“When I was growing up, my white friends would say: if I was around during slavery I never would have…I would have taken you and all that stuff and it’s like, okay. Well this is this is a version of it right now, you know, so what are you going to do it when it counts, you know, it’s obvious we’re not enslaved in that way. But every generation has a uprising moment like you either get to be courageous or you get to be cautious and which one is it going to be?”
Minda Harts is the CEO of The Memo LLC, a career development platform for women of color. She is the best-selling author of The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table. Minda is an Assistant Professor at NYU Wagner. She has been featured on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Fast Company, The Guardian, and Time Magazine. Minda frequently speaks at companies like Microsoft, Levi’s, Google, and Bloomberg on topics such as Leadership, Managing Diverse Teams and Self-Advocacy. She also hosts a weekly podcast called Secure The Seat.
Kim: Hello everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of the #CauseAScene Podcast. Today’s guest is Minda Harts. Pronouns are she/her. Minda, would you please introduce yourself to the audience?
Minda Harts: Hey everybody, my name is Minda and I am the author of “The Memo: What Women of Color Need To Know To Secure A Seat At The Table,” and I also teach at NYU Wagner in Human Resources.
Kim: So Minda, we start the show every time the same way—it never ends the same way, we always at least start the same way [laughs]—and that is by having the guest answer two questions: Why is it important to cause a scene? And how are you causing a scene?
Minda: Yeah, I really love that question. So I think it’s important to cause a scene because sometimes if we don’t, then people won’t know to be alarmed about anything, right? That’s when people can’t intervene if they don’t know that what’s going on is maybe causing you harm.
And so the way I like to cause a scene is to amplify the work of Black women and women of color in the workplace in a way that we haven’t been traditionally before. So, I’m all about shaking the table, and I feel like whenever you’re shaking something, you’re causing a scene. [Laughs]
Kim: All right, so tell us about this book.
Minda: Yeah, so it’s my first book. Actually came out just last week on paperback, but it’s been out for a year in other versions. [Laughs] Thank you so much. And it’s interesting because I had spent 15 years in corporate America, and I was always reading these books that were written by white men and women, and great advice, but I never saw myself in the book.
And so, a long story short, I remember hearing Toni Morrison say that “write the book you wanna read,” and that’s exactly what I did. [Kim makes approval sounds, Minda laughs] I said, “OK, I love rap, I love bringing my authentic self to work. These are the things I want to do”, and I really wrote this book from pain, but also triumph because I did have a hard career, but there were some joyous points of it. But I also wanted other Black women and women of color to know that I see you, I feel you, and then also our managers and those who consider themselves allies, “Pull up, read our experiences so you could be helpful.”
Kim: I love that you brought Toni Morrison into this because she has really… the “I didn’t write for the white gaze” has really… woo! Has really guided or been a pivotal thing in my work. And I lean into that more and more [laughs] in the things that I do. Like recently I just said on Twitter, if I’m usin’ a professional service and there is a qualified Black woman, that is who I will be usin’. I’m no longer defaulting to anybody other than—my default now is Black women for all my professional services.
And it’s because of what you just said. We don’t have the same lived experiences; but we all have similar lived experiences. When I’m dealing with my professional services, in particular as I grow this business, there’s a lot of my stuff that I don’t share with everybody, because everybody doesn’t need to know and everybody wouldn’t use that information positively. And there’s an automatic trust I have—so, this is interesting. So, I don’t trust anybody by default but Black women. And that’s just my truth. [Chuckles] Black women have to do something for me to say, “OK, I’m gonna leave you alone”, And I still will never throw them under the bus. I just won’t have shit to do with you. [Both laugh]
But I still would never throw you under the bus—this is the only group of people that I trust that implicitly. And so it makes sense that I would have them around me. And it’s so funny that white folx get offended by that. You’ve been doing the same thing since there’ve been professional services. And now that we’re making conscious decisions to do that ourselves, then we’re wrong. It’s like, “No. That’s who I trust. That’s who I feel comfortable with. That’s who I trust my business to.” [Laughs]
Minda: I love that. And I love how you show up when I see your tweets and how unapologetic, because I think that for so long as Black women we haven’t given ourselves permission to be that. Right? We’re very careful. Even with “The Memo,” I was very nervous putting it out there, because I am unapologetically like, “Stop doing bad shit, white people at work.” [Both laugh] And I wasn’t sure what would be met with that, because these are things we talk about behind closed doors, but we don’t always talk about it in public, and so I’m like, “OK…”
Kim: Because the ramifications of doin’ so can be totally detrimental. And so we’re always making a calculated strategic decision when to open your mouth. I didn’t start—I mean, you came to the community two years after I’ve been doin’… where I’ve just pushed the envelope like, “OK, can I say this? OK, I got away with that. OK, so let me say…”
And we have to test those waters because we don’t know where we gonna get burned. And so now I’m at a point where I do—and I say this, I don’t speak for Black women, I speak on behalf of Black women—but I speak at a level and a volume so that anybody in my community that comes across a Black woman and they want to get all in their feelings and stew up, they’re like, “Ah, I had to deal with Kim and she was way worse than this. So I’m gonna leave. Yeah, I see what this is.”
So I’m always just on a 10, so that when you walk into the room, you can be yourself. And they’re like, “Oh, I’ve seen this before [both laugh] and it was big. And this is not so big.” [Minda laughs] You know? So that you have space to do what you need to do.
Minda: Mhm. Yeah, I love that because we do need the space. And people say, “Well, how did you find your voice?” And I’m like, “Wait a second. I didn’t wake up like this.” Granted, I always had a voice. I just didn’t know how I wanted to use it. And so now, to your point, I realized that I have not been making a scene, and that’s hurt myself, and it’s hurt other Black women, and so now I need to make a scene. [Laughs]
Kim: Well, that’s one reason why the shirt that I wear when I speak is “Not asking permission, giving notice.” I no longer ask permission from whiteness to do anything. I’m just not. Because I’m never going to get an answer that allows me to show up as my authentic self. So why would I [chuckles] ask for your permission to do anything?
And so, I reckon—and I say this in my talks—again, I don’t speak for Black women, but I speak on behalf of Black women, and I’m saying things that, like you said, we’re saying to ourselves and in our small groups. And we’re being harmed by it because we can’t say it out loud. And so white folx think—I challenge this all the time—because they have that individual, “It’s them over there.” I’m like, “Every white person in professional space has caused harm to a Black person. Period.” Whether they communicated that with you or not [Minda chuckles], the only reason they would communicate that if they felt either they had power over you or there was some sense of psychological safety for them to say that.
Without that… that’s why I have a problem with all these—I did episodes… oh man, I wish I could remember this doggone feedback company! About two episodes about a digital platform that provides feedback, but the leadership can’t take feedback. How is that the product you’re creating not biased because of that?
I get so sick of “Oh, we don’t have this problem because we just did 360s and nobody said…” Because no one felt… I bet you, I bet you I can go into your organization and find one person, at least one person, [laughs] at a minimum one person, who will tell me somethin’ about the bullshit that’s going on here that they didn’t feel safe enough to tell you [Minda chuckles] in your reviews that were gonna be viewed by their supervisors and their supervisors’ supervisors and CEO. They’re not going to tell you all that.
Minda: Yeah, And if you’re the only one, it’s going to be really clear who this is coming from. [Both laughing]
Kim: Oh my god, it’s not gonna be like, [in a sarcastically quizzical voice] “I wonder who this is, god. Does anybody here know who that is?” You don’t know who that is? No. Exactly, it’s gonna be… [Minda laughs] And we’re sick of being the ones who have to pull organizations to a place of harm reduction. That is work that I did not get—I was hired as a marketing person. [Minda laughs] I was hired as a programmer. I was hired as a project manager. Why am I also tasked with pulling a white supremacist company into the light? That is not my role.
Minda: Yeah, and we’re not getting paid [Kim laughs] for it. And if you wanna add on as a bonus, like consulting, yes, we can have a conversation. But as to your point, Kim, white men and women who’ve read “The Memo,” they’ll say, “Well, why didn’t so-and-so tell me I was doing this?” I’m like, “They probably have been telling you, but you have not been taking the cues.” [Laughs]
Kim: Yeah, because very few are going to come right out—I’m the rare exception who’s gonna come out and say, “Hey, it’s ’cause you’re white, and so I don’t want to deal with this anymore.” I’m the rare exception. And it’s because of the work I’ve had to do to cultivate an ability to stand in this space to say this. This just didn’t happen overnight. I had to get there.
And then again, why is that my responsibility? You should be able to self reflect and see… just like you said [chuckles] they weren’t picking up on the clues, you and I can walk into a space [Minda laughs]—and I bet you you do this—you evaluate. And I could tell you within 15 minutes of a conversation a lot about a person, and if I can share my truth with them or not. We as Black women have—that’s how we’ve survived and our communities have survived—because we’ve had to out of necessity develop those skills.
Minda: We’ve had to. And you hit it on the head: we talk about emotional intelligence, but Black women were doin’ that before we had a name for it. [Both laugh]
Kim: That is good! [Both continue laughing] Absolutely true. That helps us to know who—I could spot a predator a mile away. [Minda laughs] I can spot a manipulator a mile away. And then we have to figure out a strategy—particularly if this is our supervisor or somebody like that, a organizational partner we have to work with—and we have to come up with a calculated strategy of how to deal with that so that they don’t get offended, we don’t get harmed, and it doesn’t backfire on the company. That’s a lot to think about.
Minda: A lot. And that’s not even your job. That’s what I want white people… [both start laughing]
Kim: Yeah, that’s what they’ll say! You haven’t even talked about why I’m in this meeting. [Both continue laughing] It’s all this other stuff that happens. Oh my word. So how has—you said you didn’t know how it was gonna be received—what was it like to get that first validation that “OK, I’m safe. I can breathe. [Minda chuckles] I’m not gonna lose everything for this.” Because that was an option!
Minda: That was an option. That was an option. And even as I was writing it, I was worried, right? But I’m like, “If I could speak my truth and it helps somebody else, then even if it helped one person, I’ve done my job, right?” So I’ll take that hit, because sometimes we have to.
But I’ll tell you this, when my agent went to go shop “The Memo” around—there’s five major publishers—four of ’em said, “No. This is not a book that anybody would read. This would never do well. These are isolated situations. Black women aren’t experiencing these things.” And when you have a room full of white people making decisions, they would say that, right? [Laughs]
Kim: Wow, you just hit… hold on. I need you to stop. I just need you to stop right there. [Minda laughs] Cause this is where—I mainly talk about tech because tech touches everything—and this is where we have the problems. The, “Oh, there is no bias in our software and products. There is no whatever.”
For a room fulla white folx to say that there is no Black audience, or even a white audience, for the lived experiences of Blackness when by default we’re supposed to give a shit about white experiences all the time. This is—again going back to Toni Morrison—is why I love that. But that speaks so much, that there are four major book publishing companies that a room fulla white people decided that your lived experience, your truth, was not something that other people would want. And those decisions happen every day.
Minda: Every single day. And I’m thinkin’, “Wait a second, I just left corporate America experiencing this. Now you’re telling me that that didn’t really happen? OK, gotcha.” [Laughs] So one did say yes. All you need sometimes is one, right? But even then, it still wasn’t a diverse group, but they’re like, “Well, I guess this conversation hasn’t been had. Let’s see what happens.” And so I was prayin’ to god like, “Let this book do well, let the people I wrote it for find it and get what they need out of it.” And eventually it did, but there was so much that people don’t realize that pushing to get this book out there. And I’m glad that it saw the light of day, because it almost didn’t.
Kim: Well, let’s get—are you willin’ to talk about that as detailed as you would like?—’cause I want people to understand what that process was for you.
Minda: Yeah, so I will say it didn’t take years and years and years, where I know some authors they’re still tryin’ to get their books out there; but what I will say is, if it wasn’t for sponsors—I met two white men and women, one who was an author and then another was an editor—if I didn’t have them giving me the roadmap into how things worked, how they didn’t work, who I needed to go to, [starts laughing] all those different things, I wouldn’t…
Kim: There’s so many hidden rules.
Minda: So many.
Kim: There’s so many hidden rules. Yes.
Minda: And I didn’t know them. They didn’t know [me]. We didn’t go to school together. They just used their social capital. They knew they had privilege, and they said, “I actually like this idea, Minda. Let’s see how we can help you.” And one woman in particular—she was an editor at one of the major publishers who told me no—she said, “Listen, you need an agent. I wanna help you. There’s not a lot of Black women that get in this door. Let me guide you on how to do this.” And I’m forever grateful, because had I not had her introducing me to agents, and knowing how to pitch and different things, it would have been that much harder to get “The Memo” out there.
But again, I knew when we ran up against those four major publishers that said no, I knew that I was up against a battle, and that’s what made us fight even harder because I’m like, “They don’t want Black and brown women to be empowered in the workplace. This is what this is. And so we’re going to keep pushing and knocking and creating a scene.” [Laughs]
Kim: Well, I’m happy that you saw the truth that it was them and not you, because so often their no’s turn into our internal rejection. We don’t understand that there’s systems, institutions, and policies in place that are designed to tell us no, and so we gaslight ourselves [chuckles] in thinking we’ve done something wrong when it’s just gatekeepers who, like you said, don’t want these stories to be told.
It reminds me so much of what happened with George Floyd. His story is not the first one, but his story happened in a pandemic, in a shutdown, there was nothing goin’ on, nothing to divert the attention or distract the attention of white people. And it took that for white people to recognize, “Maybe we’re not gettin’ the whole story here.” That, “There’s something I’m missing.”
And this is why I always start people who want to start their antiracist journey with history. I don’t wanna… mm-mm. You don’t need to be readin’ books. Mm-mm. I need you to look at history, real accurate history, of what started this. Because this was not some happenstance. This was not some, “Oh, it just happened”. This was calculated, strategic, intentional erasure, harm, exclusion of anybody that was not white.
And the fact that white gets to change based on power—particularly if power sees itself shrinking and becoming the minority, which we’re seeing right now—is gonna be interesting to see, and there’re gonna be certain Latinx communities that are going to get consumed into whiteness. So that tells you right there it’s not real if it can be transient like that. If it could be… just move and change.
Minda: Yeah, and we don’t get to just pass or whatever. You know, or whatever. [Both laughing]
Kim: ‘Cause we are Black. When folx see us, we are Black. [Minda laughing] Exactly. I don’t get to—yeah, when I walk out the house, when I’m driving, no one’s like, “I don’t want to say they’re Black,” but that’s who I am. [Minda laughs]
So that’s why I’m gonna call you white. You have no problem callin’ me Black, or us Black. I have no problem calling y’all white. You might see it as a slur. If you see that as a slur, then why don’t you—if the equivalent is Black, why don’t you see Black as a slur? And then now they’ve painted themselves in the corner, and that’s a conversation they don’t wanna have.
Minda: [Laughs] They don’t wanna have that. They’re not ready. They’re not ready. They’re gonna need to read a few more books before they’re ready for that conversation. [Laughs]
Kim: So you had this challenge, which we always do [both laugh] of getting the book published. You publish it and then what?
Minda: And then… the other thing I’ll say too is, when I was pitching the book, is that the other thing that they said, because I wasn’t famous, that again this book would not do well, because you have to be like Oprah or somebody to [Kim groans] sell these kind of books. And I’m thinking, “Well, Oprah had to start somewhere too,” right? [Laughs]
Kim: You have to be that one magical negro for them for this to work. Yeah. Mediocre, unremarkable white dudes write books every single day, but we have to be above and beyond, magical, fartin’ stars out our asses and shit, just to make something happen.
Minda: Yeah. So I think that was the part when you talked about getting in my own way; I started—I knew my story was my story, so whatever they say, I was fine with that, but when it came down to “Well, you’re not famous. You don’t have a large following. Nobody knows who you are,” that sort of thing, that did start to creep in. And I’m like, “Well, they’re right. I don’t have…” [Laughs]
Kim: Because that was accurate. [both laughing]
Minda: That’s very true. That was very true. They were like, “Nowadays, in order to sell books, you need to be famous. Millions and millions of followers,” and I’m like, “Well, shit, I guess that part I don’t know about,” but you know what? I’ll just write the best book I can write, and whoever it’s for, I know my story. I know my people, I know that we haven’t—again to your point, I can’t speak for every Black woman, every woman of color, but there are those themes.
And I know how it would have felt for me to be able to read about my story. To shake my head up and down like, “Yeah girl, I know that feeling.” [Kim laughs] I didn’t have that. And so I’m like, “You know what? I’m just going to do the best I can, and I’ll let god, the universe, whomever, do what they need to do with it.” [Laughs]
And that’s what I did. Really. I just told myself the story that’s my story. So again, if I help one person, I’ve done my job. If I help more than that, then even better, right?
Minda: If I help one person, I’ve done my job. If I help more than that then even better, right? And so, for me, it was just people started to hear about it, and then another person would tell another person, and it really was this organic swell. And so I don’t even say it’s my first book; I say it’s our first book, because this was really the catalyst for just creating more conversation to say, “Well, if Minda’s talkin’ about it out loud, then you know what? Maybe I can too.” Right? And so for me, it was just that nice groundswell. And I say it started slow and then it just kept going, and even now, more people are finding it.
Kim: Because that’s how I found it. We have a mutual friend, and I knew about the book, I didn’t know about you. But I had already had the book on my shelf before I knew that we had a mutual friend. So yeah, that’s how I found it. I was like, “Mmm, this is interesting. Let me get this thing.” [Both laugh] And that’s what gets me, because that’s how any—as you said Oprah, or Gary V or whoever—that’s how all of them get started. So why don’t we get the same courtesy of seeing if we can find a community around that?
I mean, I’ve built this community, but I was very intentional about it, but it’s been going for two years. And I’m still not at what people would think 100,000 followers and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. [Minda laughs] I’m still, not that I give a shit but, don’t have a blue check, and all these things that other people used to validate people’s voices.
All the external things that are used to—it was one reason I didn’t wanna finish my doctorate degree, ’cause I was like, “I’m not doin’ it for white people. I refuse to do anything else to get their approval.” And then finally I went back because it was work I wanna—I love my research. And I wanted to finish my work for me. And everything about it guides my consulting and everything else, but yeah. Oh, my god! If we wait for white folx to validate us, we will be waiting forever.
Minda: We’ll be waitin’ at the funeral. [Laughs]
Kim: Exactly! Because again, the line keeps moving. One week, this is how you get there, and then once you get there, “No, no, no. You misunderstood. I meant this thing right here.” And so it changes and flows.
So how have white people responded? Outside of the [mocking voice] “Oh, I wish they would have told me,” which is centering their asses. How have they, in the actual corporate space, how have white people been able to use this? ‘Cause I want—no, before I say that, I’m gonna ask you this: how do you want them to use it? And then you can say how they’ve been using it.
Minda: Yeah, I like that question. So initially when the book came out, I would say mostly Black women were reading the book. And then I would hear from—so I went on book tour, I went to 50 cities—I can count on two hands how many white people were in the space. [Both laugh] But we got all these allies, OK? [Laughs]
Kim: Yes, exactly. All these white managers, CEOs, all these… Yeah, and they don’t show up. Yup, mhm. [Sarcastically, Minda laughing throughout] But they wanna know, they want to understand us. Yeah, mhm, go ahead.
Minda: They do. They do. Sincerely. [Both laugh] And so I said, “OK, fine.” But then I started to—as Black women were reading the book inside the company, they would tell their manager, they would tell HR, and be like, “Can we bring Minda in to talk about this book?” And so then from there I started to be a little more strategic, and so when I’m giving the talk, I would say, “And this is where managers come in, right? Our unconscious bias would say, ‘This book is just for people who look like me,’ but it’s actually just as much for you as it is for me.”
And so I would kind of drop those seeds, and then from there, more companies saw, “Oh well, if Nike invited her, then we can talk about this.” But it was scary at first because nobody wants to admit that racism might exist inside of this company. Right? [Laughs] And so…
Kim: And that’s why my default is, “It does, now let’s deal with that. It is not a question of if. It does. Can we deal with that?” [Laughs]
Minda: That part. So initially, before COVID, I would get invited to come in and do the talks, but there was apprehension; and I’m sure you’ve experienced too where they’d be like, “Well, what are you going to say? And what’s this? And this? We wanna know exactly what you’re going to say before you say it.”
And I’m like, “Listen, I have to eat too, I’m not gonna burn this place down, but I am going to empower people and say what I need to say.” [Laughs] And then as we’re in this now COVID-19 and we’re talkin’ about racism, managers and companies are like, “Yes, come in, talk about it.”
Kim: Oh, my god! White guilt pays well. [Minda laughs] I tell folx, “If you Black and professional and you not makin’ money right now, I don’t know what to tell you, because white guilt pays well.” ‘Cause this is not about you. This is not about Minda. This is not about Kim. This is white folx not wantin’ to feel bad, not wantin’ to be complicit in the harmin’ of other people that they have been complicit in up until now—as I said, the only thing that’s changed is we’re in a pandemic, we’re in lockdown, and they didn’t have anything to distract them. So, oh yes, now everybody wants all the knowledge.
Minda: They want all “The Memos.” [Kim laughs] They want all “The Memos.” [Both laugh] And so it’s been a weird juxtaposition, almost bittersweet.
Kim: Isn’t it?
Minda: Yeah, it’s been really weird. But what I do say is the one thing that I do have control over is—yes, it pays well now—but what I tell them is, “I can’t solve all your problems in a 70 minute Zoom call. This is going to take work.” I’m clear on that, too. “And here’s what I think—not me, but here’s some other people too that I think you could tap into.” And so I do feel like they’re listening in a way they weren’t listening before. And I don’t know about you, I don’t know how long they’re gonna be listening…
Kim: Oh, they won’t be long, ’cause they’re not active listening. [Minda laughs] They’re listening, but it’s not active, it’s not the digesting. It is, “Oh, they told me I’m going to feel a little discomfort. OK? I’m feeling that. Oh, I felt the discomfort? Oh, that’s the prescription of discomfort! Oh OK, I got that part!”
So now, oh yeah, they’re gettin’ bored. [Minda laughs] But this election is about to hit they ass. So I just sit back and I say, as I say all the time, “Black folx, please figure out how you’re gonna protect yourselves and the ones you love, because this election, whether… whomever wins, it’s not gonna be pretty. It is not gonna be a pretty thing, and the most vulnerable are gonna be harmed. And that’s us.”
And all this listening—because this is the thing: listening is not action. It’s hard to get these folx from listening and crying and all these things to actually doing action that we need them to do. Not the shit they think that we need. We don’t need you solvin’ our problems. I actually don’t want you in my face. What I actually want [Minda chuckles] is for you to open your network, open your resources, fund, and get the hell out the way. That’s what I want.
Because—definitely don’t speak for me. If I’m not talkin’ to leadership, I don’t wanna have the conversation because I don’t need you translating. Everybody’s played that doggone—what’s it called?—telephone game; it starts in one part of the circle, you get back to and then there’s the totally different message. This is too important for the message to get messed up and get filtered through white supremacy. I cannot do all that.
But I can tell you white guilt—I got so many emails and DMs, “Kim, I’m so sorry that I dismissed your work.” [Minda laughs] Before this happened, I would say 80% of the conferences—more than that—85% of the conferences I spoke to, I was reported for code of conduct violation. By participants, or a participant or whatever, and when organizers asked what the problem was, it was always “This is inappropriate. She offended me. This hurt my feelings. I didn’t feel comfortable.” Well, my third slide in my talks are always “My job is to make white people uncomfortable.” What did you not know about this?
And there’s an assumption that I was walkin’ down the street [Minda laughs] and these people just pulled me off the street like they didn’t know what I was. They hired me for this thing. But yet even in that, I’m supposed to, I’m telling you I’m about to make you uncomfortable, but yet I’m not supposed to make you uncomfortable while making you uncomfortable. No.
Minda: You’re not holdin’ their hands while you’re doing it. [Laughs]
Kim: Well, my whole point is I’m no longer responsible for your feelings. [Minda continues laughing] You need to get therapy. Learn to manage your feelings. Your feelings are no longer my concern. And that is why we tiptoe around, that’s why we don’t say… and I’m no longer responsible for your feelings. If your feelings get hurt, then you need to go talk to whoever you need to go talk to; it ain’t my issue. We all got our feelings. We’re adults. ‘Cause that’s all the people I deal with, because working with children and minors was just too much, too much responsibility I had, [both laugh] don’t wanna do that. I need to work with adults. And I’m no longer responsible for your feelings. If your feelings are hurt, what are your feelings? What? Your feelings trump my physical harm? I don’t think so. [Laughs]
Minda: Yeah, yeah, it’s true.
Kim: I also had that surreal juxtaposition, just like money was just comin’—I was like, “Where you? I knew y’all was around! Y’all just now just throwin’ money at folx right now. You’re just throwin’ money.”
Minda: Mhm, throwin’ it.
Kim: “Oh, you had it before, but you didn’t have it.” “Oh, we canna, we canna.” Before this, it was always, [in a mock victim voice] “Well, what is the budget? I really don’t think we have it in the budget.” And now it’s, “Oh, what do you need? Can you quote me a price? Oh, we wanna make sure—what’s your speaking fee?” Before when I said 7-10 thousand dollars, they were like, “Oh!” [Minda laughs] Now, “OK, let’s make sure that’s in the budget.” Oh, damn! That means that’s too low. I need to raise that!
Minda: [Laughs] Yeah, you definitely do. It’s just so weird how it’s all gone down. But, what I will say is, it should be going to us. [Laughs] And I think that if you want to fix—for example, you think about the system being created in corporate America or the tech spaces—white men predominantly were creating this system. They never intended for us to be there. [Kim laughs] And so now…. [Both laugh] didn’t even plan it, didn’t even…
Kim: Exactly! [Both laugh] Let’s talk about that. It never even crossed their mind that we would show up as professionals, not as being service to them. And there’s nothing wrong with bein’ an assistant, administrative assistant, or in there cleaning and cooking. Those roles were right for us, but to come in as their equals or superiors? Oh, no, they never planned for that.
Minda: Or to be managing you. They never intended for that to happen. So when we talk about the table, first of all, that table never intended for us to be there and so why would you think that—it’s gonna take a lot of time to undo, unlearn those bad behaviors. And if it’s been harming my community and my ancestors, yes, I should be the one that you should be paying to come in and have these conversations. [Laughs] I feel some kinda way if we’re not the first person you’re going to.
Kim: Oh, I definitely feel some kinda way that Robin DiAngelo’s book is number one, and she keeps makin’ money off Black pain, and her work is not even antiracist; it’s unconscious bias bullshit. I definitely feel some kinda way about that, because that is centering white people and makes them feel real comfortable at work, and havin’ a language that they think they can use.
And you just reminded—mmm, let me, let me read you this. [Minda laughs] So as we’re recording this, today is September 21st. And this is—so there was a Twitter brouhaha about their algorithms and how it picked white faces over Black faces that’s been goin’ on all weekend. And so, of course they bring out the crisis communications person, the person who deals with crisis management, because, as I often say and it’s one of the guiding principles, “Lack of inclusion is a risk, and increasingly, a crisis management issue.”
This is her statement to this: “Thanks to everyone who raised this. We tested for bias before shipping the model and didn’t find evidence of racial or gender bias in our testing. But it’s clear that we’ve got more analysis to do. Will open source our work so others can review and replicate.”
This is bullshit. The reason you didn’t—hold on, I wanna make sure I use—the reason your tests did not indicate bias or show bias is ’cause your tests are biased. And this is going back—and I’m reading this because this goes back to what you just said—if you’re not asking the people who are harmed how to do this work, all you’re doin’ is replicating harm. And yet you think open sourcing, which now you want our free labor to help you; Twitter is a multibillion dollar valuated company. Why are you doin’… Yeah, I get open source. Open source whatever you learn, but the community should not be doing that work for you.
Minda: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that that is part of dismantling systemic racism is there has to be a cost for them. And if it’s paying or consulting, but they definitely have to talk to us. And back to Robin DiAngelo, I’m sure her work is fine and helps a lot of different people, but she is not Black. There’s only so much… [laughs]
Kim: But lemme talk about her work. The reason I no longer use her work—’cause I used to use her work—is because it is academic. And that’s the difference between quantitative—when people rely solely on quantitative—while hers is qualitative. No, no, it’s quantitative. I think it is a quantitative method. But it’s when you don’t have the lived experience. So hers is—let me put it this way—her work is academic. It makes sense if you’re going to be discussin’ it in an academic setting, in a classroom, or whatever. When you take that out into the real world, it causes harm.
Because now white folx have a language, but they don’t do any work behind it. So now you’re gettin’ gaslit with the language of inclusion. And, all caps, [Minda laughs] she’s not Black. It’s like, “What the hell!” [Minda laughs] And that work is not antiracist. It is about unconscious bias. [Laughs]
Minda: Mhm. And if people are getting—I was speaking at a place that she recently spoke at, and they were telling me, “Oh, well, white people are very uncomfortable with what she had to say in the room, so I don’t know how they’re gonna feel when they hear what you have to say.” I’m like, “That’s not my concern.” [Both laugh] It is what it is. This is my story.
Kim: And that’s the thing: if a white person can’t prime them for this, what… If you are getting information about unconscious bias—unconscious bias!—which is everybody has unconscious bias—if you’re uncomfortable about that, you’re not ready for antiracist work.
And I’m not doin’ it because all that’s gonna do is harm people, ’cause what’s gonna happen is, what you’re not gonna do is say, “Well, we had a training by Kim, so we’re all good.” Oh, hell, no. [Both laugh] That’s what you won’t ever get to say, because you will get blasted out for that. [Minda laughs] ‘Cause I will have the receipts of everything. We did a 45 minute talk, or we did a two hour workshop, that’s all we got, so I don’t know where they gettin’ this from. [Both laugh]
Minda: Exactly. They have budget for this. [Laughs]
Kim: No, no, no. I ain’t gonna say that. See, I’m not even gonna say they have budget for this. I’m gonna say this is what they were willing to spend.
Minda: There you go. There you go.
Kim: Because they got budget for that beer they’re bringin’ in every day. They got budget to repair that pool table. They got budget to have these little swanky retreats. They got budget for that stuff. Because that makes them feel good.
Minda: Yeah, they don’t want to pay for what doesn’t feel good.
Kim: And I get that. That’s human nature. But also about stuff that doesn’t feel good, once it’s over, there’s so much growth in that. Even the most traumatic experiences teaches us something. I don’t wanna deal with them. I want to avoid them at all costs, [laughs] but there’s a lesson in everything. Everything. If it’s nothing more than I’ve learned that not to trust those people, that environment, that whatever that is.
And for folx to just—but this is the thing, most of these companies are used to doin’ a risk management assessment, where, “OK, we gonna put some money in an account, because we know we about to get sued on this.” So they’re used to doing that calculation. What calculation they’re not used to doing is an antiracist calculation, or a racism calculation, or a white supremacy calculation, ’cause that’s what’s hittin’ ’em. That’s where you get folx who—and this is why I tell people it’s that crisis management—you have an employee on their off work time, now they’re causin’ a problem for your company on they off-work time, because they done did or said somethin’ that they then got recorded doing. And now as a company, you have to make a statement.
Minda: Mhm, you see that on LinkedIn. [Both laugh]
Kim: Yeah. So increasingly—’cause we’re comin’ after you. Folx taggin’, not only the CEO, they taggin’ his mama, his grandma, they taggin’ everybody. So this is my point. I couldn’t care less if you come at it from that angle. Just get the work done! ‘Cause we all benefit when the work gets—I don’t care why you’re doin’ the work—just get the work done.
Minda: And I think you hit it on the head. The work has to be done, because we are gonna make the workplace better from you at least being exposed to this. Right? Then you can choose if you want to participate or not, whatever have you. But at least you can’t say that I didn’t know.
Kim: That’s my thing. That’s my thing. I want to remove any—because as I say, spot the pattern: whiteness only gets cast in hero or victim, and never villain—I wanna remove that. I want you to make an explicit either statement or action that communicates “I had this information and I chose to do this harmful thing.”
Because if I don’t remove all the different ways you can squirm around that, you gonna get out of it. That’s why my boundaries are so strict. That’s why I do not—it is always consistent. This is child rearin’ right here. [Minda laughs] It is! For consistency, if you want your child to understand something, you don’t change the rules every time. This is the rule. This is how it is. And this is the consequences every single time. So you get this.
This is how I do this, this is classroom management. Because if I give you a wiggle room, because of whiteness is always hero or victim, they will figure out a way to get around it. And nope, I’m not doin’ that. I’m removin’ all of that, because I want you, and all those people around you, particularly those people who are most vulnerable, who you can harm, to see for themselves that you’ve made a choice now. It’s not out of ignorance. It’s not complicit. You’re not being complicit, you’re active. You’re makin’ the decision to cause active harm. And most people don’t wanna do that. [Laughs]
Minda: They definitely don’t want to. Because it sounds different, right? “Oh, I gave you the information and now you’re choosing not to do it. You’re choosing to harm me. [Laughs] That’s what you’re saying? Is that what you’re committing to?” [Laughs]
Kim: And once you frame it like that, it’s like, “Oh shit, now I’m… oh, wait a minute. Wait. No, no, no! That’s not what I meant!” “Oh, but that’s what you’ve just said. Did you not just say—because I record everything—is that not what you just said?” “Oh, but, that’s not what…” “No, no, no. I don’t care what you meant. That’s what you said. And that’s what your behavior is demonstrating.”
So I’m not makin’ this up—because again, we make stuff up, we lyin’ on them. Nope, nope, nope, nope. And this is one thing also is a risk management, crisis management, y’all don’t realize—because as you said before, how we’ve had to learn it, because we weren’t meant to be in these spaces—we document every damn thing. Woo! We got receipts upon receipts upon receipts, so this is where y’all need to be… baby, we might be sittin’ in the corner, sittin’ in the cut, not sayin’ nothing, but boy, trust me, somebody got a journal they writin’ this. [Kim laughs] They archivin’ emails. [Continues laughing]
Minda: Everything! I often say when I’m gonna talk, I say, “Listen, just because the Black woman is smilin’ at you every day on the Zoom call, don’t mean that everything is all good.” [Laughs hard]
Kim: As soon as she gets off—because this is what happens, right?—as soon as she gets off and she checks and make sure she’s logged off first, she’s like, “these motherfuckers!” [Both laugh]
Minda: And we get in our notepad and we get to writin’ it down.
Kim: We’ve got a secret folder that can’t nobody get to on our Google Drive. [Laughs]
Minda: Man. When I was writing the book, I had one chapter called “Everybody Can’t Be a Golden Girl,” and I had pulled out my list of things and I’m like, “What do I wanna say about this situation? I just gotta pick about three out of the fifty.” [Laughs]
Minda: “I just gotta pick about three out of the fifty.” [Laughs]
Kim: Because we have a whole bunch of it. We have a whole—I mean I could write a book on the stuff that—it’s just like, “Yes, just archive…” and then the only thing I can tell you—I don’t like Dr Kendi’s work anymore. I think it’s harmful at this point. And that’s a story for another day. But one thing I did get out of that book that I agree with, I don’t call them “microaggressions.” It’s abuse. And I’m not gonna let you actively abuse me anymore. I may not be able to stop it, but I at least can call it out.
Minda: It’s an assault. It’s an assault. No way around it.
Kim: And “microaggressions” is a nice little word for y’all to use to get around actually what it is.
Minda: Yeah, but it’s racism. It’s assaulting. It’s harmful. It’s no different than being sexually harassed at work, or assaulted at work. It’s painful, it’s harmful, and it’s traumatic. And I…
Kim: And it’s something we’ll play over and over. We don’t just walk away from that.
Minda: No, no. Over and over.
Kim: Yeah. “Oh, can I touch your hair?” “Oh, what you havin’ for lunch? That looks…”—all that shit y’all do, we are documenting. [Minda laughs] And you don’t want us to collectively come together. [Laughs]
Minda: No, because we have it—you talked about power too. We haven’t even, when they say, “Oh, don’t play the race card, don’t do this,” we haven’t even done all the things we could have done by now. You know what I mean? That’s what they don’t understand. [Laughs]
Kim: Girl, I tell people all the time. I was like, “The fact that we don’t get in our cars and mow over white people on a daily basis, tells you about our own humanity”. Because the things that have been done to us generationally deserve that. Because y’all get pissed off about wearin’ masks. Look how violent y’all are about wearin’ masks. And we’re talkin’ about our lives here.
That’s another reason I don’t wanna hear nothing—y’all have nothing. Mediocre, unremarkable, nothing you say I care less about. I don’t. Unless you—I lean on Black academics, that’s who are my go-to; and then white people who I see actively doing the work in anti-oppression, pro-Black work, who are doing that work, I go to next. And then anybody else. And it’s not even about—it’s not that they have degrees, it’s that they’ve committed their lives to studying this. That’s what it is. It’s not the degree that matters to me. It is people who have demonstrated a commitment to understanding this stuff. And if you can’t demonstrate a commitment to do this, there’s nothing—this is not some random conversation.
That’s why randos on Twitter… I love—I wanted to go back to the fact that you said you had a strategy. How you were going to get the book out when you realized that you were getting gaslit, and it was like, “Oh, I need a strategy.” Strategy is our greatest weapon in all of this, because all of the stuff that is now, was strategic. And if we’re not strategic, we’re never gonna—you cannot fight strategy with just intention. It just doesn’t work.
Minda: Yeah, I totally agree. And I think that—you made a really great point in terms of what happens after this next election—it’s gonna be strategy on the part of us now, because it’s past just survival. We’ve been doing that. But now we have to enter into a new phase, and it’s really strategy. And I do see that too, for the workplace too. We’re giving all these tools, all these resources, all these books, and it’s really gonna be—again, unfortunately—white people are gonna have to decide, where do you fit into this? Do you want to rock with us and let’s have a workplace that works for everybody? Or are you gonna continue to uphold white supremacy? And if that’s what it is, and then that’s a different conversation. Right? [Laughs]
Kim: Thank you! I say that all the time, because at least then you know. Now we’re having a different conversation—once I backed you into a corner, and painted you into a corner, and now you’ve shown yourself, now we can have an honest conversation. Anything else is not honest. Everything else is some bullshit that you’re used to throwin’ it out there and people hook on—that’s why I tell people all the time; I’ll tweet, “Stop engagin’ with this white supremacist. Stop, you’re wasting your time. [Minda laughs] Stop doing it.”
I sent out some tweets yesterday when this one dude, and he kept going—and I say it all the time, given enough time and enough pressure, they will show themselves. My job is to expose it. Once I expose it, it’s time to stop engaging, because now we know what that is. You can’t engage—stop trying to teach a person who believes that somebody else’s existence, their humanity, is wrong. Who’s questioning, or who’s trying to legislate somebody else’s humanity. No, we’re not having those conversations with people. And they happen in the workplace. And they happen in very subtle ways in the workplace, because they can’t say that very loudly. But it’s the same stuff that we see on Twitter that’s happening in the workplace.
Minda: Absolutely. And that’s where I’m of the mindset, OK, even when we talk about the election right now, I hate to go back to it, but all these people consider they’re allies. They’re managers, they’re leaders and companies, you could say you didn’t know about the current administration however many times you want, but if we go back into the same road again, it’s a different conversation. [Laughs]
Kim: Thank you. Exactly. I tell people the same thing: y’all have—again, hero or victim. Y’all got to play the victim and call it economic anxiety. That was at 2016. You’ve seen what happened from 2016 to now. White folx choosing him is white people’s problem. That is on y’all. I refuse to let y’all get out of it. If he wins again, trust for four years, all I’m gonna talk about is white people. This is yo fault. This is not our fault. You can call—this is not no “low information” Black people. No, this is all on white people.
And this is where I say that the election—so being in a pandemic, Floyd was the first—being in a pandemic, if he loses, between November and January is gonna be absolute hell. White supremacy is designed for chaos and destruction. They are going to try to destroy everything they can between now.
And then the other option that he gets four more years? All I can do is say, “Black people, find your community. Make sure everybody is safe. And get your head down.” Because it is gonna be wild out here. It is absolutely. And, for the first time—’cause this is why I also say white supremacy is the parasite that’s eatin’ on its host. It’s not just gonna be us. It’s gonna be white folx this time.
Minda: Oh, yeah, because of class. You know what I mean? It’s a class system at this—it’s so many different castes and class. But it’s interesting, though, and for me, that’s why I’m like, “OK, let’s have these conversations,” because that will really be determining what happens in the workplace too. Because if they feel that we don’t have to have these conversations anymore [Kim whoops] or whatever have you… [laughs]
Kim: Just like Facebook—Zuck, [Mark Zuckerberg] I think he’s the most dangerous, mediocre, unremarkable man in tech—just put out a memorandum within his company: no more political conversations at all or whatever, because they’re polarizing. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. That’s because y’all keep perpetuatin’ the lie that all speech is equal. It is not. And the whole, “Oh, conservatives are being under attack.” No, no, no, no, you’re not under attack. You’ve always been the majority. The only thing that’s changed is now other people are in the space, and your shit that you saying is being challenged.
So it’s not that you don’t get to say it. [Minda laughs] It’s the fact that when you say it, you know enough to shut yo mouth now, where in the past you got to say whatever the hell you said. You know enough now to know that you say that shit in public, there will be consequences. In the past—so you’re absolutely right, if he gets four more years, it is gonna be a shit show. And it’s going to hit these white folx. And you better get ready because we ’bout to get paid, [Minda laughs] ’cause it’s gonna be a whole lot of folx talking about antiracism at this point. Because now it’s on them. Now it’s gonna be—all the veneer’s gone, all the fake, all the niceties will be gone. It will be just pure, unadulterated white supremacy, chaos and destruction.
Minda: Yeah. And centering back on us—it’s unfortunate that in the dominant majority that they get to dictate what that’s like—but back to your point, we have the strategy. If we have our strategies in place, then we know what—we are resilient—we know what that’s like. [Laughs]
Kim: We gonna come out of this four years beat up. We’re gonna come out of this four years, if he gets elected, we’ll come out of the other end of four years, beat up, but we will still be movin’. They on the other hand, do not have the skills that we have. That’s another thing. They do not have the resiliency skills that we have. They do not have the creativity. They do not—they cannot handle this kind of stress and pressure without losing it. They’re gonna have—them, four more years of this is going to be a problem.
Minda: Yeah, we already know. We’ve prepared ourselves. We knew what… [laughs]
Kim: Girl, we got 400 years of this shit. [Both laugh]
Minda: We know. [Laughs]
Kim: We’ve been in communities since we were born tellin’ us, “Hey, this is what you need to do. This is how you need to do this. This is… OK, this is…” We have all—we got lineage of this. And that’s one thing that does sadden me, really saddens me about COVID, is it is taking out the wisdom of our community. Whereas white people—and this is what I tell people, the reason Blacks and people of color were hit, because we were essential workers. That’s what the initial thing.
We don’t put our family in nursin’ homes in masses like they do. Our mawmaw and pawpaw gonna be at the house until they die. And so it’s hittin’ them ’cause their families are in these spaces where—let’s be honest, to us that’s just giving your family away. That’s how our community sees that. We’re not doin’ that. Unless there’s—my grandfather was in the nursing home at the end of his life because he was a amputee, he had diabetes, he had dementia that turned into Alzheimer’s. We couldn’t handle him at home for his own safety. That was the only reason he was in a nursing home. Anything else, he would have been there until he died. I nursed my dad until he died of cancer in our home. We don’t do that.
And that’s why—because we have that community; whiteness doesn’t have that, it’s all about the individual—and that’s why they were willin’ to sacrifice the elderly at the beginning of this thing. “Go back to work.” And this is what’s hitting them: they don’t have the skills. And how are they going to survive this? By looking to Black people. That’s how you’re gonna survive this. And this is what they need to know now. The runway is short, folx.
Minda: Yeah. Well, I’ll say this, I hope that we don’t have another four years of what’s going on right now, and that people are active listening and activating what they’re learning and reading and seeing that we’re just gonna continue history repeating itself in a different form if not.
All those people—I’m sure you heard it—when I was growing up, my white friends would say, “If I was around during slavery, I never would have… I would have taken you,” and all that stuff. [Kim sighs] And it’s like, “OK, well, this is a version of it right now. So what are you going to do when it counts?” Obviously we’re not enslaved in that way, but every generation has a uprising moment; you either get to be courageous or you get to be cautious. And which one is it going to be? You know? [Laughs nervously]
Kim: I would say courageous or cowardly, I wouldn’t even say cautious; ’cause at this point, they’re cowardly. But also, this is a watershed moment, ’cause the first time it’s not just hitting us. In the past, those movements before, was all about us—protecting us. This is a moment that we all get out of this shit together, or we don’t get out of this at all. This is what this is. This is collective. And who has the lived experience, the expertise to help guide this? It’s Black folx. And that’s just—it’s the sad truth, but it’s the leverage we have that we’ve never been able to use before. [Both laugh]
So this moment has—I don’t know about you—but this moment has been… it’s been weird. Because it has highlighted—I want to be careful how I say this—that there’s a learned experience in everything, as I said before. And even as descendants of slaves, we have something to offer that could save this globe that no one else has.
Minda: Yeah. Why do you think they keep—I know you know why—but why do people keep saying, “Black women, Black women”? They’re looking to us! Because they know we know how to get stuff done. We know how to turn 15 cents into a dollar. [Kim laughs] We know how to do all that stuff. And you’re right. I think when we talk about leadership, it’s really, it will be us that leads us through just like Harriet Tubman and…
Kim: Exactly! Our collective liberation is through Black women. [Emphatically] Our collective liberation is through Black women. I would not—as hard as my life has been—I would not want to be anything else right now. I sit in all the Black women that came before me that had to protect their families from the harm of—literal physical harm—of being sold, being beaten, being raped, being killed. And we’re still here. Nothing that white supremacy has ever created has destroyed us.
Minda: No. And that’s a beautiful thing. That’s when you know…
Kim: Oh man, doesn’t that give you such pride?
Minda: It does. It really does, because they’ve tried so hard. And we still keep on keepin’ on.
Kim: And we still do it, and we can figure out a way to smile and find joy. That’s an affront to ’em right there. You can harm us, and yet you and I can be on here laughin’ and gigglin’ and smilin’, ’cause I see your beautiful Black face and I’m like, “Ah!” [Minda laughs] I see myself in that. And we have that. And because we have community.
Minda: Yep. And that’s gonna be the part when we do feel like, “Man, are we here again?” We have each other. And we don’t have to go through this alone.
Kim: Yeah. [Kim sighs] This is amazing conversation! What would you like to say in the closing moments?
Minda: Wow. I appreciate this. I’m just relishing in our ancestors’ strength. They passed it on to us. It’s in our blood, and we can make it through anything. We have the baton right now, and we get to pass it off to the next, and it’s what we do right now—back to the strategy—it’s how we strategize, it’s how we mobilize that will get us to the next point, and I’m excited. I’m optimistic about how we, as Black people, really get to—we’re direct beneficiaries of our ancestors’ courage and their mobility, and we get to be that for the next generation. And I’m ready to do what needs to be done for them.
Kim: You just filled my spirit. Thank you so—this is goin’ to church. [Laughs]
Minda: [Laughing] Amen. Thank you.
Kim: Thank you, sista. Was great talking to you.
Kim: All right. Bye bye.