Webinar presenter Dr. Kimberly Miller answered a number of your questions after her presentation, Owning Racism & Living the Solution. Here are just a few of her responses.
Audience Question: A couple of folks asked, and I know that this is way back in the beginning of your presentation, on that one slide of the list of privileges, you had SES. What does that stand for?
Kimberly Miller: Yeah, I figured I should have written it out. Sorry. Socioeconomic status. So, are you in the lower class? Are you middle class? Are you upper class in terms of income, etc?
Audience Question: You listed a book, D’Angelo, I think, what’s the name of that lady who wrote a book?
Kimberly Miller: yeah, It’s called White fragility, and I have it in my reference section. I’m getting it out real quick. There are some other good ones you might want to write down. In the paid course, I’ll have tons more options, but these are all really good.
Audience Question: When we’re talking with somebody who doesn’t understand the history of racism or the reality of disadvantaged people, how can we share what you’ve just taught today? What’s for lack of a better way of saying it, what’s an elevator speech or an elevator discussion way of saying, what you just said that is short, and efficiently?
Kimberly Miller: Wow, That’s a hard one. You know, I think part of it could be. Well, here’s my first thing. Ask if they’re open to hearing a different perspective, right? You don’t want to get them on a day they’re exhausted, they’re burned out, they’re angry, they’re yelling at you. They’re saying that racism doesn’t exist. So, get them on a good day. Then just tell them the story. I would say, here’s the history of colonization. People came here from Europe seeking their own freedom, which we can’t blame them. They were getting persecuted for religion, etc. So, we can’t blame them for wanting a new life. The problem is when they came over seeking a new life, they basically tried to annihilate Native Americans and treated them as different. I would talk about the reality of seeing us as savages, that our religious practices were not OK Speaking our language was not OK. Living in our culture was not OK. And therefore, we got killed, murdered, put on reservations that to this day are not well funded. We don’t have resources. So, I would kind of go through the same things I went through with you. If you talk about the Black experience in Birmingham, Alabama, you don’t call the police in Birmingham, or you didn’t because the police were on the side of reinforcing the Jim Crow laws and all of that and we have a whole other ugly history that I’ll go into in the paid class, but I would bring it up in ways like that. I would tell a little bit about the story that I told today, and I would frame it, what would it be like if you were treated this way? You know, what would it be like if your religious practices were used as a mascot for a football team? How would you feel about that? I think when we put it in those terms, people often get a different perspective.
Audience Question: Is privilege negative? It seems to be referred to in a very negative way, as if a person who’s White or educated or who owns a home, should apologize for those things or for being different. How does privilege interrelate with racism?
Kimberly Miller: I think that the term privilege has been used as a weapon. I think it has been used as a weapon, especially right now, in terms of attacking White people, that they have it. I mean, I put myself in that group, I have White skin, nobody can see that I’m Cherokee. It’s been used as a weapon to say that we’re bad people because we walk in the world with privilege. But there is some truth to White people being blind to their privilege because most White people don’t think about being White. Most White people probably don’t even think of being White as having a culture or being a “race.” We think mostly of ethnic minorities having a different culture in a different race. But a lot of White people don’t have to think about that they’re White until they get into a group where they’re not. If you’ve ever been a White person in a group where you are the minority in terms of skin color, you totally then realize you’re White. Because you’re now not in the norm anymore. So, the way I see it tying in with racism is if you walk around the planet blind to your privilege and you don’t understand that other people don’t have the same life. I think that your blindness to that and your lack of, I guess, being open to conversations, etcetera, perpetuates the idea of the have and the have-nots. I think it also sometimes limits us from wanting to advocate for other people that aren’t like us, advocating to have mascots removed from sports teams like there’s a big call for it now but Native people been calling for that for decades but there weren’t a lot of White people who joined us in that fight. Many White people got mad at us, and said, you’re taking away our culture. You’re taking away our team and our history of our team. It’s like, we got pretty much-annihilated but nobody’s talking about that. So, I think that you should not feel guilty about the privilege you have because many of us were born with it and then we earned this other stuff. Guilt is not a helpful emotion, but we need to realize that other people don’t have the experience and then work for positive change for the whole society. Advocating, as an example, I said before, advocating that your city and county fund mental health services and social services, which doesn’t mean taking money from the police to do it. It hasn’t been a priority for years, and we put the burden on policing to fix that, which is unfair. So, I think once we start owning the privilege that we have, and we see where people don’t have it, we could perhaps become more advocates and allies to get rid of those discrepancies and inequalities.
Audience Question: In terms of implicit bias, Allison asks, can you speak to the research about implicit bias training? Why has this training not has been as successful as so many people would have hoped?
Kimberly Miller: I can speak in generalities about that. Absolutely and this obviously, is my opinion, my perspective. So, I actually teach a class just on that. We’re going to cover it in my deeper dive if you’re interested in that. I think it comes down to two things. Number one, a lot of people don’t want to own that they have biases. So, they sit on a class and even when they hear things right, that it’s implicit, it’s not your fault, it’s societal programming, etc. They still sit in a place of denial and defensiveness, so they sit in class, and maybe they participate, but they don’t actually get anything out of it. So, I think that’s one issue. I think the other issue, it’s a reality of what I call all soft skill training and we’re going to dive more into this in the next session so please join me in the next session if you’re interested. I have never met an organization that has a soft skill training accountability program, meaning if you take implicit bias as an example, so here are all the things we learned in this class. We were here for four hours, or eight hours, or whatever it is. We learn these tools, OK, now what? So, they check a box, and they run the class, but people aren’t thinking about that on a regular basis. They don’t have ongoing conversations about implicit bias. They aren’t taking the information about how to keep your implicit biases in check, and operating from it every day, and thinking about it. It’s the same thing. It could be another class, It could be leadership, or communication, or conflict, or ethics. When you leave the class, what are you doing with what you learned? Right now, I don’t know of, actually, any organizations that make people practice when they leave the training. I think that if we made people practice what they learn about implicit bias, challenge themselves. It’d be a different story, but I think it’d be a different story about leadership too. I teach leadership classes as well and there are tons of people that love my class, and they sit in it, but then when they leave, they never practice anything that they learn. So, they’re the same leader they were before they walked into the class. So, to me, to transform this, you have to create soft skill training accountability, but first and foremost, you have to hold yourself accountable. You have to say, I am going to take something I learned from here. So, this is where, this is my last interaction, that I’m going to ask you all to do and for Chris to read out to us, real quick. Write down in the chat one commitment you’re willing to make: something that you learned today, something that spoke to you today, some aha moment, something you’re willing to practice, whether it’s to have a difficult conversation, or you just want to be more aware of your privilege, type in something you’re willing to do and then commit to doing that on a regular basis. So, Chris, what are people saying in the chat? Where are their commitments?
Host: Oh, my goodness. And they’re already getting in there. Educating myself, becoming more aware of my own privilege. I like this: committing to being more curious. Oh, I like that.
Kimberly Miller: That’s great.
Host: That’s a great one. Listening first. Oh, Katherine, that’s fantastic. Being willing to share ideas with others. That’s a great one, Victoria, and of course, Patricia. This is another good one. Working through my own emotions. Those are all important ones. I love that. Susan, yes, I agree, I want to get ahold of that book White fragility as well. I really want to get a hold book too. Elizabeth, the last one here, I’m going to close with being willing to be vulnerable. And Kimberly, I’m going to toss that back to you because that’s a really important one and it’s a scary place to be vulnerable. (1:26:09)
Kimberly Miller: Yeah, you know, and we’ve been talking about that in my Native Circles a lot about and I mentioned the issue that that’s true in all ethnic minority groups, is this lateral violence and how we don’t treat each other well, even within our own ethnic minority communities and I have seen it in our groups where people are afraid to be vulnerable, and they’re afraid to speak up because it’s super uncomfortable and it’s a different perspective instead of saying you know, our problem is a racist society, right? I mean, that’s part of the equation but in those spaces saying, we are the problem, saying, we treat each other poorly and having to own our own misdeeds and apologize is really tough to do. That’s a hard journey that at least my group is on, I’m glad we’re on that journey. But that’s the other reason, to be honest with you, I really try to model what I teach. I don’t ask y’all to do any work I haven’t done and don’t continue to do. That’s why I brought up the thing about being Cherokee. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that on a webinar before and the struggles of that and growing up in Birmingham and the racism I experienced and what I’ve seen from my own family members that were horrifically hurtful. What I’ve seen in terms of the reality of systemic racism and education with my colleagues who grew up in the same city and had a different experience. I mean, it’s horrific. Then my own journey of owning my privilege and navigating walking into the world, I mean, it’s not been easy, but I can tell you it’s worth it. I feel like I’m a better person. I’m certainly not perfect. I have my own biases I have to continue to challenge and work on, but I’ll tell you that it’s worth it. It’s uncomfortable, It’s hard, but it’s worth the work, and if you do it, at least for yourself, you’ll be a better person, You’ll have a wider perspective and if you can do it in your organization, that can also be really transformational. I’m so glad so many of you were on this call today. I really hope that it was valuable. If you have additional questions for me, please feel free to reach out. I am happy to talk to you, support you on this journey, and if I can support your agency, too.