Relationships at Work - the Employee Experience and Workplace Culture Podcast

The Roadmap for Racial Healing in the Workplace with Esther A. Armah

January 16, 2023 Russel Lolacher Episode 48
Relationships at Work - the Employee Experience and Workplace Culture Podcast
The Roadmap for Racial Healing in the Workplace with Esther A. Armah
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with author and CEO of the Armah Institute of Emotional Justice Esther A. Armah on racial healing and the emotional justice road map for the workplace.

Esther shares her thoughts, stories and experience with...

  • How the language of whiteness shows up in DEI and the workplace
  • The difference between intent and outcome in diversity
  • Why the roadmap for racial healing is an emotional one, not intellectual
  • The different relationships between work, worth and and productivity based on history
  • Everyone has a role and work to do in racial healing
  • The problem with celebrating hustle culture
  • How to bridge from a language of whiteness to racial healing love languages

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For more, go to relationshipsatwork.ca 

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Russel Lolacher 
And on the show today we have Esther Armah. And here's why she is awesome. She's an international award winning journalist, having worked for the BBC and written pieces for The Guardian and Essence magazine, occasional guest on MSNBC, DEI expert, playwright, radio host, and author. Her autobiography Can I Be Me and her latest Emotional Justice, A Roadmap for Racial Healing. We're gonna be talking about that a lot today. She's the CEO of the Armah Institute of Emotional Justice, a global institute on implementing the emotional justice framework. Hello, Esther

Esther Armah 
Hello, Russel. Good morning. Good afternoon. Good evening, because we are now fluid and timezone lingo. So I claim all the zones really, really are. Surely.

Russel Lolacher 
You never know when somebody's listening to this.

Esther Armah 
That's true. Oh, well, where they're speaking from, I'm speaking in the afternoon, and I'm talking to you in the morning.

Russel Lolacher 
Exactly, exactly. So the question I have to ask Esther, I asked every one of my guests, which is, what's your best or worst employee experience?

Esther Armah
So my worst one was, you know, making the decision that, you know, it's time for me to expand my horizons, take a risk and enter the executive space of media leadership, and went on a bunch of different interviews kept getting down to the last two or the you know, the finalists and wasn't getting the gig. And then the final kind of nail that really decided my coffin fate that would have me abandoned that particular search was being the last two, there was me and a gentleman in a waiting room in these very uncomfortable chairs. And you know, you get to that there's only the two of you that are you actually here for the same thing because of the nature of the organization. Yes, we were. It was a senior position in a media house. He had no experience in media, and came from the world of insurance. So I was perplexed as to how this is a senior senior let us perplexed as to how he got there. All I know is there were only two of us, and I didn't get the job.

Russel Lolacher 
And I'm guessing they didn't have any answer as to why he got it over you.

Esther Armah
They never have an answer that would ever satisfy somebody with 15 plus years experience internationally versus the insurance manager. I don't know that there's an answer that would ever satisfy you. When those are your odds. Those are the stakes.

Russel Lolacher
Oh, I didn't think there would be I would just curious what bullshit they brought up that may or may have been the right answer or not for them.

Esther Armah
I don't know that I was listening I think the point of which I got the notice saying thank you very much. We thought you were a great fit, you know that that that that bullshit sign off? That has you just sitting there and mouth open and gassed in shock. And you know, deciding that maybe when you thought you had experience to lead a media house, you may have got it wrong, maybe the insurance man really is the person that can do it way better than you and then after the bitterness resides, sorry, succeeds subsides. That's the combination of recedes and lies once the bitterness subsides. I'm frankly, the resentment. I think it's it's a situation that I think particularly a lot of black women are familiar with, although myself and the gentleman, but we have a black man and a black woman in the same space. And it was jarring, it was infuriating. It was enraging. I think it felt like the culmination of a lot of journalism experiences where if you put people up, experienced up against experience, I had it in spades, and, you know, lost out to another person who you invariably meet, because they need your skill set somewhere down the line. It's the story of that accumulative, frankly, rage that comes from being witness to levels of unfairness that just you really can't do anything about. But and also, I think trigger your own insecurity certainly triggered mine at the time. But in the end, it was actually a blessing as these things always are. So actually, in celebration of doors being closed, in order that actually much bigger doors that are global doors are opened,

Russel Lolacher
Which led you to do so much more on top of what you've already accomplished, which we're talking about today, which is your latest book, which is the emotional justice, a roadmap for racial healing. Looking at this book, it does a lot of heavy lifting. Around framing. It's sort of like going no, no, don't freak out. Almost like you have to hold them by the hand. Am I wrong in that? I just felt like it was very, very contextual. Was that on purpose?

Esther Armah
Yes. So I made I think context and nuance matters when you're talking about whiteness and race. And I think too often, particularly in the world of diversity when it comes to the world of work. The world of labor, is we use generic brushstrokes that are neither helpful. They're not transformative. They don't make any kind of change that is substantive. And yet has been consistently described as this is what change looks like. And honestly, it really the framework was saying that I call bullshit. That's it's never been that. And so I think naming things matters in order to begin a process of exploring okay, then what is the work? And for whom is that work? And why is that work for this demographic versus this demographic. And so the point about the framework, the point about the journey was saying that, I called it the language of whiteness intentionally, because I wanted to think about the notion of justice love languages. Why? Because a love language is about making everything better. It is absolutely about ensuring that there's a humanity centered focus and approach. And so that language is one that we're familiar with. Also, because emotional justice is about a relationship to power. And I think that is also a universally understood, framework, relationships are something that we all have. This is language that we all understand. And so you're not starting all the way from the beginning, your entry point is something that is familiar. I would say, though, that it's very specifically about not holding people's hands, I would say that it's very specifically about saying, it is not that I am interested in beating you over the head. That is not the nature of how emotional justice works. And the reason it doesn't work that way, is that none of us respond best. From a point of accusation or confrontation, just none of us do. It's just not, it's not something that works for anybody. But that's very different than saying we have very difficult, uncomfortable, challenging conversations to have. And the approach that we have been taking thus far, does not serve discomfort. Unless it's the discomfort of the black and brown people and indigenous people who have who have been doing the heavy lifting, in a way that in trenches, the injustice of the racial healing models that were leaning on. And what I'm saying is language whiteness is about saying, the narrative is a bitch for everybody. We've all been sold a lie, and the lie shapes all of us, but the way it shapes us is different. So when we have to identify that it is a lie. Secondly, we have to explain how does it shape us in order for us to get to Okay, so then what is the work that different demographics need to do that we need to identify that and be specific? And I think that absence of context leads to the presence of injustice, and not just injustice but entrenched injustice.

Russel Lolacher
So how does this false narrative show up in the workplace?

Esther Armah
So it shows up in what I call, intention versus outcome. All workplaces at this point, have a policy of diversity, equity inclusion, at this point all over the world. There is the language that we're all very familiar with. But this workplace has zero tolerance of exclusionary behavior, zero tolerance of discrimination, that we are committed to an inclusive work environment where everybody feels welcome. And everybody feels included. At this point, everybody has that language. So it's not a negation of policy policy matters. What emotional justice is saying is policy is simply your intention. And you cannot measure cultural transformation, by an intention, no business measures its profit margin, on the basis of what it intended to do, if I intended to make 51 sales from this theatrical organization. And I made to, I can't claim that as a success, because my intention was to sell out and my actual outcome was to part of the way we're measuring Diversity, Equity and Inclusion outcomes is through intention. And all that does is serve what I call the language of whiteness. So this narrative that we've all been sold says very simply, whiteness is the world. Whiteness built the world. Whiteness saves the world, It centralizes white men, and it says to white men, that power is yours by default of being white and male. And that identity creates an emotional connection to power that actually centers dominion. So what does that mean, when you get to work? It means that white men are always the leaders and never the learners, and that dominion is a default position. And anything that challenges that is dealt with in a way that power is used. So what happens when the power is challenged? is there's two options. Do we harness our power, or do we weaponize it? Well, the reality of a default position that centers white men and puts them in positions of power, is they're in a position to weaponize their power against anybody Ready for challenges that that's what happens in currently I spaces? How do we know that very few di positions have any real power. In other words, they can't hire people, they can't fire people and they can't spend any real money. There's somebody else making that decision. That is intention versus outcome, because it's about transforming an outcome than those with a position around diversity have to have the kind of power to transform a workplace culture, policy, celebrates intention, and then claims it as success. Emotional Justice says we're looking at your culture, we measure your culture, as the outcome of that policy, and the way that you reckon with what that outcome is, is taught to whoever is the most marginalized group within your organization. And their experience is how you measure whether or not something has been successful, because that is rarely the measurement that is used. Why? Because the language of whiteness centers whiteness. So what does that mean? It means that if your senior management is describing a workplace as welcoming and diverse, and inviting, that becomes the benchmark by which success is measured. And we know that because we've done trainings and places of work, where we simply switch it, we simply say, we're going to center whoever is the most marginalized in this workplace. And so we start with them. We use narrative and storytelling and artists. Why? Because in emotional justice, we privilege narrative over numbers. Why? Because numbers offer you information. Narrative provides connection, emotional justice is all about connection, because good relationships are about connection, not information. And so if we start by centering that the in this case, it was the black and brown students in this place of work, and ask them, share your experience with us, we had different exercises, we had artists we had, I use journalism, all the tools that are part of the AIEJ, the Art Institute of Emotional Justice, and then we take everything they shed, and we don't present them with like a PowerPoint and graphs and pictures and analysis, what we do is that we collapse all of that down and turn it into a 25 minute monologue using an artist. Why do we do that? Because everybody has remembered a film or a play or something they've watched, that blew their mind, stop them in their tracks, gave them an aha moment made them rethink whatever it is they thought, we take that approach, because our aim is to move beyond all the surface stuff and get to the heart of the work that we want to do. So that's our way in. So we present that monologue, we present that monologue after asking senior management, usually all white, very often predominantly male, how would they describe the environment and again, they use language. It's inclusive, diverse, welcoming all of that, we simply present the monologue to that senior management and saying, now you've heard what their experience is, answer the same question but center them that is immediately transformative, you can no longer say that your environment can be measured by any success when you have the marginalized, describing it as exclusionary, elitist, a canon of whiteness. Unfair, there's no meritocracy. They can't see any avenue for promotion. When that is the language, what it to do is stop senior management in its tracks. And it does so every single time whenever we've done it, it stops people in their tracks, then immediately ask enables us to then say, tell me one thing that transformed would turn their answer from exclusionary to inclusive, and we make them identify the barriers because what we don't accept in emotion justice is that senior White managers don't know what the, what the barriers are. So we reject unconscious bias, we say that the the bias is entrenched, it's calculated, that's what the language of whiteness of a narrative what whiteness does, it builds a system designed to privilege and censor and prioritize whiteness centrally white men, and then it works to maintain and entrench that. So there's nothing subconscious about that. But when you say subconscious, you spend all this time showing people why it's subconscious. What does that mean you actually waste time to make change and emotional justice is about saying transformative change requires hard, constant conversations that begin with connecting you to unfamiliar experiences in order to transform familiar spaces of power. The power is familiar to the white men, the connection that they don't have is the experience of their black and brown employees. Why don't they have that experience? Because the culture has taught those black and brown and political years that the truth will not set them free. The truth has consequences. Those consequences can affect your promotion. They can affect work relationships, they can affect collegiate cameraderie There's so many impacts. And so we have a multibillion dollar dei industry that moves according to the discomfort of whiteness, which is to say it doesn't move at all. So here we are 2022, having cyclical conversations about what hasn't changed in the world of work, along comes the great resignation. And suddenly there's an attention being paid to labor and the world of work, because people are fleeing in the kinds of numbers that seem unprecedented.

Russel Lolacher
I love your quote, you say "You can't PhD your way out of trauma." Why is this an emotional conversation, not an intellectual one?

Esther Armah
Because intellect enabled you to be rational and reasoned, intellect fully understands, comprehends and can see the value of powersharing. Intellect accepts that we want to humanity centered world, intellect, except that the best way to achieve that is for all of us to be on a fair playing field. If intellect was the way that we could resolve it, we would have done it by now. Because there's no absence of intellect in these spaces. An intellect deficit is not the issue. The issue is the failure to understand that this is not about intellect, it's about an emotional relationship to power that centers whiteness, and goes to the essence of identity. And when you absolutely engage it from that perspective, you completely transform your approach. Emotional justice never challenges or explores or questions anybody's intellectual ability, their philosophical perspective, their political progressiveness, or lack thereof, we don't challenge any of those things. Because when it comes to emotion, justice, none of those are relevant. The fact that your philosophy means that you care about how black and brown and indigenous people move through spaces, and this equity hasn't led to transform the workplaces where black and brown and the digital people move through equity. So if your intellect hasn't led to that change, the issue is not that there's something wrong with the intellect issue is it's not the intellect at all. That's not the issue that prevents the kind of transformation that really would be transformative. And part of what emotional justice is saying. We need to engage this with an urgency that we never have before. dei is a multimillion dollar industry that really doesn't move according to the rhythm of white discomfort. You know, the New York Times bestselling author Dr. Robin D'Angelo in the foreword, wrote that, she said, if we could have done this intellectually, when it comes to ending racism, we would have done so by now. That's why both Dr. Robin D'Angelo and Dr. Brittany Cooper describe the emotional justice as the missing piece. It's why Managing Director of Robin solutions the Alicia Bear says emotional justice is the future of Dei, because it's requiring us to reckon with an emotional connection to power that centers whiteness, the point about that is all of us have that I have an emotional connection to power the centers of whiteness, what does that mean? I was taught a history that says whiteness is the world built the world and saves the world. And Black, Brown and indigenous people are savages that needs saving and symbolizing we were all taught the same history. So we've all internalized the same message, it's created an emotional connection to power that centers whiteness for everybody. So all of us have unlearning to do. The point is the work, the emotional work that comes from that is not the same. What does that mean? I just want to give a very quick example. So for black and brown people, the the legacy of the untreated trauma is that there is a relationship between work worth and productivity that is debilitating, exhausting, dangerous, harmful, and downright violent. And it is the legacy of the untreated trauma of an America that was built on enslavement, where work was literally life and death. So we have legislation that has changed that. But that's not enough to change that emotional connection to labor where your value is measured, not just by your productivity, but the ability to keep going, you're depleted, you're exhausted, you're burnt out, but you're going to demonstrate that you can keep going. It's an internalization for black and brown and indigenous women. And it's an instructional internalization for white people as well. So what that means is for black and brown and indigenous people, centering, rest and replenishment is part of how they unlearn the language of whiteness for white men. It's unlearning a connection to power, where you're always the leader and never the learner. Because how do you ever move power? If you're, if your belief is that you're to lead and that is not an intellectual position? Again, that's what the emotional connection to power says. Turing whiteness, that's what it creates. That's why I say it's an old mighty shitshow. But we're all in it. We're all in it, we've all got the unlearning to do, we've all got the the reimagining, to do the redefining to do, and the book really breaks down who is supposed to do what, and it matters that we break it down. Because if we suggest that white people's work, and black people's work is the same if we just if we suggest, and that's why I use love intentionally, if we suggest that we can just love each other, to meritocracy, and to justice, it's not just a lie, it is a waste of valuable time of the people who spent a lot of time having a lot of a lot of time, being very careful about whiteness. Why? Because the love language of whiteness is violence. It's violence was black and brown bodies and in the workplace, that's not physical, you're not being snatched and thrown to the ground, you're being denied opportunity, you're being denied promotion, you're dealing with a kind of what I call navigating the emotionality of whiteness in ways that is absolutely problematic. And what has happened is, white people have no relationship to that, because they've never been made aware of how the language of whiteness manifests in them. That's why our training is separate. Many people say, Okay, let's make him multicultural, bring everybody together, we don't do that. We separate with intention. And we separate because of that specific reason. This work is not the same as this work, this demographic is different than this demographic. Honor the reality of difference in order to transform the workplaces in ways that we keep saying we want transformed, we keep saying we want this right. If that were true, we would not be in the position that we're still in.

Russel Lolacher
As your work is taking the language of whiteness, and replacing it with the emotional justice, love languages. I mean, that's that's the dream. That's that's the work. How do we identify the emotional work that needs to be done? And...and are we looking at this from an individual standpoint, or from an organizational standpoint, or both?

Esther Armah
So last point, first, it's always the individual connected to the institutional. One of the things I go into detail about in the book is the idea that we kind of think that when we talk about systemic change, we're talking about some building where systems are built, constructed, and created that is somehow separate to us. And in emotional justice, we talk about connections to power, that is also systemic systems work through us, they are moved by us, they were created by us, every system, if you talk about the systems that built our world, enslavement, colonialism, and apartheid, they're all systems, they were constructed by people. They are also sustained and maintained by people, and therefore they're dismantled by people. It is always that how the individual connects and intersects with institutional, personal change alone has never been enough. That's why emotional justice is not a self help book. And it's not about self help. We treat the emotional structural, we talk about what I call a professional intimacy. So that professional intimacy that is about sustaining and inequity requires the engagement of all of the different people working in that office, but the way that they engage that inequity is not the same. And they will engage that inequity while simultaneously articulating a philosophy of equity. That's why the intellect is not the response. So that's the first part that is always connecting the individual to the institutional. The the other part of it is, the book specifically breaks down what your work is, and why it is yours. And so, for example, we talk specifically about white women, and the love language for white women is called intimate reckoning. And intimate reckoning is about the way that white women sustain. A white masculinity is relationship to power and race, that is about dominion, exploitation and subjugation, that take an active role in sustaining that. And we see that again and again and again. But what has never happened is we've never engaged specifically with white men and said, with white women, and said, This is your specific work to do. And this is why it's yours and yours alone. What has happened is that white women has separated the idea of sexism and patriarchy along whiteness lines, and then claimed it to be a totality, right? So sexism affects all women. And that's true. But when it comes to emotional worldviews, which is what emotional justice focus focuses on, we explore how white women privilege centering of white masculinity that is all about sustaining inequity in order to maintain a proximity to power and doing that always harms The equitable possibility for any organization, it always does. There's no way to move towards equity and Sustain a Language whiteness that centers dominion and subjugation. Why? Because somebody has to be the person subjugated, somebody has to be the person exploited. And basically what white women are saying is, well, it's not going to be us. There you go black, brown indigenous people, you'd be the ones that we stand on. And so the point about emotional justice is that nobody is immune from doing the work. But everybody's work connects the individual to the institutional. Simply put, if you had a scenario, where in one organization, you had black, and brown folks doing the work of unlearning a relationship to labor, that centers a value related solely to the kind of productivity that is exhausting and debilitating, and you had them working instead on centering, rest and replenishment. And then you had white women working specifically, to unlearn this connection to power that centers white men, it means they stopped cheering or supporting or being silent. In the presence of that kind of masculinity, you will take substantive steps towards transforming any workplace substantive works. With the training that we do, we've seen it, we've seen how that change has happened. It doesn't take years, you know, we've done it with an Ivy League college in the States, it doesn't take years, and it didn't take years, we did 390 minute workshops, over a three week period, and then a post workshop facilitation of six months. And we saw barriers just come down, it just came down, it just came down. Why? Because when we do our post workshop facilitation, we say to the organization, the only people we'll do it with is whoever can write a check, hire somebody or fire somebody, they don't have that power, we don't do facilitation with them. Because we're not going to we're not going to play or buy into the illusion of an equity with power. And when we all know that it doesn't have any. So we're going to deal with the reality of the power that you have. Because our work is that this has to be a transformed space between when we got there and when we left. And that's our measure of success. How then now, are those black and brown students? What's their experience of that space? Versus what it was before we started training? And we can, how do we know it's transformed? They're telling us it's transformed white male faculty, senior management, black and brown students? Do you see what I mean? But the work was never the same, the engagement wasn't the same. The training, three different trainings, three different three weeks, separating people out and bringing them together, but not the students with the faculty, only the management, and the management is traditionally white. So even when you say you're bringing them together, it's not as if there are black and brown people in the room. And so part of what this is saying is that there has been a dishonesty again, and service or the comfort of whiteness, and that we have to keep asking ourselves, How long are we willing to put up with keeping whiteness comfortable, because whiteness is punitive. And it weaponizes power every time it's pushed, we see that again and again. And again. So teaches people historically, there is a life and death sentence about the way that you work. Or if you don't work to the satisfaction of a white man or a white woman, the legacy of that untreated trauma is not in changed labor laws. It's an emotional connection to power that still expects Black, Brown and indigenous people to work till they drop. And if they don't tell if they want, or if they challenge that, to then punish that challenge by destroying their potential within that organization. And there are too many stories of exactly that, that bears all of this out. Emotional injustice is saying. There's another way, this is that way that it is about the institutional connecting to the individual that is about treating the emotional and structural, but we've got to name it first so that we know what we're talking about. So then we have similar language, and we can engage it then from a similar space.

Russel Lolacher
Your second, I know they're not in a particular order... But your second love language is intimate revolution. And you've touched on it a quite a bit here about the relationship to labor. The word that really stuck out to me was the word grind. Because there's a lot of hustle culture, there's a lot of get out and work and work and work and rewards shall be yours. If you're working, the more you work. But then you talk about as a path to trauma. Can you dig into that a bit more? Because I also loved your answer The Emotional Justice, I'm getting this right.... Equity Package, which I think any organization should add. That's fantastic.

Esther Armah
Right? Absolutely. The Emotional Justice Equity Package is the answer to end to introducing an institutionalized wellness in to your world of work in a way that is real, that is tangible, and that is institutional. Why? Because it's about resource care, as opposed to resilient characters. What we have right now is this celebration of resilience, right? We all need to be more resilient. Again, I call bullshit. There is nobody more resilient than black and brown and indigenous people that history requires them to be that. And so the idea that they need to build resilience, what that is really saying is it is abrogates, abdicating institutional responsibility for what is happening within a structure. And again, putting it back on the individual to say, but if you could just be more resilient, this will transform the space. My point is, nobody bounces back from trauma. And what we're talking about is a trauma, because 500 is deep because of what America is built on. Nobody bounces back from that. It requires resources, nobody needs that to explain to them why because we resource trauma all the time. When somebody goes on sick leave, and we say, well, we're going to make sure that it's paid. Why because your care needs to be resourced. Because we don't recognize the trauma that's and the way it's impacted and shaped black and brown and indigenous people, we then don't go to the idea that therefore that needs to be institutionalized. Why enslavement wasn't done to one person black brown colonialism that wasn't done to one person, these were institutional structures. And so the wellness needs to take the same shape, intimate revolution, and the idea of grind, we have this moment where grind is glorious and gangsta, I'm booked busy and blessed treble B's, we have this language that celebrates grind that is deeply, deeply painful and detrimental. I want to be really clear that I'm differentiating between grind, and work ethic. We all need a work ethic of work ethic, which is about purpose and discipline, meeting deadlines, doing the work is powerful and important for all of us. Grind has got nothing to do with work ethic ethic. Grind is literally that what do you do to grind something in the dust to take something at this hole, and to literally work it until there's nothing but seeds left on the ground. That is what grind is doing specifically to black and brown and indigenous people and especially black, brown and indigenous women. It's the idea that grind is really the modern day manifestation from the legacy of enslavement. So instead of enslavement was about recognizing that free labor that broke backs and killed people and broke is absolutely unfair, and it's crazy. But the modern manifestation of a kind of labor that breaks you down is grind culture. Now the challenge is that within black brown indigenous communities, there's a celebration of grind as the path to success. immigrant communities have it I lived in New York for almost a decade. So as a creative migrant, I came across it all the time, I'm Ghanian... come across it and Caribbean cultures, Latino, like next cultures, indigenous cultures, we got to you got to get your head down, keep going keep working, keep building, you see it an activist Spaces Spaces specifically, it's never not led to the kind of burnout depletion and exhaustion, that makes the work impossible. The emotional justice equity package is saying to all places of work, here is an institutional resolution about making wellness, rest and replenishment are resource care that your organization can engage. What do we mean by that? Very simply, I'm gonna give a really quick example. We had one, we do these things called connection conversations where we talk with thought leaders about where they are what they're doing. I was in conversation with one and they were saying they had this. Of course, it's COVID. Its isolation. Everyone's gone home. And everyone was working from home. That doesn't look the same for everybody. But it was really treated as if it was the same. So we very much have this language and we're all in it together. No, we were not. And this former MD of an organization was saying they offered this and you know this is pandemics happened police brutality with the murder of George Floyd protests all over the world. And so they say to their workers, multicultural bunch, we know this is a challenging time, take a few days, take a few days, and they were floored by the amount of backlash. They got to that offer. And they were saying to me we were trying to, you know, be considerate. I said no, you will not. Because this is an organization. This is a company this is work. So work requires policy to make sustainable, effective long term change. If you said okay, we're going to introduce a policy where we're going to now institutionalize rest replenishment. care. And when going to measure who needs what, based on an understanding of what people are going through what their circumstances, then that is considerate, that is compassionate. But that is also about equity. What you're saying is that you're you, who is an MD, who has a very nice large house has helped within his space. So you can talk about being free of distractions, because you're not in a home dealing with two or three generations of one set of people. But a lot of your the folks that work for you or work with you are in that scenario, they don't tell. And he so he was saying, so why don't they share that? I said, Why don't you ask that? Why, why isn't your policy taking account of who's actually working with you, because your expectation that they deliver hasn't changed, your expectation that they meet deadline hasn't changed, but their circumstance has completely transformed. Where is the institutional response to a transformed circumstance in order to enable your workforce to deliver at the rate that you expect them to deliver? You know why you haven't done it, because your relationship to power centers an expectation that black and brown and indigenous people do labor, no matter their circumstance, and get it done, no matter what. And that is unfair, it is inequitable, it lacks compassion, and there is no route to transformed workspaces with that kind of approach. The emotional justice equity package is very specific, it says very simply, this, you're doing a project right now your project is expected to last six months, your budget is whatever it is $15,000, just for argument's sake, in your budget line, we're going to introduce something called the emotional justice equity package, what is that comes it has five different headings, for example, technology, leisure activity, family needs, cultural needs. And it's very specific. So we did one, for example, a woman who was dealing with elder care, and led this huge meeting where she had to be online ready at a certain point every single day, but an elder care, crashed at that same time. And she was the one who was the caretaker of that space. And so it was making, she was late all the time. And it was becoming an issue. And it was something that her management was bringing to her attention. So we said, Okay, what's the need, what your expectation is that she shows up, okay, but her circumstances have profoundly changed. What is the company's response been to a change circumstance that allows the person who's working for you, who you value, who you respect to do their work without also feeling humiliated, without abusing their dignity or any of those things. So in that case, one element of the emotional justice equity package included organizing transport, for that elder to get to where they have to go and back over that period of time. And then in the same way, you produce receipts for everything else you do when you're doing a project, the emotional justice equity package works in the same way. But the reason it requires a package that is named, and what we call resource care, is there's two sets of unlearning Black, Brown and indigenous people have an unlearning to do because we've also been shaped by the language of whiteness, that has taught all of us to just get on with it and manage and to never look like we can't manage. Why, because the consequences are, you might lose that promotion, you might lose some of that budget, you might lose the connection, if it's a foundation, giving you funding, because somehow you can't cope, as opposed to the entire world is going through a global shitstorm. And everyone's in trouble. So let's make changes that recognize for the first time that disparity is front and center. And so what it's saying is, what is the love language, the love language is institutionally resourced care, that pays attention to culture, race, gender, is resolved by the institution. Why? Because rest and replenishment has to be a reparative approach to a world of work that has depleted exhausted, black and brown indigenous people, especially women over hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years. So we introduced it when we did a training but a whole set of grantees, black women led organizations and introduced it to them. And you find resistance and challenge because black women and brown women and judges will say well, what do you mean, and I'm good, I can do this, I can do this. So we have to say it's not a question of capacity or capability. It's a question of healthcare. It's a question of care. We want cultures of care. That's what we say. Right? Okay. So how do you create that? So there's some specific unlearning on both sides. And then for the organization tickets for the foundations, it is confronting a relationship to labor that still holds a certain resentment at the idea that you would pay for care restaurant replenishment for black and brown and indigenous particularly Women why, because you have a connection to labor and power and race, that meant black women's labor was free. And that is still your emotional connection, even if your intellect and your philosophy recognize the importance of actually creating care, that's what we mean by you've got to name it, break it down, do the unlearning and then institutionalize what the resource is. So that the world of work can say, okay, great, we are now going to introduce the emotional justice equity package, we're going to do these trainings so that we understand what they are, can be really simple. It can be a questionnaire that you give to the entire company, people fill it in. And we, you know, one of the very specific ones we talked with one organization was about technology. During COVID, when everybody was home, heightened levels of use of technology were massive, because everybody was online. Well, maybe you were in a family where everybody didn't have a laptop. So if you have three kids, and you have one laptop, how are you making sure you can both do work and deal with childcare. And as I said to one organization, that is your business, because your expectation is that that work, that employee shows up to a meeting, okay, but she's dealing with what is she going to do with the children, there's nowhere for them to go. So you cannot say this has nothing to do with you. And and simultaneously talk about a culture of care, when the care has no understanding of the circumstance in which black brown and indigenous people are working. And the Black and Brown indigenous people are careful to not communicate the reality of the circumstances, because they that is not responded to, with resource. It's responded to with repercussions.

Russel Lolacher
And we need to bridge from the language of whiteness to these love languages.

Esther Armah
Right.

Russel Lolacher
How does working through our feelings, reimagining our focus and building the future bridge that to change?

Esther Armah
Right. So you just named that the Emotional Justice Template number one, work through your feelings? Build your cover, right, have it reimagine your focus and build a future. And so the reason the template is exactly those three steps is that to work through your feelings means for example, feelings of resentment, insecurity. anger, shame, you've got to work through those. Too often, though, it often stops that okay, you work through your feelings now we're good. No, that's just step one. When it comes to emotional justice, the second step, which is reimagine your focus is specifically about decenter whiteness, decenter whiteness, because when you decenter whiteness, what does that mean? It means you introduce an emotional justice equity package. If you decenter whiteness, that means you recognize, okay, we need the kind of training to desegregate white women and black women, because black women are often harmed due to the emotional labor they have to do in community with white women. But there's so much care around the feelings of white women. Why because white women weaponize the power, using emotions against black people. We have to name that specifically and work through it to get to the decentering of whiteness. Once you're talking about the decentering whiteness, you get to build a future what does the build a future mean? It means for example, institutionalizing rest replenishment and wellness within your organization. It means introducing an emotional justice equity package, because the road to unlearning whiteness requires steps. It's not magic, it's not a 12 step program. And the same way you cannot PhD your way out of untreated trauma, you cannot quarter one fiscal budget your way into transformative change when it comes to a healing process. We're talking about the language of whiteness, that is institutionally sound, and maintained by all of us in different ways. I'm learning it requires all of us in different ways, you're talking about hundreds of years strong. So you're talking about generations worth of work in the same way that we've done that with everything, however, have a longer the vote was introduced, we're still fighting to maintain access to it today. And so this is the same approach. So the template is crucial, because steps help us know where we're going, and how to get there. And working through your feelings is a crucial step. It's not just work through your feelings, it's don't project your feelings onto the group that is challenging you about the unfairness of the structure that you created, which happens all the time. Because when you project your feelings, you're weaponizing your power instead of harnessing it, when you work through your feelings all the way through the other side to get to the decentering whiteness, now you get to a place where you can harness your power. So what you're always doing is making a choice. Do I How am I harnessing my power? Am I weaponizing my power that's got nothing to do with your intellect is everything to do with this emotional connection to power that centers whiteness.

Russel Lolacher
I'm going to flip back a question that you asked every one of those amazing people in your book, which was what does unlearning the language of whiteness mean for and to you?

Esther Armah
So I would love to do two things, I would love to answer that question. And then I would love to ask you that question. And have you answer it too.

Russel Lolacher
Oh, okay, it's good thing I can edit it out. Because I'll look like a fool. But you go ahead.

Esther Armah
And this is important, because it's not about a great answer a right answer. It's about honesty. So the language of whiteness, there's narrative that taught us all about how the world came to be and our role in it as Black, Brown. And indigenous folks, women in particular, taught me that as I am, I will never succeed. That what I need to be as less of me, less black, less outspoken, less clear, less smart, in order to succeed, because the narrative of the world that I had been shaped and taught me that as I am, that was unacceptable. And so I hated those lessons, because I like the rest of the world, aspires to be successful, whose aspiration is to fail. So since my aspiration is to be successful, through particularly through my journalism career, I've found myself making decisions that did not serve, who I am or what I believe, but this is they serve how the world defines success. That meant putting myself in positions where I almost sold out an entire group of black boys, in order to step up the ladder, in a very high profile, you know, media house, I caught myself just before I did it, but I really remember looking in the mirror, and literally saying to myself, who are you becoming? Everything you say you believe you would just about to put on the line for the sake of stepping further up a ladder, in an institution that has actually disrespected who you are. But I stayed, because I internalize the narrative of value, according to the definition of the language of whiteness. That's what we all do. And so unlearning it meant for me the beginning of learning, it was leaving not just the job, I ended up leaving the country, because for me, the Britain's racism, in particular, call it quietly lethal. And there's always a mistake that is somehow not as bad as what happens in America. And I would say that's not true, having lived in both places that both lethal in different ways. And so that's how I spoke, I spoke that language for many, many, many, many years. Now, I'm an award winning international journalist, it wasn't that I was never not good at what I did. It was that doing it in the way that I did, it did not sit well with the language of whiteness. And so stories specifically about the communities that I'm interested in black communities, black women, brown communities, required a lens that always serve whiteness. So what happens if the lens challenge is there? What happens if the lens serves blackness? Well, the story might be great, but you, you might not now get that promotion, you might not move further along in that company. That's a choice I was faced with. And I made decisions about moving up. And in making those decisions. I lost parts of myself regaining that was work, it was painful, it hurt, I was resentful. I was angry, I felt betrayed. I felt ashamed, working through all of those feelings to then say what you're gonna have to descend to whiteness. What does that mean? For me, it means I'm gonna have to transform the entire way that I do this work, because I am interested in being a reactionary storyteller. But I'm also not interested in not being successful. That's why this is about honesty, not about pretending there's some kumbaya way to do it. It's messy. The shit is messy, because emotions are messy. That's why we say that it's about an ongoing practice, not a one and done, you tick a box. I've done this. And now I keep going, you will be practicing emotional justice. I will be practicing unlearning whiteness until the end of my days, the next generation, the next generation next washer. Why with 567? How many generations in all of us learning that same thing is not going to be unlearned, just because of my individual effort, even if it's connected to me then building an entire institution to make that work real then for other organizations, for other groups of black and brown and white people and indigenous people to make that transformation. But that's still one organization, and we're still talking about an entire world view. So that's fine. I still think you should answer the question.

Russel Lolacher
I certainly won't be as eloquent or as educated as yourself. But I will certainly really say that I can. So unlearning the language of whiteness, meaning for me is recognizing the privilege of the benefit of being a white sis, Anglo Saxon male, I mean, the system basically is built for me. So, recognizing that, and not only recognizing that, understanding that that is not the way the world should work, that is not love. That is not compassion, that is not empathy. So what I need to do and have to do for my own emotional education, my own understanding of everything is educating, taking any opportunity to understand different aspects, lived experiences. I recently read a report on the indigenous experience when it comes to our mental health system. It was corps shaking, it was unbelievable. Have a perspective that I would never know understand or live, if I hadn't been curious if it hadn't been compiled, it hadn't been shared. So for me, the unlearning of language of whiteness is really educating myself, and taking it in a safe psychological, empathetically compassionate way and doing better. I think that was a horrible answer, but I'm trying.

Esther Armah
And I would, I would encourage you to engage with other white men. About what that unlearning is so that you go beyond curiosity and education, there's a reason why I say you cannot PhD your way out of untreated trauma. Education alone has never been enough, because many, many, many, many of us are educated. And that doesn't in and of itself lead to the kind of change that we need to make. And I would affirm that for you as a white man and in the circles of white men that you work with. Because one of the things we we do is say to white men, that your work is with each other. The challenge that you have is that you have been taught as we all have been taught that you are the solution, and everybody else is the problem. The challenge with that worldview is that it then leads you to then work with other people in the belief that they are the problem. And and that you may, again, intellectually understand that, but emotionally, you still carry the idea that the there is a solution that I have, that I can share. And part of what emotional justice is saying it's a hard thing to hear. But it's a truth that needs to be told is that actually, you are the problem that needs to be engaged with recognizing that you are a significant element of the problem. And that that requires engaging with one another in ways that you simply never have. There's an amazing guy called Miss Garrett Bucks. Garrett Bucks? Who does phenomenal work with as a white man working with either white men precisely for that reason. And the work that I've done with white women, has been that very specific work that why you were working with black and brown and indigenous people. Because if you're really about transforming the spaces that are dangerous, you should be working with white women. Because if it's the way that you engage and and weaponize your power, that creates so much harm for black and brown and indigenous people, and that you have to then interrogate why it is you don't work with each other. And why it is you work with community within communities of color. That's an important part of what does it mean to descend to whiteness.

Russel Lolacher
Thank you, Esther. I really appreciate that. And I have to, it feels weird to ask this question now. Because it's the last question I asked everyone at the end of a podcast. And I think you've given us already so much in things that we can do. But what's one simple action people can do right now to improve those relationships at work?

Esther Armah
Read the book.

Russel Lolacher
Well said, well said, and it's someone who has I couldn't recommend it enough. Phenomenal book. So thank you for that, Esther.

Esther Armah
Thank you. Thank you so much. I just also want to say, I really love this conversation. And thank you for the work that you're doing. I would love to see a round table with you and white men working through the book, whether you put them up promoted or not. But working through some of those specific areas, seeing what's uncovered. I think that would be fascinating. It would be an amazing tool for other white men to engage in a way differently than they've engaged before. Just a suggestion.

Russel Lolacher
Amazing idea. That's Esther Armah. She is the author of the emotional justice, a roadmap for racial healing, and she's an international award winning journalist and the CEO of The Armah Institute of Emotional Justice. Again thank you Esther for your time.

Esther Armah
thank you thank you so much Russel It was a pleasure thank you