SooJin and Hannah sit down with prolific author and editor, Veronica Chambers of the New York Times to discuss her recent book entitled Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter. This conversation is epic, exploring the history of the BLM movement and how we can all play a part in moving the ball forward a little bit. Veronica poses thoughtful questions and weaves in her own personal experiences as a way to shine light on the complexities and realities that parents of color face - especially Black parents - as they raise their children in a society that was built to exclude them. Her book is both stunning and hopeful, and this episode is dripping with opportunity and intention. Veronica challenges us to choose our verbs wisely because what we do (or don’t do) matters and will have ripple effects into future generations. The power is ours. What verb will we choose today?
Unbought and Unbossed (film about Shirley Chisholm)
When and Where I Enter by Paula Giddings
NY Times Climate Hub Veronica Chambers
NY Times Climate Hub Somini Sengupta
E22: Conversation with Veronica Chambers, New York Times Editor
Co-hosts: SooJin Pate and Hannah Carney
Guest: Veronica Chambers
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 22! In honor of Black History Month, we have a special episode that is devoted to the largest social movement of our times. The movement for Black lives, Black Lives Matter. We have with us prolific writer and editor, Veronica Chambers, who's here to discuss her new book, Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter that just came out. And I just can't wait to dig into this conversation because this book, the first word that comes to my mind in terms of describing this book is stunning. It is absolutely stunning. Visually, spiritually, narratively - it's stunning. It's just so gorgeous. So I'm really, really looking forward to having that conversation with Veronica, but before we get into that, it's time for our accountability check-in. So, Hannah, do you want to do your check-in first?
Hannah: Yeah. Sure. So last episode I had made the commitment to kind of embody this quote that we learned from Amira and Miranda, a few episodes ago around “love is the answer.” And what does it mean when I have that sort of guide me? And so I have been making some definite changes. And I actually just read this book that was co-written by Oprah and Dr. Perry, it's called What Happened to You. And it is really fascinating to like understand our brain and trauma and not only for individual, but also like at societal and systemic levels. And so it's helpful as I think about this love is the answer like my brain has as our brains do, like kind of form out these roads, if you will, that are sort of your path that is like deeply ingrained where you have gone over and over and over. And so part of what we do as we're healing is we're sort of building this road next to that one, not like getting rid of that road, but sort of building out this new default and this new road that we can now walk on and go forward on.
And so I think that I'm making progress in, as I come to situations or emotions that come up where I'm noticing what the old road would look like and how that response would be. And then I'm sort of trying different new responses to see like what feels right and what could be on this new path. And so, yeah, I feel good about the work I've done and I feel like even yesterday, like I woke up in this like kind of a sour mood and I was doing some meditations and I was kind of reflecting on like exactly what I was sour about and sort of like, just accepting that for what that was. And then I was able to look at that and say, okay, I also have the ability to project goodness into this day. And then to like, see how that can be cultivated. And it totally was a day that could have just been like this raunchy grumpy grouchy day. And instead it was like, it wasn't like the most joyous of days, but I was more present. I was not in a bad mood. And so even just small changes like that are kind of how I'm seeing this show up right now.
SooJin: Oh my gosh, Hannah. That is amazing. I love that analogy that you used, about how, like when we make different choices, we literally are creating a new path for ourselves and trying out new paths, so, that they are just as ingrained and carved, like in terms of the depth ness. And like carved in our psyche and our neurological pathways, just as deeply as the old patterns, and old paths that are expired - like they no longer serve us anymore. Right. So we need to like, chart new territory and responses. Yeah. I love that. I think that's such a great analogy. I'm going to borrow that and use it in the classroom when, I see students, you know, struggling or being resistant to new ways of thinking and new ways of responding.
Hannah: Yeah, definitely. Well, that book is life-changing. What Happened to You is what it's called.
SooJin: Awesome, thanks for that. Okay. So as it relates to me, you know, I pretty much followed through on all of the outstanding commitments I've made so far throughout this podcast.
SooJin: Yeah, I have. So like, I'm pretty proud of myself.
Hannah: Yeah, that’s amazing.
SooJin: But that doesn't mean I don't have anything to share, so I do want to share this thing, that is related to a commitment that I made last spring/summer about working to create anti-oppressive spaces. So, I just finished my first week of teaching in person on campus. And I haven't taught in a classroom in-person for quite some time. And I just wanna to say it's giving me so much joy. I haven't been - my being hasn't been this on fire. Like, I feel like I'm just, you know, during the 4th of July, you light those sparklers. I feel like my whole body is this giant sparkler when I'm in the classroom. Yeah. I was just telling a friend the other day, holding a dry erase marker and writing on the whiteboard. It makes me feel like I'm at home.
Hannah: I love that.
SooJin: Yeah. Yeah. So it's just been, so amazing. And so, you know, I've always said that like my picket line, like where my activism shows up best for me is in the classroom. Because it's the only space that I can determine for myself. And collaboratively, with my students. So it's something that we build together from scratch, and this is a space where we can dream, where we can dream our liberation and not only dream it together, but like make it happen, like manifest it, you know? And so, so I think that's why I feel so much power in the classroom, because I am free. We're the ones creating and drafting the blueprints. And so, that kind of practice, that kind of time that I have every single week now, because I'm back in the classroom with these students has just been not only like invigorating and rejuvenating, but it reminds me of like how much I've missed joy in my life and how much I really need that.
Like, I really need that kind of sparkle, that kind of fire, of joy in my life and now I want to like even more - be active and deliberate about creating that kind of joy in my life. So that is related to not only the commitment that I made in the spring and summer, but also to the commitment that I made for 2022. So when bell hooks passed on December 17th, one of the ways in which I grieved and I'm still continuing to mourn and grieve her death was to write her a thank you note that I never wrote to her and sent to her when she was alive. So that's like, one of my biggest regrets is not ever seeing her in person. And not writing her and letting her know how much she impacted my life. So I wrote her a thank you note, and in that thank you note, I told her that I was going to commit 2022 - it was going to be an ode to bell hooks. That my teaching, I was going to commit to her that every single student that comes through my classroom this year will know her name will know the impact that she made on my life. And so I am working to seed the things that she planted in me, I am working to seed in others and in my students. And so, I share that because me teaching in person is aligning and coalescing with this commitment to having this year of teaching dedicated to bell hooks - my intellectual mentor, my spiritual mother. It's my way of giving back. And I'm realizing that in me, giving back to her in this way, it just continues to feed me. Yeah. It's just so fricking powerful, like work is so fricking powerful because her teachings, the values and principles and operating systems that she is trying to get us to reorient around is such that when you give you receive like it's circular. Like it's never one way there's reciprocity inherently built into her teachings into her way of life, into her way of living. And, I never fully understood that until now, in the classroom with my students. And so mama bell, I love you. I thank you. And I invite your spirit to be with us today. As we focus our conversation around, the largest social movement in the history of this country that was formed and led by three Black women whose politics were also informed by you. So that's what I would like to bring into this conversation.
Hannah: Amazing. Wow. SooJin, there are just no words. Your students are so lucky and like, I think it just epitomizes exactly what this podcast is about and how we're making antiracism a way of life.
SooJin: Yeah. I'm so lucky. I'm so lucky that those students chose to take my class, so that we can create together because these courses, the classroom isn't for me, it's for them. And the fact that they allowed me and invited me to like co-create and collaborate with them. Like, I'm the lucky one. I'm the lucky one.
Hannah: Well, so I had an idea of what the intention was going to be, but I'm going to change it. Yeah. So, um, I would like to have our intention be, and I'm going to give this a little bit of preface because I just recently watched a documentary called Happy and it is basically studying things that make humans happy. And so what I think is really important and relevant to this conversation is that 50% of what makes a person happy comes from our genetics. So it's sort of like a preset amount of happiness that each person can sort of have already built in. And then there's 10% of our happiness comes from like the money we make, the job, the things that are part of our identity. And then that leaves 40% of our happiness - that is up to our intentional activity, doing things to make ourselves happier. And, um, kind of like what you were saying, like acts of kindness was one of the highest ones for like most effective in terms of measuring people's happiness when they were engaged in these activities. But there are many things, I mean, doing new things, physical movement, being in community, you know, so many different things, but I just think that our intention around being intentional is going to be what we focus on today.
SooJin: Awesome. So I get the lovely pleasure of being able to introduce our listeners to Veronica Chambers, who is hailing all the way from London, with us today. And so Veronica, the floor is yours. I'd love for you to share with us and with our listeners, a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from and what you do.
Veronica: I'm so happy to be here. Thank you for having me. My name is Veronica Chambers and I'm an author and an editor at the New York Times. I grew up in New York. I'm a Brooklyn girl, which I think anyone knows Brooklyn - it's kind of part of your identity for your whole life. But I was born in Panama and I left Panama when I was two. We lived in England for a little bit. So this is a little bit of a return for me. And then I grew up in Brooklyn. And I mentioned being Panamanian, Afro Latina, partly because I think being a first-generation American is so much like being a journalist, you know, like I think that when your parents aren't from this country, you're constantly asking questions about how do things work? What does it mean to be American? What facts can I find to buttress the suppositions that I have? What are the takeaways that I have from this experience, from the story from this place?
I think one of my favorite lines in all of literature, even though I'm sure it's a little bit of a problematic book if you interrogated it is Alice and Wonderland, “curiouser and curiouser.” And I think that, having parents who were immigrants made me curiouser and curiouser. And so I'm a journalist, but I'm also a mom. I'm a mom of one an aunt to five and auntie to many. So I think a lot about what it means to be a parent to be an auntie I have a really good friend that I recommend you guys should follow her and actually you should have her on this podcast. She's amazing. Her name Somini Sengupta, and she’s an international climate reporter for the New York Times. And her daughter and my daughter are close to the same age. I don't think that's something she would mind me saying. And so we talk a lot about being aunties to each other's girls. She also talks about what it means to be a good ancestor. And I think that is something that I think a lot about. I'm here to talk about my book on Black Lives Matter, but one of the highlights for me of 2021 was I got to go to Glasgow as part of the New York Times delegation for the climate hub there during COP26. And I got to moderate a panel on climate justice and racial justice. You know, I think about these things all the time. I think about them personally, I think about them as a mother and aunt and an auntie. You know, you mentioned bell hooks and I'm so honored to be in any space that is honoring her, but that idea of how to be a good ancestor makes me, and thinking about bell hooks’ work and what you talked about, the classroom, it makes you think of something that I've come back to a lot that Ava DuVernay said when she said, if your dreams just involve you, you're not dreaming big enough. And so I think about that a lot, you know, how do I dream big enough that I'm dreaming for my family and friends and my community and the community of the planet that we live on. So not too ambitious in trying to say in my goals and aspirations. So that's me basically.
SooJin: Wow. Thank you so much for orienting ourselves to that goal of thinking about what kind of ancestor we want to be. And the quote from Ava DuVernay is so beautiful because I feel like that's the motto that the three women Opal and Alicia and Patrisse are living - they're embodying that. Right. So let's talk about your book Call and Response: The Story of Black Lives Matter. Could you please kind of share like the origin story of this book? Like how did it even come to be conceived? Um, why did you write it?
Veronica: Sure. So you know, like so many people, spring of 2020 was a really challenging, ground underneath my feet shifting moment. And then we got into the moment of Black Lives Matter, the height of it. And as the cases were unfolding and the names were coming forward, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery - my daughter was 12 and then turned 13 during that time of the pandemic. And, you know, I had actually made a pretty - I think any time, this is something that among my group of friends of parents of color - I think you make a decision about when and how you're going to talk about race to your kids and, a lot of times it depends on where you live.
It depends on your circumstances. It depends on your co-parenting circumstances. And it also depends on the individual kid. And I had remembered that a friend of mine had a daughter whose teacher had taught her in kindergarten about slavery, not thinking that here was a kid who was one of the only Black kids in the class.
Like I think the teacher thought - let's talk about slavery. Like, let's go there. And the little girl who was really bright and very intelligent for her age, went home and started researching on Google and the more she found, the more horrified she was. And it was one, oh my God, how did this happen? Two, could this happen again? Could someone do this to me, my parents, the people I love? Three, what could Black people have possibly done to deserve this? Because she had a logic thing going on, you know what I mean? Like if she didn't do her homework, she couldn't watch TV. If she didn't make her bed, she couldn't do that. So her whole thing is if someone's going to put you in chains and beat you, what did you do? And this became something that was a swirling presence in her mind from the time she was five. And so at the point I didn't have kids, but when my own child came along, I thought a couple of things. I thought one, I had a pretty happy kid. Like my kid had a pretty happy set point. Like I remember in preschool, like she was just so happy to be there every day. And I was standing there dropping her off one day. And one of the dads whose kid was clearly like, always like struggling with something – was like, can I just rub my daughter all over your daughter, like, because your kid is so happy. And so I was dealing with a kid who was really joyful and 5, 6, 7, 8 came and I really didn't feel like I wanted to sit down and go, oh, by the way, there's this really like complex, challenging, painful history. And so I kind of leaned in on the Black girl magic of it all. So, you know, we went to Broadway shows and we went to the museum, like my daughter learned about all kinds of artists like Glenn Ligon, Lorna Simpson, Alma Thomas, and Romare Bearden. And like, literally, she was like, you know, we went to Lincoln Center and at that time, Wynton Marsalis was still teaching jazz for young people.
So when she was five, she was like, jazz is blues, rhythm and improvisation. I leaned in on all of that. So when the spring of 2020 happened and you know, she has a phone she's 12 and she's on it all the time. She's like, wait a second, a Black man with killed in police custody? Wait a second. This happens all the time? Wait a second. And I was just like, whoa, we have to play catch up fast. I mean, clearly we've had more race conversations since 2016, because, you know, she was one of a few Black girls in every school that she was in. And so there were conversations that were happening, but spring, summer 2020, it was hard. It was like fast. And I think there were three things I was trying to communicate during that summer. One, I really wanted to communicate to her that the Black Lives Matter movement to me, one of the most powerful things about that movement is that it managed somehow against all odds to center the idea of systemic racism and saying, this is not about a bad apple individual. It's not about a bad state. I kind of grew up in Brooklyn being like the south or these towns where people are racist, not knowing how pervasive and systemic racism is. And so I was like, this is not about an individual, an individual place, an individual party of people, meaning the police. This is about the country and the roots of the country and how unexamined those roots are. There's a beautiful line in Isabel Wilkerson’s book Caste, which is, I think it's one of the most powerful books I've ever read. I mean, obviously her first book was really amazing, but I think she really takes it to the [max]. And she says, this is what America was for longer than it was not. And that was the conversation I was trying to have with her. And she was like, well, I've never heard the term systemic racism, for example. And I said, one of the reasons why systemic racism is a really difficult and has been a difficult thing to make a household conversation, is because it's so big and it interrogates everything. And that is threatening to our very way of life. I said, but the freedom in that is that we get out of the blame game and we get into the solution matter. You know, Black Lives Matter continues to be a controversial thing. It's something you can't discuss in every household. It's something you can't discuss in every school. I said, you don't have to discuss a movement. What the bigger question about this is – is what kind of citizen do you want to be? And what kind of America do you want to live in? That is the conversation. And it's the conversation we're all engaged with in our actions and our inactions and how we support them, how we don't support. So like take controversial terms out of it. It's a basic question. What kind of citizen do you want to be and what kind of America do you want to live in - and let that guide your choices. And so that's where we started in May/June 2020, and then it just so happened that I was the editor in charge of leading the coverage of women's suffrage. And so I was busy pulling together a huge package, a book, a stage play. I mean, we did all the things for August 2020, which was the hundredth anniversary of the women's right to vote.
So I did that and I worked on a book called Finish the Fight, which is a story of women's rights to vote. And what I said to my daughter at the time is I said, it took 100 years for women to get the vote, right. One hundred years, four to six generations of women. It's about moving the ball forward a little bit. So take a deep breath. Because, you know, at the time she was just like, oh my God, you know, when you get hit with a lot of information at once, it's like you get all woke and you go, oh my God. I’m like take a deep breath and know that this is a lifelong endeavor if what we're grounding ourselves in is equality. The American experiment as Lin-Manuel Miranda, so beautifully calls it in Hamilton and all of his work. Then it's a marathon. It's not a sprint. And so we're going to take this as we take every hard thing in our lives - day by day. So I had finished this book, Finish a Fight, which is a middle grade book, and I finished the suffrage coverage and it was really an amazing experience, more than 50 journalists and engineers and artists and different people from across the New York Times worked on our women's rights to vote coverage. And actually you can find a good deal of it at nytimes.com/suffrage. And there's also a playback of the play that we did. We had a Broadway playwright to write a version of our Finish the Fight book. And so it was all very successful. And my editor, Margaret Raymo, who's an amazing person. And Kwame Alexander, who's an author. Who's also a publisher. They said, you've just covered, voting rights. Would you like to write about Black Lives Matter? For the middle grade reader. So in some ways it was a natural progression and it was a really personal one too, because I'd been having those conversations about all of these things. So that was such a long answer. I'm so sorry.
SooJin: No, no this is fascinating. Thank you so much. So with that said, what was it that you were trying to accomplish with the book?
Veronica: Yeah, so the suffrage book was hard to write, but it was also fun to write, because I love history. I always say anything you love has a history.You know, like my colleagues who cover sports, we love doing things on sports history, it’s so fun. My colleagues who cover business, every business has a history, you know, like every industry has a history. So I love digging into history. Call and Response and writing about Black Lives Matter was challenging because the movement was happening at the same time. So I was writing about something as it was unfolding. So, you know, just like you said, SooJin, it is the largest protest in the nation's history between 15 – 26 million people participated in protests in summer 2020. I've worked a lot with visuals at the New York Times. So this is a podcast that we can't show you the pictures, but there are over 150 pictures from the New York Times and journalistic outlets in the book. And one of the reasons that I was really happy to lean in on the photographs is because I think that the photographs tell a story in a way that is really different. As a journalist, I'm not trying to say rah-rah one movement. I'm trying to say, look at what this movement created. And when you look at these images. I think there's 173 photos in the book, we easily went through a thousand photographs, to winnow it down and what was so powerful to me. And this happens to me all the time at the New York Times is that when there is a photo that takes your breath away, literally everyone has the same reaction to it. It's just like, you know, it's - I don't maybe for slightly different reasons, but you know, there's a kind of - Adrienne Rich the poet had a beautiful book that I always think about which is a dream of a common language. And I think, I think about that partly because I grew up with my parents speaking a different language than what's my first language and I'm really into languages.
And so in some ways I think photography and visuals are as close to the dream of a common language that we could possibly get. There's a picture in Manhattan, June 4th, 2020. And it's just all kinds of people of all different backgrounds. We were consistently struck in the imagery that 2020 you know, there's been a lot of smart photography about it. It was partly because people were home because of the pandemic. It was not only the largest protest in the nation's history, the Black Lives Matter protest that summer, but it was also the most diverse. So when you're looking in the pictures, you're seeing all kinds of people. And I think, I'm hopeful in these divisive times that we can carry some of that forward and remember the moments that when people stood together in the streets and said, this matters to me. When you look at that doctors against racism, like the people in the scrubs, the nurses, the med techs, you know, teachers against racism, like the groups of people that came together, the bike protests were so striking to me, you know, lots of different family members of all kinds with little kids on their bikes, just riding through the streets. Um, there was a picture that from the moment we saw it, I was like, I can't imagine we are not going to do this picture. And it was a little girl. I think she was six at the time and a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. Her name is Kay Marie Dixon. And she was on horseback, it's page 11 in the book. And she was at a protest that was organized by the Compton Cowboys and it was a peace ride on horseback through the streets of Compton, California. I love this picture. I just think what an amazing moment. I love the bicyclists. I love the skateboarders. You know, I love the surf paddle outs. I loved all the ways in which you saw people protesting. There's a picture of a man. This is from 2013 and he's got the child on his shoulders, you know, the classic dad or uncle thing. And he's just written in marker across his feet, Trayvon, no fancy signs. Nothing. And you look in his eyes and its just about hope. I love the pictures of Dolores Huerta and her organizing the farm workers. I love the historical images, the Black Panthers. One of the things that, I think is also very powerful about this movement is that they took the classic, tools of the civil rights movement, the marches and the protests and the newsletters and all of that. And they combined it with the radical imagination of the Black Power movement. And one of the things that I talk about when I talk to students and visit kids and they go to bookstores, is that one of the things that the movement accomplished is that, the modern civil rights movement, the idea was, we will put on a suit, we will be respectable. We will show you that we deserve these rights that we have our humanity, the Black Power movement from the Black Panthers to Angela Davis to Malcolm X was saying, I don't need to prove my humanity. I earned my humanity by being human. So I think one of the things that you see that's going on in Ferguson and all of these different places is young people are saying, it doesn't matter if I have baggy jeans on – it doesn't matter if I fit your profile of whatever I deserve safety, I deserve every right that an American citizen is supposed to be accorded. And I deserve to be treated like a human who's life has value. I was reading parts of the book to my daughter and her friends in the fall of 2020 before we moved to London and they were saying, we never learned about the Black Panthers in school. We never learned about Malcolm X. They don't teach Angela Davis. And I understand why, right. We know all the reasons why, but I think especially if you look at the work of Angela Davis, as someone, along the lines of bell hooks, that radical imagination, that radical means to like re-imagined to think in whole new ways about what is possible is really important. And so, when my daughter had her 14th birthday, what she asked for, so 13th birthday was locked down right before George Floyd and all of those protests, 14th birthday was a few months last spring in 2021. And she asked for a copy of Angela Davis’ Why Prisons Should Be Obsolete. Like between a year later she was like, can we talk about this? Because I haven't learned about this person in school, would it be okay for me to get this book and read it? And we said, okay. And, so I just, I wanted to bring some of that into the book, because I think that it's really important to know that the Black Power movement shaped that moment. And there's a powerful legacy to tap into, that a lot of us don't have access to.
SooJin: I feel like what you articulated was the difference between a politics of recognition and a politics of liberation and that, the politics of recognition that was so much of the civil rights movement.
Right. You know, I'm respectable, I’m human, look at me - that that only gets us so far. Because in a lot of ways, it maintains those systems of power. It keeps them intact. Whereas the politics of liberation, the radical imagination that you were referencing from, the Black Panther party, the Black Power movement, and that we see, and BLM. That's about liberation. That comes from a place of like, our humanity is assumed. Like that's a foregone conclusion, because we know that we're humans and we don't need white power to tell us that we're humans. We know that for ourselves. And instead where our time and energy needs to be spent on is how can we dismantle the systems that lead to oppression that dehumanize us so that we can all be free. And that kind of politics of liberation yeah. That is threatening and challenging to the status quo and to existing institutions. And that's why they don't want us to learn this history. And that's why this book that you curated so beautifully is so important because it is providing us with the tools, it's equipping young minds with a blueprint for how we can reimagine and how we can frankly, free ourselves.
Veronica: I hope so. I mean, I remember so well, I was talking to a nurse once and she was saying, if I don't write everything down, people die. She's like if I don't write the things down on the charts, if I don't pay attention. And then in some ways, seeing the swings in the country to think about all these people in the street that summer of 2020, and then to look at where we are in 2022. And I feel very much that part of my job was to write it down, to try to capture the energy, the hope, the possibility, the connection, the meaning, and to curate the photographs. And, in some ways I started the book and I was really struggling talking about all the things of how Black Lives Matter - I should also say it's a complex movement. I mean, none of the three original founders are involved in the movement now. It's always - you know, they called it leaderful, but it was never a centralized movement. It's a complex movement in and of itself, but what I really tried to do with the first half of the book, and for me, this was kind of the lightning bolt moment was what if I make the first half of the book about how we got to the summer of 2020 and try to tell something about these young women. We talked about bell hooks before, you know, I love that Alicia Garza called her first post a love letter. And in a lot of ways it hearkens to things like Letter from a Birmingham Jail. And, this idea of speaking your truth with love, and what that means. Talking about systemic racism, talking about policing and how broken it is, you know, like I think one of the questions my daughter asked me. What does that mean - defund the police does that mean we won't be safe? I'll tell you. This was interesting to me is that I knew this because I had done some work with Senator Cory Booker before I joined the New York Times. And I'll just read this little bit if that's okay. Um, so in 2020, one of the most consistent chants heard at Black Lives Matter protest was defund the police, but what does this mean exactly? Alex Vitale, Brooklyn college professor and the author of the book, The End of Policing writes, “I'm certainly not talking about any kind of scenario where tomorrow someone just flips a switch and there are no police, but reformers argue that one of the primary causes of problems with law enforcement today is that police are given too many tasks that other agencies can handle in a better way. And that shifting the funds to other departments would actually make communities safer. Police are expected to do much more than solve and prevent crimes. They're asked to manage prior accidents, domestic disputes, truancy, to address calls that relate to people who are dealing with serious mental health challenges and addiction. When someone's dog is missing, they call the police.” And so I felt like that was important to explain to my daughter to say, that it's not about being afraid of the police, which comes up for a lot of Black, young people, it's not about police being bad people. It's about policing being a broken system and a broken institution and giving some history of that. So the first half of the book is really about how we got to 2020.
The second half of the book is really about what people did with that information. And so I had a timeline of the modern civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter movement. We talk about sports and protests. We talk about music, we talk about murals and the art of protest, literally and figuratively. We talk about young people and how it connects to things like climate change and March for our Lives and gun control and all these different things. And really remembering that very young people have been at the heart of every major protest movement in our country's history. And so, in that way, I feel like the book felt balanced to me because I feel like the second half of the book is really about like how people are imagining what is possible and how they're making a difference. And really, I think I was thinking a lot about the kind of kid that I was, and saying that there are so many different ways to raise your voice, that you can draw a picture, you can do a mural. You can, you know, I love, oh my God, I’m obsessed with Paola Velez. I did a piece about her. I can send you guys a link for the New York Times and bakers against racism. You know, when I talk to people and they say, I have very young kids, how do I talk to them about this? What I do? And, you know, Paola Velez, Willa Pelini and Rob Rubba. I know you guys probably talked about this on the show, but in 2020, their goal is to get 80 bakers to do a virtual bake sale, bake in their community and donate the funds to organizations doing racial justice work. They actually got 2,000 bakers in 41 states on five continents to bake. In under a year, raising more than $2 million for organizations such as Black Lives Matter, the United Negro College Fund, the Equal Justice Initiative and the Innocence Project. And Paola said to me, what's really beautiful is that I started it with like $0 down. And just for the goodness of other people, you don't actually have to wait until you have a ton of money to raise a ton of money. And I love this thing that she says, because I also, you mentioned SooJin liberation, and I think that's so powerful. Something I talk to my daughter a lot about is I was like, we all have ideas about where we're trying to get. I said how you get there matters as much as the goal. So like, are we going to get there by trying to like engage people by being graceful, by being strategic, by preserving our energy, are we going to get their whole and intact? Because I think we can look at any movement of the 20th century and see so many people who were broken, lost, exhausted, and left not intact by their efforts towards change. And so Paola talks about baking. I'm not a good baker, but I have to say, I have been baking with my daughter. My daughter is actually an excellent baker. She's really into math and I'm always freestyling it in the kitchen. And she's like, you can't do that when you're baking, she's like, you got measure. And I'm like, this is where you can tell that I have Panamanian parents because they're just like freestyling. Um, so, um, Paola said that baking is an exercise in mindfulness that lends itself to the thought provoking work of social justice. She says, it takes a little bit of patience and it takes a little bit of grace and this is a quote of hers Paola says, “you can bake the world a better place because in those times of reflection you're really staying still and thinking about how to be someone that gives.” And I just, I think you were talking about meditation, Hannah. You were mentioning it and my daughter is now 14 and when she comes in hot, I'm like, okay, take your butt to the living room and either get on the cycle and cycle for 10 minutes or sit or do like child's pose or listen to a meditation because I'm like, we don't do that this way in this house. Like, I know you have hormones, but you don't come in hot and talk crazy to me and you don't go out there hot and talk crazy to people. And so I think that thing of like a little grace, a little reflection of how we hope to be in the world is really important because I want us to win. I want us to win in a way that feels whole and that we didn't break ourselves into two to do it because I think then what we win won't hold, the center will not hold if we don't give some thought and consideration to what is being required of us and how we show up, speaking of how we show up, I don't know if you guys have had Mia Birdsong on, do you know that book? Oh my God love this book. I'm obsessed with it.
SooJin: About the community.
Veronica: Yeah. How We Show Up.
SooJin: Hannah loves that book too, and it’s on the way of being transferred to me.
Veronica: Okay. So, you know, the book is called How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community. And Mia was a friend of a friend who I've become friendly with. And I love this little book because I think about that a lot. How do I show up? Knowing that I'm tired. Knowing I'm somebody who moves through the world, with brown skin and dark skin. And I get beat up on a lot. Like, I don't always get respected. I don't always get treated well. And so I have moments where, you know, like people for years thought I was my child's nanny, for example, you know what I mean? Like they would be like, literally, even when she was like nine or 10 years old, they'd be like, God, you're so loving with her. How long have you been taking care of her? I was like, since she appeared in my womb - or even you know, just all of the indignations of everyday racism, can make me really tired and yet, you know, like I think, okay, I've had a funky dunky situation, but I'm walking into a grocery. How do I show up? I'm passing somebody who is disabled and looks lost. Like, how do I show up? I am seeing someone who's a young mom is struggling and maybe they're screaming at a kid. How do I show up? Like, I think that question of how we show up is a big one, because I think that there obviously they're huge things that need to happen in the world, but I also think small things are happening every day. And sometimes you don't know how the little bit of grace you can show for someone can make all of the difference. I worry about how much this pandemic has taken from people, and how alone some people feel. And, I really think as many big, capital “I” issues that we have to deal with. I think we also have a lot of healing to do. That is really important.
SooJin: Yeah, it sure is. So before we move into the lightning round, do you have anything that you'd like to promote or lift up?
Veronica: Sure. So, um, I have one thing which is, I wrote a picture book called Shirley Chisholm is a Verb. And Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman in Congress. And she was an amazing leader. She helped create the school meal program. She'd been a teacher herself. She was also the first person to get ballots translated into different languages in New York politics because she had, grown up in Brooklyn and her parents were from another country and she campaigned in different languages. I feel so strongly about her and she's always been a hero of mine. I called the book, Shirley Chisholm is a Verb. There's an amazing documentary by Shola Lynch about her, which I highly recommend called Unbought and Unbossed, which was her motto. She was also the first woman to make incredible run for president. I should say that as well. And she was a force to be reckoned with and the book is for young readers - I would say five, six years old. Um, though I read picture books all the time, so five or six in heart or age, and it's really about how verbs move us forward. They're the only things that do. They're only things that move language forward. And so, it is about how we choose our verbs and what are the verbs that we are using to move our lives forward our day forward, our dreams forward. And when I talk to really young kids and I say, what verb would you choose? It's amazing because the verbs they choose are so great, you know, it's like shine or dazzle or jump or leap or somersault, they have no problem thinking about the verbs they choose, you know? So I loved writing this book because every time I see it on my shelf, it's kind of a reminder, like, did I choose a verb today? Am my choosing a verb to move my day forward or am I letting my day happen to me? So, um, I just, I love it and I love honoring her with it.
SooJin: Wow. That sounds incredible. So this section is called our lightning round and please don't think too much about it.
SooJin: Antiracist parenting is
Veronica: An opportunity.
SooJin: What is something that your daughter did to make you smile?
Veronica: She's been dancing a lot in the kitchen to Erykah Badu. Cause she thinks she discovered Erykah Badu. And like she's 14. She thinks she discovered 1990s R&B. I'm like, okay. She's like, have you heard the song “On and On”? I’m like – yeah I think I did.
SooJin: You were like - child, I grew up on that song. Okay. What are you doing to take care of yourself?
Veronica: I'm doing a lot of walks. It's so funny. I was reading an article about how Peloton is going down, but I have the Peloton app on my phone and because I'm in London, I can schedule walks with my friends in the states and you can schedule sessions. And so I'll just do a nice walk and we'll both be listening to the teacher and walking wherever we are. And like, I really liked to do that. I'm very, stationary and I'm very like into my books. And so like getting out and walking every day is a really good thing for me.
SooJin: What are you reading right now?
Veronica: Oh, I'm reading a few things. I'm actually re-reading something for hopefully a future project. It's a book by Paula Giddings, which you guys probably know that’s called When and Where I Enter. I haven't read it in a really long time. And I just think Paula Giddings is amazing. And so I was like, let me go back and re-read that. I love to re-read books. Like I just, love seeing how different I am to something that I read so long ago.
SooJin: Same here, ditto. What question would you like Antiracist Parenting Podcasts to answer in a future episode?
Veronica: I actually told you this before we got on about how my daughter was like kicked out of a chat group because she was the only Black kid and she was, it was summer 2020, and she was talking a lot about the protests and they said she was obsessed with race. And so they kicked her out of this chat group. My first instinct, when that happened was, I'm going to call the moms. This is outrageous. And then one of my friends was like, if these girls kicked her out of the chat groups, maybe there's a chance their moms are saying things like this you know? And so I was literally afraid to call these moms that I had developed a friendliness with. And it was so funny. Cause I actually, that year I sent them all holiday cards and I didn't hear back from any of them.
SooJin: Hold on, these are her friends? It's not just some like random chat?
Veronica: No, no. These were her friends from school. And so, um, so it was really, really hard. And I guess the thing is, is that I like so many people, I'm the Black friend to a lot of people, you know what I mean? I'm a lot of people's Black friends and one of the things, that I've done over the last year is ask my really close oldest white friends to do some work to meet me in the middle. I'm like, can you read something? And then we talk about it or can you watch this documentary? And then we talk about it because I felt like, you know, a lot of people of color. And I think especially Black people felt like summer 2020, my phone was blowing up. Like the amount of white people were like, just thinking about you. I was like, whoa, I haven't heard from you in forever. And then of course they all went away. But you know, my core friends, I had asked some of them to not depend on me, to explain experience and history all the time. And I think that question of how we can do that as friends, you know, not in the service of politics or anything, but like to say, if we're gonna like travel through life together and celebrate our birthdays and go out to dinner with our partners and bring our kids together. Can you meet me here and say, I value having you in my life and I'm going to do some work to show that I see you in a way beyond what you present to me every day. I can see a bigger picture around you. Does that make sense?
SooJin: Yeah, it does. I'm curious, how did you deal with that incident with your daughter and her friends? Did you end up reaching out to the parents?
Veronica: You know, honestly, I was so broken that summer. By the end of June, mid July, I was going to bed crying, waking up crying. Like I was just so worn out by the news. I literally didn't feel like I had the emotional capacity to have some mom be nasty to me. And so I will say this was a relatively small chat group. There were four other girls, they kicked her out and she had other friends, but this was kind of like core group for her and had been really meaningful. And I just was like, I don't want to take it and so that's been an interesting thing to realize. Wow. Like I've always, been aware that as a Black person who moves in a lot of predominantly white circles, that there are a lot of people who share beliefs that are not progressive, but see me as an exception to that. Right. Like we all know that. So it's like, I think this is okay, but Veronica and I are cool, you know, like, and I think the challenging thing for the last couple of years is, trying to detangle myself from that. I think that the pandemic and all of the things that we've gone through, I thought January 6 was terrifying and heartbreaking and just, you know, I was like, how do I be a good ancestor around that? Like, what is the answer? Because I do believe, that we live in a beautiful country that has an ugly history and has ugly sides to it. But I believe in our country, I know what it meant for my parents to become American. My parents were very, very poor in Panama. For me to go to college and work at the New York Times is beyond anything that might've been possible in a country where class was so striated I probably would have ended up working in a laundry, like my grandmother cleaned houses and worked in laundry and all that stuff. And so I know what it means to live in a place where you have social mobility, where you have educational mobility. Like I don't, dismiss everything that's great about our country. At the same time, I think it's been a very challenging time to be in betwixt and between people who do not want to move forward an antiracist agenda or find it offensive or threatening on some level. That is really challenging. So, I really beefed up my daughter’s other friendships. I was really afraid of her just becoming more isolated, more depressed and thinking it had to do with her skin color, which is horrible, you know.
SooJin: Good for you for taking care of yourself in that moment and being like, this is not mine to carry.
Veronica: Yeah. I guess I'll say one last thing. I always say to my daughter, what a democracy means is that other people may differ in opinion from you, but you do not lose your voice in the difference. And it's really important to know how to hold space and hold onto your voice. Like, I think that is the work of the moment. And to respectfully let other people make the choices they're making, even when it's disappointing or heartbreaking or whatever emotion you have to, hold your space, hold your voice, and know that that's what a democracy means.
SooJin: Is there anything else that you'd like to share before we say goodbye?
Veronica: No, I'm just really happy to meet you. From the moment I heard about your podcast, I was honored to be on it. And thank you for doing this work. I feel like it's incredibly important and meaningful.
SooJin: Oh, thank you.
All say goodbye.
SooJin: Oh my god!
SooJin: It was so amazing!
SooJin: I mean, what a gift. Oh my goodness. Wow. I feel like, this is a day. This is a conversation that I'm going to be referring back to because I could make like 10 different commitments from this episode. What's coming up for you, dear.
Hannah: I'm just looking. All my notes are just like scribbled. Um, okay, so maybe I'll start here. So she had posed the questions. I didn't quote these exactly. But basically the idea was what world do we want to live in and who do I want to be? And so I think I'm going to meditate on those and like continue to kind of like form out that. I think that such a critical piece to what she said was not just about the result, but how we get there, like the doing part and how intentional we can be around that feeling like, how does it feel? Not just like, did we get the desired outcome, but like, are we intact? Like, are we, you know...
SooJin: Every step of the way. Yes. Like, it's not like, are we intact when we get to the end? It's more like am I intact right now with each moment with each dilemma.
Hannah: Yeah, totally. So, yeah, I think that, like, for me, that was, something I was tuned into. And then I also just wanted to share something from the book, let's see, I'm looking at page 124, and it's talking about the Black Lives Matter. How, as a movement it's been successful in shifting public opinion. The way I interpret that is really around kind of like, you know, shifting culture, like starting to change the way that we are aware and, yeah, kind of a consciousness aspect to it. And so social scientists have this theory or hypothesis called the contact hypothesis, which they have studied in movements. And so it says “the more examples individual people see of a marginalized group or cause, and the more personal conversations they have with people in their own life about these issues, the more likely public opinion is to shift.” And so I think about that. And I think about that not only in terms of like the work we do with the podcast around like hosting these conversations and helping families have more of these conversations, but that we're not just doing that randomly. Like there's actually proof out there and research around the fact that like, this actually works. Like this is how we like change our culture is by engaging in these conversations. And I think it's a really nice segue into our upcoming series that we'll talk about with some of my family members that we've been having. Like examples of how this plays out in real life like, these are the types of conversations that are going on in people's lives.
SooJin: Because if that happened, we wouldn't get comments like you talk about race too much. Right. Like, actually we don't talk about it enough, like race is everywhere, every single aspect of our lives goes back to race. Um, this contact hypothesis and everything that, you shared around that it reminds me of this, Ted Talk by Brene Brown on listening to shame. And she said that, there are three things that foster shame and that makes shame, thrive and grow. So the things that fuel and feed it is secrecy. So not talking about stuff. The whole attack on critical race theory on the 1619 project. That's all about secrecy. Like we need to keep this part of our American history a secret. The second thing is silence, which we are so good at that. Aren't we? Like, there is a culture of silence in our country, in our society on so many things. And then passing judgment, and constantly forming judgements about people. So secrecy, silence, and judgment are the three key things that fuel and feed shame. Do you know what, she says is the antidote to shame the one thing that kills shame, where if you put shame in a Petri dish, if you put in this ingredient, it would totally like eviscerate. That is empathy.
Hannah: Yeah. That makes sense.
SooJin: Yeah. So talking to people, creating relationships, you know, all the things that we've been talking about, all of that helps to feed and carve that neural pathway of empathy, like engrave it so that it becomes hard wired into our brains, into our spirits, into our minds. And I feel like having conversations like this, I feel more empathetic after listening to Veronica.
Hannah: Yeah. Yep. Totally.
SooJin: And how is that a bad thing - there's only good that can come from that. I'm just so thankful for her. Yes. I had said that I could make 10, 15, 20 commitments just from this episode, but I think what's rising to the top for me is this small phrase. She said this small yet mighty phrase that I need in my life right now, and that is speaking truth with love. This goes back to bell hooks, our last episode where we referenced her definition of love, um, and the book All About Love. And as much as my superpower is telling the truth what can get missing in the truth telling is the love piece. And so, this is a good reminder for me that I can still speak the truth, with love, you know. That love doesn't diminish or dilute the truth. It actually enhances it. Like love is the conduit, of the truth that I'm trying to pass on.
Hannah: Oh, that's beautiful. Love it.
SooJin: Okay, well, thank you my dear.
Hannah: Yes. Thank you. Wow. What an exciting and powerful conversation.
SooJin: Okay. Well, thanks for listening in. And we hope that this conversation with Veronica was as soul filling, spirit nourishing, mind shifting as it was for both Hannah and I. And we will be sure to reference all of the stuff that she brought into the space in our show notes. Take care everybody.
Hannah: Bye. Bye.
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.