In this episode, SooJin and Hannah bring in former guest, Kate Towle (episode 3), and her long-time friend, Sharon White, to talk about building relationships across difference. We learn how Sharon and Kate were raised by parents who modeled the practice of cultivating interracial friendships, and how that translated into their own lives. As they reflect on their 20-year friendship, Sharon and Kate reveal the risks and rewards associated with going beyond a working relationship and immersing themselves into each other’s families. Two of Sharon’s nieces, Khadijah Segura and Shaylyn White, make guest appearances to share their perspectives - as they represent and usher in future generations. This powerful conversation uncovers how cross-racial friendships help us deepen our understanding of ourselves as well as the world around us.
Sweet Burden of Crossing (novel) by Kate Towle
Sweet Potato Comfort Pie: MLK Day of Service Event (Registration page)
‘Mom, Why Don’t You Have Any Black Friends?’Before you talk to your kids about race, answer this question by Michelle Silverthorn
“Cross-Racial Relationships” on Code Switch podcast (Quote by Beverly Daniel Tatum)
White Supremacy Culture and Characteristics by Tema Okun and Friends
All about Love by bell hooks
E21: Building Cross-Racial Friendships with Sharon White and Kate Towle
Co-hosts: SooJin Pate and Hannah Carney
Guests: Sharon White and Kate Towle, with special appearances from Khadijah Segura and Shaylyn White (Sharon’s nieces)
Intro (music by Mike Myth Productions):
SooJin: Welcome to the Antiracist Parenting Podcast, where we're working to create an antiracist world for ourselves, our children, and future generations to come.
Hannah: We are Hannah Carney and SooJin Pate. And we're coming to you not as experts but as parents who want to share our missteps and successes in raising antiracist children. Thank you for being on this journey with us, as we work together to build a community of antiracist parents who are raising a generation of antiracist kids.
SooJin: Welcome to episode 21 and happy new year folks. We hope that this episode finds you healthy and well, and we are starting off the new year with an episode about forging connection and building relationships across race. But before we get to that conversation with our very special guests today, it's time for our accountability check-in. And so I guess I will begin episode 20 - the one with our children, Amira and Miranda. I made the commitment to ask the people around me to help kind of point out my blind spots. And I just started teaching so not enough time has passed with my students to be able to ask them like, what are my blind spots? So as the semester progresses, I will check back in with them and let you all know like how that conversation and process is going. And then in episode 19 with Marjorie Grevious, I had made the commitment to meditate on rest. And this was probably of all the commitments that I've made over this podcast, this is probably the one that I was most excited about. And so I was recently on vacation and during that time, I went in with that vacation saying like, you know, my main goal for this time is to immerse myself in rest and to become an expert at rest, to know what it feels like and looks like for me. And after that week-long dedicated kind of meditation and inquiry into rest, I came to this conclusion. That rest for me, isn't an activity that you do to attain or accomplish rest. So like going to the spa or getting a massage or taking a nap, it's not any type of activity, but rather rest for me is a framework, an operating system, a way of life. And so if you wouldn't mind, I just want to read an excerpt from my journal after I returned from vacation, that kind of talks about like what I mean by that this operating system. So here it is:
“I definitely feel rest, rested, rest. I am at rest and have been this entire time and continue to be.
So what was the key to my rest? To not push, force or manufacture energy, to do something. I am truly operating from this philosophy: to move at the speed of desire, to move at the speed of whatever natural impulse, motivation, or desire comes up. No more talking myself into doing anything, no more trying to motivate or inspire myself with pep talks or mind games to get me to do something I don't feel like doing in that particular moment. None of that, just moving at the speed of whatever natural impulse or desire arises. And since I've been operating from this philosophy, it has been bliss. I'm not doing anything I don't want to do. Instead I'm doing whatever feels natural in my body to do at that precise moment. And living like this has transformed my entire way of being, of operating. Rest as less about a particular activity and more about a way of life moving at the speed of desire is what makes me feel rested.”
So that's it. And I just want to point out here that this doesn't mean that I'm unproductive. I find myself like more productive these days because I'm not burned out. I'm not pushing and forcing myself to complete something when I'm not feeling energy for that. And so, I just want to share that there was this stretch of time in December. Like for two weeks I was working, you know, almost like 10-12 hours a day. Wrapping up this project, putting together my syllabus and all that stuff. And in the past, when I've done that I get cranky and crabby because I'm sleep deprived, but that didn't happen this time because I stayed up late because I wanted to, I was in the zone and feeling energized. And so I just kept working because I felt like it. And that makes all the difference, for me anyway, you know, the choice of staying up and burning the midnight oil, when doing that comes from a desire, like, I want to do this versus like, I have to do this, yeah.
Hannah: That's beautiful. So for my accountability, check-in I had made the commitment to get more involved with my kids' school, where they go, it's a local elementary school. So I met with the principal and assistant principal last month, and then the next step will be to meet with the equity person and kind of discuss more tangible ways to kind of further their efforts and ways I can help. So that is in process. I'd also like to set our intention for today and that is around expanding our networks. And this is a really personal connection for me because about six years ago, I had attended a workshop where this message of expanding your network was really sort of driven home like really looking at - who is in your contacts in your phone, who do you communicate with regularly? Who do you spend time with and doing an inventory like across race, gender, ability, religious background, etcetera. And so I had done sort of this accounting of who was in my life basically at that point. And I made some very significant changes, and it has changed my life. And so I am inviting all of us to continue to expand our networks. And if you are just starting welcome to this journey.
SooJin: Awesome. I love that. I love that and it fits right in with our topic for today. So today we have former guest, author and writer, Kate Towle. And educator, Sharon White. So, at this time we'd love for the two of you to share a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from and what you do.
Sharon: First of all, I want to say thank you for having me also I want to, I have a shout out. I have two beautiful nieces that just came into the room and I love them to death. Khadijah, she's here from Florida and then Shaylyn is here from Brooklyn Park. And I'm so glad that they're here to hear this conversation, because I want them to experience what I've experienced, but also just to be able to listen and hear what we’re talking about. So I've been working for Minneapolis Public Schools for a little over 20 years now. And, I first started working in middle school with my daughter - when she entered middle school and I was shocked. I went into the school, got into the classrooms and I ran home and I was telling my kids like, what's going on, you know, this is what's happening in the classrooms? And they just kinda like looked at me like, yeah. You know? So I was like I need to be a part of this. Just being in the schools opened my eyes to a lot of things that I was not familiar with. And so I'm so thankful for that opportunity. I currently work, in an alternative high school for young teen moms. And I love it. I consider myself the mom, the aunt, and just the person that they can come to. You know, I see so much of myself through the students. And so I know this is my calling and this is something I can do. And I enjoy doing. I support administrators, students and families, I do parent engagement welcoming families into the school and informing them about the school that they're in, making sure that they're comfortable navigating all the teachers, the counselors just to be that support person for them.
I first met Kate Towle about 20 years ago, I would think. We served together on DPAC (sp?), which is a district family engagement team. And I was so happy that that little light came to me. Um, I really felt like I was a raisin in a bowl of milk because I was sitting in this room around CEOs, lawyers, doctors, dentists, but not one person looked like me. And I certainly wasn't one of those type of parents that was used to being in this political arena. A lot of the things that was being shared and talked about, I felt like I didn't have the background knowledge. I knew what they were talking about, but not enough to make any decision, but as time passed and as Kate really supported me, I felt like my voice mattered. It needed to matter. And I used to remember when I used to say something to everybody will look like, oh yeah. And I felt so good. You know what I'm saying? And it was so simple, but it was not being talked about. Or at least no one was there to give a voice to the underrepresented and not heard and unsung voices.
So I was an ear for those parents and I can come back and I could, you know, talk to the superintendent and the school board members. How about what my parents were saying and speaking on their behalf so I can go on and on, but I'm very passionate about what I do. And I've learned so much working in the school systems. And I remember when I first came, I doubted myself because I didn't think I could do it. And I'm like, why me? But I love my children. And I knew that I needed to be there to understand this big onion that I was in. And I feel good because not only have I been able to help my children, I've been able to help other children and other parents like myself. And so again, I want to thank Kate, because she really educated me on the process and understand many layers that are out there that so many parents don't understand. So I'm so blessed to know that.
SooJin: Thanks so much, Sharon. And it sounds like your students and the parents that you work with and that you advocate for, it sounds like they are so fortunate to have you.
Sharon: Thank you.
SooJin: So Kate. What about you? You've been here before, so welcome back. But yeah, if you want to remind our listeners a little bit about who you are...
Kate: I love that question, because we got to know who we are to be who we are. I'm Kate Towle and I am a community weaver and an educator and writer - sounds like we all kind of meet that profile in some respects, right. And my novel, Sweet Burden Of Crossing about interracial friendship came out November 14th in 2019. I am so delighted to have my friend Sharon here, because we have been around the block and we have learned so much together, and I have such tremendous admiration for Sharon's work. I wrote in my novel about how I learned from my father to do community work. I shadowed him and modeled him and watched him build a community center with his best friend who was black. And so when my kids were little in the public schools, I encouraged them to play with black and brown children. And I was a lot like SooJin and Hannah making pacts to myself that I was going to have diverse friendships and that I was going to continue his legacy. And, I was shocked when I went to my son's first teacher's conference and the teacher said to me, your son has to make better choices for friends, because I knew that he was playing with his young black friend.
And I just looked at her and I said, my son can play with anybody he wants to. And, that kind of took me by surprise because I thought our society was farther along and so it was very interesting to me and I really had to think about that and that prompted me to get involved with parents and to specifically work very intentionally to make sure that we had other voices at the table. When I made that choice, I had a friend who introduced me to a community elder at the time who was now one of my best friends. And she's 88 and her name is Katie Sample. And she's a legacy in our town. And Katie supported me in building a network and Sharon was one of the first people to really work with us and say, we're going to build this network. And Katie had bi-annual conferences on successes in educating black children. And through her organization called the African American Academy for Accelerated Learning, which has really inspired my current work, which is around cultural asset-based education and something that I promote through a local organization, Sweet Potato Comfort Pie.
And just that knowledge that when we know who we are, and we are given access to education about our identity when we're given spaces where we can really explore that and understand who we are and our gifts - come back to our innate strengths and goodness, and also by understanding our culture, we know which aspects of our culture bring health and wellness to us. Right. And so that all led me to the district parent advisory council with Sharon. Katie's conferences introduced me to a man named Giovanni Ford (sp?) who directs the NCAD is what we call it, the Network for the development of Children of African Descent. And it turned out that Giovanni was hosting parent groups called Nia, which is the Kwanzaa of principle for purpose.
And when I saw Sharon at DPAC being that raisin in the bowl of milk, I thought I got to invite Sharon to meet Giovanni. I wonder if she knows him? And Sharon, you did know Giovanni, but you didn't know about his Nia groups. So I said, why don't I go to one of their meetings?
And there I was, you know, the marshmallow in the cup of chocolate. I was sitting there listening to the voices of black parents, and I was learning what they're saying, and what's really in their heart, which was not being represented at all at the district parent advisory council. And so what Sharon and I did, we just got to work. We recruited black parents to be part of DPAC to bring those voices in. And it was rich and beautiful work. And then Sharon and I realized not only do we have to engage parents in these issues, we have to engage students. So we went on, Sharon has supported me more than most people with my work with youth. And, she's helped me raise my children. One of my favorite photographs is of Sharon with my son at his graduation. And honestly I needed her as much as she says she needed me. We really did, we helped each other's children get through school. Right, Sharon?
Sharon: I just wanted to piggyback on what Kate said, when we purposely got together and started recruiting parents of color to be a part of DPAC it wasn't easy, because there was a lot of trust issues. And we didn't want to intimidate our parents cause that's not a good feeling, you know, to be a part of something and really not be a part of something and not knowing how to be a part of something, you know? And so we started out, going into homes in north Minneapolis. It was like, we were having these little Bible studies, you know what I'm saying? And you should've seen the rooms in some of these small places. I mean, were filled with parents, from north side and we're just having open conversation and people bringin donuts and coffee and whatever, but I distinctly remember that and it just felt different, you know, than in the cold boardroom and, not knowing if what you said was going to make an impact, or if anybody cared about what you had to say or worried about, am I saying it the right way? You know what I'm saying? Or do I feel like this is okay to say this way? Because even now, today I find myself reluctant to speak because I'm feeling like everybody's got all their eyes on me, and I better word it right. Say it right. And then hopefully, they'll believe in what I'm saying. Because so many times the system has told me that I don't matter. And that's my truth. Yeah.
SooJin: Yeah. Well, this is so rich. Thank you both for sharing. So it sounds like the two of you came into relationship around a shared goal and a shared objective, which was to recruit black parents into this parent advisory group so that the parent advisory group was more reflective of the actual students and parents that you're serving. And it was very clear that it was. You know, white-centered, and you needed more voices. But the thing is, you know, there's lots of colleagues, coworkers who are working towards a similar shared purpose, but that doesn't necessarily translate into building relationships across race. And so I was wondering, for the two of you, what was it like, why did you decide to commit to building a relationship with each other so that it wasn't just about work, but it was also about like human to human, mother to mother, educator to educator, like both of you shared how you were immersed in each other's lives to the point where like you helped raise each other's children, and so I'm just curious about like, what was the thing that led you to commit to wanting to not only connect initially, but also to nurture and build this relationship so that it just wasn't about this work thing.
Sharon: First of all, you know, I think I'm pretty good judge in character when it comes to authenticity and genuine and real. And Kate, she has shown me that from day one. Also, we have a lot in common and sometimes forces come together and they don't even know that they have things in common. And I think that was one of the things that - looking hindsight and even now to this day that we have that, you know. I attribute mine to my mother, like she attribute hers to her father. My mom showed nothing but love all her life. It didn't matter where you came from, what you look like, you know, she just would open her door. And just give you all that she had unconditionally, and as a daughter, seeing that there was time I was jealous because, you know, because that was my mom. You know what I'm saying? But she showed love and she modeled it for me. And I'm so thankful that she did, and every time I went out into the world and I felt like I wasn’t being heard, or someone was not treating me right. My mom has something to say, the - blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice. You know what I'm saying? When one won't, one will. You know? Love yourself, love your brothers, love your sister, give back, help, do the best you can. And they were just little simple metaphors that she gave me. And I love her for that because if I get so far out from my island, I have a place to come back to a solid rock. And that's from Claudine White and I love her dearly for that. And I miss her so much. And when I hear Kate talk about her father and his passion and how he was a part of this community, and the things that he did, I'm like, wow, we both had that in our lives. And I realized, I deal with people all my life. And I ask God every day to give me strength, to have an understanding of why people think and do the things that they do, especially when it comes to not loving themselves and loving the world in which you live in. And it's so easy and it feels so good and it doesn't cost nothing. And I find myself the more I give, the more I have to give. And that's, you know, may not be a million dollars. But to me, it is because once I give it, that's how I feel. It makes me feel so good. And Kate has shown that to me, not only to me, but to my family and to my children. And she listens to me, I've been to her house. She's been to my house. She's been around my family. She listens, she knows. she's concerned. She's so helpful. I mean, it's just a match made in heaven.
Kate: I feel that way too. I do have a deep love for Sharon and her children and her family. And I just remember her 60th birthday and the fun we had just, just staying up and partying and just having such a great time with her big family. And it really helped me understand how much respect her family has for her and how she's not only taking care of all the children and parents at school, but she's taking care of her family. I also have a big family, so I understand that Sharon's absolutely right. That we share that in common. We had parents who grounded their work in love and compassion and deep respect for beloved community.
And yes, I remember the it's a family affair parenting committee on the north side and, you know, people are like, oh, the north side, they have so many problems. And, Sharon and I just really, we didn't see statistics. We saw people. People struggling who, when deeply respected and given just a space like, like you're right, Sharon, in those living rooms, just going to where our parents are and listening to their stories that are unheard. And part of me, I had this passion, I was like, I just want so many more people to hear this story because all we hear are the deficits and that's why I've become really passionate about asset-based education. And getting away from talking about pathology. Now that's not to say we don't have to look at the very real disparities because, um, I was reflecting before on your accountability statement, SooJin, about rest and why it's so hard for my black women friends to find rest. I went to the science museum this summer and really studied that Race exhibit and looked at the net worth of black families and white families. And the net worth, you know, is the assets minus the debts, right? So the net worth of a black family is $9,200. And the net worth of a white family is $132,000. Now think about that, if you don't have access to money, earning, opportunities and economic, how are you going to rest? You're always hustling every minute. You're hustling for that money to protect your family. You love your family. You want to find a way to pay those bills. And Sharon and I have talked about that. How do we tip that scale? Right? How do we do that? And, um, you know, we've talked about reciprocity and friendship and what gets me about Sharon is her incredible generosity, given all of that struggle to support her family. I have watched her take multiple jobs to be there for her family. Another fatigue that people don't talk about is because she is a black educator in still a white system. People are always calling on Sharon for this and that, right. Sharon, you know, we want to, in this meeting, we want you in that meeting and it's exhausting because everybody wants Sharon to be a spokesperson for the whole black community. And that's just wrong because Sharon and I know we laugh at, um, you know, when you get deeper, you make deeper friendships in other cultural communities, you really understand the diversity within those communities as well. And you understand the different voices. And so yeah, I think we both felt passionate that we had turned on to something that was meaningful and that through loving each other, we could spread that love to a lot more people.
Sharon: That's pretty cool that you said that Kate. We have this huge network system. Me and you, you know, I mean, literally I've learned so much from her and I think she has from me as well as far as who we know. And that's been a really wonderful thing to have too, to know some resources outside of what I normally would trust and go to, you know, so thank you, Kate for opening those doors for me, because I have learned a whole lot from you, and that has really helped solidify this relationship too as well. And I thank you, you know, you're not coming at me ever. Like you don’t know that? You've always shown patience, you know what I'm saying? And like the other day I was having a conversation, you know, I've learned some stuff about myself that I feel like I should know, but I didn't know until I met you, and it’s the truth, it hurts because I should know myself, you know what I'm saying? I should know myself, because it’s so empowering and it helps build me up and it helps me build my children up as well, you know? And I want to do more. I want to learn more, and I trust that if there's something I don't know, or if I'm in a situation, I have a friend that I can go to, that has power and does not abuse her power either. She shares her power, you know? So thank you for that.
And I've been through some things, and she's been right there by me all the way. And then I got to say this, I've had some friends that are like me, and don't like that either - that this white woman can come in and help me and know more. And that I trust her, you know, and I say that because I dealt with the situation within the school system and some pretty powerful people didn't care for Kate. And I didn't know why, you know, maybe it's a little bit of jealousy, but I think it's a great thing that this white woman knows a lot about my community and is willing to share and not look at it as a project for her own gains. So I appreciate that. I really do.
SooJin: I'm really glad that you've, shared what you did because I was gonna ask about – and this kind of goes to what Kate was saying earlier on about how there's this huge lack of trust between the white community and a lot of communities of color, specifically the black community, because when black people are in white spaces, like they're discounted, as you said, they don't matter. You know, they're treated as if they don't matter. And so there's a lot of lack of trust that develops because of that. And, Beverly Daniel Tatum she says that black folks don't feel encouraged to build relationships with white people because it's fricking exhausting, you know, to constantly have to teach to educate because oftentimes for the white friend - that black friend of theirs becomes the primary source of their education around race and racism.
And so Beverly Daniel Tatum, she says that, and I'm just going to quote her. She says “because of the racial context in which we're all living, if we want to have cross racial relationships, part of what makes them successful is our willingness and ability to learn how to talk about racism, even in the context of the friendship.”
And it sounds like Kate came in with knowledge, you know, like she did work to educate herself so that she's not coming in at zero and you're coming in at 90, when it comes to prior knowledge around racism and how to talk about race. So would you say that helped?
Sharon: That did help, but you know, there was systems out there that I didn't know about, but Kate was used to those systems. I mean, Kate knows those systems. I didn't know those systems because those systems weren't meant for me. And so she held my hand when I was there and she made an effort and I mean, an intentional effort, and did not let me. You know what I'm saying? She did not let me go. It was the way she brought me in, and I felt immediately that I could ask questions that were dumb questions to me, you know, those saying, and I didn't have to, I mean, it just helped me go in, in instead of going in with nothing. And she was a friend and my confidant and still is to this day. And there are a lot of things I have asked her to help me with. And she's right there. She's right there, you know?
And can I introduce my niece to you? She's our first graduate from, Johnson C. Smith University, which is a HBC historically black college in North Carolina. This is Khadijah, she's visiting. She just got a job with the Miami Heat too
SooJin: Oh wow, congratulations! Doing what?
Khadijah: Thank you. I’m an events coordinator. And then getting my master's at the University of Miami in Sport Administration.
SooJin: Oh, wow. . well, congratulations!
Sharon: I brought her in because Kate knows her. We were in high school batting with her counselor, grades and everything. And her daughter helped do her pictures and everything. So I'm just telling you how dear Kate is to this family. And she mentors my niece here too and does a great job. And, um, I just wanted to be here to speak to you because Khadijah went to school here from kindergarten to high school. And when she went down to Johnson C. Smith, she said, auntie, I thought that I knew everything, but she said, I didn't know nothing. And when she got down there, she says, no, I wasn't ready at all. Prepared at all. That kind of gave me a whole different light too. I was so happy that I had done college tours with the kids. And when I, it was my first time seeing HBCs as a grown woman in my fifties, my eyes like instantly was just something different, you know? And I just want her to share her perspective if that's okay with y'all.
Khadijah: I definitely, although I am, I see myself as an African American and I went to an HBCU, I got there. It was a culture shock. So just because we are African-Americans doesn't mean we know everything about our culture. I was like, I'm not used to this. And so just learning about who other people are and knowing how to accept that and how I can evolve as a woman, definitely helped. Um, and knowing that on my volleyball team, there was different types of races on my volleyball team. And my friend to this day is Morgan and she is caucasian. And I love her to death. She just got married. I was in her wedding, but it was just good to cultivate those relationships where it wasn't like, why can't I have a white ally? And I educate her and that hard conversations about politics, Trump and everything. And we've cried together. We laughed together. We're so, yes, we we've had those hard conversations. Like I'm telling you this, not to hurt you. I'm telling you to learn from this because you will hold power. You may not see it, but you do and power that I can never possess. And I also hold power that you can’t possess either on the other side and that we work together for the common good. It will help everyone grow and I've come to see that even at PWI (predominantly white institutions) at the U of M of how to articulate my other classmates from different parts of the world, whether they're a veteran, whether they're on the west coast and their different cultures of how to be accepting of their opinion and not take it personal, but learn from it and articulate it and have those critical thinking questions and conversation. So, yeah, and they taught me that. Like going to college, she coming to support me at graduation, games, her daughter taking pictures of me, like feeding into me, like you can do this was really great. So they were an example to me and knowing that that's okay, but that needs to happen.
SooJin: That's really beautiful. Thank you so much.
Sharon: So now I'm just showing you, this is a little bit of my world. This is my other niece and she is a parent of four kids at Osseo School District they come to me when the issues arise, you know, and I sometimes know now what I know because of Kate. You know what I'm saying? I didn't know that I could pick my child's teacher. You know, I didn't know who the school board member was and how to cross over and have those conversations with them. You know, I sat in the superintendent's office one time and he even called me at home and said, Ms. White, I'm watching this here. And I want you to know, I support you 100. I can't give my opinion. I can't say yay or nay, but I want you to know I'm watching this. I thought I was like, did I get that call? But because I built these relationships and Kate she pulled me right in, she pulled me right in and thank you for that Kate, but I just want Shaylyn to share with you because we all have interracial relationships in this city in Minneapolis, because we live in Minnesota. And so could you introduce yourself and just tell about your four kids and what it's like for you as a black woman with your kids and education so far?
Shaylyn: Yes, I'm a mother of four kids, three boys and a baby girl, I'm not going to lie. It's stressful at times. Living in this state in Minnesota, especially in the winter time, it can get very depressing. I deal with a lot of anxiety and depression because, yeah, some of it is because of society - it gets tough. Like, you know, you're out there trying to be a part of the community and you feel like you don't fit in, because you don't have those relationships with white people and you feel like, you know, I don't want to like be a sellout and like, I don't want to feel like I have to talk like them for them to understand me, you know what I mean? But I feel like that's what a lot goes on. And there is racism and even in my son's school, he's dealing with it where he got into an altercation with a white child and they were fighting over a girl. And my son was the only one who got sent home – he got suspended. And the other child, the white child, nothing happened to him. And so I just felt like that was unfair. And I did come to my aunt about that and she told me what to do and how to handle it. And I went back to the principal and he did remove the suspension off his background. But I just feel like it's not fair that I have to go through those types of things on a regular basis, you know? It's just tough, like being in Minnesota with racism, but, you know, I try every day to get through it and, I prayed through it and I ask God to give me the strength and to watch over my children and my family. And, um, overall, my kids are good. They're doing good in school. Isaac's on the A Honor Roll. Anthony is on the A Honor Roll. Adrian, my first grader, he can read better than me. Like he's a very excellent reader. He reads like at a fourth grade level and he's in first grade. And then my little Ariel, she's an artist she loves to paint. Drew is my little - he's white baby. He's got blonde hair and blue eyes. Like, even with him, like, it's just so frustrating. Cause when we go out in public, I go to the grocery stores, people come up to me and they want to, oh my God, your baby. And you know, some moms who just giving me a real, like evil look like, what is she doing with that baby? You know what I mean? It's just, it's a lot that we go through as colored people and I don't understand it cause it's like, I didn't choose the color of my skin. Like I love the color of my skin and you should love the color of my skin. You should love what God created.
Sharon: What I hope we didn't get too far off the path here.
SooJin: It's all good. Thank you so much.
Sharon: But I think the main thing I want to let y'all know is that both these ladies have relationships with white friends. Black people have interracial friendships with people. Like we have to, you know what I'm saying? But I have so many people that are, that are white, that don't want to be my friends, or don't even care to approach or acknowledge you, or just like go through everyday life. And I don't know, it's just kind of a weird way I think of being and thinking and moving. So I've had experience with going into rooms and people are reluctant to say anything to me, or like, you know, you don't fit in, you know, you don't fit in. I know I don't fit in, you know what I'm saying? But, I'm like this here. Get to know me. I'm a good person. I can laugh. I can have conversations, you know? And I love you guys for this. I love you for your work.
SooJin: Well, I actually have, one last question and this kind of goes into what you were getting at Sharon is how segregated white people's lives are. Right. And, it's by design. Like this segregation goes all the way back to colonial times, we're talking 16, 17 hundreds, where laws were created that made it illegal for enslaved Africans and Natives to keep company with indentured white servants, it was illegal for them to even be sharing the same space.
Right. And then from there, it moved into red lining and the segregation of neighborhoods and segregation of schools and work so every single aspect of our lives has been purposefully orchestrated to be segregated. So with that said 75% of white people have zero friends who aren't white, zero friends of color. So, um, what advice do you have for our listeners? Especially our white listeners who live such segregated lives on how to foster and build cross racial interracial relationships or friendships?
Sharon: Don't be afraid. Trust your instincts, you know? Don't continue this madness. When I go out up to Duluth, um, and even here I get stares from cute little kids, you know what I'm saying? They stare at me like they are really seeing something out of the ordinary, and it's awkward, you know, and the parents grab them right away. And nestle them up underneath them, like, come on. Just don't shelter them. Just be open, be honest, be authentic, you know? Uh, and I think all of these ladies can attest when we're young, we play around little white kids in our classrooms and stuff. And as we get older, those relationships move away and we don't hear anything of them. I can tell you about every black person that went to my high school now to this day, but I don't know where those white kids went. I was less than 1%, you know what I'm saying? And so it was more than, but I don't know any of them and they don't know me either. I've always had an open door policy. Uh, yeah, just be open, be honest.
Khadijah: I do have something to say, like, don't be afraid of, you know, you were raised some type of way. We've been conditioned. Like this is the way this is how it's supposed to be, but then boom, life happens. It's like, this is not true. One of my cousins told me that he's a veteran and he found somebody's wallet and has $600 in it. Well, he returned it and it was a caucasian male. He was. Why did you return this? I was told that black people are thieves or they take stuff. Why did you return this? This is what my family taught me. So now he's looking at his family like it's identity. So don't be afraid for your identity to change or alter. That's a good thing because we need that, because we can't continue to like foster these old ideas and false things because it's not true. Um, and that we do have different colored skin, but we're all human. We all function the same way. Like we're human body, but it's just like the whole thing of how I was raised. And then I don't want the reality. That is not reality. It's not true. So being open to that.
SooJin: Awesome. Thank you. So having the courage to break out of your own family pattern and identities and the ways in which you were raised and taught. Awesome. Thank you.
Sharon: As African-Americans and people color, we've always had to have done that in order to survive in this world or in order to be accepted and be a part of it. So we get it, we get it. And it's a wonderful thing. I feel like I have an advantage, you know, because not only do I know myself, I know other people as well.
Shaylyn: Educate other white people, educate other white people about black people is helpful is a way to grow.
Kate: I participate in a group that my friend Katie and I kinda got started, it is white women working with other white women on building our capacity, to address racism. And, first of all, I want to say, Sharon's really had my back because I've taken a lot of risks. I've had to be unabashed because I've just had to trust what my father taught me and I have to trust beloved community to come through. And I know that there have been people in the community, black and white, very threatened by my work because they don't know me until they get to know me. Right. So I'm this white person and they go off of how I look and, even my confidence can be viewed as suspect, until they work with me more closely and see, that I'm coming from a place of discovery and love and compassion. But I just look like this white woman who's deliberate about this work and passion can be misconstrued as power. Well there is a power to it, but what Sharon's helped me realize is the power of that work over time when you do it with humility and discovery and compassion. And the other thing I would say is that we need to be as white folks in this for the long haul. We can't just show up to this event and say, oh, I did my time. We have to be committed to this work and committed to our friendships and follow through and check in and keep it going, we have to nurture it and yes, we have to open to the struggle we have to get into the struggle because to be Sharon's friend, I do have to hear what her family members are going through. When her son was hit by a bullet in downtown Minneapolis and was in a coma for two months. I had to stand with Sharon through that time. It was a terrible time. Now her son has, you know, two beautiful children. He's made it through all this with one quarter of one kidney, right, Sharon. But we, you know, as white people, we are going to be exposed to a deeper level of pain in our society and we're going to have to be embodied and present to that pain and stand with our friends. Not think that we're going to fix anything because we want to come in and we want to swoop in and fix things and save things. But that only makes things worse because we can't possibly know what it's like to be in that situation, but we can be present in a spirit of learning and love. That's what we can do. And I just think that it makes everything better. Um, and over time it works, but there will be people that are black, who still have a lot of internalized oppression and aren't going to feel comfortable with me no matter what I do. Um, there's going to be white people that, think I'm crazy. I've been told by many people, you talk too much about race. Well, I think some of us need to. Uh, we need to set the example that we can create spaces for this conversation that are healing.
Sharon: Yeah, I just want to say this thing - don't be afraid to be vulnerable, you know, and, Khadijah, come here. We've got some tears over here in the background. I want to read this – what Khadijah gave me to read to you guys.
“Everyone needs to understand that power, which their privilege must be used for the better good to alter the system thinking that we were exposed and conditioned to think one specific way.”
SooJin: Beautiful. Thank you. Yes.
Kate: Well, I've told Sharon about, you know, when my children were in school and they had struggles and they were hurting and they were, um, testing their limits with substance abuse and all that - Sharon was right there. She didn't judge them. They knew that they could go to her with whatever. I mean, Sharon's family, let's just be real. And that's what we forget when we play out all these games, culturally, we forget that we are all part of the human family. And, when we're acting out and hurting each other, there's good reason for that, but underneath that is deep distress. And when we allow spaces where that distress can be heard and honored and respected, it's pretty powerful.
SooJin: Okay. So, We had to say goodbye to, our friend Sharon, she needed to get going, but Kate, before we end our conversation, I was wondering if you had anything that you'd like to promote, to lift up, perhaps your book...
Kate: Well, yes, my book and it's tied to the organization Sweet Potato Comfort Pie. Both of my initiatives start with sweet, how about that? www.sweetpotatocomfortpie.org is an organization that I've been involved with my other girlfriend, Rose McGee. And, my novel is a www.sweetburdenofcrossing.org. And I wrote my novel because I wanted more readers, especially white women readers to be able to get in the body of someone doing this work and to live that embodied experience and to live with those questions, those events, those challenges that we talked about today, I found that there's a lot of fiction out there. And it portrays, you know, white people as saviors or getting a pass because they're in a marriage. But I could not personally find anything where I could see somebody intentionally grappling with these questions and really trying to nurture a friendship the way that I have wanted to do.
SooJin: Great. Thank you for that. Hannah, did you have anything else before we say goodbye?
Hannah: No. Kate, it's so good to see you. I'm so, so thrilled to be able to meet Sharon. I don't know her. So now I feel like our community, my family, my network has grown. So thank you so much.
Kate: Well, you're so welcome. With all that Sharon is doing, it was just an honor to have her with us. And the fact that she wants to continue these conversations warms my heart because this is the work. This is work. Yeah.
SooJin: Great. Thank you.
Hannah: Yeah. Thank you.
SooJin: Well, that was really wonderful to hear from the both of them.
Hannah: Yeah. Yeah. I like really, really enjoyed this conversation. Just listening to all the different voices and perspectives of how people are thinking about it and what like the risks are and things that people think about in terms of like entering into a friendship or not, or what is sort of like desired in terms of like what that relationship might look like. I just felt like everything that everyone was saying added so much to my perspective around like building relationships. So yeah, I was pretty quiet, but I was like soaking all of that in.
SooJin: Yeah. I'm glad that, um, both Sharon and, Kate touched on kind of the risks, going beyond their comfort zone, you know, that was required for them to be in relationship with each other and just how much they gained right. From taking those risks, because in the scheme of it, like, look at what they gained. They gained a new family, you know, like a whole nother family, support and love that they're each able to tap into.
Hannah: And a deeper understanding of themselves personally, which is so wild to like, even think about it in that way.
SooJin: Yeah, it's obvious, you know, just from the way that they talk about each other and just kind of the energy that was flowing between them. There's so much love there, so much respect...even for Sharon to be like, I want to pull in my nieces because they know Kate and I want them to say hi and to connect. And, that was also really lovely to hear from Sharon's nieces to get their perspective on just how important it is to have friends, you know, for white people to have friends who are black who are not white in their lives.
Hannah: Well, and the importance of, for white people in particular to realize that the person of color or your black friend like that, isn't your source for understanding all of this, that like we, as white people need to be reading other books, watching other documentaries, doing our research and homework and, really understanding all of these issues so that we can actually be present in our relationship rather than basically adding another to-do thing on our friend.
SooJin: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And also having other black friends, you know, like having like multiple, um, and again not just black, but, you know the more diverse your network – it will increase and improve your life, that many fold.
Hannah: Yeah. Well, and actually, you know, one of the things that I was jotting down as they were both talking is something that they share in common is the fact that their parents were doing this modeling of having friendships across race and having an open door policy. And so that trickled down to Sharon and Kate, and then they're trickling it down to their children. And so, we as parents like really do impact our kids. Like they're watching us, like they are seeing who do we trust? Who do we go to with problems? And so that also in one way or the other, you know, is telling them a message. Who is safe and who is not safe. And so, yeah, we have a lot of responsibility as parents to not only enrich our lives, you know, as part of the benefits of having a more inclusive network and friend group, but also how that is something our kids are watching, whether we realize it or not.
SooJin: Oh, that is so lovely. I love all the connections that you're making there. Um, it reminds me of what you said earlier about how, um, like six years ago you were kind of challenged to do an inventory, of yourself. And, it reminded me of this article by Michelle Silverthorn. It's called Mom, Why Don't You Have Any Black Friends?
Hannah: Um, interesting. I haven't read that.
SooJin: And the subtitle for that article is before you talk to your kids about race, answer this question for yourself. Why don't you have any black friends? It's not very long, but it's insightful and powerful because in it, she has a series of questions or prompts to think through, to help you do this inventory, and then to kind of help jumpstart your ability to, okay I gotta make some changes. So Hannah, would you mind sharing, what were some of the first steps?
Hannah: Yeah. So I would say going into that particular training was sort of a progression of, like, I had been through a bunch of workshops around different diversity, equity, inclusion kind of topics in general. And so it was an attempt to sort of like continue on with that learning journey. And at that point I really was, you know, still sort of absorbing information, but not really doing anything perse in terms of like changing things in my life. It was more like I would do that stuff at work or whatever. And then when I went home, I was like, just doing whatever I was doing. And so. With that decision point, which was to say, okay, I'm going to actually look at this and I'm going to make some changes. Um, like that actually was one of the major things that changed like diversity, equity, inclusion, antiracism from being sort of like this thing that I do as like my job versus like a way of life.
And so it has like been a big part of that bridge of like how is this woven into every aspect of my life. And so when I first did it, I mean, like you were saying 75% of white people don't really have any friends of color. So I was like there, I mean, very, very few and not particularly close, you know, friends of people in my network that I could identify. And then having to like be so intentional about going to different events and networking and trying to strike up conversations with people. And like, not just being like, oh, I met somebody at this work thing or this event or this happy hour or whatever the thing may have been, but like then follow up with them, like get their number and then reach out and say, hey, do you want to get tea or coffee? Or, hey, like, you know what, you know, what else, where else are we having common interests that could be explored more. And so, yeah. So from all of that, like if I were to look back at sort of like one of the benchmarks I used was my text messages, like who am I actually communicating with regularly?
And so back then, if you would have like scrolled through sort of like my regular communications, it would have probably been like 99% white people. And then as I've been doing this, like now I would say on a regular basis, I'm more often communicating with people of color. I mean, it's much broader now, but that's just one sort of tangible thing that has changed out of it, but in building relationships and just the learning that I've continued to do outside of just like those relationships is, I mean, it has changed me fundamentally, like in terms of just being in touch more with who I am at the core and what my values are and being able to see myself and also the systems that we live within and the culture, and just being able to, like, not only understand, my experience, but also to be able to see my experience from other perspectives. And then also to like completely detach myself, you know, even if it's momentarily from my experience and just be in as much as I possibly can in someone else's experience and to just literally be curious about like, wow, what must that be like and how you know, just how that changes, just everything, I mean it really just helps me question, like every action, every belief, and just not that it's like, I'm gonna change everything that minute, but it's just like, where does this come from? Is it something I want to hold on to? Or is it something that has served me and now I can let go of that. And so, um, yeah, I don't know. I kind of went on a tangent, but it really is a profound change to go down this path of building relationships across race and across difference.
SooJin: Even in the small amount of time that we've known each other, so it's been, yeah, we'll be embarking on our two year anniversary here of knowing each other. We met in early 2020. I've witnessed you transform and change so much, through the evolution and growth of just our relationship.
SooJin: Yeah. So in some ways these small changes lead to huge impact. And the change can be actually quite fast, you know? Um, yeah.
Hannah: Sometimes, on some things!
SooJin: On some things.
Hannah: There are certainly things that are hard for me to accept that they are slower moving, but yeah, it is kind of amazing what all can happen. And I was just reading this, I think a document we've shared in the past called like the characteristics of white supremacist culture or something like that. And now there's an updated version and I was reading through it and it was making this link to, you know, as we do this work, you know, we say antiracism, but it's very intersectional, it's anti-oppression work. Like ultimately it is a healing journey. And so the awarenesses that we build and the ways in which we are invited to be in relationship with others and in connection is, I mean, it can only help, but change you into a more healed and better version of yourself. And I feel like I have experienced it. I am experiencing it and it will continue, of course it's not done or anything. But, I know that to be true.
SooJin: Me too. I’m not only a witness of you, but also a witness of myself. I have experienced too. I mean, there's no way that I would be who I am without the black folks in my life. Yeah. No way. I have learned so much from the black community, from black scholars and educators and thinkers and philosophers - just so much. And not only about them, but about myself. Right. You know how you had said earlier, like this work building relationships across race helps you to come to know yourself and that has been so true for me. So like in terms of commitments, I feel like the two of us, I mean, we do this, like, yeah, we have committed ourselves, long before this conversation that we're having right now, to this practice, to this way of life but with that said, is there anything that's kind of bubbling up for you in terms of like a commitment you'd like to make from this conversation?
Hannah: Yeah. So, this actually goes back to our previous episode sort of building on something, Amira, I think ultimately had said, but it was definitely a theme of the conversation with Miranda and Amira. And the statement was this: love is the answer. And I feel like. We hear that, right? Like we know, like, yep, love wins all this, but what I've been trying to do since that is to really embody that. And so when I'm thinking through just like, as emotions are bubbling up, or as I'm feeling conflicted or grappling or frustrated or whatever, with something that's going on, I am now coming back to, okay, what I know is love is the answer and how can that guide whatever it is in the way I'm going to handle this emotion or situation or whatever is presenting. And that is the part where it's like so hard, like so slow moving, but bit by bit. I think if I just continue to come back to that practice of love is the answer and figuring out how to have that guide. I will be transformed further.
SooJin: Yeah. Love that. Um, what you just said makes me think about bell hooks, who unfortunately, you know, recently passed and is now an ancestor, her book All About Love.
Hannah: Oh, I haven't read that one.
SooJin: Oh yeah. It's excellent. So, in her first chapter, she talks about defining love first and how, you know, so much of the way that we talk about love it's undefined, we just assume that, you know, like we all know what love is. Yeah, no, no, no, no, no. We don't really know what love is. Um, and so she borrows her definition of love from Erich Fromm who defines love as quote “the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.” I'm going to say that again, “love is the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth.”
Hannah: Oh yeah. That is like hits right on. It's beautiful. And I think that it's really scary sometimes, you know, like I feel for me personally, when I start to feel like uncomfortable or have emotions that maybe, I don't know what or why or anything like the defense mechanisms that I have built up in my body over the years kick in. And I can, like, at this point sort of feel my heart sort of shrinking or hiding in those moments. And so I've been visually challenging myself to sort of like open my heart, like open my chest and just physically press my shoulders kind of back. So that like, my chest is just more open and trying to just be like that in that sort of vulnerable state as I experience that discomfort. And so anyways, I just, yeah, like it's really hard sometimes and beautiful at this time.
SooJin: Yeah. But I think all spiritual growth is hard, right? Like it's not hard because it's about race. Right. I mean it would be hard whenever we're confronted with things that like we've been in denial about or that. Right.
Hannah: So the stuff that we're like that I really just like, don't like admitting about myself.
SooJin: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So, on the one hand, I don't want to like skirt over the fact that this is hard work, but on the other hand, I don't want to over-emphasized that it's hard because it's about race.
Hannah: Um, yeah. Good point.
SooJin: Yeah. Yeah. So folks, if you're part of the 75%, I mean, get onboard, make those changes, take that inventory. That 75%, like what you said, they don't know what they're missing.
Hannah: What I was missing! What six years ago - I was missing! Yeah. Yeah, totally.
SooJin: Thanks for bringing in Kate and Sharon. Um, this was your idea. It was a great idea. Thank you. Okay well uh thanks folks for tuning in and we look forward to another year together.
Hannah: Yeah. We have so many exciting episodes coming up.
SooJin: We do, yes. So get ready. Okay. Take good care everybody.
SooJin: We just want to say thank you for joining us today. You can find more information about us and past episodes on our website antiracistparentingpodcast.com. A big shout out to Mike Myth Productions for the intro and outro music.
Hannah: This work requires us to challenge ourselves and take care of ourselves. Be well.
SooJin: Be antiracist.