Quimbee logo
DMCA.com Protection Status

The Journey of Race Literacy: Engaging with Antiracism in the Practice of Law

Start your FREE 7-day trial
Preview this course and the rest of Quimbee's CLE library for free with a 7-day free trial membership.
Buy this course - $49
Get access to just this course for $49
Play video

The Journey of Race Literacy: Engaging with Antiracism in the Practice of Law

In this program, Quimbee faculty member Alyssa Johnson and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) consultant Dr. Erika Powell will explore the dimensions of DEI work and race literacy work. You will learn how race trauma is held in the body and how generational trauma affects current behaviors. Workplace race dynamics are examined including how confirmation bias and racism affect the legal profession. Allyship is also discussed with a focus on how White women have been loyal to White supremacy. We will also explore methods for dismantling White supremacy in the legal profession and beyond.

Presenters

Alyssa Johnson
Lawyer, Consultant, Teacher & Contributing Author
Alyssa Johnson LLC
Dr. Erika Powell
Senior Leadership & Diversity Trainer
The Powell Consulting Group

Transcript

- Hello and welcome to the Journey of Race Literacy, engaging with Antiracism in the practice of law. My name is Alyssa Johnson and I am your Quimbee faculty member leading today's CLE. I have a guest speaker here with me, Dr. Erika Powell, and I will introduce her momentarily, but before I do so I just wanted to let you know that this is an interview style CLE, so Dr. Powell and I will talk for the majority of the time, and then afterwards I will do an individual teaching portion to ensure that we go at least 60 minutes so you get your CLE credit. And without further ado, let me share with you a little bit about Dr. Powell. Fostering transformation at the personal and professional levels, as well as creating workplaces and cultures where employees thrive, are at the heart of Dr. Powell's work. For the past 17 plus years, she has partnered with organizations to design, create and facilitate leadership trainings, team building solutions, and employee development interventions. Over the course of her career, she has consulted on a variety of initiatives in the corporate higher education and nonprofit sectors, both nationally and globally, she is bilingual in Spanish and holds a doctorate in instructional, technology and design from the University of Virginia, a master's in education in intercultural communication from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA in cultural anthropology from Haverford College. Additionally Dr. Powell is a dear friend and colleague of mine. Welcome Dr. Powell, thank you so much for being here today and being interviewed for this CLE. Would you tell us a little bit about your work?

- Thanks Alyssa. Yeah, so my work falls into three different buckets. Sometimes I get to work with companies who say, we need to do some TEI training, maybe that's they need to learn unconscious bias, maybe they wanna go the next level and explore microaggressions, or for the ones who are really focused on equity and inclusion and justice work, they may say, hey we wanna bring you in to do a course on allyship or a course on how to become an anti-racist organization. So training is one big bucket that I work in, another bucket that I particularly enjoy working in is coaching. So often I'll get clients that come in and they say, hey, you know, I'm experiencing microaggressions at my organization, or maybe they are aware that there are microaggressions and while they're not experiencing them, they wanna use their power and privilege to make sure that other folks on their team or within their organization aren't experiencing them or sometimes people will come to me with imposter syndrome or the whole laundry list of those topics and challenges that you really want some one-on-one coaching support for. My last bucket is consulting. So sometimes companies will come to me and they'll say, you know what, we have some training or maybe we don't have training, but we need to figure out what we need to be doing in this DEI space. As you all can imagine in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder in 2020, folks have started to do things like create a DEI vision and mission statement, folks have started to do more things like, hey, let's survey our employees and do an engagement survey with the DEI lens to see what our groups are experiencing. So that's what I do when I'm working with my consulting hat. And those are my three hats, training, coaching and consulting.

- Great, thank you so much for that. Now you mentioned, you know, the death of George Floyd in 2020, where have you seen in terms of your business, the most growth and the most interest by people in terms of their own journey with race literacy?

- Yeah, so since George Floyd's death, folks have really been playing a lot in the training realm, something about that tragedy woke people up to an awareness that they didn't know what was going on. I've heard from a lot of folks is interesting that they said something about 2020 helped them realize that there were two realities being held in the workplace, things that they thought we had gotten through or things that we were over suddenly came into the forefront into the limelight again. So training is usually the bigger push, people are saying, I wanna know, what am I missing? What wasn't I taught? And when you think about it, I actually got my start as a classroom teacher, I started in first grade and then bumped up to middle school and then fourth grade and then back down to first grade, I've also worked in higher education, and the thing that has kind of amazed me about our current education system is that most of us want the training because we've never had it, we may have gotten the, I like to put on my pump and circumstance voice, the highest degree in the land. Whether it's a JD or a EDD or a PhD or a MBA, some type of terminal degree or maybe you didn't get that, maybe you just got a college degree, or maybe you just got a high school diploma, but somehow you could go through lots and lots of schooling and never really have that conversation about race, racism, race literacy in this country and in where you live. So training has been a big push. Often once folks finish the basic training, if you will, they've taken an unconscious bias course, some folks will say, hey, I really could use some one on one coaching support in this area, I need someone like you, Dr. Powell, that I can ask the hard questions and where I can just, you know, show up and see how to move these energies and these structures that have been in place for a long time. So training and coaching are where I'm seeing the field go right now.

- Okay thank you for that. With the training in particular, what are you seeing in terms of DEI work versus race literacy work? Are they the same? Are they different? Is one a piece of the other? Are some aspects of it more? Are people more open to it where there might be a counterculture to other aspects of it? What is your experience with these different pieces?

- That's a really good question, and I think that's the one that we're living into right now. So when I say that we're living into right now, we're two years out from the murder of George Floyd, actually in a couple of days or weeks, we will be at the two year mark from there. What happened was that a lot of people jumped in and they said we need DEI training right now, right this minute. And I always think of DEI training as the gateway or the beginning conversation starter to that wider piece of race literacy. So when I think of DEI training, I think of a thing that we in the field refer to as the diversity wheel. So you and I and anyone who's listening or watching this interview knows that human beings are made up of stuff. What is that stuff? Some folks would say, oh, I'm a human blood gut cells, and maybe if you really get specific, you'll start talking about mitochondria and RNA and DNA. And from an anthropological or sociological lens, humans also have what we call social identities. So not only am I, you know, a biological machine, I am also a woman, I am a black woman with a certain ability status, of a certain age, with a certain sexual orientation, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So DEI introduces people to that idea of this social world that we all live in, these are currencies, they can either provide access or they can bar access. When we get into race literacy, that means we're focusing on a specific part of that wheel race. And in this country, if you are in America, that is the hardest topic of our time, that is the topic that is very difficult for people to really stay with the emotional charge. So what I have seen happen a lot is that a lot of companies say, hey, we wanna do the DEI training. So they'll do the basic unconscious bias, they'll do microaggressions, and then when we start to get into, well, let's have a course around anti-racism or let's have a course around race literacy, there's a lot of resistance, it shows up in a lot of different ways. Sometimes it's the, oh, no, we can't talk about Bruno, sometimes it's the, oh, well, we don't need to talk about that part of that you know, we're all one and yes we are, and at least in this country, race is race and race literacy is a fundamental conversation that we have to have that I find many organizations aren't prepared to actually have because there's a lot of resistance.

- Yeah, I am not at all surprised by the answer, that has been my perception and observation as well. So I really appreciate you identifying what you're experiencing, you know, from your perspective and the work that you're doing. When it becomes clear from your perspective that a company is having a race issue, what are steps that can be taken to perhaps diffuse some of the resistance employees, probably white employees are having to doing the race literacy work?

- I will say something controversial, I think that we're always having a race issue if you will, race is always that invisible Bruno in the room. So we always have to be looking at that lens, we always have to be looking at our, what we would say in my field at our positionality, right? So in a given exchange, we all hold these social identities and we can't overlook them. So I think step one is to acknowledge them and this is kind of a hard question because it requires us to go back a few steps, and one of the big steps is we have to one examine our power and privilege, two we have to be willing to not see race as something, or when it comes into the equation, because something happens when we say the R word, like all of a sudden bodies get constricted, or we're like, oh no, not that again, or there's a fear or a silence and a hushing that comes across the crowd for many folks, whenever race gets mentioned and we do need to do that work, I highly recommend that folks reach out to a DEI practitioner when there is something brewing in that regard, because it's the beginning of an opening to a conversation that can go either really sour real quick, or it can be an opening to some really beautiful connection and bridge building, but you need an expert that will help you navigate that, and you also need a willing, there is a step three willing hearts and willing minds to face the histories that tie us together and that inform our present.

- I deeply appreciate how you said that, and in you elucidated these different steps, these pieces that go along with it in order to either close off things or open up for greater connection and discussion and openheartedness, and I really appreciate it certainly in the context of the legal profession, which historically connectedness, heart-centeredness, deep empathy, compassion, feelings have been very undervalued for various reasons, and it's a very intellectualized profession, and I think at least with the legal profession, and I cannot imagine it's unique to the legal profession that in a, you know, removing feeling and heart from the equation has disastrous consequences, it doesn't bring our whole selves to the table, and then I think perhaps solutions or different pathways become unavailable to us if we're only, you know, using cerebral powers to navigate things. Is that in alignment with your teachings and the work that you're doing?

- Yeah yeah I think it highlights one of the hallmarks of white supremacy culture and notice what how and what I'm freezing as white supremacy culture, is a bias towards the intellectual, so head has a stronger currency value than heart. Individual has a stronger currency value than collective. And I would say there are other ways of looking at the world, and it reminds me of a talk that I recently listened to from the author of "Braiding Sweetgrass" she was given a talk online and one of the things that she was showing and if you're not familiar with the book, check it out, "Braiding Sweetgrass" is the title, and in her talk, she was saying, this is how Western white world views the land, and this is how indigenous cultures view the land. And the thing that really moved me about her talk was that she said, maybe it's not an either or, 'cause we often wanna go into the binary, that's what white supremacy culture says is either this or that. She actually said, what if it's an and and, that we can have the intellect and we can also have the heart, and maybe that is like the challenge of our time right now is we've seen where just the intellect will take us, we often miss data points. If you look at as someone who does a lot of work in DEI I'm often partnering with HR organization, so I'm constantly paying attention to the HR beat, as they say in journalism. What's up with this great resignation? Aren't we getting the numbers? Profits are soaring in a lot of places, right? Companies are saying, oh, we actually made a lot more money than we ever have, and yet we're losing people, people are saying, I don't wanna be part of this if this is the cost. So I think we're at a real crux right now where we have to learn how to marry our head and our heart to make better decisions for not just me, but for all of us, and I think that's what we're seeing right now, the repercussions of only relying on one modality for the past I don't know how many hundreds of years it's been science, it's been logic, it's been rationale, not necessarily empathy or compassion or connection, and feelings.

- Yeah I completely agree with you and I think you are so brilliant for the work that you're doing in terms of helping people integrate and marry these different parts of our being that really create an integrated whole person rather than perhaps a fractionated, you know, or disconnected person that is supposed to show up in the world and what that can lead to. Okay I want to ask you now about trauma and race based trauma and how it's really held in the body, and including generational trauma, so that when someone shows up to work or in the world, especially a person of color that they are showing up at that moment and who they are in that moment, but there may also be greater aspects of their development or their consciousness or the things that have been running through their family and their genes and the family's psyche that are also coming to the table, and what that really looks like in terms of navigating the workplace and perhaps constantly facing microaggressions or aggressions or other forms of racism that make it extremely difficult to be in the world.

- Yeah so the book that I would refer folks to, if they really find my response, which will be the cliff notes version of the book, and also a story about how this manifest in my own life, the book first that I would recommend would be to check out Resmaa Menakem, "My Grandmother's Hands" of the folks in the field, he is the, I think the first and one of the only few who is really going deep into this racialized body trauma, so it's definitely a must read, I know people have done book clubs and study groups around it, it's really chefs kiss well written.

- Yes, yes, completely agree.

- What I would say from a personal angle in response to your question is when I was six years old, five or yeah, I guess six, five or six, I was in first grade, so usually about six years old in the first grade, there was a little girl named Christie and we were both in Ms. Weger's class and I was just smitten with Ms. Weger. She had red hair and I just thought, oh, red hair was just the coolest. Christie was blonde, she had blue eyes. And I remember one day going home to my mom and, you know, kinda like in that six year old sad kinda like, and I said, well, what's wrong? And I remember at some point I told my mom, the teacher never calls on me, she always calls on Christie. Whenever we have something, you know, a question gets asked, Christie always gets picked. Whenever, you know, how six year olds and in first grade part of their job is to learn how to be responsible and six year olds love helping the teacher, and they love having like special little assignments, I noticed Christie always got that and even though I would have my hand raised and even though I, you know, wanted to do it. And when I think about your question, I think that story is quite fitting as I start to analyze it from, you know, a racialized body trauma lens. It took a lot of courage for me to tell my mom, hey, this was happening because in our socialization, I am actually socialized as a woman of color to minimize that or to not pay attention to it, to not even notice that that's going on. Or if I do notice that it's going on, to not say anything about it, because nothing quote unquote would be done. I did tell my mom, my mom went to the teacher and she said, hey, my, you know, my kid is saying, this is what she's noticing. The teacher did what many white teachers would do, she denied that that was happening, she said, oh, I would never do that, everybody gets a fair shot in my classroom, didn't do it, right? If we go first backwards in our hot tub time machine, when we look at what is the historical experience of black women and white women in time and space and place? Typically or traditionally or historically, I don't know for all my grammar folks, you find fill in the blank with your preferred, if we go back, there is a socialized expected level of deference that I as a person in a brown, black body is supposed to pay to someone in a white body. So what does that mean? Historically, I shouldn't even be saying like, hey, gimme some space to share, I wanna help, I wanna participate. Now historically, that could have been punished, right? Physically, emotionally, in some regards it could have meant death or, you know, severe abuse to the point of maybe not being able to walk anymore or maybe being hit so hard that you lose your hearing or fill in the blank, right? I wasn't back during that time period, but I've read enough to know what happened and how that would've manifested in my body. So now come back up with me to 1980s, I'm not saying my real age. Come back with me in the eighties, where I, a little six year old girl is saying, hey, this is happening in the classroom, and the teacher says, oh, that's not happening, teacher being white, denying my experience in that way. So what does it do to me as a little girl? And how does that carry on, 'cause your question is how does that show up in the workplace? So fast forward through different grade levels, what happens to me? Well, I just kind of assume that this is the norm, right? The little white girl should have the right of way, if you will, right? And if I say something, it will be ignored, that's what I learned. What does she learn? The little girl, what does the teacher learn? You all can fill in the blanks. So now fast forward further and let's just imagine I'm in my first corporate board room, you know, I got my first job, I'm out making my money. How am I going to show up in that board room, knowing that this trauma lives inside of me of when I say this is happening, you are gonna say, it's not happening, and you're gonna tell me the show must go on or you're being too sensitive or that didn't happen, and when you look at the wider DEI literature, one of the big things that happens with women, especially women of color, they often don't gain the floor in conversations, right? So we'll be in a conversation, we may say something and I've shared this with other folks and so many women give me like the poetry snaps, so they're like you were there too, yes. We say something incredibly brilliant, and there's just crickets. But then if someone else who holds more power and privilege on the racial dimension of diversity says the exact same thing that we have said, they get credit, we do not. When we say something about it, that same pattern of you are exaggerating, that doesn't happen here, you just didn't speak loud enough. Oh, well, you know, so and so is in charge. We never question where did that come from, and how did that come to be about? So that story starts to illustrate, at least through my lived experience, how trauma plays out. That's on a scale of spicy jalapeno, for me, I consider that's like a level two story. If we wanted to, we could go up to a spicy level three, four or five or maybe even a ghost pepper, but I'm sure you have more questions, so. And I think that's enough for folks to get that idea of what has happened in the past carries on into the future, and our job right now is to notice that and to start shifting in ways and relating in ways that allows us to create new ways of being.

- Thank you for sharing your own experience as this just precious sweet, you know, six year old, seven year old in first grade.

- That was sassy.

- I love it, I envision, you know, six or seven year old Dr. Powell is a sassy little one and it's delightful. Thank you for sharing that story, and I think explaining so clearly how that moves with you in your body and in your psyche as you move through the world and as you age and where, you know, and how that is coming into the boardroom or, you know, if I'm using legal terms, you know, like a partner meeting or, you know, whatever that looks like, and I think that that's really poignant for people to say, oh, it's not just this person in this moment in time, it is a person as a collection of life experiences, lived experiences, family experiences, so on and so forth. So thank you.

- Yeah and the word that you use that I wanna go back to, I love that you used the word psyche, because it exists in all of our psyches, right. So I am showing up in a certain way and you are showing up in a certain way when we're in that, what was the legal term? The partner meetings.

- Yeah.

- Yeah, right. So there's a way that I'm showing up, there's the way that you're showing up and it's not actually happening on the intellectual level. None of us, most of the time are aware that this is what we're doing and this is how we're doing it, it's in that invisible matter, I always like to think of it as like, you know, we've been dancing a Foxtrot for a very long time, but the events of 2020 have really woken us up to like, there's a new dance in town and it's called the cha cha cha, or it's a good old bachata or a good old Merengue, or, you know, maybe it's the wobble, I don't know, but this is where we find ourselves and I think it's important for us to do that inner reflection, both white folks and black folks and everyone involved in this thing that we call race in America.

- Yeah, I want to sort of piggyback off of that and follow up a little bit in that I know that connection is a huge piece of your work and this can be particularly new for lawyers, and just in terms of how does app, you know, when you're supposed to be professional and stoic and all, you know, these different things, actually having that deeper connection and where we need to go internally in order to open up space for connection, do you have thoughts around that?

- Well, I know there are probably tons of folks that are like connections reaction.

- Yes, true.

- So step one is to start to see the power of connection. So in the midst of the pandemic, there were things that we could buy because we had, you know, economic capital, and then there were things that we had access to because we had connection with folks. And the thing that people have said about the pandemic that has made it so difficult was that we lost connection with each other for the first time in many of our lives, and none of us had this on our bingo card, mind you. We couldn't be in the same room with the people that we loved or that we worked with, we couldn't say hello to the guy down at the place where we get our bagels and our coffee, that makes it just right. Sure we could get it from DoorDash or Uber Eats or wherever you go to get your food delivered, but it wasn't the same, and it's that connection when we go into our offices, the security guard that you say hello to every morning or the janitor that you say hello to every morning or throughout your day, that is actually the connective tissue that holds us together. So the question for people to sit with is where is that connective tissue of connection for you? I can tell you where it is for me, I loved being able to like go outside and make friends with new neighbors, 'cause I have two little monster gremlin dogs and everybody thought they were the cutest things next to slice. And I loved going down the street at 8.30 in the morning during the pandemic, just for my body to be in the presence of other bodies, just to be able to say hello to something other than my wall, because if we go back in your hot tub time machine, those first few months of the pandemic were brutal, because we did not have connection. So step one is to really, to start to value that connection and think if you're like, oh, what do you mean, go deeper, Dr. Powell? What I mean is think about how connection serves as that connective tissue for you in your day to day life, doing the most menial of things. I remember when I first started working and someone said, it's not what you know is who you know, and I think that's what we need to pay attention to when we talk about connection.

- With that in mind, I am particularly interested in the white woman's role in upholding white supremacy and the ways that we have really so deeply hurt our sisters and brothers of color. And so from that angle, where do you see resistance in white women for doing this work? Do you receive a lot of lip service from white women that, you know, we want connection, we want, you know, to work hand in hand we're all together and, you know, trying to dismantle toxic patriarchy, or do you see more actual inner work being done by white women to create safer spaces for people of color?

- Right now, I would say many white women are doing work and the work has many levels to it. And one of the things that I have experienced in my life is my connection with white women starts to disconnect the more I talk about racism or the more I start to show up in the picture and the more I don't back down and say, no, actually we need to look at, if we think about what's happening or could potentially happen with Roe V Wade, we need to look at how that will affect my community. I notice that it's very easy for many white women and I'm not saying all, but for many white women to go into what we would call like a colorblindness and say, oh, but we're all in this together, we're all women, and then when I say, I'd like to think that, but the numbers show differently or I'd like to, I'd love to be on board with that, and your behavior shows differently, that's where things break apart, things fall apart, and that's when I become the angry black woman, the woman who talks about race all the time or the woman who's like DEI focused, I remember a very close friend of mine, we used to talk every Tuesday and Thursday, and the more I started showing up as a like justice oriented, racialized being, pointing out all these different things, the more uncomfortable she got and eventually she said, this can't show up in these conversations on our Tuesday and Thursday calls and it broke my heart, you know, because I knew that it was going to happen, I did not know when, and I did not know how. And I feel like as long as I live with that, that being there is a place where white women I think are so confronted or maybe overwhelmed with the guilt and the shame and the intensity of this moment of me saying, hey, you know, I've gotta do X, Y, Z, when I drive out to certain places, even though I have degrees from you all heard Alyssa, from University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and Haverford, you know, the highest degrees in the land, there are still some places when I drive out to them, I keep my purse on the front seat and you would say, well, why do you need to do that? You're just overreacting because there are things that have shown me if a cop stops me or if something happens, I need to come across as nonthreatening as possible, no sudden moves, no like junkiness like get your wallet and show that to this person ASAP, no jokes, no lightheartedness, and I think the challenge that white women face is to not let their emotions overrun them and their proximity to white male power silence other women of color.

- How are you feeling right now after saying all of that?

- It's very hard for me to talk about it because these are the Brunos in the room, right? To be in conversation with you, as well as we're the two of us being in conversation is creating a bigger and deeper container that other folks are listening to, or that will engage in, in some shape or form, and it feels very taboo to speak about these things. And yet I know that if we're going to get to deeper levels of connection, I have to be willing to Ken Hardy, who is a wonderful scholar in this particular field, one of the things that he says is there are tasks of the privilege and there are tasks of the subjugated. So as someone in a subjugated body, along the lines of race, I have to unlearn fear and powerlessness and voicelessness, that is something that's uniquely required for me to do. And you can play around with the diversity wheel and play, you know, look and see, oh, who's privileged, who's subjugated and find that that holds true. So there's a power, I think, in starting to name these things and starting to talk about them, and it makes me a little nervous, a little afraid, but I also know that I do it with the intention that I know that I'm creating something bigger for folks who are listening and for you and me, and for me, so we get a ripple effect.

- Yeah, thank you for sharing how you're really feeling, and you did such a beautiful job of full spectrum of feelings that you're holding, right? The fear and also your intention to just spread information and knowledge and change conversations and create deeper connection, and knowing that that is what you're doing and holding that, and also acknowledging that the fear that you hold.

- Yeah I love that you pulled that, I love that you noticed that because I think when we have these conversations, we often want them to be like, uni-dimensional. I'm either supposed to just be angry or I'm just supposed to be afraid. And for us to truly make the change that we wanna make, we have to be able to do a dialectic, we have to be able to hold these wicked questions that I could be terrified to say this and still go ahead and say it. That I will speak my truth and also know that people might be like, I'm turning this thing off right now, I'll go get my credits from somewhere else. And I think what I am learning is that when we can hold the complexity of the emotions and in emotional intelligence, some of the work that I do is also in emotional intelligence, not just DEI work, when we can hold the complexity of an emotion that I could be happy and afraid and sad all at the same time, we actually give ourselves more data to work with, that would create an even better solution than if we had just focused on what I'm afraid or I'm just feeling empowered, it's what makes a story like think of the best movie that you've watched recently or the best story that you've read. Part of the reason why it's the best is because it holds all of that complexity.

- Ah, ah, I love how you said that, I think that that really, that hit home for me in terms of like, oh, that's exactly it, that complexity, that richness, those broad strokes that make it so beautiful. From your life experiences and the work that you do, do you think the greater problem is toxic patriarchy or white supremacy?

- I have thought long, hard about this.

- Before I asked it or because I asked it?

- Both 'cause I am actually very much a process person and I'm always like, well, what came first, the chicken or the egg, right? So was it patriarchy that gave birth to white supremacy culture, or was it white supremacy culture that gave birth to patriarchy? I don't know, I wasn't there when it went down. I will say it's easier for us to grapple with patriarchy, it is a lot harder for us to look at the dominant culture and the dominant ways of being from a culture standpoint and critique those and really ask ourselves, is this working for us? How is this working for us? Where is this actually leading us? So I don't know which came first, the chicken or the egg, but I can tell you if you wanna start to move the needle, maybe start with patriarchy and then see how people respond to the idea of let's talk about white supremacy culture, but the challenge with this work and I'll just say this, is everyone comes to it at a different level, and we don't know where folks are. And I think what's really important or at least what I hold is we have to meet people where they are and we have to get them to new heights. So I can't just play in patriarchy forever and ever and ever, you know, fight the patriarchy or we're against the patriarchy. At some point I have to be willing to go to use a Harry Potter metaphor,

- Oh yes.

- I gotta go to the Horcrux.

- Will you explain that for the people who may not know Harry Potter?

- So it's very Indiana Jones esque, remember in the temple of doom when they were like hiding all those crystal skulls, that's essentially what a Horcrux is. It's the power, it's the rats nest is where, you know, if we were talking the body, it's where the pain point is, we'd have to go where the muscles are nodded and I think the place where the muscles are nodded are when we start to talk about white supremacy culture and its impact and its effects.

- Yeah, I, yeah I completely agree that that is it's crucial, I think in order for us to really, to move forward, have the country move forward in a very meaningful, inclusive way, it just isn't. I mean, I feel like we've kind of reached the end of the rope, like we don't, we know this isn't gonna play out.

- Right, you can only look at it from, you know, how it's like, you can only tip toe around it for so long before you actually have to say, and for folks who are very logical and rational-minded, if you do those like five why or nine why exercises, like, why did this happen and why did this happen? Why, when you actually do like a root cause analysis, the Bruno in the room is something about the culture and how the culture values certain things, how the culture shows up that we have to examine.

- Yes and again, a brilliant, just perfect segue into a question that I do have about culture and for organizations that are looking or adopting, implementing DEI practices, and they may have, you know, a DEI position, it's becoming pretty common in some of the larger legal organizations, what is a glass cliff situation? And why would a person of color knowingly take on a glass cliff situation or a glass cliff position, excuse me?

- If I understand the term glass cliff, 'cause there's glass ceiling, and then I guess there's glass cliff. So glass cliff, and you let me know what you mean by glass cliff, my understanding is it's like at some point you won't be able to really do much and it's almost, you know, career, why would you sign up for that? You know you can't really move it in the direction that you want to move it. Why people sign up for it? I think it's because we're passionate, we care, it affects our lives, we want to make a change. One of the things that fascinates me, and I work with folks from not to put it in a binary, but from all walks of life, right? So from all sides, people who have just started this journey, folks who have been in it for a long time as well, one of the things that I consistently hear that unites them is that people are ready for a change and they want something different. What tends to happen is organizations will hire one DEI leader. They won't give them any resources, i.e you don't have a budget, you don't have a team that can help you do this, and everyone's looking at you to like save the day. That's not possible, it's just not possible. I don't know if folks sign up for that willingly, because often when they are recruited, they're told that they'll have a budget, they're told that they will have a team that they can manage, they're told that the organization is ready for change, and then three months into it, they realize, no, you're not, or like, no, you're not, and you don't wanna do the work or know you're not, and you're not resourced and equipped to do the work. So what we see in the DEI realm is very high turnover, because at some point this work is, this is not your everyday job, right? Like this work requires emotional intelligence, it requires resilience stamina, strategy, I mean, what I love about it is it requires all of me to show up, and after a while you just need a break or you go, you know, you say, okay, well, let me go somewhere where I can have an impact, where people do wanna do the work, where people are resourced. But that answer your question, it's a hard one because it gets at the reality of what's happening in the market. Everyone is saying that they want it, and yet we're, you know, we're even down to like, where is the DEI person reporting up to in the organization? Are they a dotted line or are they a direct line to the CEO or to the president of the company or whoever is the highest of the company? What have we empowered them to actually do? Part of it hopefully is training, but at some point an organization will need to move beyond training and trust me, I love training, but the real work isn't necessarily what happens in the training room, the real work is what happens when you're actually in the culture of your organization in a meeting.

- Yes, to answer your question, you did answer my question and the way that you spoke about it, I thought was really brilliant because what I see happening, not in every organization, of course, but at some, and you're gonna be more intimately knowledgeable about this due to the nature of your work is that there will be that person who has been, you know, the DEI person or like, oh, that person's now expected to create great change in an organization that has extensive resistance to actually doing digital work that require, you know, the inner work that must happen to create change, and so then that person, you know, the DEI person or whatever the title is, becomes scapegoated, or just basically set up to fail and then, you know, and then everyone could be like, oh, it's that person's fault, you know, they weren't good enough or.

- They're not the right fit.

- Yeah exactly.

- No, let's see if we can try this another way, exactly exactly.

- And I want legal organizations to be aware of that behavior and to take steps to ensure that they're not setting up a person to fail, because the organization is set up in a way that no one is gonna be successful because it just doesn't have the organizational buy-in that needs to happen in order for the inner work to change, so that the race piece is addressed directly and is healing for everyone involved and not re-traumatizing.

- Absolutely absolutely, your DEI, if you have in-house folks, they need budgets and they need resources to bring on other folks, they also need leadership investment. What do I mean by leadership investment? It's not just, oh, I approve that line item, they need leadership who is doing the work as well. And so if you are a leader and you're like, I kind of wanna talk about it, but I know I have some what they are calling blind spots, you need to be for your organization to truly shift and transform, you need to be committed to doing this work, and if you're not, then you're actually a barrier to your organization succeeding.

- Yeah that's exactly it, thank you for saying that. You mentioned, you know, "My Grandmother's Hands" by Resmaa Menakem, are there any other resources that oh, and my "Braiding Sweetgrass" as well?

- Yeah "Braiding Sweetgrass" that one isn't so much focused on race, it's more, well it's about indigenous connections to the land. So it's not gonna explicitly call out race literacy, but it's an amazing book and it truly truly truly it's a long book, but it truly will reconnect you to some of the bigger pictures 'cause everyone has a different entry point. I would say, and this is I'll reveal a little bit, my practice as a DEI practitioner deepened when I started to connect with the land. So once a month I go animal tracking. It is like the highlight of my month. If you don't know what animal tracking is, it is essentially going out into the middle of nowhere and looking for signs of life, looking for scat, looking for bones, looking for feathers, looking at animal tracks, looking at how they're positioned, which way did the sand fall kind of like a who done it for critters?

- I love it.

- And I think lawyers might appreciate it since y'all like fact finding and all those types of things. But actually getting out onto the land really shifted my approach quite a bit, because in some indigenous traditions, the land is considered a living breathing entity and we are all connected, right. So what we do, what happens to the pelicans is also what happens to us and so on and so on and so on. And so once I started getting out into the land, that idea of how do we connect with each other, either as predator or as prey, just started to really come into focus for me around this work and this wider ecosystem and I'm not talking like ecosystem, like, are you recycling? But like this ecosystem of work.

- Yeah, but I mean, I just, I love that on so many levels that this piece that you take so much joy out of is also feeding you and creating a different relationship to you and the work and how you're bringing it into the world.

- Exactly exactly. Other books that I would recommend "Mindful of Race" by Ruth King is an excellent book. "How To Talk To Your Boss About Race" by Y-Vonne Hutchinson is a really good one as well, and then Milagros Phillips has one called "Cracking The Healers Code", I really have enjoyed, I haven't read all of hers, but bits and pieces that I have read, I'm like, oh yeah, this is helping me get it.

- Okay and I will include those in a slide when I do my individual teaching portion as well so those of you who are watching, you'll have it written down for you. And then finally, before we conclude, how do people reach out to you if they wanna learn more and they wanna work with you?

- Yeah, well, they can find me at thepowellconsultinggroup.com, I have just a simple one page website and there's a contact me button somewhere on there, I like to keep things simple and easy.

- We all love that.

- Exactly exactly, like I was like, should I have like four or five pages? And I was like, no, just do one page, like this is me.

- Yep I love it.

- And then you can also find me on LinkedIn, Dr. Erika Powell, Erika Powell, I am there, you'll see me.

- Wonderful. I wanna thank you so much for your time today and sharing your wisdom and your experiences and really tangible and intangible pieces to do in terms of external work and internal work so that those of us, those who are watching can really continue doing the work that needs to happen in order to dismantle white supremacy. Thank you so much, I know that this is an intense topic and I am so deeply appreciative of you on many levels, and I'm so honored to call you a friend.

- Thank you, thank you, feeling is mutual, thank you.

- Now let's take some of the material that Dr. Powell and I talked about and talk about it specifically as related to the legal profession. The first piece that I wanna look at is confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the brain's tendency to search for and focus on information that supports what we already believe, while ignoring facts that go against those beliefs, despite their relevance, we all engage in confirmation bias, and an example is perhaps let's imagine you think that someone is upset with you, you text them and they do not respond. You then use their unresponsiveness as confirmation of your preconceived belief that they are mad at you, that is an example of confirmation bias. So as related to the legal profession, in 2014, Dr. Arin Reeves released the results of a study she did to look at confirmation bias within the legal profession. Specifically, she wanted to examine whether confirmation bias causes supervising lawyers to more negatively evaluate legal writing by a black lawyer versus a white lawyer. So as part of this study, she and her colleagues found five different partners from different law firms to create a memo that talked about the issue of trade secrets in internet startups. And what they did with this memo is they hadn't come from a hypothetical third year associate named Thomas Meyer. In the memo itself they deliberately inserted 22 errors, so that way reviewing attorneys had something to comment on, and then as part of the study, she and her colleagues found 60 different partners from 22 different law firms to review this memo from this hypothetical third year associate, as part of the writing analysis study. Now, these partners were both men and women, and they came from a mixture of races and ethnicities. The partners were told to grade the memo on a scale of one to five, with one being very poor and five being excellent. The partners were also told that Mr. Meyer was a third year associate and that he was a graduate of NYU law. The only difference is that half of the partners were told that Mr. Meyer was black and the other half were told that Mr. Meyer was white. They all received the exact same memo. Now the results of this were pretty stark, black Thomas Meyer received an average of 3.2 out of 5.0, and white Thomas Meyer received an average of 4.1 out of 5.0, and the comments accompanying the memo also tended to be much more favorable for white Thomas Meyer versus black Thomas Meyer. So this study really confirmed that there is confirmation bias going on in the legal profession, at least with it, with respect to thinking that black attorneys do not write as well as white attorneys. I also wanna look at racism specifically within legal organizations. In 2021, the ABA Coordinating Group on Practice Forward released a survey on how lawyers were faring during the pandemic. A number of different dimensions were looked at in the survey, but for our purposes here, I'm gonna focus specifically on racism. In the survey, 7% of white lawyers reported feeling stress at work on account of their race, while 47% of lawyers of color reported feeling stress at work on account of their race or ethnicity, race and gender increased stress at work, 54% of women of color reported experiencing stress at work on account of their race versus white women, which was 6% and men of color, which was 41%. Now these survey results track very closely with Dr. Powell talked about quite extensively in the interview, which was being a woman of color in the world. So we can see that what Dr. Powell was talking about very much matches what women of color were reporting on in this ABA survey. So how do we actually dismantle white supremacy? Well, we continue with our DEIB initiatives, and if you are unfamiliar with what the B stands for, it means belonging, and we need to incorporate race literacy work. With this we have to be willing, open, curious, compassionate, and committed to look at our race based trauma, and we need to become comfortable in our discomfort. This is especially true for white people, because we have received significant socialization and messaging, that if we become stressed at all, due to anything related to racism or a race based conversation, we need to leave the situation immediately, and we need to be either soothed by a person of color, or we lash out at them, or we just extricate ourselves from this situation. We want to start disrupting this messaging, overriding it and becoming comfortable at looking internally at what's happening within us regarding racism. So this concludes the journey of race literacy, helping lawyers engage in inner work to dismantle white supremacy, it has been an honor and a joy, thank you so much for being here today, if you wish to reach out to Dr. Powell, her contact information is on the slide. Again, my name is Alyssa Johnson, and if you have any questions or comments, feel free to email me or to look at my website, the information is on this slide as well.

Start your FREE 7-day trial
Preview this course and the rest of Quimbee's CLE library for free with a 7-day free trial membership.
Buy this course - $49
Get access to just this course for $49

Course materials

Supplemental MaterialsHandout

Practice areas


Course details

On demand
1h 6m 40s

Credit information