Updated: Aug 28, 2020

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House – Audre Lorde

Growing up female in Texas and later coming out as a Lesbian, I am well aware of systemic sexism and homophobia. However, along with everyone else, I have had to learn about my own racial bias and my part in supporting systemic racism. I am a recovering racist.

Tools that have helped me along this journey include my PhD education in mythological studies. I have at least a 101 education in all the major cultures and religions in the world, which is helpful in guiding organizations into right practices in recruiting, onboarding, and retaining diverse employees. I give you this information because I am often asked, “What do you as a white woman know about racism?” Part of what I know is my connection with sexism and homophobia, but I also offer that since white people created and perpetuate racism, it is my job to help dismantle racism.

Another tool was the research process of my dissertation, The Changing Myth of Mary Magdalene. This is where I learned the reality of the deliberate and systemic oppression and repression of women in the Christian church. This systemic and institutionalized repression of women, gave me the lens to recognize the systemic and institutionalized repression of Black and Brown bodies that is prevalent in this country. My dissertation also gave me a concept that I work to bring into all of my DEI work. I wrote,

“It is essential that all expressions of the human race can identify with the sacred. The God-image evolves along with humanity, thus, all marginalized people are faces of God.”

This includes all races and cultures and also gender-nonconforming people, transgender people, and all those that identify as Queer. We are all swimming in a sea of biases – racist, sexist, homophobic, gender, cultural, class and others that we all have to wrestle with. Looking at those biases and working to overcome them, makes us better people. Doing this hard work, not only helps those who are being oppressed, it helps us to become more beautiful versions of ourselves as we recognize beauty in others.

I would also offer that grace is something we have to offer each other, not shame and blame. Shame and blame never teach what we want them to teach. We need to give honest efforts in our anti-racist work as we acknowledge that we will make mistakes. In the words of Brené Brown, “I am not here to be right, I am here to get it right.” Here are some real-life options for you to use if you are called out for racist behavior, in the words of 828 Consultant Sherese Gamble:

  • “Take a breath…it doesn’t feel good and defensiveness doesn’t diffuse. Focus on the impact of the comment, own it. Listen, seek to understand on your own time and apologize.”

  • “I recognize that I have work to do.”

  • “I’m going to take time to reflect on this.”

  • “What I’m gathering is, (insert what you have just learned by the call in)"

  • “I believe you.”

Work to recognize that all people are faces of God!

  • Cindy Caldwell

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

“White people will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.” - James Baldwin, Letter from a Region in My Mind

Baldwin, one of the greatest writer’s of the 20th century, was a front runner in truth telling, especially about the Black experience in America. He wrote about the intersectionality of life, before “intersectionality” was a thing. His ability to see into the heart of a matter, as in the above quote, set him apart. He goes on to say in this same article, “Neither civilized reason nor Christian love would cause any of those [white] people to treat you as they presumably wanted to be treated…”

Baldwin’s letter explores the Christian journey that he and others took during the 1950’s and 1960’s and how it contrasted to the white Christian journey. One of the ways that slave traders justified the kidnapping and enslavement of Black bodies from Africa was by claiming it was all about “saving those Black souls for Christ.” Christianity has a lot to answer for. (See: How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi for the story of the first racist). Two concepts that Baldwin mentions – loving ourselves and the Golden Rule – comprise my focus on this piece.

Loving ourselves and others is a lifelong practice. Another way that this has been expressed is in what we call the Golden Rule. Basically – treat others as you would like to be treated. This concept is found in every religion and culture in the world. To apply this concept through a DEI lens, it needs to be upgraded. If you are treating others as you would like to be treated, you are deciding that your way of being in the world is the best way. It’s not that the Golden Rule is bad, it’s just not as good as it could be! If I really want to treat others as equals, I need to ask them how they want to be treated, not assume that I know. Nor do I get to judge others as inferior to myself; for example, Black, Queer or female bodies, so that I can treat them worse than I want to be treated, “because they deserve it.”

There are so many places where we need to reframe how we think and talk about things. It can feel frustrating to keep learning about new things that are not “PC.” In fact, you may be taking issue with me wanting to rewrite the Golden Rule! Let’s say you have met a gender non-conforming person who uses they/them pronouns. You might be embarrassed to use they/them pronouns and so when you introduce this person, you go right on using pronouns that are comfortable for you. You’re trying not to embarrass them, right?

Except that person isn’t embarrassed until you describe them in a way that is not true for them. You have just erased an important part of their identity. So, the best thing to do is to ask them: “Hey – I’m not sure how to introduce you. Can you help me out?” You are not only honoring their difference, but their autonomy. You are acknowledging that they know what they need and want. You are recognizing and honoring their value.

The same thing is true for any demographic in society. Don’t assume! Because we all know what “assume” breaks down to. And believe people when they tell you what they want, so that you can treat them the way they want to be treated! (Just as you would want.)

  • Cindy Caldwell

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

There is a plethora of fabulous anti-racist resources available to us right now!! Sitting on my desk, as I write are:

  • How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

  • What Does It Mean to Be White: Developing White Racial Literacy by Robin Di’Angelo

  • What if I Say the Wrong Thing by Verna A. Myers

  • I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown

  • White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity by Robert P. Jones

…and the one I am reading at this moment is My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem.

And Podcasts?? Try Brene’ Brown – Unlocking Us; Krista Tippett – On Being; or Scene on Radio: Seeing White…they are all awesome!

This is a short list – but oh so good!! But let’s talk about Resmaa Menakem’s book – My Grandmother’s Hands. Menakem asks why the last 30 years of earnest education about white-body supremacy has not changed the Black and Brown body count, especially at the hands of police? He writes, “We’ve tried to teach our brains to think better about race. But white-body supremacy doesn’t live in our thinking brains. It lives and breathes in our bodies,” (5). He goes on to explain about our lizard brain and it’s “fight, flight or freeze” reaction. “This mechanism allows our lizard brain to override our thinking brain whenever it senses real or IMAGINED danger. It BLOCKS any information from reaching our thinking brain until AFTER it has sent a message to fight, flee or freeze,” (6). This is why we (white people) call the police when we see a Black body that is out of place according to

our lizard brain. This is why our white fragility is so strong. This is why we have witnessed Black and Brown bodies being brutalized and locked up without it causing us to do anything about it. Our anti-Black bias is so ingrained, so a part of our way of being in the world, that we cannot separate it without a great deal of effort. Society taught our ancestors that white bodies are superior to Black bodies and that we should be afraid of Black bodies. Hundreds of years later, we still believe that…unless we do some serious, individual, transformative work.

Let me tell you a personal story about the lizard brain. I was in a zoom meeting with a man that I was in a business relationship with. He was asking me to do something that I didn’t want to do. The more I disagreed with him, the louder he got, until he was yelling at me with his finger pointing at my face. This went on for some time and I couldn’t get him to stop yelling at me. Suddenly, I screamed at him and then cussed at him, which caused him to jump up from his seat, almost throw his computer across the room and scream at me that we would never again do business together.

What the hell happened??

I certainly could not figure out my reaction! When talking to my therapist and expressing my disbelief, he said, “I’ll tell you exactly what happened. He climbed on top of you.” My hand flew to my heart and I couldn’t breath for a moment. And yes, I do have sexual trauma in my past, but this was a zoom meeting!! This man couldn’t do anything to me physically! “This mechanism allows our lizard brain to override our thinking brain whenever it senses real or IMAGINED danger. It blocks any information from reaching our thinking brain until AFTER it has sent a message to fight, flee or freeze.”

And why did my screaming and cussing at this man get such a strong reaction from him? I have seen him handle hostile audiences with aplomb! Is it possible that I triggered a lizard brain reaction in him? Has he had some woman yelling at him, putting him or his family in danger? Did some woman threaten his job and I became that woman? Even if I was simply threatening his male privilege, does that make him any less dangerous?

But what if one of us was a police officer? What if one of us was Black? Would one of us be dead?

This is why DEI professionals tell you that a “one and done” educational program for your organization only makes things worse. All this does is to stir up the lizard brain and cause everyone to go to their corners, ready for the fight. DEI programs need to be ongoing, supported by upper management and involve employees from all levels. It also means we all need to do our own difficult, personal, and transformative work, so that we don’t let fear and our lizard brain control our world.

But what else could I have done in that zoom meeting? Certainly in 20-20 hindsight I could have just ended the meeting. Zoom meetings fail all the time. Or I could have told him that his yelling at me was triggering me and that I couldn’t absorb anything he was saying. Or I could have just left the screen for a minute and walked outside to breathe. But all of these solutions require my thinking brain and it was no where to be found! According to Menakem, in order to keep the lizard brain at bay, we must work with what he calls the 5 Anchors:

Anchor 1: Soothe yourself to quiet your mind, calm your heart, and settle your body.

Anchor 2: Simply notice the sensations, vibrations and emotions in your body instead of reacting to them.

Anchor 3: Accept the discomfort—and notice when it changes—instead of trying to flee from it.

Anchor 4: Stay present and in your body as you move through the unfolding experience, with all its ambiguity and uncertainty and respond with the best parts of yourself.

Anchor 5: Safely discharge any energy that remains. Menakem has an entire chapter on these anchors, but you get the idea. The lizard brain wants to shut everything out and fight, flight or freeze. The thinking brain wants to stay in the body, noticing what is happening and make conscious choices.

This is what we must do in our anti-racist transformation. Stay with it. Be persistent. Work to get it right, not be right!

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