In this episode of The Forum Podcast, Brittany J. Harris (also known as Brittany Janay) shares a thoughtful note of affirmation and loving accountability to Black folks working in DEI. The toll of working in DEI while Black is well documented and there are not many spaces that center the healing and nurturing that this toll calls for—particularly as Black practitioners work to dismantle the very same systems they too are impacted by.
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Brittany uses a conversation that came up in a 2021 Forum on Workplace Inclusion session to set context for this episode and offers to Black practitioners critical reflections and affirmations around three words: Clarity, Ease, and Collective.
As part of this episode, listeners will be encouraged to engage with the three learning outcomes listed below.
Brittany shares her reflections on these topics and offers insight into what she refers to as her own “intrapersonal reckoning” in hopes that it is possibility for others.
- Unpack internalized anti-blackness and capitalism by disrupting the lie that our bodies are merely tools for production, and that our work is our worth
- Consider the imperative of boundaries in how we show up in community
- Reflect on what it means to embody an abundance mindset that serves as a gateway to the power in the collective
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
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Ben Rue: Hello, and thank you for tuning in to The Forum on Workplace Inclusion Podcast Series brought to you by Best Buy. I’m Ben Rue, Program Manager here at the forum. We’re really looking forward to today’s podcast, a liberated love note for Black folks in DEI when doing the work no longer feels like enough, with Brittany Harris of the Winters Group. In this episode, Brittany J. Harris, also known as Brittany Janay, shares a thoughtful note of affirmation and loving accountability [00:02:00] to Black folks working in DEI. The toll of working in DEI while Black is well-documented, and there are not many spaces that center the healing and nurturing that this toll calls for.
Particularly as Black practitioners work to dismantle the very same systems they too are impacted by. Brittany uses a conversation that came up in a 2021 Forum on Workplace Inclusion conference workshop to set context for this episode, and offer some Black practitioners critical reflections and affirmations around three words; clarity, ease and collective. As part of this episode, listeners will be encouraged to unpack, internalize anti-Blackness and capitalism by disrupting the lie that our bodies are merely tools for production, that our work is our worth.
Consider the imperative of boundaries and how we show up in community and reflect on what it means to embody an abundance mindset that serves as a gateway to the power in the collective.
Brittany shares her reflections on these topics and offers insights into what she refers to as her own interpersonal reckoning, and hopes that it is a possibility for others. Brittany J. Harris is Vice President of Learning and Innovation with the Winters Group. In her role, Brittany partners with leaders and organizations to design learning experiences that shift perspectives, change hearts and empower action and service of equity, justice and inclusion. She leads the Winters Group’s broader learning solutions strategy, and since joining the team in 2016, has evolved the firm’s portfolio to center equity and social justice.
Brittany is the creator of Liberated Love Notes, Critical Self-Reflections & Affirmations for The Culture, which was recently adapted into a weekly podcast show that centers the healing affirmations and experiences of Black people thriving in white spaces.
Brittany Harris: Hi, you all. This is Brittany J. Harris, also known as Brittany [00:04:00] Janay. I am a Black woman, mother, sister, caregiver. I am a perpetual wonder you all, and that’s just my most recent reframe of an overthinker, a truth teller, an advocate for justice and radical self-love. I am constantly learning, unlearning, relearning and committed to be in possibility for what it means to show up as one’s most liberated itself. I’m Vice President of Learning and Innovation at the Winters Group, which means I have the distinct pleasure of partnering with our instructional designers and facilitators, consultants, leaders in organizations to design learning experiences that shift perspective, change hearts and empower action, in service of equity, justice, and inclusion.
You all, I’m the creator of Liberated Love Notes, Critical Self-Reflections & Affirmations for The Culture, an affirmation card deck for Black folks, which is an extension of my practice, grounded in my personal desire for Black folks to not just stay woke, but stay whole as we exist in systems not created with us in mind. You all, I’m tuning in from the Baltimore, Maryland area land, originally stewarded by and stolen from the Susquehanna and Piscataway tribes. More than anything, I am grateful experiencing a sense of gratitude that you could be spending time in any way, doing anything [00:06:00] and yet, you’ve carved out time to be in virtual community with me.
I won’t take it lightly and I appreciate you for it.
I want to say some context on today’s episode before we even jump in. During the 2021 Forum on Workplace Inclusion, I had the pleasure of facilitating a bomb session you all with my brilliant sister, friend, Chevara Orrin. The session was entitled Beyond Empathy: A call for white humility in response to Black rage. A rich and powerful discussion it was you all, and if you haven’t already done so I think you could actually go check it out, the recordings. We did some caucus work, which means we carved out space and time for Black and Brown and other people of color to be in community with each other, engage in intragroup dialogue, holding space for these practitioners, Black and Brown practitioners to engage without the burden of the white gaze.
For white folks, we did the same. Held space for them to do in community with each other for them to interrogate, reflect and work through the messiness, the muddiness, the harm caused by whiteness. We discussed and unpacked, white supremacy, injected and internalized oppression, the interconnectedness of antiblackness colonialism. We named the trauma caused by these systems, and more specifically, where DEI fits and unraveling the impact. There was a Black woman practitioner who asked a compelling question. A question that I found to be poignant and relevant to the contents of this episode you all.
She asked, [00:08:00] “Do you believe DEI work can truly unravel, undo, heal the impact of colonialism and white supremacy? Do you believe this work can ever truly- DEI work truly reverse the impact of colonialism?” As you all can imagine, that’s a heavy question. I am a little curious about how you all might answer that question. I’m giving you all just a little pause to process and think through it for yourself. Do you believe DEI can unravel, undo, heal the impact of colonialism and white supremacy? A Black woman practitioner, do you believe this work can reverse the impact that colonialism has had on us? How might you respond?
I might even ask you to hit me up on LinkedIn, share whatever you came up with. I will share now though, that my response those questions was no, but I ain’t just stopped at a no. Is never just the no. If you follow me on other mediums, you already know that there’s almost always “and” coming, and so I shared with this Black woman and the rest of the group that, “No, I don’t believe DEI work can reverse the impact of colonialism and white supremacy and I do believe DEI is critical harm reduction work. No, I don’t believe DEI and it’s mainstream [00:10:00] orientation can heal the impact of colonialism and white supremacy and I do believe Black people and community with each other can heal from the ways we’ve been harmed and traumatized by these systems.
That’s just my take you all. Really the premise of this episode, I do want to offer as a disclaimer that anything I share here are my personal reckonings, my thoughts, they are not intended to be model, be end all, be all. The right way though, the embrace of binaries and white supremacy culture, a dominant culture might suggest so. I like to use the language of being possibility maybe, that model possibility. Back to the session, there was another participant that in response to my response shared that she had an aha moment and I’m going to paraphrase what she shared in chat.
She said, “Brit Chavar, I think I’ve been confusing doing this work as a way to heal. I’m noticing that it really isn’t that fulfilling. What I mean is this work while important, is not personally restorative, as I hoped.” Y’all, talk about a mic drop in the chat. Talk about the aha moments I’ll be living for. She said, “I think I’ve been confused and doing this work as a way to heal, but it really isn’t that fulfilling. What I mean is this work while important [00:12:00] is not personally restorative, as I hoped.” This here brings me to the contents of today’s episode y’all. I hope you all appreciate context. What happens when doing the work no longer feels like enough?
What happens when we conflate this deeply important reparative harm reduction work as tactic for the deeply personal spiritual restorative work we truly need to be engaging in. Engaging in for us, not for purposes of martyrdom or saving others or educating white folks, but for us. Right now, today in this moment, this is my love letter. This is my liberated love note to Black folks in DEI who have considered opting out when doing the work no longer feels like enough. My dear sister, brother, sibling, loving elder who’ve been doing this work longer than I’ve been on this earth, let me first just affirm and honor you, you’re being, certainly your work because you doing it, but more importantly, your worth.
I want to affirm that you are worthy. You’re inherently worthy and this worth and worthiness that I speak of ain’t qualifiable. It just is. No title, no position, no Fortune 500 company, [00:14:00] no leader, no client, no top 50 under 50 or whatever lists, no report and structure to the CEO book deal, and no paper salary defines the inherent worth that I’m speaking of. This word that I speak of is not defined by your productivity. I think that is worth overstating. Why? I know I’m probably preaching to the choir here and you may even already know this and I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with remixing the tune every now and again.
I just want to keep some of what I’m about to share top of mind. You see, anti-Blackness and capitalism would have us believe our bodies are not ours, nor are we human. That we are merely tools for production. The trauma we hold in our bodies, the experiences lived by our ancestors, and as much as we strive to forget, oh, baby, the body remembers and I’m here to affirm. I believe that’s why it’s even more important to affirm that our bodies are our own. Your body is your own. You are human. You are a whole human being, not a human doing. I love it when ancestor Lucille Clifton reminds us that in the biggest scheme of things, the universe is not asking us to do something.
The universe is asking us to be something and that’s a whole different [00:16:00] thing. You all like to consider Lucille Clifton as one of my intellectual [unintelligible 00:16:07] part of what I heard that the [unintelligible 00:16:10] referred to as part of a ancestral board of directors. Sis, brothers, sibling, loving elder, I wonder who that is for you because I think that matters. Who are you accountable to and your spiritual and intellectual lineage? Who keeps you grounded? I’m just curious. I might ask that you just sit with that for a little bit. Who and what must you remember to show up as your true, as whole as most liberated self today?
I ask in the most loving of way possible because this remembering work has been part of what I’ve called my intrapersonal reckoning while we’re experienced in this much more broader cultural racial reckoning. You’re on my corner, bro, sis, sibling, loving elder. I’m in my corner and a world engaging in this intrapersonal reckoning over the past year. There’s learning, there’s unlearning, it’s relearning, and I can honestly say it has had implications for how I see myself, how I exist in community, how I lead, how I understand and show up in our work, [00:18:00] DEI and I want this for you too, for all of us.
I know engaging in that work, that healing, and unlearning work can feel elusive, particularly when you’re doing the work in service of others. Still, though, we deserve. Brother, sister, sibling, loving elder, I’ve been trying to do that for myself over the past year, and some change and believe me when I say I don’t have it figured it out, but this journey, it’s been hitting different. I want to share with you some of what I’ve been processing with hopes that you find relief, perhaps restoration, a seed to plant on fertile soil as you carve out your own path towards healing, whatever that looks like for you. I got three words for you; clarity, ease, collective. Clarity, ease collective.
Now, I’m just hoping somebody’s nuggets are particularly useful for those moments when you feel like opting out because doing this work no longer feels enough. Clarity. At the top of 2021, I petition to guide in our ancestors my request for greater clarity, more specifically clarity in my understanding of purpose, practice, and profession. [00:20:00] I don’t know about you, but it can be easy to conflate those three things, particularly when you’re doing good work, purposeful work, personal work, life-changing work. I’m curious if you can relate. Clarity for me, unlearning this notion that my work is my worth, and I want this for you too.
Brother, sister, sibling loving elder, you are not your work. Your work is not your worth. In fact, and I said it earlier, I’m going to say it again. You are inherently worthy. There are no prerequisites. Why is this important? Because even though I’m engaging in good work, even though you are engaging in good work, this work is not all that you are. It is not who you are, it is what you do. When the work is under attack, I know that does not suggest efficiency in me. When the work is under attack, that does not suggest deficiency in you. When the work is no longer vogue or the flavor of the month, I know that my purpose and values will remain unmoved.
When the work is no longer vogue, the flavor of the month, you know that your purpose and values still stand.
When the work feels [00:22:00] insufficient, I know that I am always enough. When the work feels insufficient, I want you to know that you are always enough. That’s because we are not our work. I am not my work. You are not your work. When I petition for clarity, I petition for clarity and peace. Clarity and peace surround the limitations of my work, because everything and everyone ain’t my work. At the same time, I affirmed my gratitude for the infinite depths of my power.
Because even though everything and everybody in my work, I’m still powerful as an empath and helper. Clarity around the limitations of my work is important, and I’m wondering if you can relate. In my experience when you’re going hard in the pain for everyone, for the people, I have found and I can really end up creating unrealistic expectations for myself and others, right? When we don’t work for the people, perhaps our empathicness and access leads us to creating unrealistic expectations for ourselves and others. The thing is, holding space for others shouldn’t be conflated with carrying [00:24:00] their burdens, you feel me?
Brother, sister, sibling, loving elder, I actually want to give you this affirmation I wrote for my dang self that gets at this call for clarity, clarity around the limitations of my work. It reads, “I am loving. I am gracious. I am invested in the growth of those with whom I am in relationship and I will not internalize or own others’ work as my own. They are not my work.” I’m going to read that again and affirmed that for you. You are loving, you are gracious. Yes, you are invested in the growth of those with whom you are in relationship and community and– there goes the “and”, you will not internalize or own others’ work as your own. They are not your work.
We hold space. We don’t carry burdens. I have experienced freedom in this clarity. I’m curious, what does clarity look like? Feel like? Sound like for you? Because brother, sister, sibling loving elder, that’s what I wish and hope for. Particularly, when doing the work no longer feels like enough. Let me talk to you a little bit about ease. That was clarity. Let’s talk about ease. Ease. [00:26:00] In the same season of setting this intention around clarity, I made a promise to myself to strive to move and make decisions from a place of ease not urgency because, purposeful work, entrepreneurial aspirations should not equate to burn out.
I just feel like I deserve, you deserve, we deserve better. Capitalism and white supremacy make this feel out of reach. In some ways, commitment to ease is resistance. If you ask me, there was something divine about that. You know that saying– We all grew up hearing, “You gotta work twice as hard.” That saying is real and I get it. I actually respect the protection, and I am reframing that these days. I have another affirmation in the spirit of ease, and in the spirit of reframe that I’m going to offer to you, that I also wrote for my dang self. There are some days I will choose to work twice as hard. Other days, they going to get what they going to get.
Always my best effort is enough. My best effort is enough. I am enough. I’m going to say it again and affirm it for you. There are some days that you will choose to work twice as hard, and I used the language of choice [00:28:00] because that’s agency right there. Other days, they going to get what they going to get because balance, always your best effort is enough. Your best effort is enough. You are enough. Ease, y’all. I ain’t say easy but ease. This intention around ease also calls for what is called for me to interrogate how I’ve come to define success, commitment, value, hardwork.
It’s called me, it’s calling for us to think more critically and lovingly about how we show up in community with each other. Sure, I’m talking workplaces, but I’m talking in our homes, our families, our communities. Liberation is a lifestyle. I think about Simone Biles and the Naomi Osaka and back then, Nicole Hannah Jones, how they’ve garnered such mainstream attention as they offer us possibility around what it means to assert boundaries, model self-love, refuse, and it leaves me wondering as I hope it does you about the implications for our day to day. What do I mean by that?
Ya’ll, there are Black people, Black women in our everyday, people with whom we are in community who deserve the same support when they too own their agency, model self-love, sense of care and honor their boundaries. [00:30:00] I chuckle a few weeks back [chuckles] and shared in conversation that is all fun and games and retweets to the hashtags until you know someone we know, someone in the community with us models that same radical self-love, asserts their boundaries, and we experience inconvenience as a result. I know from the experience they hit different and reconciling that like, “Wow, they just set a boundary” or like, “Wow, they just told me, no. Wow, they are choosing themselves in ways that I have not been able to for myself.” It hit different.
That reconciliation, that’s an interpersonal reckoning y’all. I might offer a few questions for reflection I’ve been sitting with for myself as it relates to ease in how I honor and understand boundaries and self-love in others. With interpretations, am I making of how this person is showing up in love for self? What is my reaction saying about me or where I might be hurt or experiencing some unresolved trauma, insecurity, injected oppression? How might I actually be perpetuating harm by not honoring one’s boundaries and instead, punishing them for it? I think it’s worth staying that our blackness does not make us immune to inject and internalized forms of white supremacy and toxic capitalism. [00:32:00]
Rest, care, radical self-love, ease, that work is communal. As much as it may start with how we see ourselves, the culture and practice around this supports us if you ask me, in creating healthier, stronger, being more mindful in the community. I legit want more of this. So ease. Ease y’all. What does that look like for you? What does that feel like for you? What does that sound like for you? Because brother, sister, sibling, loving elder, that’s what I want. That’s what I want for you particularly when doing the work no longer feels like enough. That’s clarity, that’s ease. Y’all when I partitioned for clarity and ease, I also reaffirmed the power in collective.
I’m going to leave you with this one ahead of our close. Collective, collective, collective. I affirmed and asked our ancestors to hold me accountable to remembering that my impact, my purpose could only be fortified in community which is pretty radical in a culture heavy on individualism. I affirmed and asked our ancestors to hold me accountable to remembering that my impact, my purpose could only be fortified in community. [00:34:00] That my impact, my purpose would be a manifestation of the power and brilliance that exists in the collective community y’all.
When I think about community in the context of our work, I think about the heavy lift that is community building, I think about how community building requires trust and how that right there in the context of system is nuanced, it is complex, it takes work. Especially within the institutional context. For my folks doing this work, internal, I think about how our proximity to power, leadership, whiteness can create healthy suspicion. I call it healthy suspicion because I get it. They can absolutely create some healthy suspicion, some distrust among those of whom we seek to serve and support.
Sister, brother, sibling, loving elders who are perhaps doing this work internal to an institution, I am acutely aware of this line that you’re often time perhaps treading. This line that you’re oftentimes treading to survive to be effective, how it oftentime, involves being palatable and pragmatic enough for white folks and leaders and being authentic and accountable to the Black and Brown folks and other marginalized communities. You’re striving to do the work for and with. Quite frankly, I don’t [00:36:00] know or think there’s a finite answer or resolve to this nuance because systems are messy. I want to share another affirmation with you.
Now in this one, I ain’t write for myself. I actually wrote it for someone I love, a Black body working within one of the most scrutinized and harmful systems. One of the most scrutinizing systems that have caused so much harm to other Black bodies; law enforcement. I think this affirmation might resonate with you, brother, sister, sibling, loving elder, if you too are working within an organization that still hasn’t done right or made right the harm caused towards our people.
As you work through the muddiness of community and trust-building, it reads, “If I am working within a white institution that has caused harm towards black people, I recognize my proximity to whiteness may create distrust among my community. This is not an indictment on me, this is a signal of my responsibility to reassure my allegiance to Black liberation.” This is not an indictment on me, this is a signal of my responsibility to reassure my allegiance. I hope you don’t internalize brother, sister, sibling, love, and elder I hope you don’t internalize distrust or healthy [00:38:00] suspicion as the effect in you as a character flaw in you.
I hope you don’t see it as the community turning its back on you for not being grateful for you and your work. I hope you see it as the beautiful opportunity it is to reaffirm your commitment to community, to liberation even in the most incremental of ways because if you do, I promise, we see you. We see you. When I said intention around collective, it also meant holding myself accountable to not fall into the trap of or feeling compelled to protect, defend, nor prove what I know is divine and a gift to myself and others y’all. White supremacy culture will have us on this hamster wheel of needing to prove ourselves over and over again.
Our ancestor, another one on my Ancestral Board of Directors, Tony Morrison talks about the distraction that is racism that robs us of our brilliance, striving to outrun this persistent sense of not-enoughness. We don’t like it there, and we deserve better. We certainly will not, in the most loving and accountability of ways, we will not create nor perpetually the same culture or expectation. This prove it again, prove your worthy sentiment in the context of our own [00:40:00] communities and businesses and teams we’re creating, we certainly will not, we will reimagine different.
You all remember what Audre Lorde said about the master’s tools never dismantling the master’s house and that alone is a whole word. Speaking of the Master’s Tools, an emphasis on the collective means, brother, sister, sibling, loving elder, it means unlearning a scarcity mindset and relearning what it means to embody a spirit of abundance, a way of being that is grounded in this belief, this knowing that there is enough and that there will always be more power, more resources, love and success, however we define it.
Recognize that this is the opposite of what dominant culture might suggest is the norm, the scarcity mindset, which can have us feeling like there will never be enough for those things and so we end up protecting and defending our individual game over community interests. Some of that is grounded in fear. As you imagine, [chuckles] perhaps you guessed it, I even wrote an affirmation for that and I’m going to offer it to you as we start to close this love letter, this love note and it reads, “I am body, an abundance mindset where we can all be free [00:42:00] and have our needs and desires met [unintelligible 00:42:05] each of our roles in making this happen.
Some may prepare ingredients, some may cook, and some may choose to serve. Either way, we all eat. I just wonder, collective. I wonder what that means? What that looks like? What that sounds like? What that feels like to you? I think about how we can fall into the trap of wanting to do the most and miss the opportunity to connect, to build trusting, lasting relationships being in community. Brother, sister sibling loving elder, that’s what I want, that’s what I want for you, the power in the collective. Particularly, when [chuckles] doing the work no longer feels like enough.
Now I want you to be honest fam, when was the last time you unpacked any of this in a DEI workshop, ain’t no shade to DEI workshops because y’all already know, the team creates some bond, some deeply impactful DEI learning experiences and our souls need, require and deserve more. These systems and structures are daunting y’all and they require our attention [00:44:00] and they can be re-traumatizing as heck. In the meantime, sister, brother, sibling, loving elder, can we commit to, can we promise that we will carve out space for our own intra-personal reckoning for our own healing, loving and community?
Can we promise to set some intention around clarity, ease and collective because that feels really enriched to me, when systems and structures feel daunting and elusive, these feel really enriched to me. If you may have sensed it already, for real for real, I want the same for you, in love and liberation. Brittany Janay.
VoiceOver 2: Thank you so much, Brittany, for that wonderful podcast and thank you to our listeners and to our sponsor, Best Buy. To learn more, you can email Brittany directly at Brittany@wintersgroup.com. New episodes of the forum podcasts are available at forumworkplaceinclusion.org/podcast. You can also find our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening and have a great day.
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