Guest Austin Channing Brown talks about faith, work and the invisible burden of being a black woman in the workplace. Austin is a leading voice on racial justice, author of I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, and producer and host of The Next Question, a video web series expanding our imaginations for what racial justice can be. Watch now at www.TNQShow.com
Matthew 21:12-13 (NRSV)
Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.
Additional Resources Referenced
I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
The Next Question, a video web series expanding our imaginations for what racial justice can be, produced and hosted by Austin Channing Brown
Minorities Who 'Whiten' Job Resumes Get More Interviews, Harvard Business School, 2017
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Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.
Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work
LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.
MR: I’m Mark Roberts
LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.
LA: Today, we're excited to have guest Austin Channing Brown talking about the invisible burden of being a black woman in the workplace. Austin is a leading voice on racial justice. She's the author of I'm Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. Austin is committed to exploring the intersections of racial justice, faith and black womanhood. Her first book released in May 2018, shot to the top 20 of Amazon's best seller list. And for months, it has continued to sit in the top 20 in the categories of Christian social issues and memoirs of social activists. Her writing can be found in Sojourners Magazine and in Relevant Magazine, among other places, around the web. And Austin is the producer and host of The Next Question, which is a video web series expanding our imaginations for what racial justice can be. You can find The Next Question at the web address tnqshow.com. Welcome, Austin.
Austin Channing Brown: Thanks so much for having me.
LA: Thank you so much for being here. So Austin, the origin story of your name is actually closely tied to the concept of work. For those of our listeners who haven't read your book, could you just tell us a little bit about your name.
AB: Sure. So I have always known that I had a "boy's name", mostly because when you're still in elementary school, you kinda still sit on opposite sides of the classroom in giant groups. And teachers would always look at the boys section to try to find me. And I'd be doing jumping jacks on the opposite side of the room going, "Over here. Over here." So I was very, very used to people being confused by my name. But there was a day when I went to the library, I gave the librarian my card and she said, "Is this yours?" And I said, "I think." And she said, "This card says Austin." I said, "Oh, I see what's happening here. Yes, I realize I'm a girl but my name is Austin." And she said, "Are you sure? And I thought, "Am I sure about my name? I don't even understand the question. What are you asking me?" And it was that moment that I demanded that my mother tell me why she named me Austin. And she sat me down and she said, "Honey, one day you will have to apply for jobs or apply for school, apply for college." She said, "We knew that when anyone looked at your application, they would assume you're a white man."
And she said, "We just wanted to make sure you made it to the interview." And my first thought was actually, "Oh, that's why people are confused all the time." [laughter] I thought, and I realized that every time... Austin isn't a super popular name. So it confuses me every time I'm somewhere and there's someone else in the room named Austin. But it dawned on me that every time that happened to me, the other Austin was always a white boy and I had never noticed it before. And so, yeah, that sort of became my journey, I teased my parents all the time, and tell them that they decided this was gonna be my career as soon as they named me.
LA: That explaining your name was gonna be part of your career?
AB: I think just the whole concept, that you have to give a black girl, a white man's name, in order to make it in the world, at least in the world of America, and it works. I think that's what so surprising, people are very, very confused if they see my name before they've seen me.
LA: There was this really interesting study in 2017 by Harvard Business School where they put a bunch of applications in front of hiring managers and resumes that were "whitened", they were scrubbed of some racial details, fared much better than resumes where their ethnic information was left in. And I'm looking at the statistics in front of me. It was 25% of black candidates received a call back if their resumes were whitened in some way, but only 10% received a call back if they left in ethnic details which will concern include affiliation in a racial organization. And this is just a study in 2017.
AB: That's right.
LA: This isn't even back then when your parents gave you the name.
AB: That's right. That's right.
LA: It speaks to the lack of progress.
AB: For sure. For sure. People, especially in the '90s and inching into the 2000s, it was still pretty popular for people to say that they were color-blind when it comes to race and it's something that I've, whenever I have a training, I jokingly tell everyone to close their eyes and then raise their hands if they have forgotten what race I am or if they don't know, right.
"Did anybody in this moment, forget that I'm a black woman?" And even though I say that tongue-in-cheek, the truth is, is that any time I walk into a room, particularly for business, so whether I am the trainer or if I'm the director or if I'm interviewing for a job, the looks of confusion that I see fall over people's faces tells me that this world is absolutely not color-blind 'cause if it was, it would make no difference, that I wasn't what you expected. But I have found time and time again that people are confused, people feel deceived, people immediately don't trust me. I've had a number of sometimes scary, not usually scary, but occasionally scary interactions with people who felt like they got tricked because they thought I was gonna be a white guy and I'm not.
Mark Roberts: You know Austin as you tell the story, the context in which you were named the social context is obviously painful and wrong. And so even before you were born, you had parents who were sort of weighing the social context and making hard decisions in that.
AB: That's right, that's right.
AB: The truth is, is that I don't know very many parents of color who don't spend a ton of time trying to weigh whether or not to give their child a "American" name or an ethnic name, and the choice is a real burden for a lot of people, because parents want their child to be proud of who they are, proud of their background, proud of their language, but also have to contend with the realities of those statistics that were named earlier.
LA: Now you said your parents wanted to make sure in naming you Austin that you could get to the interview stage. Now, talk to us about what happens when you get past the interview stage?
AB: Oy vey. So let's talk about the interview for just a second.
AB: Because often people are so surprised that they say so in the interview. So at some point someone will say, "We really thought you were gonna be a guy." And if they're really brave, they'll say, "A white guy."
AB: But I just want to...
LA: And what do you say to that, like…?
AB: Well exactly, I mean that... How do you respond to that, right? And I usually say, "Yeah that's on purpose," is usually what I say because it was, it was on purpose for my parents. And I... I think that speaks to how complex it is for me, right, because I walk in and people have an expectation that they're going to meet a white guy with all of my credentials and then they see me and I watch them look at my resume again to figure out what those credentials mean now. Am I more impressive. Am I less impressive? Should they have known? Did they miss where I wrote about that sorority I'm in?
AB: So it's a really awkward dance for the first, I'd say, probably 10 minutes of the interview before I am more captivating than my name is. After the interview gets tricky, too, depending on how much anti racism work, the organization has done. So I will say that. Organizations who really are doing the work of anti-racism typically fare better, but those who are not, who are just enjoying diversity who just really like to talk about their percentage numbers that gets a little tricky for me many, many times and not just me, but a lot of black women.
MR: And how would that show up? That tricky-ness?
AB: Yeah, I think that a lot of white organizations think of themselves as normal average organizations, where everything they define is how everyone would define. So the way white organizations define leadership or define speaking well or define professionalism, define what it means to be a great team member. And those things are all culturally defined and so it confuses white people. [chuckle] When, let's say a black woman doesn't wanna go to lunch with you, like the whole team goes to lunch together and a black woman is like, "No, thank you." That feels like an offense. As opposed to a black woman just wanting to listen to the Tom Joyner morning show during her lunch break. You know what I mean? [chuckle] I'd say that the leadership one is classic, because oftentimes how black women show up as leaders isn't culturally the same as how white men would show up as a leader. And so it can be very tricky for a black woman to say "Here's how I am gifted. And this is an asset to your organization" if the organization hasn't thought through how it is defining very loaded cultural terms.
LA: How do you know when you can speak up or push back?
AB: Oh gosh, it's so hard. The truth is that you only learn by doing. And unfortunately, once you've done it then it's too late. [chuckle]
LA: Can you give us...
AB: Yeah, I’m trying to think of an example… Yeah, okay, so I'm sitting in a board meeting and I'm sharing my idea and someone at the table cuts me off. And I say, "Hey I haven't finished my thought, yet. Would you mind if I just finish my thought?" and then I do. The conversation moves on, I speak again, the same thing happens and I say, "Hey do you mind if I just finished my thought?" The third time it happens, I say, "Listen it seems like every time I'm in the middle of my thought someone interrupts me. Would it be okay if I had a chance to just complete the full thought and then would love to have discussion around it", right, So that is me, naming a problem that I'm seeing [chuckle] everyone keeps interrupting me, please, stop interrupting me. Later I have my supervisor come to my door and say, "Austin that just seemed a little aggressive. And people are feeling intimidated by you, they're feeling like you're not offering them very much grace. We all get interrupted from time to time. It almost felt like you were accusing us of something. So if you could just tone it down a little bit and not be quite so aggressive that would be great."
LA: And how does that affect you, that conversation?
AB: Well, it tells me that speaking up, wasn't the right thing to do, right? It tells me now then I'm in danger, so I have named what I've seen as a problem and now I am considered a problem by the organization. And that's a scary place to be, 'cause now I have to, I have to be in charge of the emotional reaction of my own supervisor.
AB: Does that make sense?
MR: Yeah. You know, I'm just struck and I know Austin this is super obvious to you, and probably to everybody, but there's kind of the double whammy so 'cause part of what you described, I'm reminded of a lot of what Sheryl Sandberg talks about in Lean in. Of course, as a white woman. You have the woman part of you and the black part of you. And that loads it even more, right?
AB: That's right, that's right.
MR: Yeah, It makes sense, but it's... Yeah, it's distressing to hear but it's important to hear.
LA: So Austin, how do you decide when you've experienced something that makes you fearful, fearful for your job or fearful for your livelihood? And it's a distressing experience how do you... How do you weigh what to do in that situation?
AB: Oh man. It's really difficult. I think what most black women try to do is find an ally, find someone who saw it, who can confirm that I'm not crazy. That every time I speak someone interrupts me just to name that I haven't lost my mind that I'm not making it up that I'm not being over-sensitive, that I'm not being graceless. And oftentimes, in Christian organizations...
AB: How do I say this? Oftentimes in Christian organizations, the retribution is Christianized. So it's that I'm not gracious enough, I'm not kind enough, I'm not letting God work in my life. My supervisor starts to wonder whether or not God really wants me here. It quickly becomes not just about the work environment, but about my soul, and about my vocation, and about my own ability to hear God speaking in my life, which is a lot to weigh by yourself if you do feel isolated. And so oftentimes what black women will do is try to find someone in the organization, even if only behind closed doors who will say, "Yes, this is really happening to you." And it's honestly, it's just a bonus if someone is actually willing to speak on your behalf and say, "Austin is absolutely right and we need to stop doing this."
LA: And how do you, for your own self, how do you bring God back in or how do you connect with God?
AB: Oy vey. So, I personally, when I find myself in the midst of organizations that were not practicing anti-racism, I had to make it a point to affirm myself and affirm my culture. So I remember distinctly one thing I did was created a YouTube playlist that was nothing but black sermons, and I didn't care who it was, it really didn't matter to me. There are obviously like amazing sermons out there, but for me what was more important, honestly, than even the content was the cadence of a black preacher, the deep voice of a black preacher, the way black preachers often read the Bible, the way they interpret story and narrative, the catch phrases that are very common in the black church spaces. I just needed the way we do things to be affirmed and to remind myself that the culture I was in was just one way of doing things, and that there was nothing inferior about the culture that I come from.
LA: Were there any specific Scriptures that these preachers brought up that really spoke to you in your work situation?
AB: I do remember one of the preachers that probably had four, five sermons on my list was Jeremiah Wright. And Jeremiah Wright became very, very famous as a result of President Barack Obama. SO, for those who are not a fan, I'm gonna just let that be. But again, for me, because his black preaching style is so prominent, and so for lack of a better word, black, it was just really affirming. And what he is masterful at is looking at Scripture and seeing those who are marginalized, seeing those who are on the underside of power, seeing those who are homeless or in poverty, or being crushed by the Romans, or there was so much of his sermonizing that is rooted in making the underdog feel seen. And that was really important to me to know that over and over and over and over again in Scripture that God is for the marginalized, and I needed to know that.
AB: And I think the other thing that was really helpful is other black women who could point to Scripture and say, "Oh, look. Here's where God was angry." And here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here, right? Who could say there's nothing wrong with the emotions that you're feeling, which is often laid at the feet of black women when we're being told that we're not being Christian enough essentially, and to have other black women say, "Oh, no. God, Jesus," range of emotions, range of emotions. And again, just being so edifying when you feel so starved.
LA: Do you have a favorite example from Scripture about God being angry?
AB: Oh, man. Well, there are, there are so many in the Old Testament, right? But I think it has to be is Jesus turning over the tables in the temple. And I know that's a super common one to be used, but I get it. I get Jesus walking in and seeing how culture has manipulated what is supposed to be a religious spiritual experience and being angry about that. And I think it's an anger that a lot of Black Christians feel, when they get to be a part of a ministry that they believe in and then are in so many ways left out because of the culture of the organization.
LA: And it's also a story that has to do with work right?
AB: That's true.
LA: This is in Matthew 21, and Jesus comes into the area of the temple where people are doing commerce. They're buying and selling, and he over turns the tables and makes the actual, like a whip. It does sound a little bit of a violent showing of force there over the issue that all people don't have access to this area of the temple that was supposed to be the area where all nations could come in and worship God. And so, it's an access issue that he's protesting against in a way that has some economic ramifications.
AB: For sure. It's such a beautiful piece of Scripture when you are the person who's being left out. Right? To imagine that Jesus is upset by that. And as opposed to Jesus just wanting me to be more like white people so that I'll fit in-- which is often the narrative that's given--that Jesus isn't mad at me, that Jesus is mad at the leadership, who who are being exclusive rather than inclusive.
LA: It really lets us reflect on scripture in a different way. This is giving me an idea of the way that I reflect on the Scripture have so much to do with where I'm at. At the moment. At the moment, I'm looking at it, and you come to Scripture with a different set of eyes.
LA: I do, which is in scripture is there meeting us for both of the situations we are. I wanted to mention, there's this beautiful part of the end your book where you talk about finding God in the shadow of hope. It's not this dominant narrative that we... We find God when everything is rosy and perfect and the curtain closes on a beautiful movie and everything's been reconciled. Could you talk a little bit more about how that idea has been true to you? Finding God in the shadow of hope?
AB: Yeah, I think the first thing to say is that I, along with a lot of Americans have been deeply impacted by all the events that we would now call Black Lives Matter, by the protests in Ferguson, by the number of black people who have been murdered by the police, the protests in Baltimore. And the list just goes on and on and on and on, very tender racial moments that we have experienced as a nation in the last five or six years, and I am... Let me think about how to say this. While none of those individual events have been a surprise to most black Americans that doesn't mean that they weren't impactful. And I have been deeply impacted by those events, and the events that continue on till today, and it forces black Americans to ask, Are we actually genuinely for real, for real [chuckle] hopeful that any of this is gonna change? And some black Americans would say yes, especially Christians would say, "Yes, yes, yes" but I think there is a growing number of us who are thinking, "I don't know, I don't know. On this side of heaven, anyway, I'm not convinced that we're gonna get this right, anytime soon."
Which then begs the question why do the work? Right, why talk about this, why try to be anti-racist? Why preach about this, why write a book about this, why if we really don't have hope that this is all gonna change? And that's when I started thinking about the shadow of hope, because there have been incredible moments in American history where we have decided that we're going to do better than this, even if we're kicking and screaming doing it. [chuckle] we decided we're going to end slavery. This institution cannot continue to live. We decided that segregation no more. We are not gonna live in two completely different societies. We elected our first black president. When I asked my grandmother if she ever in her wildest dreams thought she would see an African-American president? Her answer was an easy no. So there have been moments that that previous generations could never have imagined would be. So how do I reconcile that, [chuckle] with... But maybe we're not gonna get all free. And the language that I think most encapsulates where I live is, I live in the shadow of hope, so I acknowledge that there are amazing things and America is capable of change, but I also have to recognize that much more often, I'm going to be participating in a protest or I'm going to be fired from a job because I didn't fit the culture or...
AB: A particular organization isn't going to bring me in because I'm too radical or even my own Christianity will be questioned because I'm too progressive or too loud or too aggressive or too angry or too whatever. So yeah, I love when hope shows up, [laughter] and things are rosy and we get the happy ending, but I have to do the work regardless of whether or not the sun is shining.
MR: Yeah, that really makes so much sense and I think what I'm struck by from obviously your book, and other things like that is realizing, "Okay, we got a long ways further to go... "
MR: "Than I might have thought."
MR: And it's uncomfortable to hear that, I don't wanna hear that...
AB: Right. [chuckle]
MR: But I need to hear that. Right?
AB: Sure. Sure, I really believe that the work of being an anti-racist is invitational that and so often it's posited in mainstream media as a burden or something that's overwhelming or shaming or it's just one large guilt trip or even now that it's political, that it's just a political weapon, but the truth is, it's invitational to be inclusive as inclusive as we can possibly be, to learn about one another to learn about culture to be influenced by the black preachers that I talked about. Right? In the same way that I'm being influenced by white organizations when I go to work for one. But it is, it's an invitation into the life and experience of another person, and we shouldn't be afraid of that. We should welcome it. Even if it's hard work.
MR: Yeah, or especially. But that's what makes it hard. But then...
AB: That's right, that's right.
MR: But it's also... And you've talked about this in your book, but it's so essential to the Gospel as we're talking about scripture. Right? I, a couple of years ago, wrote a commentary in Ephesians and I always go back to the second half of the second chapter of Ephesians in which, reconciliation among peoples isn't like extra credit, it's an essential piece of what Christ...
AB: That's right.
MR: Was doing in the cross.
AB: That's right.
MR: And I would say that I grew up with a kind of Christianity in which that was valued but wasn't seen as so central to the work of Christ.
AB: I agree, I agree.
MR: And so, you're helping us to realize in real time, the implication of what Christ has done, and that's a real gift. and so needed.
AB: That's right, that's right.
LA: I have a quote, from Toni Morrison, that I would love to read,... And get your take on it.
LA: Austin because it focuses on this intersection of work, you know, paid work, and also work that we're doing for God in the broader sense. But what Toni Morrison wrote about vocation she said "I tell my students, when you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job, is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else, if you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else." Austin, what do you hear in this quote?
AB: I first just have to acknowledge the brilliance of Toni Morrison, I don't know of any black woman who has not read Sula or Beloved, or many, many of her works and couldn't quote her off hand. [chuckle] She is, I think she's an example of her own words that she wrote about black people she wrote for black people in a time when you were only supposed to write about white people, because that's where all the money and the power was.
AB: There's a interview. I'm gonna get the question a little bit wrong but there is a really famous interview that she did where she was being interviewed by a white woman. And the white woman is something among the lines of, "Are you ever gonna write about white people?" They're like, all your books are about black people, are you ever gonna include white people?" And Toni Morrison's response is "You have no idea how racist that question is, do you?" And it was true, she had no idea. She wasn't trying to be mean, she was just like her question was very well-intentioned but she had no idea about what a lack there is of books, of diversity, books that showcase my world, that showcase my culture, that represent me compared to the extraordinary number of books [chuckle] that represent white people. And the idea that real literature, that Toni Morrison will have really made it, or she'll be a real author or she'll be a universally loved author only when she writes about white people.
AB: And so, Toni in her writing is making us free. [chuckle] Toni and her writing is allowing black girls to see themselves. Toni and her writing is allowing black women to experience a range of emotions through her books. Toni proved that books about black women can sell and not just sell but be considered classic literature. And all of those things are huge when you look at the timeline of history, those are not small things. And so I think there are a lot of black women who take their callings very seriously. I think of Ava DuVernay. I think she's another example for this. Ava DuVernay is a director who has done 13th and When They See Us, she directed "A wrinkle in Time" Wrinkle in Time, I think Wrinkle in Time, but she is a very vocal about having other black female directors help her with her movies, help her with TV shows, sometimes she'll hand over entire episodes to other black women who are trying to become directors.
AB: So yeah, I think Toni's words are a mantra of sorts for many of us who are aware of the social constructs that we live in and we want to use whatever platform, gifts, power, access, opportunity we have to expand that for other people.
LA: So when you go to your job, if you're going to work in a predominantly white space, you're aware of multiple jobs,
AB: That's right.
LA: that a white person going into that space might not even be aware of.
AB: That's right.
LA: If I go into that space as a white person, with my white privilege, I might assume I have one job, and it's to do the job that I'm paid for. And when you go into that space, you're doing of several jobs. You have to do the job you're paid for, you have to advocate for yourself, and you maybe advocate for someone else.
AB: That's right, that's right.
LA: How do you reconcile that? I don't know if you reconcile that with your faith, or does your faith buoy you in that carrying a heavier load?
AB: Well, at first, I think God is enough. [laughter] I think that God is enough and I think that a lot of black Christians would probably just leave it there that it isn't fair, and it isn't right, but God is enough. And I think I would have to say personally, I think a lot about my ancestors, my great-grandmother, I was 19 when she passed away, she lived to be, I think, 98 and so I was very, very close with her and I often imagined myself complaining about my life with her [chuckle] and telling her that I don't wanna do it anymore. I don't wanna travel anymore. I don't wanna get these threats anymore. I don't wanna read one more hateful thing on Twitter. I'm gonna stop. I'm not gonna do it anymore. And I just imagined her looking at me, being like, "Girl, [laughter] you don't get your life together." [laughter] When I think about all the things that she would have went through as someone born in 1908, all the things that she survived and all the things that her mother survived and all the things her mother survived, it just honestly feels like my time to do what is right and to continue in that legacy and faith is a part of that legacy. And so that's the legacy that I continue into.
LA: I'm reminded of there are all these projects in the Bible that go past one generation, or there are characters in the Bible who aren't able to see...
AB: Right, the conclusion. That is very much for me how it feels to be a black American. So I once heard Ta-Nehisi quotes in an interview, and it was time for Q&A and I honestly don't even remember what the question was, but his answer was that... If you pick a particular year in the midst of slavery and plucked one generation out of slavery, that person's parents, grandparents, and potentially great grandparents would have been slaves. And that person's children, grandchildren, and potentially great-grandchildren would have been slaves. And so for that generation, there was absolutely no hope of their not being in slavery.
AB: There wasn't a time in generational memory when slavery didn't exist and there wouldn't be a time when slavery wouldn't exist for the next two or three generations. And yet, yet, even that generation, there were rebellions, there were misfits, there were runaways, there were... That was a generation that still actively resisted being enslaved. And if that generation can choose to make the world better with whatever those consequences were and whatever those risks were, and with pure imagination with no evidence that this would get better. Then how dare I in the year 2019 think about giving up. It's just, it's not an option. It's just not an option.
MR: It's a powerful way to put it. And that kind of resilience, it's... You say your drawings from the Biblical tradition and scripture of it all, so from family, from those who've gone before from writers like Toni Morrison...
AB: That's right, that's right.
MR: Many sources of encouragement to stay in the battle when it's a long, long fight.
AB: Yep, yep. And it's a battle I can stay in because of that community because of that faith community, because of that ancestral community because of the family community, there are just so many communities that have historically and currently, been a part of the fight and often that's what makes it worth it. It's that community.
LA: For other black women who might be working in predominantly white spaces, what advice or encouragement would you give them?
AB: You know, I actually have a teeny-tiny chapter in my book called 10 ways to survive racism at an organization that claims to be anti-racist. And I talk about it a lot when I'm with black women. So I won't recite the whole list, but if I could give two, I would say, one, to practice joy because so often we become so serious about our work and so engaged in the battle that cultural battle that desire to be seen, that desire to be heard, being told that we're the ones who are really racist, just the emotional tenor of all of that. And I'd say to women, I want you to sing in the shower and I want you to dance in the mirror, and I want you to take your kids to the playground and I want you to read really good romance books, and I want you like... I want you to experience joy and not just feeling like a martyr on your job.
AB: But the other thing that I tell black women a lot is that they should have an exit strategy. No place, no workplace is gonna be perfect. There are black organizations that are completely run by black folks and they are not perfect, so there's no such thing as perfection but that doesn't mean that you have to experience trauma on your job. And so if you're experiencing trauma, what is the strategy to get out? Is there a certain amount of money, you need to make? Do you wanna start your own business? Have you identified allies on your job who will be a reference for the next job? But I do, I really, really encourage women, black women, in particular, to always be thinking about their exit strategy as opposed to feeling that they must be loyal to this institution because being loyal to the institution is being loyal to God.
LA: There's this both/and. There's this both/and, do your best work, but if you can get free, work on that too, that's what I hear in your two suggestions.
AB: I really believe that and…
AB: So I have a privilege to be a full-time writer, and speaker, which means I don't have a supervisor. It means I don't have a performance review, no one gets to decide whether or not I get a raise or a promotion, no one can take away my health benefits. In many, many ways what I have is freedom, and that's also why I speak so clearly about my thoughts and feelings about race in America because I have a privilege that a lot of black women don't have who must be worried about benefits and money and promotions and all of those things. So yeah, it feels like it is a privilege, but it also is a responsibility as far as I'm concerned.
MR: Well, not unlike the Toni Morrison quote, you're using your freedom for the sake of helping others to be free.
AB: That's right.
MR: That's a wonderful thing.
AB: It's actually one thing that we plan to work more towards with The Next Question, because it's a video web series we need folks behind the camera, and folks helping us set up, and folks who are editing. We need music, just all the elements that go into video. And one of our commitments moving forward is being an equitable set. So a set that represents diversity well. That represents not just people of color, but also women. And, so yeah, that's another area where, again, I just, I have creative control, which is rare and I really, really wanna use that to pursue justice and to open doors and open opportunities for other people.
LA: Tell us about your next project, which is called The Next Question. How did it come to be and what are you trying to achieve?
AB: Yeah, so I hate to mention Coates again, but I'd be lying if I [laughter] told that this didn't start any other way. I was watching an interview that he was giving, and he was talking about the criminal justice system. And the moderator of the panel he was on said, "Coates, if you were king or Czar, or whatever you would have to be, I hear that you would free all the people who are incarcerated for non-violent crimes." And Coates said, "Yeah, that's true." Which is not an unusual progressive statement, right? But then Coates said, "And some of the people who are in for violent crimes too." And the moderator was like, "I'm sorry, what?" [laughter] And Coates repeated it. He said, "Yeah, some for, who are in for violent crimes too." And everybody on the panel just like blinked, like cartoon characters [laughter] And then they moved on. And I was like, "No." [laughter] Why did no one ask a question? I can't believe no one asked.
LA: What's the follow-up?
AB: Yeah, right. Why? How? How would you decide? Under what premise? What laws are you reading? What statistics do you have? Coates didn't just make that up, right? Like him, or love him, or hate him, he doesn't just make things up. And I could not believe that no one asked the next question. And over the next few weeks, I really started thinking about what it would look like to have a medium in which we move beyond these 101 mainstream questions. Like is blackface wrong? Or why can't white people say the N-word? Or, these very cyclical conversations that we sort of keep coming back to over and over and over again. What if there were opportunities for people who are already engaged in this work to hear conversations that go deeper and that ask not necessarily better questions, but ask the next question? And so that's where the idea came from. So I called two of my really great friends, who had been co-workers in the past and said, "Hey you wanna jump off a cliff with me?
AB: And they both said, "Yes." And so, we've fundraised, we raised $60,000, and there will be a total of seven interviews. My hope is that people who watch will experience, let's say a 201 level of conversations around racial justice that stretch us, and that give us headaches, because they're making our minds spin [laughter] that is the goal to really push us forward, and just see how expansive, how inclusive, how radical could we be if we really wanted to be.
LA: So listeners can access that at, they can go to tnqshow.com, which stands for The Next Question, tnqshow.com, and Austin is there a next question that you wish we would ask you?
AB: Oh my gosh, well, I don't, I don't... There's nothing that I wish you had asked, but I will say, I loved your question about Toni Morrison. That was a really good question.
LA: Let's see, there's actually a bonus question that I didn't get to ask, which we'll ask in the last five minutes, and then we'll close.
MR: Does she get extra points for this?
MR: If it's the bonus round?
AB: With me, all the points I want another gold star.
LA: So the bonus question is, can you talk about the importance of co-conspirators in the work of racial justice or as a black female, what's the significance of having your voice amplified and what can white allies do in the workplace?
AB: There is so many things, it's actually really difficult to just narrow it down. I should make a list one day like 101 Things [laughter] white allies can do in the workplace. But essentially I would say...
AB: I would say to be courageous. It takes a lot of courage for... So, if we circle all way back to the beginning, it takes a lot of courage for a black woman to say, "Here's an injustice I'm experiencing. My team members keep cutting me off every time, I try to say something and contribute to the team," but it also takes a lot of courage for a white person at that table to say, "You're right, and I'm sorry, and I want you to call me out if I ever do that again, or I will call it out every time I see it, alongside you." It takes a lot of courage for a white person to notice patterns of injustice and then say, "I'm not just gonna let that go anymore. I'm not gonna pretend to be blind to it, I'm not gonna pretend I don't see it, I'm going to say something and I'm going to be considered a problem too," and there are a million ways of doing that, of calling out the injustice, of being intentional about what you're reading and you're watching, of having really honest conversations with the black folks about the work environment and keeping those sacred, right?
AB: Not using that against someone is, and going back to, you know, black folks having an exit strategy, truly, to be someone who can say, "I realize this environment is toxic for you. Let me help you get out. Let me be your reference, or let me talk to my brother-in-law about his workplace," you know? But like really taking a risk alongside the people of color that you love and expressing that love, as justice, at least as the pursuit of justice.
MR: Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. That's really an encouragement and a challenge to folks like me, so... You know, and I think I would say I love what you say about courage. I mean, I think, honestly, for me, part of it is the courage to deal with stuff in myself that I don't really even want to acknowledge.
AB: That's right, that's right.
LA: Yeah, it's really, there's a biblical mandate that shines through in your work that's bringing to light things that have previously been in darkness, and I'm really grateful for the way that you've done that in this conversation, and in your writing, and in The Next Question, and so thank you for that.
AB: Well, I really appreciate being able to talk with you about all of these things. I will confess, when I realized that my book was gonna actually be out in the world, I imagined white people just like passing it on the shelves and being interested, picking it up reading the first sentence, "White people can be exhausting," and putting that thing right back on the shelf. [chuckle] So the idea that there are white folks who are like "Yup. [chuckle] Sometimes I am that person, or yep, sometimes my uncle is that person," and continuing to read, right? Continuing to trust that I'm going somewhere with those stories, it really matters to me, so thank you both for investing the time and energy into my little book.
LA: Oh, thank you.
MR: Thank you, thanks, Austin
AB: My pleasure.