that culture is kind of going back into this idea of the things we don’t see.

If you look again at movies and media we’re taught to think of it, especially when it has white families and white people, we’re talking about that as neutral.  We’re talking like  “This is the baseline of humanity and this everything else is deviant.” And so since we’re taught that everything is neutral we don’t think of what we’re seeing as culturally specific.

But if you think of it as culturally specific and this is someone’s specific view of how -their- families interact and how -their- relationships are, all of a sudden it’s like “Wait, no wonder you have an issue with me because you don’t know how to talk to your own Mom.” You know, no wonder you have …

Leticia:  “Okay, this is a society that you’re coming from.”  Hmm, maybe there’s this growth that needs to happen before you even get to me, which is really interesting. I think we think about kind of American politics right now because sometimes I honestly feel like I’m in the middle of like a family feud. And I’m like “Y’all could let me tiptoe out. Like y’all can fight. Just let me get out of the way.”

Kerry:  I’ll  mind -my- business.

Leticia:  Yeah. Y’all can fight it out. Oh, boy, lately, that’s how it feels sometimes.

But you know we’re thinking about what to change — I think education, how nurses are taught, how doctors are taught and I think about these things that we know can affect and change people’s hearts and minds. I think that’s absolutely a possibility.

But the fight is housing. The fight is employment. The fight is education, understanding. And honestly this is the thing that kind of kills me. When the fight is successful, it would actually benefit EVERYBODY.

Kerry:  Isn’t that the crux of it?

Leticia:  That’s like my Twitter feed. Or for me what I wanted for Trump voters. And I was like “I want you to have clean air. I want you to have clean food. I want to have an adequate education. I want you to have a place to live.”  All these things that I want for you or things that you generally want for humanity. Because I think “What do I want to spend my energy on?”  Owning the MAGA voters? I don’t know that I have time for that.  I’m Black in America.

Kerry:  This is intriguing to me.  As you were speaking so eloquently it brought me back to the idea of “Yes, it’s education. Yes, we know the fundamental core, those things have to come up.  Housing all of those things that are tantamount to all of our first base level Maslow’s hierarchy of need, right?  We all need these things. I was thinking about the images that are so projected for us as people. When you were talking about using the “typical white family” as the kind of baseline the status quo, it made me think about a name that we should not say out loud anymore but Bill Cosby and The Cosby Show. 

I think about how on a Thursday night at eight o’clock.  Didn’t matter where you were, you found yourself watching this very normal (OK they were kind of crazy) but it was an amazing family dynamic where everybody were of different shades of brown. Where their friends, their families interacted in this way in this space. And I know that for me it because that was kind of when I was coming up. It created a dynamic where we all wanted to go to college. And especially if we could go, well see I’m in Canada, so it wasn’t really a thing for us to be able to go to a Black college, but we all wanted that space.  That became a norm.

Kerry:  I think we saw that idea of having impeccable education being brought front and center because before that our Black identity we had Good Times. Which was a brilliant show in its own way. It had some wonderful pieces to it but it was also about a portrayal of Black people left in one box. I found the Cosby Show revolutionalized that for us. It created a truth and then you know the spin offs of it. Different World. And now when you look at what is presented of the Black image — we’ve got Housewives of Atlanta or Loving Hip Hop, that whole culture that we’re seeing a very different side of what that space is.

So I say all of that, to kind of bring it back to this idea of how we are imaging. I almost believe that another really important space is the idea of the media and what we are getting put in front of us as a huuuuge baseline to be able to change this truth that exists.  The racist understandings that we hold, and it has been used in that way.

Leticia:  One of my, one of my favorite Canadian shows, was Little Mosque on the Prairie, which I’m mad that didn’t make it over here in America because that was a travesty. It’s an amazing show.  Going back to what I was saying it was an adorable show focused on an Islamic community in Canada.

Patty:  It was an adorable show.  I loved it.

Leticia:  There was a ton of things I knew I wouldn’t get. But I LOVE that show. One of my best friends is Muslim and they were just amazed by these aspects of normalizing that experience.  Normalizing that this group of people were not scary they were just trying to live their lives. And you got that which is, even as outrageous as it was, in times things like Family Matters or that now that Moesha and the Parkers are on Netflix again.  Or Living Single was mentioned back in the day, even though it’s probably way too young to understand it.

<laughter>

Leticia:  But this idea of people who look different from you in many ways want the same things. I honestly think sometimes when we talk about racism, and I feel like when we’re talking about like skin colors specifically, I honestly feel like a lot of people miss it. Because it was like, I don’t care what you look like, I don’t care if you’re blue, Black, or purple, I’m like “No one’s blue, Black, or purple.”

But also, it’s not about the color of your skin. 

It’s about how people treat you based on the difference that you have with another person.

That’s the thing.

Leticia:  And so you’re like “I don’t care about your colour.”  You can literally not care if you know about the caramel on my skin, you that’s fine. I actually don’t need you to care about that. I need you to care about whether or not I live, I get pulled over. I need you to care about the assumptions that people make about me as far as employment is concerned.  I need you to care that in some textbooks they totally called slaves immigrant workers.  Like “No”.  They were forced here.

I think I need you to notice these things about the society that in many ways created my Blackness. That’s what I needed to worry about. 

My skin color is beautiful and I really don’t care if you don’t think so, that has nothing to do with me. What does matter and what does have something to do with me is how people react to it and the things that people create and the things that people build in order to stop me from achieving because of my difference.

Leticia:  So like I said, we just like talking about skin colour, like y’all, you really don’t get it. You’re missing it.

Kerry:  And you had mentioned Lovecraft country, and I’m not gonna spoil it if you haven’t seen the whole thing yet but what was so fascinating about that was 1 – the misstep that they took with the Indigenous character.  Right. Right, right.

Leticia:  I didn’t even see that, I stopped before that episode. And then I saw those reactions and I was like “No, no, why?”

<laughter>

Kerry:  I was like, it was it was interesting in that it was a misstep. I really think it was just a misstep. But it really made me recognize how we are all affected by the subliminal space of understanding power and this dynamic that exists in racist thought, understanding, all of it.  We’re all affected by it. So those levels that you were talking about of where we sit in power really comes to mind when I was watching that.  And then how it’s juxtaposed against how real and raw some of the happenings and experiences of what it was to just be Black in Jim Crow South or in Jim Crow in America at that time.

And so I thought it was a great show. But that was a hard one to get past.  I was like “Oh, you almost.  You did everything else.”

Leticia:  It was crazy. It was crazy to think about, when you feel like when you are a minority or person who color, to realize that your perception of other people of color is actually white people’s perception of those other people. Like, it’s like they invaded your mind and made you think this about this other group. And you have to like unlearn your prejudices about other people.  It’s already in your head because another society put it in there. 

Kerry:  It’s gets so complicated.  You know it was like “Get out of my head.”

Patty:  Kim Tallbear talks about it as being, because we’ve talked with her a couple of times and we’ve talked with her recently about Kendi’s book. His comment, sensational comment as Kerry puts it, about that Black people can be racist because he separates it from power. And it just says if you have racist ideas that … Yeah, so what? I’m not gonna rehash all of that.

But the way Kim put it I found so much more useful. What Kim taught, the way Kim says it she’s not going to look at whether or not people of color can be racist. Can we hold racist ideas about each other? Can we hold racist ideas about white people, kind of seeing them as toxic, as this monolith, and attributing attributes to them just because they’re white? She just doesn’t want to consider that so much as “At what point are we complicit in the colonial project? At what point have we been educated by it?” Right? There’s a residential school in Brantford that’s been preserved. It’s called the Woodland Cultural Institute and you can do tours of it.  When I went there, when I was still doing social work, I went there with a student. And as we were doing the tour we got to this one room that was like a TV room.  This was where the kids would hang out watch movies. And this was in the 60s and the school closed in 1970.

Patty:  So all of a sudden, in my mind, I’m thinking about what they would have been watching in the 60s and 70s.  Wagon Train, Bonanza, Gunsmoke, all those John Wayne movies.  And so they were learning about “Indians” the same way all the white kids were learning about “Indians”, right? So the same thing that you were saying.  We all learn in school when we’re learning history, when we’re reading literature, when we’re watching movies, we all learn the white people’s version of each of us and of each other.

And so unpicking that is undoing the work of colonialism in our minds. Are we supporting that colonial vision of that racial hierarchy that whiteness created to hold on to land and labor? Or are we challenging it and confronting it? And are we doing that within our systems? 

Like when these women, Kerry, come up to you and say “Oh, we understand that Black people have such terrible lives and we want to help.” Are there PTA organizations or something within the school where you can say “Why don’t you look at your teacher’s bookshelf?” “What is your teacher teaching your kids about Black kids?” “Well, we don’t have any Black kids in our classroom. Who cares?”

<Patty’s voice rises>  Well those white kids need to learn about Black kids.

Leticia:  There’s entire concepts of like Windows versus Mirrors when it comes to curriculum.

Patty:  Yeah. 

Leticia:  You have a Mirror which is a reflection of yourself and a Window is your view into another people, another person and you need both.

When I do my workshops, I also talk about the fact that as a person of color as a Black woman there are rooms that I can enter.  There are rooms they will let me in. So if I am teaching you, and if I am guiding you, and if I’m giving you these ideas and these concepts to help you understand.  When you are in that room, I need you to speak. This is where I need you to be active.

I need you to say “No, no, that’s racist. No, we’re not doing that.” Or “No, we can’t have this conversation in this board meeting because you’re talking about ethnicity and diversity and there are no ethnically diverse people here. So I’m going to stop this conversation and wait until we’ve actually earned the right to talk about it.” 

Leticia:  Like when I think about the things that white folks do, and there’s a ton of stuff, and it’s like “Yes, do I want you in the fight. Absolutely. Do I think this will make everyone’s life better? Absolutely.” But there’s so many kinds of different things that you can do.  I’m thinking if you just so happen to be the niece of a Senator … I may not be able to talk to that, Senator. But it could be possible that because you said something over Thanksgiving dinner he’s gonna sign the bill that literally affects 1000s of people.

Kerry:  Preach, because it’s so true, it is so true. And I examine that and this idea of us being in this wholeness of the space of it and how do we create that equality?  I love that idea of the window and the mirror because that is what we need on all levels of this.

And I would add to it, just from my own thoughts, is the acceptance of the fact that we’ve all been through that programming.  There’s a reason why it’s called a program. And that program was hard and fast for the last how many hundreds of years?

Leticia:  The last hundreds of years, if not more.  Like a couple 1000 years.  I’m like “The monster is big.”  Okay, it’s big, it’s huge, it’s got teeth and we’ve been fighting it.” And it’s like, how do you fight this thing?  You just keep doing it, okay?

Kerry:  And bring the lines in, keep bringing the lines in.

Leticia:  Bring the lines in. You just keep on going? I thought you guys said you have fun, we do have fun, that’s part of our resistance. So you can go have fun, then you come back. This is a constant flow.

Kerry:  And it’s such a resilience as we move through the space of it. It’s so the truth. I really like enjoying this convo. It’s got me thinking.  Thinking about ways … What do you suggest? What can our interns offer? What can they do? And I agree, we’ve talked, we’ve touched some things. But if you want it to get a little more creative, you know, if you wanted to dig in a little bit more, what can we offer out there?  Suggestions, ideas? Because I do the book list too. I do start there. But not everybody’s readers?

Leticia:  Mm hmm.  I mean, not everyone’s a reader but there’s podcasts, they use audio books, there’s movies not “The Help”.

Kerry:  Not “The Help”.

Patty:  “Get Out” had some really good commentary.

Leticia:  I think it did and I think that’s also something again, from Two Sigma Media. Black horror and Black sci-fi and the fantasy elements that are written and created by people of color of various backgrounds I think are really interesting.

Because when you read it, and I remember I was reading A Trail Of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (https://rebeccaroanhorse.com/ ) and I was like… just the way that the characters were talking, the way that the language was.  I was like, this is something that is completely different. And it was it was like a different concept, it was like a different view than I had ever seen before.

Patty:  Mm hmm.

Leticia:  And I was like “Huh”.  And sometimes I don’t know how I can incorporate this into my life but I can see how this is a version of the world that I’ve never seen before. So I am kind of turning to myself and saying “Okay, what is this story?” And not knocking it.  Even if it feels separate from me, I’m like “Let me see where I can connect.” And I think that’s interesting. 

But as far as action. Definitely one of the good things that does exist in the States is, of course, Black Lives Matter (https://Blacklivesmatter.com )which has its own structure.

SURJ https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/ is also something that is a really, really interesting and funds organizations standing up for racial justice. They do their work purposely. It is an organization that is focused on white folks but they’re like “Our organization, our work is partially focused on their education so people of color don’t have to do it.” And also their work is guided by the work of organizations of people of color. So they’re like “We don’t form the big protests. But they call on us to say “Okay, can you play this role.””

Leticia:  Or one of my friends does de-escalation work, where she’s like “Okay, if you’re going to be in a protest, I’m here.”  Here’s who you need to protect. And here are the ways that you can do it.” Or if you have medical skills or you have your legal training? Okay, here’s what’s going on, here’s how you plug in. Or this event is going on, or this event is going on. 

People are going to need time, food, water, or even, if you’re talking about an organizing space, <Latisha’s voice rises> they need childcare. So you take care of the kids while folks organize.  There are these different ways to activate yourself that might not seem very obvious but are super important.

I also know and I noticed they have this in Canada, there’s a lot of mutual aid organizations that are around which are fantastic because people need help whether it’s in COVID or out of COVID. And putting your hand in the space of this community is saying they need these things. Let me go to this community. So not the Red Cross, not the big government, what is Joe who lives on 4C down the street, what does he say he needs? How can I work on helping to provide that or getting contact with the people who do to do the actual providing?

Patty:  Because whatever you care about there is somebody doing that already. There’s already somebody doing that work. So whatever it is that you’re passionate about, whatever need that you see, find them, help them.

If you’re not a person of color, if you’re not Black or Indigenous, then don’t be angling for leadership roles within 20 minutes of arriving just because you know “things”. Because that’s one place where people can step down.

We had a forum and in the forum you had talked about Ijeoma Oluo, whose book is “So You Want To Talk About Race”. 

I love that book.  It’s actually one of the first books I read the last couple of years when I started immersing myself in this stuff. She makes a comment about whatever is easy for you. Whatever is easy for you, whatever it is that you’re doing, that you’re involved with in your life, whether it’s PTA meetings, lady’s knitting circle, whatever it is that’s easy for you.

Patty:  Make it easy for the people who can’t be there. Look around the room and ask yourself who is not here? Who should be here who is not here? Why aren’t they here? What barriers did they have that I don’t have because I’m here? And then because you’re there, you have the capacity to work towards lowering those barriers. 

Lowering those barriers is a very hard / simple thing.  Because we’re all we’re all involved in something, right? We’re all going to church or going to some club meeting.  We’re all doing something. And so who’s missing? Why aren’t they there? Why aren’t they at that table where the pastor’s talking about diversity and inclusion? Why aren’t they in the classroom? Well, you know, COVID so that’s why but why aren’t things happening? Right? Like, why isn’t what why is this easy for me? Why do I have no problem getting groceries?

And I think there’s Caremongering groups all over if you’re listening in Canada.  You have Facebook groups called “Caremongering and your City” and I think they’re there in the States too. You’ll find people who need help and coordinating.

I really liked that thing that she said “Whatever is easy for you. Why is it easy?” and work to reduce those barriers so that other people can join too.

Leticia:  And I just wanted to have her tell Congress about that. Also, I’m just really quick to talk about being uncomfortable.  I feel like sometimes when people go into this work, things are uncomfortable. And there’s this drive to minimize things that are uncomfortable.  To step away from it.  It’s funny, I was talking to a friend of mine about some of the plays that I’d seen. 

Lots of new plays and I felt that a lot of the plays, especially some of the work by what white authors, seem to continually ask this question. And this question was “Why do I feel pain? What did I do to deserve pain?” Right like pain is always a punishment or being uncomfortable like that is some type of punishment and “What did I do to deserve it?”

I feel like most people who are minorities, we don’t ask that question because we expect it. Pain is the price that we pay for living.

And so we never ask “Why do we feel pain?” we ask “How do we survive it?”  “How do we live through it?” 

<agreement in the background>

Leticia:  That is a completely different mentality. And so if you come from a place where you feel pain and being uncomfortable is always some type of attack or some type of judgment on your character, then when something is uncomfortable, it is painful in a way that needs to be removed as opposed to “Oh, I think I need to work on this.”  or “Oh, this is something that I need to deal with and I will in a kind of lean into it and figure it out.”

I feel like when we’re talking about what’s definitely, when you think about, what’s easy and why is it easy and figure who is in the room, I think that’s super important but also, if you’re in the space and something kind of hits you is like “Ouch” in this sense, sitting with that and thinking about it and kind of being aware of that and thinking “Okay, why do I feel this hurts in this context?” It seems to me, I feel like there’s value in that. I’m not talking about kind of like volunteering to be abused because I do feel like some people go to the end and really hurt themselves, which I’m not advocating for that. But I am advocating for the type of pain which is kind of similar to when people work out. 

Leticia:  You know, it hurts, but you’ll get stronger.  It hurts but you gotta keep at it to get better.

Episode Links:

The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter https://wwnorton.com/books/9780393339741

So You Want To Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo https://www.sealpress.com/titles/ijeoma-oluo/so-you-want-to-talk-about-race/9781580056779/

A Trail Of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse (https://rebeccaroanhorse.com/

Black Lives Matter (https://Blacklivesmatter.com )

Showing Up for Racial Justice – SURJ https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/

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Follow Patty on Twitter @gindaanis and online at http://daanis.ca

Follow Kerry on Twitter @kerryoscity (that’s curiosity) and online at http://kerrygoring.com.

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