IT ALL BEGINS WITH A CONVERSATION
Chatting WITH Sheri so easily first at my house and then in more of an "official" capacity on a FriYAYs WITH Kyla episode, I realized in my own life, I was not as progressive/open as my ego would like others to believe. I found myself stereotyping groups of people before even giving them the benefit of the doubt; in situations where I was outnumbered (by race, gender, etc), I would not voice my own opinion; I would be friendly to certain groups of people and not to others based solely on their outward appearance. And the list goes on.
Ok, so now what?
HOW CAN WE HAVE UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS?
This is the question I asked Sheri in our FriYAYs WITH Kyla session. She had started her own group addressing issues surrounding the global racism she had experience in her own life, and as an inter-racial couple (her husband is a white Dutch man). I expected she would give me some concrete steps I would have to follow, I was bracing myself to write them down in my journal. Instead she simply replied in her always down-to-earth way, "Just don't call them uncomfortable." Whoa. It was the labeling that made the conversations scary, intimidating, and want you to run screaming in the other direction.
Hanging out with women recently, I have noticed some subtle microaggressions here and there. Some of the women had talked about how they had done additional exercise over the weekend. I know we are all supportive of each other, and not ill-intentioned, but somehow there were several subtle microaggressive comments that came out in response: "Oh, that's really intimidating!" or "Oh that is really annoying!" It made me think about labeling, about how I can be microaggressive AT myself and AT others, but also how we can create change around it. Just as much as Sheri says we don't have to call conversations around more challenging topics "uncomfortable" we also can create positive change around every day conversations. I found myself saying in response to what the other women were saying, "That's so inspiring!"
Do you remember when you were in elementary school or heck even as an adult, and you said or did something so you could fit in more? Belong more? (I'll just speak for myself here!) When I left Hong Kong at the age of 14 and started boarding school in California, I lost my British accent quick because that was what differentiated me from everyone else. I didn't know at the time, and every other time I have done something like that to fit in, but it was because I wanted to belong. It struck me that when we say or do something to fit in, we are not only NOT fitting in WITH ourselves, but often making other people feel bad in the process. Listening to Brené Brown recently, it further dawned on me when she said, "You don't have to belong to a group. You can belong to yourself." Whoa.
After the session WITH Sheri, we talked for another hour on having uncomfortable -> inspirational conversations. In full vulnerability, I admitted to her all of the times I had stereotyped people, I had thrown microaggressions AT people, how I had even done this AT my own husband's family. She responded by saying reassuringly, "You didn't know at the time. Now you know. So now you can create change around it." I told her about how I had noticed I didn't smile at darker skinned men. So last week at two different restaurants, sitting at tables next to first an Indian gentleman and then two African gentlemen, I found myself smiling WITH them. Sharing the story WITH Sheri, I could see how excited she was that her own INSPIRING conversation she started WITH me had created change just like that.
P.S. For a podcast addressing uncomfortable conversations, check out my friend Sara's new podcast: Dear White Women
*Dedicated + Inspired to people like Sheri who are creating change WITH one conversation at a time*