“And I really felt so emboldened by what was going on that I asked to speak to [him/former manager] again. And I said, and I spoke to him on the phone and I said: Ya know, I want to be completely honest with you, um while I understand this was not your intention this was the impact of your actions on me. These actions that I listed…it wasn’t even a comprehensive list…all of these actions left me feeling humiliated and demoralized. I could not fully inhabit my role if you were not going to allow whoever it is, ya know, to be in that position to fully inhabit that role like you should have just been straight up from the beginning and said you know, you’re going to come in and do this, but I’m going to be right there with you and you’re not going to get any of the acclaim or any recognition, if someone had told me that from the get-go, I would have known what I was getting into, and probably wouldn’t have gone, um. Just be honest about what the reality is.
Dr. Oni Blackstock is recognized as a thought leader and influencer in the areas of HIV, health equity, and racial justice. She is the founder and Executive Director of Health Justice, a consulting firm providing content expertise in HIV, sexual health, LGBTQ health and racial equity to organizations focused on public health and health care. She is a primary care and HIV doctor and researcher who sees patients at Harlem Hospital. Dr. Blackstock recently served as Assistant Commissioner for the New York City Health Department’s Bureau of HIV where she led the City’s response to the HIV epidemic. She received her undergraduate and her medical degrees from Harvard and completed her primary care Internal Medicine residency and ambulatory chief residency Montefiore/Einstein as well as an HIV clinical fellowship at Harlem Hospital. She received a Masters of Health Sciences Research from Yale School of Medicine’s Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program.
A pilot study of 27,000 patients from seven states who pressented to the hospital w/ #COVID19 symptoms exhibited by more than 27,000 “showed that black patients were six times less likely to get treatment or testing than white patients.”— Oni #BraylaStone Blackstock (@DrOniBee) May 11, 2020
Kim Crayton: Hello, everyone. And welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene podcast. My guest today is Dr. Oni. Dr. Oni, please introduce yourself.
Dr. Oni Blackstock: Hi. Thank you so much for having me on. So, I’m Oni Blackstock. I’m a primary care and HIV doctor, a researcher, public health advocate, and I would also consider myself an activist.
Kim: Alright, so we start this conversation always the same asking two questions. Why is it important to cause a scene? And how are you causing a scene?
Dr. Blackstock: Right. So in terms of causing a scene—so I think about causing scene would be maybe about, like, sort of disrupting the status quo or like what the norm is—and so I think it’s important to do that because we sort of, I think, just as a society, as a culture aren’t really where we need to be in terms of sort of being in alignment with, you know, like true values. And so for me, causing a scene is… has been, I’ve been sort of part of the establishment, the status quo, for a very long time, in terms of like being a physician, going to medical school, doing my residency training, doing sort of all the different steps that are typically required. But I’ve now sort of broken out of that where I’ve actually just [laughs] I left my job. I resigned from my job at the New York City Health Department, month before last because I was not feeling like I was sort of living the authentic life that I wanted to, and am on a path now to find that which is inside of me. So that is for me what disrupting a scene is: no longer going along with what is sort of expected of me and what is the status quo and sort of pursuing my own sort of authentic interests.
Kim: Oh, all right. So I could tell you, this is—I often say, regularly say, if not daily—Black women are the moral compass of this country. And the fact that you quit a job to pursue your authentic life says so much about who we are and the work we do. So if you could just tell us what that authentic… what does that look like? I mean, because for a physician who has been a member of the establishment, of the status quo, to say—and this may come out later, but my first thoughts are… [sighs] I often have to push back on people who think it’s just the rich or the powerful that are harming the most vulnerable and not all these systems.
And so, for a person who’s coming from a public health research space to say that they weren’t living their authentic life and had to step away from that; I don’t need you to give details unless… you know, this is your space. You tell the story. But I want people to understand, because everybody—people think in binaries. They think it’s either right or wrong, good or bad, off and on. And it’s only this group of people; and I’m like, “No, the whole fuckin’ systems, all of ’em are fucked up.” So talk about this; you’re the first person who I know was in, you know, a public health physician. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah, yeah. No, no, I hear you. So I think, even just going back to my youth, just the way that I was raised… my mother is from Brooklyn. She was raised by a single mother, on welfare, along with her five siblings. And she worked really hard; she was able to make it from Brooklyn College, which is the Harvard of the City University of New York system, to Harvard Medical School. And I think she moved on and she really played by the rules. She also met my dad. They bought a—able to buy a home. I mean, all these things that she and my father didn’t have as children they were able to acquire, and I think the whole thing of just putting your head down, working hard… you know, they also did cultivate in me a sense of service to the community and the importance of advocacy and activism as well, but I think the expectation was always just to continue on that path, just going… I went to Stuyvesant High School, which is the premier high school in New York City—science high school. I went to Harvard undergrad, I was a computer science and pre-med major.
My mother died when I was in college, and that was probably the most devastating thing that happened to me, and I think should have been an opportunity to reset, but my mother never—no one ever said to me, “Oni, just stop and take a break.” And my sister and I found a letter that my mom wrote to us after she died—she died after my sophomore year of college—and the letter said to take care of each other, take care of your dad, take care of this member, that member of the family, but go on to medical school and pursue your studies. It wasn’t like, “Girls, I want you to take this time; I know this is gonna be really traumatic.” So it was always this expectation just to continue on that treadmill.
So I did take a year off after college. And then—but it wasn’t really a year off; I was teaching. It wasn’t relaxation and rest. And then I went on to Harvard Medical School, went on to residency, went to Yale for… basically just stayed on this path because I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought it actually was a good thing that I had been through this very traumatic experience and was able to be like, “Look, I was able to graduate from college as a computer science major and pre-med and do all of these things.” I thought these things showed my strength.
And so then I went into academia and was doing academic HIV research among Black and brown communities, figuring out how we could get folx engaged in care, coming to their appointments. I was applying for grants, doing all of that. You know, I thought… I was like, “Look, I’m doing the thing. I’m living the life. This is a dream.” You know? I’m getting grants and everything, and then this opportunity came up to go into the New York City Health Department to lead the Bureau of HIV there. Which is—the Bureau of HIV is probably the most well funded bureau in the city, probably about $200 million budget—and I now have this opportunity to lead this. So even leaving academia to go to public health to work for government—and it doesn’t sound like a big thing but is actually a big thing—so I left all the grants that I had worked so hard for, and I applied for, worked hard, reapplied for; I left those, went to this new job, and it was amazing. I got to do a lot in terms of shifting the organizational culture there, making people feel appreciated and recognized, but I also worked for—my supervisor was this white gay man who would not allow me to inhabit my position.
I was constantly in his shadow. I was constantly undermined and humiliated. And I was trying to figure out do I stay here and try to do this good work and work with our community partners to end this HIV epidemic? Or do I extract myself from this very toxic environment where I’m not able to sort of like reach my full potential because this man and this larger system is staying in the way. And so the COVID pandemic hit, and I was working my job as assistant commissioner. I was working my job in the COVID-19 response for our city, for our health department. And then I was crisis homeschooling my child.
And I was like, this is not sustainable in any way. And I also don’t want to be working somewhere where I can’t be my true self. And I can’t do—I just felt like I was just being so limited. So I decided I was going to resign and I didn’t have a—and I don’t have a job lined up. I feel like I have all these other skills, so I feel like the—had someone very special in my life who came into my life last year—no longer in my life, but they’ve taught me a lot of things and they—you know, about abundance and how the universe will provide. And so I said, I’m gonna leave this job, and I know that other doors will open for me. And so… and that has slowly happened, and I feel really good in my decision. I’ve had no regrets, resigning and not having a—you know, landing in another job. Yeah, so I know I’ve gone on a lot, but… [laughs]
Kim: Oh no, no, no, no, no, please. No, no, no. Because I’m taking notes, because you said so much here. And this is… so I want to say I’m happy you did that because you came on my radar only in the last month and a half or so. So…
Dr. Blackstock: Part of that is we’re on Twitter together, and part of that is because when I was working at the health department, I was muzzled.
Kim: Yes, exactly.
Dr. Blackstock: I couldn’t be—again—just really honest and forthright about my views on things. And I had a number of times where I was slapped—you know, got my hand slapped—because there were things I tweeted about that the powers that be didn’t think were appropriate.
Kim: See this—you cannot muzzle Black women—this is the problem. So much quantitative and qualitative knowledge comes from us and to… hmm. OK, so you said some really interesting path, so—again, this is like us sitting over cocktails; where the hell we go in this hour is up to us. But some points that I really wanted to point out was, I put “expectations” in quotes, because what I hear from you is what a generation of Black parents and Black people did. They were told that if you follow this thing, you will succeed, not understanding—or understanding and still trying to play the game—that this shit is rigged. There’s no amount of you putting your head down and assimilating that’s ever gonna make you equal to anybody white.
I mean, the fact that you went to Stuyvesant, the fact that you went to Harvard? You, I mean, I put down “privileged and elite”; you are the privileged and elite of the privileged and elite, and you still did not have the same equal experience as your white counterparts. Oh, and I also put down “white gay men,” and I’m gonna come back to that.
But, I loved the point about the abundance and the manifestations, because I started that path a long time ago and that’s the only way I could be doing the work that I’m doing. I intentionally stopped focusing on money. I made an intentional choice after an experience that I had in Germany in 2019 when I was at JS Conf EU, that was in Berlin, Germany, run by a great team. And for the first time, a very large conference in tech, decided to have a BIPOC space; and that is, for people who don’t know, it’s Black, Indigenous, People of Color space. Just a space for us. This space was so small compared to the fuckin’ warehouse that we were in. And yet white people were trying to force themselves in, and just the horror and the harm and the trauma that was caused to anybody, particularly those Black people who had to man the door to try to explain to white people that this one little space of all of this is not for you, was so traumatic.
And I just came back and I said, “You know what? I cannot focus on getting paid.” Because again, going back to abundance and that prosperity thinking, money is just a tool for exchange. And I was like, “What is what am I trying to get with that money?” And it’s power and influence. I want the power and influence to be able to change an industry. There are a lot of people with money who have no power and influence. And when you have power and influence, you don’t need money. Doors open for you, places that money can’t buy.
So I so commend you for doing that because it’s such a brave, scary step to step out of—you know, you’ve spent years getting this training. You’ve spent—I mean, I don’t know what your financial situation—but like anybody else, you probably have a shitload of student loans. I don’t know what that looks like. But you’ve done this and you’ve said even in that—and this is what I… because I’m teasin’ this out because my audience is white people. And so I’m teasin’ this out so even in this, folx, even in having this idealized life that white supremacy said, on the outside, perfect. And yet she chose—had felt the need for her own well being that she had to walk away from this. And walk away without a job.
And this is why I get pissed at white people, because you will barely do—you don’t even do the bare minimum. So much y’all can do, that you wouldn’t even lose your job. You wouldn’t even be in jeopardy of losin’ your job, but you’re so fucking scared to do anything that you put it on the most vulnerable, and we have to end up walkin’ away from things with nothing just to have our own sanity. And that’s why I’m honin’ in, I’m goin’ in on this, because I shouldn’t, she—Oni shouldn’t have to leave a profession she loves because of white folx, of white systems, institutions, and policies that are in place.
And I want to get back to this white gay thing because this is why I have a problem with, white trans women, white passing Jews, white passing Latinx, white passing anybody. But particularly—this same thing happens, I see it in white—this is why, with the Stonewall, everybody wants to wants to embrace and talk about how Stonewall was the beginning of the gay rights movement. Stonewall was the beginning of the gay rights movement because white men would not let trans women into their spaces. White men, white trans women, white passing Jews, whiteness anywhere is anti-Blackness. And I need y’all to understand this.
So no, I don’t trust you at all. You have one marginalization, but when you come in—and I’ve done talks about this—when you center your whiteness, your marginalization goes out the window, because now you’re causing harm because you are leveraging your whiteness in a space that causes harm. This is what I need you to think about. So white trans women and men, and white non-binary individuals, when you come into Black and brown spaces that were created because they were not allowed in these white spaces and you want to dictate how those spaces should be run, you are centering your whiteness and you’re causing harm. Gay white men, I don’t see no different then regular ol’ straight men to me. You are as harmful as cis white men, so I don’t see—it’s just who you love. I don’t see a difference in there.
White passing Jews, when you come in and you center your whiteness, you cause harm to Black and brown Jewish individuals. They do exist! And you cause harm to those individuals. White passing Latinx; you do the same thing for your darker skin Black Latinx. We have to stop centering—well, not me—y’all have to stop centering your whiteness because you are causing harm. So I want to, really want to tease that out. I don’t know where we’re gonna go with this, but we’re just gonna go. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: No, it’s true. I think James Baldwin, he has this quote, which is not coming to my mind, but it’s specifically about white gay men, about how they feel like something unjust has been done to them because they are white men, but by being gay, then they have to deal with homophobia. But how dare they have to deal with that? Because they’re white. But he says it in an obviously very eloquent way. But it always struck me, and you know, I was in a position where I really had to advocate for myself. My supervisor had previously been in my role and he was promoted to be head of the entire division. So I was leading this bureau, but I was constantly, constantly being undermined.
There were—every press enquiry that came in, went straight to him, whereas when he was in my position, he got the press enquiries, but the white men who were in the press office sent the enquiries directly to him, and continued to do so after he…
Kim: And he didn’t correct them in saying, “Hey…”
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. Exactly. So then I had to speak up for myself. Nobody looked out for me. There was no one but my staff…
Kim: No, I’ma stop you. Stop you. I’m gonna stop you right there. I’m going to stop you right there because I need to breathe. Because what you just said just hit me in my chest. And this is why I say Black women are the moral compass of this country. Who do we have to rely on? My answer is always other Black women, and we’re tired.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah. Yeah.
Kim: And we’re tired. And this is why I have consciously made a decision that I will not be—if there is a qualified Black woman to provide me any service, they will come ahead of anybody. I do not trust whiteness enough to be that close to me anymore. I’m not defaulting to, “Oh, but I’m gonna give you a chance.” Nope. I’m not defaulting to, “I trust everybody until they prove me wrong.” No, because I’ve learned that by the time you prove me wrong, you’ve caused me harm. I need people to sit with what you just said because you were in a position and nobody advocated for you. This is not a unique position.
Dr. Blackstock: Nobody. Nobody. I had someone who I considered a mentor who was at the sort of same position in the hierarchy as my supervisor, and even that person; I look back and I’m like, this person could have spoken to him about what my experience was. I even shared it with a former commissioner who was there, and the person came up with excuses for excusing—for his behavior.
Kim: That’s always… always the hero or victim, never the villain.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. And so, I felt… I really… you know, I decided that I was going to resign after 2.5 years, and when I told my supervisor, he asked if it had anything to do with him, and I kind of spoke generally about sort of the ch—there was lack of clarity and leadership was leading different initiatives, I did feel like I was in his shadow, but I didn’t speak about how I felt. And then it was a few weeks before George Floyd was murdered by the police. Then the social uprisings happened, and I really felt just so emboldened by what was going on that I asked to speak to him again. And I said—and I spoke to him on the phone—and I said, “You know, I want to be completely honest with you. While I understand this was not your intention, this was the impact of your actions on me. These actions—and I listed, and it wasn’t even a comprehensive list—all of these actions left me feeling humiliated and demoralized. I could not fully inhabit my role. If you were not going to allow whoever to be in that position to fully inhabit that role, then you should have just been straight up from the beginning and said, ‘You’re going to come in and do this role, but I’m gonna be right there with you and you’re not gonna get any of the acclaim or any of recognition.'”
If someone had told me that from the get go, I woulda known what I was getting into, I probably wouldn’t have gone, but I was like, just be honest about what the reality is.
Dr. Blackstock: …I probably wouldn’t have gone, but I was like, just be honest about what the reality is, because it’s a lot of gaslighting. The only good thing, though, was that I was able to push forward tons of equity work within the 300 person bureau that I led. And we started having white affinity spaces for our white staff to develop their antiracist competencies, we were creating spaces for our staff of color, we were able to review—we get, as I mentioned, 200 plus million dollars from the city and the state and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the federal government to fund HIV prevention treatment—and I said, we’re gonna have to change this process. We need to make sure that these funds, in a competitive process, go to organizations that have leadership that’s reflective of people who’re impacted by HIV.
Kim: People who are actively… yes!
Dr. Blackstock: So much change in terms of our request for proposals process; I had all my leadership do undoing racism training; we had other equity folx coming in and working with folx. So there’s a lot more attention was turned inward in terms of workplace equity stuff and the work we did in the community, and because my boss was off doing other stuff, I could really move that forward and that work in of itself got me recognition and attention—and I’m not doing it for recognition and attention, it’s just that there’s so much that I…
Kim: Oh please don’t… no, don’t explain that. You deserve recognition and attention. Forget it. Don’t try to make it small. The work you were doing comes with recognition and attention, and so you should have been getting that recognition and attention. But I wanna also point out how this is the problem—and the reason I’m teasing this out ’cause I have a upcoming workshop, “Being Antiracist at Work”—because I get all the time, folx, white folx point to others, “It’s them. It’s not me. I’ve never…” No. You just have not heard a Black person tell you the shit you’ve done to them because they don’t feel safe, ’cause they might lose their job, they might lose their network, they might… Trust me when I tell you white people, you have all done some racist shit at work that has caused harm to Black people, period. There is no guess, there’s no them, that is you, we, y’all; it is collective.
And it took, as Dr. Oni just said, it took her to get emboldened by George Floyd to tell her story; because you probably would have walked away and said nothing. So we end up even in when—so this is what gets me when people like, “Oh, well, we’ve done 360 evaluations.” These people ain’t tellin’ you da damn truth!
Dr. Blackstock: They don’t feel safe. People do not feel safe.
Kim: If you don’t have welcoming and psychological safety, they are going to tell you what they know you want to hear, so that you can get the hell off their back so that people like Dr. Oni can now go and do the work that she needs to do in her job. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: Totally. And you know what I realized? I realized I was doing all this emotional labor for him. I was holding inside all the humiliation, all the demoralization, all of what I was experiencing. I said, “Why am I holding onto this? He did this to me.”
Kim: And this is why I said they need to learn to manage their feelings. Get therapy, do whatever the hell you need to; but do not bring that bullshit to us because we have enough. Because just by… no one had to tell you to protect his feelings. No one told you that. But you knew that was a part of the job.
Dr. Blackstock: Right, because I knew I wouldn’t be safe. And can I tell you—and I don’t wanna go into details—but what’s so important for white folk—and anybody in leadership, but particularly white folk in leadership—when you have someone that you supervise or work with, a person of color or Black person tell you about their experience, their traumatized experience? Don’t cry. Hold space for that person. Hold space for that person, because that’s emotional maturity. If you start crying and you flip it on, you know, and you start centering yourself, that is not helpful at all.
Kim: Well, this is… that’s trauma, that’s what that is. You’re exacerbating, you are taking their trauma and turnin’ it up a notch. And this is why I don’t like—white folx need to stop sharing damn videos of Black people being killed by the police. How many of those you need to see? It happens. You don’t need any more proof. Stop traumatizing people. And also it goes back to when I say, “spot the pattern, people.” Whiteness gets to play only two roles: hero or victim. It is never the villain. So by him crying, it turns him into a victim. “Oh, I didn’t mean to…” No, no, no, no, no, no. This ain’t about what you meant, what you feel, what you think; this ain’t about you. You now need to go get therapy to deal with that because that is not my shit.
And so people think I’m really harsh in my approach, and I intentionally, as a strategy, turn it up. I can engage at a five. Even a two. But I choose to be a 10 because I need to draw hard lines for white people who’ve never been told no, so that people like you don’t have to deal with this shit. So that they can say, “Well, you know what? If I can deal with Kim, I can deal with anybody.” Because you shouldn’t—I’m in a position. I have the skills. I have the power and influence to say things—I don’t speak for, but I speak on behalf of Black, particularly Black women. And the things I say? I am not alone. I’m not saying it because it’s just in my head. I’m sayin’ it because Black women on the job have not been able to say this.
And another thing, and when you said this, this is—I’m gonna be honest—this is a really triggering conversation for me. And it’s not—and I don’t want you to censor yourself because I’m emotionally mature to deal with this, but I need white people to understand, because when you just said how he did that, it immediately put in my mind Black women slaves who did what they could to protect their families from white men and women slave owners. And that narrative of Sally Hammond’s [correction: Sally Hemmings] was his… no, she was raped. He owned her.
And that is… white people don’t want to talk about it. They don’t wanna own it. But there’s so much about white supremacy that you’ve been taught that our—that Black women particularly—are in service to you. You still own us. You own our bodies, our minds, our thoughts, our production. And this has to stop. So when we stand in our own authenticity, when we stand in our own agency, white folx get real upset about that. And yet they want to talk about equality all the time—that’s why equality’s bullshit; we need equity—because when we ask for—and when I say we, Black women—when we ask for the same treatment that white folx get, we’re out of our place. We need to remember where we are. We’re overstepping. So no, I don’t want the same as you. I want more.
Dr. Blackstock: Yep.
Kim: Because only more would equal equity for me. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. Exactly. That’s… yeah. I totally hear you.
Kim: And the fact that you have the—only because you have the lived experience of being a physician, of being a Black woman, could you come in and say, “Why are we giving money to organizations to come into Black and brown communities who are not Black and brown? What is this?”
Dr. Blackstock: It is incredible. You see money… you know, I can’t… yeah, literally on my first or second day, I sat in a meeting where we were discussing what organizations were getting funded, and I was like, “I know this organization”—that ranked number one—”they’re a white-led organization; they don’t have the capacity to do this!” But because they could hire a grant writer, they could make it seem as if they could, and then…
Kim: It’s just—oh, my god—this just reminds—because again; you know, people, I’m connectin’ the dots. I’m showin’ you the systems. Is this not how that pandemic money got passed out?
Dr. Blackstock: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. It’s the same structure, it’s the same system…
Kim: It’s the same systems, institutions, and policies. Yes.
Dr. Blackstock: All the same.
Kim: Across industries.
Dr. Blackstock: Across industries. Right. The cake was baked, everything’s all embedded, and I feel like the only way to take it out is just dismantle—gotta build a new cake. Or bake a new cake because we can’t unbake the cake—as Sonya Renee Taylor said—the cake is already made.
Kim: Yep, yep. And putting a cherry on top or throwin’ some icin’ on it does not help.
Dr. Blackstock: No, not at all. Not at all. And that’s what I… and then that was another thing I think I realized, just working in government, which has historically—I guess over the last few decades—has employed large numbers of Black people, has been a way for Black people in some ways to become upwardly mobile—in some ways—but at the same time it’s oppressive, it’s toxic, it…
Kim: Exactly. They still have to toe the line.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah, exactly.
Kim: They can only get promoted, or all those things, in leadership, in government, if they follow white supremacist rules.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. And then, if you think about sense of urgency as a white supremacist characteristic, everything… “City Hall needs this! We need that! We need this! We need that!” And you have to, no matter where you are, what you’re doing, I’m takin’ my child to school, you have to be responding like this. And I just said this is not how I wanna live. This is not the existence I want.
Kim: And so it’s so interesting: you’re a physician in public health, and yet your personal health can’t be prioritized.
Dr. Blackstock: The first time that I was able to sleep in months without taking a sleep aid was the week after I finished working there.
Kim: OK, I’m going to stop again. [Sighs] Oni, man, you are really fuckin’ me up right now! Because that says something that as a physician, you already know sleep aids should not be a dependent for you. You’re doing public health and in public health—this is why I got so sick of people [sighs] with the “Oh, Medicare for All or bust!” I was like, “If y’all assholes don’t talk about how Medicare for All will cause hard for Black folx, I don’t… just because you think universal healthcare is the answer…” I think most people agree that folx need healthcare, and that healthcare should not be tied to a job, because that makes absolutely no sense.
What I disagree with is not having anyone who leads these initiatives, as you said, who have the lived experience of being harmed by health care, trying to dictate what that should look like. Trying to dictate what that should look like. If you can’t talk about—we just said that this stuff is baked into everything that we have—if you can’t be honest about that, then Medicare for All will cause harm to the most vulnerable, because it does not address the systemic issues of the health care system at all; all you’re doing is replicating. But yeah, it’s really… this is stuff that, it just… I really want you to… mmm! Where I really wanna go is, can you talk to us, share with us about this privileged education you’ve had? Because very few Black people have had that experience. And I need to—I want white folx to understand that this does not insulate you from the systems of white supremacy. So talk about what it was like to be at Yale and Harvard and even in high school; just talk about that.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah. No, totally, totally. And it’s funny, actually, I just had tweeted yesterday or the day before, there was some tweet where someone said, “If you’re a smart Black girl, who…”
Kim: Yeah, I saw that tweet, yes.
Dr. Blackstock: I don’t know if you saw that. Like, “Retweet if you are a smart Black girl and something happened to you, someone didn’t believe you,” or something like that.
Kim: Yeah. It was like, “if your academic success was not attributed to you,” that’s basically what it is. Were you accused of lying or whatever for your success.
Dr. Blackstock: Right. And I retweeted that my English teacher—I remember we read Beowulf, I had to write some essay on Beowulf…
Kim: Oh, Beowulf, good god.
Dr. Blackstock: And they wanted me to—oh and I used the word “egregious” and “vicissitudes” because I had written “ups and downs” and my mom was like, “Sweetie, change it.” You know my mom would look at my paper, she’d be like, “Oh, change it to vicissitudes, egregious.” I looked in a thesaurus, and the English teacher assumed I had plagiarized because I had used those words. You know, and it’s just stuff like that. In my class—I went to Stuyvesant, which is a specialized high school; it’s a science high school. You have to take a two, three hour test to get in. And I was really proud—it’s so funny—I was really proud of myself, and I still am, even though I realize the problematic nature of taking a two to three hour test and having that be the sole determinant of admission. I got the 201st highest score in the city outta like 25,000 students. I was like, “I did that!” But I’m also like, “This test is so flawed and doesn’t measure anything.”
Dr. Blackstock: Like, I get those things.
Kim: But you know what? What I’ve found is—and I wanna let you get back to your story—I’ve always been able to do that too. I’m gonna be honest, I was trying to get some financial aid when I was in an HBCU, and they had messed up my financial aid, and they were like, “You know what? Let’s just take the GED. Because that will start from scratch,” you know, “set you back to zero.” I took the whole GED in less than three hours and passed it, and they were like, “What the hell?” I was like, “We learned this. We learn because we have to.”
Dr. Blackstock: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly.
Kim: But go ‘head.
Dr. Blackstock: So, in my class, I think there were 700 or 800 students and there are only 30 Black students. So this is in New York City, where most—you know, and maybe 30 Latinx…
Kim: It’s very diverse. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: Very diverse. So I was always used to being like one of a few black students, being called “Oreo” and all that stuff, and then went to Harvard, because my mother, you know, she was still very much like—my mom went to Harvard Med, and even though she came back to a central Brooklyn to work at King’s County Hospital, and was very much a part of the community—was like, “I want you girls to go to Harvard too.” So we went on to Harvard, and even that was a challenging experience. I was told, I remember my freshman year, this white—again—writing teacher, English teacher told me, “You’re never going to get higher than a B in my class because you’re a B writer. That’s who you are.” And I was like, I left there thinking, just devastated, thinking I couldn’t even write. So these are those type of things that just start chipping away and eroding your self esteem.
Kim: And it’s always positioned as it’s a flaw in you. It’s never positioned as, “You know what? As an educator, I need to rethink. Where is that coming from? Why would I say that? What about the systems or my education or my own personal bullshit would tell that to a student?”
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. Exactly. No, totally. And I always… and the way that you turned that around is so important, because I think about that—and I’ll come back—in medicine, when we say a “problem patient” or “difficult patient,” I’m like, “What is it about my training that is allowing me to think that this person is difficult, and not having the strategies and the tools to be able to really engage with this person in a productive way?” But going back, yeah, so Harvard was traumatic. I was a Computer Sci—also accused of plagiarism at Harvard. A friend of mine, we would sit next to each other and we would code our different computer science programs. We didn’t look at each other’s code or anything like that…
Kim: It doesn’t matter, because damn near everything in tech now is copy and paste. So the fact that somebody would get accused of plagiarizing code is bullshit.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah, I was accused of plagiarizing code, and even at Harvard had had a number of young Black men that I knew just kind of disappear, and wonder what happened to them, and because some academic issue, the Ad Board met—Administrative Board—and determined that they had cheated blah, blah, blah, blah. But it always just seemed like a disproportionate number, and I just like…
Kim: And also, I want to just put this in: not just copying and pasting code from a Stack Overflow or whatever; pair programming is a major form of efficiency and effectiveness in coding.
Dr. Blackstock: Right, only a certain number of permutations or ways that you could probably… you know what I mean? Things are gonna be similar, like you’re solving the same problem. So, yeah. Exactly.
Kim: But solving them together is the most effective way.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah, totally.
Kim: And for that to be considered plagiarism… but go ahead. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: It’s so ridiculous. Yeah, so I think being part of these places, being at Harvard, obviously—you know, I had a Gore, Al Gore, one of his daughters in my class—obviously you’re with people who have substantial privilege and then even among the Black folk too, a lot of the Black folk are upper middle class Black folk.
Kim: They’re assimilating.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah, right, and so you don’t have a lot of folx who are middle class, maybe from families that have had lower incomes, so there wasn’t a great deal of diversity among the Black people that were there, which is, you know, it is what it is. And then going on to Harvard Medical School is the same thing. It’s like you’re in the ivory tower, sort of this bastion of privilege, and you can’t help but be bathed in that, ’cause you breathe it every day and that you’re there, it means that in some way you buy into it, to be honest. Right?
Kim: Mmm. Oh, no no. I tell people every day: white people are racist by design. That is what the system is designed to do. But we all need to be doing antiracist work because we all have some form of internalized white supremacy and anti-Blackness we need to deal with. And I say that about our community all the time. The drive or the… we have been trained to believe that by assimilating and—which comes with a lot of anti-Blackness to those people who are quote unquote “beneath” us—we will get to that place. We will finally get this, you know, the brass ring. And the brass ring just always gets pulled out of in front of us, just a little bit more.
And who I see it happening to so often is Serena Williams. She is the epitome of competence, you know, in the hood, playin’ tennis, braids, hair standing all over her head, to where she is, and every time she shows up as greatness, they move the line. “But she didn’t do that. But but but…” And yet the mediocre white folx who never win a tournament get all the advertise—you know, all that. It is that thing that happens to us, and that is something, but since Black people are not my target audience, I don’t talk about our stuff. We goin’ deal wit’ our stuff in our community. White folx don’t need to be listenin’ in on that; you don’t need to be voyeurs because you do enough of that.
Dr. Blackstock: And that’s why I had to leave the Health Department because—it’s so funny. The person I was seeing, someone very special in my life last year I was seeing, was like, “This person is so… this man is average.” You know what I mean? Like when I thought… [laughs]
Kim: Exactly! So they get so mad at me because I say…
Dr. Blackstock: Mediocre, unremarkable.
Kim: …mediocre unremarkable white man. They get so triggered by the word “mediocre” when they, if you look in the… it’s a synonym for “average.” But they don’t have a problem with the world “average.” I want to turn it up a notch. You are mediocre and unremarkable because—and this is why—not only do you have the systems, institutions, and policies of white supremacy helping you, right? So you got a leg up, so you get to get on the ladder first. But you also have those same systems preventing other people from getting on the ladder with you.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. And you know what? I think about myself, with these degrees—having two Harvard degrees and a Yale degree—like, look, if I were a white man, I’d probably be…
Dr. Blackstock: You know what I mean? I just think about, and I think and in my head…
Kim: You’d be running your own organization, you’d be getting money thrown at you, all kind… yes, just with the paper. That you wouldn’t have to know shit. You wouldn’t have to know, you wouldn’t have to demonstrate, just with the paper. There’s an assumption that you’re smart enough that you got the paper.
Dr. Blackstock: And the crazy part of it, you know, people see us and they think that we’ve somehow been given a free ticket in or something, that’s the way, right?
Kim: Oh, my god.
Dr. Blackstock: That we’ve worked…
Kim: Oh, our affirmative action means that they’re lowering the bar for us.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly, exactly! I’m like you, and I’m thinkin’ about you know, and as time goes on, I’m just like, “Wait a minute! I’m brilliant. I am smart. This didn’t happen by accident!”
Dr. Blackstock: …and as time goes on, I’m just like, “Wait a minute! I’m brilliant. I am smart. This didn’t happen by accident!” I have so much—and I also have emotional intelligence, not just like academic.
Kim: Yes! Yeah, and that’s what I tell people, I was like, if you see a Black person in the white space, know that they are better than your average white person, your mediocre—because what they’ve had to do just to get in the space. Just to get in the space, we have been told… I tell people all the time, white folx get to be individuals; Black folx—and this is why your, I’m gonna tell you and you probably know this, this is why your mom kept, even in her last letter, said, “Keep going,”—because we have to represent our community. We are Black. We don’t get to be individuals. Our behavior reflects our community. If we fuck up, it messes up opportunities for people behind us. Who needs that kind of weight?
Dr. Blackstock: Oh, my goodness, it’s such a weight to carry. And it’s interesting that my dad had asked—my dad’s from the Caribbean, from Jamaica—and he had asked us, he said, “Girls, can you apply…” when we were applying to high school—I have a twin sister—so my twin sister and I were applying, he said, “Can you girls at least apply to one or two HBCU—Historically Black Colleges and Universities—HBCU?” So I think we applied to one—we applied to Spelman—and then actually, our guidance counselor, a white Jewish woman, convinced us to switch it to Stanford. My dad was so heartbroken.
Kim: How the hell is that a HBCU?
Dr. Blackstock: No no, no no. We applied to Spelman, and then she said, “Take Spelman off. Stanford…” [laughs]
Kim: See, that’s what I’m sayin’, why would she? See, right there.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly.
Kim: Right there. No no no, I’m just sayin’, that right there.
Dr. Blackstock: She hadn’t… there weren’t people from my school—I don’t know in how many years—who had gone to Spelman. So for her, it was like, “Why would you wanna apply there?” You know, and we were just like, “OK, ooh. Harvard, Stanford, whatever.” But in retrospect—I was actually talking to my sister yesterday—and I said, “You know what? You know what, Ucha? I was talking to…”
Kim: Wait a minute, is your sister the person I see you respondin’ to on Twitter?
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah, that’s my twin.
Kim: Oh, my god.
Dr. Blackstock: See, that’s the thing. People are so confused.
Kim: [Claps] We about to, we about to… [screams] OK, so stop it. Because I’ve seen her, and I get confused, ’cause I know you follow me, and I see your picture—and follow her—but I see your picture, and I say, “Is that the same person?” But it never hit me that you were twins!
Dr. Blackstock: Like, kinda unique last name.
Kim: That’s why I was gettin’ confused.
Dr. Blackstock: A lot of people are confused. I’m like, “No,” and my patients are always like, “Dr. Blackstone, I just saw you on TV!” And I’m like, “No no, that’s my sister.” Yeah yeah, that’s my twin.
Kim: Oh my… [laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: That’s so funny. So, I was…
Kim: Yeah, because that’s how I find so much of her stuff—that’s how I found her, I think from you, and I started following you, and—I mean, started following her—and then I’ll see you responding…
Dr. Blackstock: Why is she talkin’ to herself? [Laughs]
Kim: …and then I’m thinkin’… and then… well, not respondin’ to herself because the name is not exactly the right… correct. I mean the same. So I was like, “OK, this is…” But when I see you or her, I get confused.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah yeah, we’re twins. [Kim laughs] I don’t know if we’re—I don’t think we’re identical; I think we’re fraternal. But we look very similar.
Kim: Oh, you look so much alike.
Dr. Blackstock: You can tell we’re definitely sisters.
Kim: Yeah. Yeah yeah. Yeah.
Dr. Blackstock: But I was talkin’ to her yesterday because this friend of mine was telling me at at Spelman when a classmate’s mother died, they had tour busses go down full of students, go down with her to the mom’s funeral. People were taking care of her, everything. You know, and our mom died when we were at Harvard, and we didn’t… I mean it was so hard to even get professors to give us time off, or extensions and things like that. And I I was telling my sister—my sister started crying when I told her—I said, “They had tour busses.” She’s like, “We woulda had so much worse support.” We were so alone when my mom died.
Kim: But that’s because whiteness doesn’t understand community. We do.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. Exactly, exactly, exactly. So in retrospect, I wish I’d followed my dad’s advice and went to Spelman.
Kim: Yeah, because when… in those moments, that’s when we come together. It may get messy, it may get whatever, but we…
Dr. Blackstock: Are community.
Kim: Black folx are community. That’s the only way we could’ve survived all this crap.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. It’s the only way we’re gonna survive these next… yeah, as we move forward, too, because this man is not gonna leave the White House. So… [Laughs]
Kim: Girl! And that’s what I tell Black folx: get prepared; do whatever you need to do right now. Find your community, find your network, because we are the most vulnerable and they’re gonna aim for us, and we need to be able to be able to shelter each other.
Dr. Blackstock: Yes, yes, that is exactly it. So yeah, being in these environments, it was my twin… yeah, yeah, so my twin and I, we went to Stuyvesant together, we went to Harvard together, we went to Harvard Med together.
Kim: At least you had her. Can you imagine doing this by yourself?
Dr. Blackstock: Oh, my goodness, no. Such a gift. But in so many ways, because we didn’t have an extensive network, it’s been challenging for us. It has affected our relationship, and that’s something that we’re gonna be working on as we move forward. I actually had a session with my therapist this past weekend where we talked about, you know, when you’re all you have, when you’re all each other has, how it can be hard to be authentic with each other because you don’t wanna jeopardize that. And so we’ve had to—she and I have sugar-coated and tiptoed around things instead of being real because we’re so scared.
Kim: So it takes that family… because if that’s your only tie, you try to do nothing to jeopardize that, yup.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly, and where that has left us on a superficial level in many ways.
Kim: OK, so yes, but let me tell you why this brings… I’m glad… woo! This is—I tell y’all people, I never know where these fuckin’ conversations goin’, but I love talking to Black women!—this reminds me of why I say white people who have Black children need to be very mindful of that, because that I see as abusive. I see the potential for harm and abuse of those young people, Black kids, so… it’s in my face, because if you—because I came, have been processing this whole “ah-ha” I had that family’s the first place that we learn to call abuse love.
And as a Black child with one or two Black parents, [correction: Kim means one or two white parents] when you come home dealing from gaslighting or some traumatic racial experience and you get told, you know, the conversation is everything but “it’s because you’re Black.” [Laughs] You’re gaslightin’ that child, you’re causing harm, because you’re discounting their lived experience just because you can’t connect to it. Or when they bring it up, you start cryin’—like you just said—and you center your whiteness in their pain. They’re dealin’ with pain, and now they don’t come to you because they don’t want to hurt Mommy and Daddy. They don’t want you to feel bad about what they’re dealin’ with.
So, this is my PSA: if you are a white person; if you birthed or adopted a Black child; please, it is your job to ensure that they have authentic Black folx in their lives that they can come to for assistance with this, that you’re not a barrier to. You shouldn’t be gatekeeping those relationships. These young people need Black people to teach them, to affirm the experiences they’re having, ’cause this shit is real.
Dr. Blackstock: No, totally. It is. It is. And we’re in a more precarious position the less support that we have. No, I agree because my mom passed away when I was in college, and then my aunt, my mom’s sister—my mother’s mother did the best that she can, but she inflicted a lot of trauma on my mom and her siblings—and so my aunt also had a lot of psychiatric issues. Now she’s no longer in our life; she was a second mother. So my sister and I just have each other. I actually went through a divorce last year, my sister is dealing with her situation. But all that to say is that we are trying to work on building our community up, not just for ourselves, but for our children so that we don’t repeat the trauma, and I don’t… you know, my mom bein’ like, “Go on to medical school.” She should have been like, “Girls. Stop everything.” You know what I mean? Like, “I know I’m one of the most important person in your life and I’m dying. I’ve died. You found this letter. Please stop. Take a few years. Do whatever you need to do.” I wish she had said that, but I think she just… she did what she thought was the best.
Kim: Oh, most definitely. Because again—let’s be honest—until recently, I mean, my mom has been—is—a brilliant woman who was allowed white supremacy to tell her otherwise, and I spent most of my childhood propping her up because of, you know, she’s being gaslit at work and just trying… I mean, I was always an only in white spaces because she wanted me to be what now we call exposed. And now I see as not exposure. It is white supremacy. It is assimilation. And yet she knew at the time that that was the best thing for me, particularly being a Black girl from Atlanta. I mean, I I had experiences that my Black friends didn’t have because of that, and I so appreciate it, but let’s be honest. It’s only now that we’re able to have these conversations. No one’s openly talked about this stuff, period, in my life.
Dr. Blackstock: Yes. No, it’s so true. And I think we just get so indoctrinated, and we think—we are so socialized to think that that’s what we’re supposed to do, these are the expectations that people have…
Kim: But this is norm. There is no… it’s not… we are taught that there is no other option. This is the path.
Dr. Blackstock: Right.
Kim: If you as a Black person want success, you have to follow—and no one ever says it’s whiteness. But that’s exactly what it is. It’s whiteness.
Dr. Blackstock: Right. And part of that with white supremacy, it’s also cis-hetero patriarchy. And so for myself, I was married to a cisgender heterosexual Black man. I assumed that, as a CIS gender woman, that that’s who I’m supposed to love romantically and be attracted to and everything, and then—and this is going on a whole nother thing—but just in terms of expectations, you know, that I was supposed to get… you know, I got my degree, I got my condo, and now I’m supposed to find a Black man to marry and have a family with. And I was just not tuned into the fact that I’m also queer, which is totally crazy, just totally crazy, because I remember in medical school having some weird feelings for a friend of mine who was a cisgender woman who was kind of boyish, and I just thought that was kind of weird. I was like, “That doesn’t make any sense!” because of this narrative that I’m supposed to be with a cisgender man.
And it wasn’t until a few years ago that I looked back and I was like, “What was that?” And then slowly coming into my authentic self and really understanding who I was, realizing, like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m totally queer!” I just hadn’t been around a lot of masculine… exactly, masculine of center. There were no masculine of center, or masculine presenting Black women in any of my training. I don’t remember anybody. So I just wasn’t around folx that I actually ended up realizing that I am actually attracted to because they weren’t in those spaces.
Kim: Yeah, and what’s interesting is, and this is why I keep telling people: no one, even white people escape white supremacy unharmed because it has a very narrow way of allowing us to show up.
Dr. Blackstock: Very narrow. Very narrow.
Kim: And so this is… OK. OK… woo! So we’re about to have a conversation, because my whole… mmm… my high—it mostly started, I don’t think it was in high school, because again, there were no… I went to mainly school wit’ white people. So there was nothing attractive to me about that. But when I was in college and beyond, I kept… I would have thoughts of, “Am I gay?” I mean, I really… and thankfully my mom was there to have these, you know, was open enough to have—I mean, my mom was a person, if my friend needed an abortion, she was taking them to the clinic. That’s the kind of mom—”You don’t have to tell your mama. I got you. Let’s go.”—that’s the kind of mom I had.
And so it was those conversations, I mean, I actually had a relationship with a woman, but it wasn’t because I was attracted to her. It was at a point in my life when I said, “Universe, I want to experience true, authentic love. And however you send that, I want to experience it.” So I couldn’t, when it showed up as a Black woman, couldn’t say, “Oh, but that’s not it,” because of the package. But I also knew doing that, “Oh, I’m not gay. I am attracted to men.” And yet I’m about love and who shows up.
So the man that is the closest thing to a relationship I have right now is a Black man who travels a lot, who’s in the military. We rarely see each other. We rarely even talk. And it’s so funny because my friends are like, “But that wouldn’t work for me. And that’s just so…” and I’m just like, “You know what? He’s like that friend, who has your heart.” You know, you have those girlfriends, you don’t have to speak for five years and you come back together and it’s like nothing happened? That’s who he is in my life.
Dr. Blackstock: Right, exactly.
Kim: Yes, that’s who he is in my life. He, and how his life is, has allowed me to show up as a Black woman with those same characteristics, and not say, “As a Black woman, I need to show up at this, that, and the other. I need to pussyfoot around tellin’ people what my expectations are.” No, he’s very clear. You know, and he’ll drop off the grid and you can get upset about it if you want to. But that’s his life, and that’s his job, and that’s what it is. And that’s how I’ve learned to encompass. So, and it’s so funny, because it’s only recently that I’ve said, “OK, I wanted to cultivate the more feminine nature in me.” And it’s not about wearing heels and makeup; I really saw imbalance in myself because I was very masculine in how I dealt with things and how I approach people and situations. And I saw that imbalance, I was like, “OK, I want to cultivate those feminine characteristics just for spirituality purposes for myself.”
But I so get what you’re saying because we’re not allowed, particularly Black folx, until recently, we weren’t allowed to have those conversations or even—it is the default that everybody is heterosexual. No one talks about that there is something else.
Dr. Blackstock: No, totally. I know my dad was completely thrown for a loop, you know he was an older Caribbean man…
Kim: Yeah. Oh yeah. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: He said to me—oh, ’cause I ended up actually posting on Facebook, like for New Year’s Eve, for New Year’s two years ago, I think—and I was like, “There’s so many things—this year has been such an awakening for me—there’s so many things that I’ve learned, I gave a talk in front of thousands of people, I did this, I did that. Oh, and most importantly, I realized I’m queer. I’ve come to terms of, accepted that I’m queer.” And I thanked a number of friends for being supportive along the journey and everything. And my dad called me the next day, and he’s like, “What’s going on? Are you OK?” He unfriended me on Facebook.
Kim: [Laughs] ’cause he didn’t want other people to see it?
Dr. Blackstock: Which I didn’t… no ’cause I think he was so—like it was too much for him. He unfriended me, and then he says to me something like, “Oh, I thought that that might be going on because I noticed you were posting a lot more articles on your Facebook about gay people.” And I’m like, “You’re… what? That makes… that’s just so simple.” But yeah, in his head, I think it was just mind boggling to him that I could potentially be queer. I’m attracted to men, I just think other people who are not men who are masculine are more attractive. But he was just like… it was just mind blowing.
But I think what’s been really wonderful is I just, you know, as I left this job, there’s just so many aspects of my life that I’m realizing, this is who I am, and it was always there, it was always inside of me, the answer was always there; I just needed to kind of declutter. So decluttering like divorcing, like… [laughs]
Kim: Yes, yes. Yes! OK, so I’m gonna tell you. You just hit another thing. This is why I like taking weed gummies. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: Oh, my gosh! I ran out of my weed gummies. They were also helping me with sleep, so I need to get some more, you’re right.
Kim: Oh, I love, this is what I love—and see, I’m in a state where it’s not legal, so I have to do all kinds of shit. When I went to California, I came back with so much shit it’s ridiculous.
Dr. Blackstock: Nice.
Kim: But I just started—because what it does is, when you talk about layers, when I’m in that euphoric moment of when I’m in that space, my thoughts…
Dr. Blackstock: Oh, the clarity.
Kim: …the first layer of thinking goes away, and I can get really underneath some real good thoughts. It’s something that—it could be something that I’ve thought about for years and for the first time, that layer of the things I’ve been thinkin’ about, it’s like a skin; it comes off and I’m like, “There’s so much!” This is why I tell people—this is why I call whiteness ignorant, and I’m like, “I don’t give a fuck about your opinions,” because fundamentally, there is so much more about ourselves that we don’t know then we do know, let alone what we try to project onto other people. So it is really interesting to—and I don’t find many people taking those steps to really self reflect like that.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah, yeah. You know, I think with the white folx it’s… they’re so caught… it’s all the intellectualization; they’re just so caught up up here in their thinking and thoughts…
Kim: Everything’s binary.
Dr. Blackstock: Yeah, everything’s binary, and everything’s in their mind. There’s no… like the whole mind / heart thing, which exists in so many cultures.
Kim: Mhm, yeah. They lack humanity. Whiteness is lacking humanity and to do antiracist work is not to save you and I; it is for them to reclaim their humanity.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Right. So right; it was when you say, “We are all harmed by…” white people have to understand how they’re dehumanized by their investment in whiteness and their complicity in it. No, exactly. Yeah. But I think it’s sort of severing these connections to these systems, extracting ourselves; I feel like I’m saving myself by not being… sure, I had a much better salary, but I also don’t actually have to spend the way I was spending money before. Because some of it was also like, “I’m so stressed. I’m eating out.” Now I don’t have to eat out as much because I’m home, I can buy food, I can actually try new recipes, I’m tryin’ to do more plant-based vegan stuff; you know what I mean? I can actually spend time on myself, spend time with my child, as opposed to trying to figure out how to make the system work.
Kim: Yes, yes. And at this point, I’m just like, “You know what? The system is gonna have to work around me.” [Dr. Blackstock laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly, exactly.
Kim: That’s just it. And if it breaks in the process, then that’s a bonus. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. And I think also I don’t have to deal—and I’ve heard other Black people say this too—not having to go into a workspace with white folk where there’re daily attacks on my humanity.
Kim: It is a mental gymnastics to come into, yes.
Dr. Blackstock: Until being at home now, even during shelter in place, that was much better.
Kim: Oh, I was built for that shit. I was built for that. [Laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: I know. I was like, I know this is a struggle for a lot of people, but I’m like, “Heeeey!”
Dr. Blackstock: But… yeah, yeah, and then now to not even have to be dealing with a lot of that, and choosing—and I’m sure it’s the same for you—as you choose to work with whatever clients you work with, you can figure out what are the situations I wanna put myself in? Who are the people that I wanna work with?
Kim: Oh, most definitely. When… I’ve gotten to a point now where—so I’m gettin’ all these, you know, everybody wants to be an antiracist something, antiracist company or whatever—and I’m definitely at the point where in the emails—I make a decision to move forward based on the emails—but what I do, if I just decide not to, I wanna make sure they understand why, because I don’t want them to think, “Oh, it’s on me.” No, no, no, no, no. So I tell them in the email, “Thank you for reachin’ out. Your email is problematic because of A, B, and C, and I will not be working with you because of that. Have a great day.”
I’m not tryna change the world; I’m not tryna convince you or convert you. That’s what burns us out. I’m not tryna—everybody is not my client. Everybody is not my client. And the people who are my client understand that I’m in the role of the expert, and that’s what I really tell in these emails, “You’re comin’ to me as a expert, but you think you already solved your problem.” And I’m lookin’ like, “Yeah, yeah, I ain’t got time for that.” ‘Cause you gonna cause me… I don’t do bullshit—’cause I used to put a bullshit tax on people, ’cause it was just like—I don’t have to do that anymore. I don’t, because even to deal with you, the tax doesn’t cost—is not enough.
Dr. Blackstock: It’s not worth it.
Kim: Yeah, it’s not worth it. Oh my god, this has been an amazing conversation!
Dr. Blackstock: Oh great!
Kim: What would you like to say in the end? You and I are gonna have to do virtual hang out. We’re gettin’… [laughs]
Dr. Blackstock: I know! Oh my goodness, what do I wanna say? Yeah, I think I just want this for all Black women—the audience is primarily white folk—but I just want us to be able to have the space and the support to be able to be who we truly are and not have to exist within these very restrictive and, as you say, binary systems. And I think to your white listeners, just think—like stepping back and thinking about what this might be like for us to exist with all these constraints to who we really are and how exhausting that must be and how…
Kim: Because those constraints are only there to keep them comfortable.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly.
Kim: It’s not for us. It benefits us in no way. It is all for their comfort.
Dr. Blackstock: Exactly. And what I realized is they don’t ultimately… you can’t experience—when you’re being dehumanized, you can’t be happy. You can’t be happy; you can’t experience love; you can’t experience joy like they are. There is a much better life that they could also be living. And I think white people need to realize that. It’s not just like they’re fine and Black people were the ones suffering; we’re all suffering in different ways.
Kim: Mmm, yes, yes, yes. This has been an amazing conversation! I always say I never know where we’re going, and I wanna thank you so much for being so transparent and just takin’ this this windy path to me, ’cause I didn’t know we were gonna end up—and disclosing so much about yourself, which triggered some things in me that allowed me to feel safe enough to disclose as well. So, I really appreciate this conversation. This was amazing.
Dr. Blackstock: Thank you so much, Kim. Thanks for having me.
Kim: Have a great day.
Dr. Blackstock: OK, bye.