Podcast

Episode 35 – Leverage Your Power with Latasha Morrison

We all need to be people who leverage our power and bring what we’ve got to the table to make the world a better place. In the case of this week’s guest, Latasha Morrison, she is bringing all of us to the table to talk about race, reconciliation, empathy, and building bridges. Listen in as Jessica talks with her friend Latasha about what it means to not just to be a spectator, but to be someone who uses their life for the sake of others. Also, this week continues a special series of shows where Jessica takes us through the themes of her brand new book, Imperfect Courage, one chapter at a time!

TRANSCRIPT

Jessica: Hey everyone, this is Jessica Honegger, founder of the socially conscious fashion brand, Noonday Collection. And this is, The Going Scared Podcast where we cover all things social impact, entrepreneurship, and courage. This week’s conversation continues our Imperfect Courage series, where we’re walking through my new book, chapter by chapter. So, if you haven’t grabbed the book yet, head on over to Amazon or wherever books are sold, or you can also get the audio version. And you’ll get so much more out of this podcast series if you can read the book along with it.

In this week’s episode we’re talking about how we can “Leverage Our Power. Each of us is born with immense power, and especially for those of us that are white and from the USA, one of the world’s wealthiest nations. So, what do we do with our power? We leverage it. We leverage it to serve and elevate the voices of others. And there is no one I can think of who can speak to how we can leverage our power better than my good friend Tasha Morrison.

Tasha is a bridge builder. She’s a reconciler and a compelling voice in the fight for racial justice. Ebony Magazine recognized her as one of their 2017, Power 100, for her work as a community crusader. As you’ll see today, when she speaks she expresses a passion for social justice issues across the globe. At the heart of this incredible woman is encouraging racial reconciliation among all ethnicities to promote racial unity in America, and to develop all of us to go and do the same thing.

To this end, Tasha founded, Be the Bridge in 2016, and I was actually part of the very first group that she started, before it was even called Be the Bridge. And so many of our shared experiences and our conversations are the basis for what she is doing now. In this conversation, we talk about privilege, and we talk about the ways that we can leverage our power to elevate others. It’s extremely challenging conversation, it’s a convicting conversation, and I’ve been super excited for you to get to listen so you can join in this very important dialogue.

 

Leveraging the Power of Connection

OK, so Tasha, you and I actually met through the first ever Be the Bridge Group, and it wasn’t even Be the Bridge Group, it was just a group of women getting together to talk about issues around race. And as I was thinking about our interview today, I was realizing that I actually don’t know what led you to want to be in that group, to want to start that group, and to even want to start that conversation, because at the time, it was an extremely brave conversation to begin.

Latasha: Right, right, right. You know what? It’s really interesting because I’d actually started having conversations, there are several things that kind of spurred on this conversation for me. And one of the things was, you know, after the death of Trayvon Martin, because of the church that I was in I was having conversations around that.

Then moving to Austin just the cultural differences and just this lack of community that I was experiencing, and then trying to navigate the things that were happening in our country and in our society. And not being able to navigate that within the church, it was really bothersome to me, it was like it just created this discontent. Like, wow, like, these are things that I’m feeling and experiencing. And this is not the story of the people that I’m in fellowship with, that I’m in community with, you know, in my church.

And so I saw the movie, 12 Years a Slave and that movie right there just kind of rocked my world again and wanting to… I am a processor, I’m a verbal processor. But not having a safe space to process it in when I was in Austin, that was difficult for me. So my goal was to seek out a safe space. And so, I was looking for that safe space to be with people who look like me, you know, but I was in environments, majority where people who didn’t look like me, but you know, I didn’t know who the safe people were.

And so with that, you know, started having some conversations online through Google Hangouts, so I was doing that prior to having what we now call Be the Bridge Group. At that time we were calling ourselves Reconciliation Circle, The Circle, we had no idea what our name was, we just were meeting…

Jessica: We were just meeting.

Latasha: Yeah, as far from me meeting with some African-American ladies in Austin, we started having some conversations with Jennie Allen. And then one of our friends she had an organization that dealt with restorative justice issues, and that process. And so we were just like, "We need to…we really need to come around the table because we fear each other, because we don’t know each other. And we don’t know each other because we’re not in community with one another.”

And so this was our way of how do we step outside of our boxes, and step in, in relationship with other people who are not like us. And so, I think you were invited to those conversations by Jennie originally. So I think that’s how it kind of really started, and from there I had no idea of starting an organization, you know, it really came out of my need, the need that I had of connecting with people for people to understand my story. And not just my story, but my community’s story and especially…

“I had no idea of starting an organization, you know, it really came out of my need, the need that I had of connecting with people, for people to understand my story. And not just my story, but my community’s story.” Latasha Morrison on starting Build the Bridge Group

Jessica: And when you say your community you’re talking about the African-American community?

Latasha: Yes, so when I’m talking about that I’m talking about the African-American community. And I had this expectation that Christians should and did understand the story, but I realized, you know, working within ministry that, you know, we’re probably the most disconnected from the stories of others who are different from us, we’re probably the most disconnected. And so, this started that journey, this started that onramp, this conversation spurred so much within me, an understanding of how are we supposed to have some type of racial unity when we’re not even in spaces with each other, and specifically in the church.

Jessica: It’s so amazing for me to hear the story because it started with you just wanting to have conversations, and you said you wanted to have conversations with people that look like you, a safe space. But it developed into a group of multiracial, multi…you know, we’re all sort of in different places in life. Having this conversation, which is really brave because it sounds like the way you first pictured the conversation it would have been a room full of, "Safe people," of women that looked just like you, but then it ended up being something so different, and that’s so brave.

Latasha: So different, let me tell you, it was to the point where I was like in a… I wanted to leave Austin because moving from Atlanta to Austin although I had been in diverse environments, but this was different. Because this was my…at this point it was my workplace and my social environment that was culturally different. When I was in Atlanta although I had friends of all different cultures and ethnicity, it was different because my church space was predominately white during that time for half the time here in Austin…I mean, excuse me, in Atlanta, but my friendship circles they varied.

So if I didn’t have a need to talk about certain things with my white friends or my Asian friends, here in Atlanta because I had this group of African-American friends that I could talk to. So it was different when moving away from that as you’re going to the movies, as things are happening, you know, wanting to dialogue with people that get it and that understand. And really when I really saw that we were on two different pathways in the sense where I had a lady that was at church and she… We were just talking about basketball, and this conversation about basketball turned into something else. To the point, we started talking about the Civil War, and Reconstruction, and different things history. I mean, just a conversation with me can lead to that, I have no idea.

But she said… And she mentioned what Lincoln did to the South and I was kind of confused, like her response. Because I felt like specifically white people that you like Lincoln. Like I know I have a lot of issues historically when I read full history of just comments that were said and how my people were viewed through the eyes of Lincoln. But her saying that was confusing to me and then I realized, then she said, "You know, because people loved their slaves." And I was like, "Wow, we’re not on the same team, we’re not even in the same room right now. This is so…" But this is the thing, this is what she knew, this is what she had been taught. Because she had been taught a different set of history in Texas as it relates to the cause of the war and all these different things.

These lies create disconnect, these lies create issues, these lies prevent us from having reconciliation or any type of unity because we’re not starting from the same common memory. You know, we’re not using the same common language, and so those things that are already at the forefront that divide us, they prevent us from even reaching any type of end conversation or end goal, you know. Because we’re not even starting out really in the same room.

“You know, we’re not using the same common language, and so those things that are already at the forefront that divide us, they prevent us from even reaching any type of end conversation or end goal, you know. Because we’re not even starting out really in the same room.” Latasha Morrison on racial divisions.

Jessica: In the same room, like what you said. You know, it’s like that time and that I told you that Amelie was reading a history book, and she was about seven years old at the time, maybe eight. And she came home one day from school and she said, "Mommy, George Washington is a hypocrite and the White House was built by slaves." And I was like, "Oh my gosh, my daughter’s gonna grow up to be unpatriotic." Like, OK that was my first thought, and then of course, my second thought was, "OK I’m so glad she’s at a school that’s diverse."

But it ends up they were reading a book in school her African-American teacher, Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African-Americans. And I have to read to you from Chapter One, let me just read to you for this one second, pretend we’re at bedtime stories and you’re a little kid. Says, "Ever visit the Capitol in Washington, D.C.? It’s a beautiful white building made of sandstone, and it has a big iron dome that rises over the city like a full moon. It was built by slaves and freemen to be a symbol of the liberty Americans had won from England in the American Revolution. Inside the rotunda, there are large paintings and sculptures of famous Americans, big old statues of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington. The paintings tell the story of how America came to be, strange though nary a Black face in all of those pretty pictures. There’s plenty of white folks and a few Indians here and there but none of us."

 

Finding Safety in Trust and Reconciliation in Truth

And I think I’m tearful reading this out loud because, you know, I think the history that I grew up with right, we don’t stop to consider the Other’s perspective, whatever that perspective might be we don’t stop to consider it. And that is what your work is doing, but you’ve mentioned…you’ve said the word several times you’ve said, "Safety, safety," but Tasha, what does that mean? Because you are willing to go into… I mean, you didn’t know if I was gonna be safe or not, you know. And we’re starting this… I mean, you trusted Jennie, you know, which that says a lot.

And so we’re all in this room together, there’s Mexican Americans, African-Americans, Asian American, Caucasian, and we’re like trying to figure out how are we gonna have this conversation. So how do you establish safety and create safety around something that is… I mean, I just read four sentences and started crying, you know?

Latasha: Yeah. I think that’s the part that’s hard because, you know, safety comes from a foundation of trust. And so I have to risk, and be courageous and brave enough to be able to deal with the backlash, that my views or my story is not going to be received because it comes against, and it’s rejected by, majority culture’s views, because of how they’ve been taught. And this has been very strategic because the same story that you’re telling, I mean, you can look at the documents, you can look at the secession papers from the North and the South, everything is clearly stated historically, but we’re taught a different narrative within school to make America look good.

“Safety comes from a foundation of trust. And so, I have to risk, and be courageous and brave enough to be able to deal with the backlash, that my views or my story is not going to be received because it comes against, and it’s rejected by, majority culture’s views, because of how they’ve been taught. And this has been very strategic…we’re taught a different narrative within school to make America look good.” Latasha Morrison

And this is the thing we know what lies cause, you know, they cause division, you know, they divide us. And so even the part that you just read from that book, you know, that is true, and we have to understand. And I remember when Michelle Obama stated that, when she stated about, you know, how ironic it is now something that was built by slaves, you know, now at that time having an African-American family living there as the President of the United States, like how that has come full circle. That should have been something that our country should have rejoiced in her saying, but what happened was there was so much backlash.

Now, this is true, she’s speaking from truth, and people did not want her to speak, not just her truth, but the country’s truth in the fact of saying… I mean, there were several people that denied it. And first of all, just a quick Google search—it’s very clear, and some people had to come out and apologize, but they felt like it was shaming America. You know what? We have to reckon with our history, we need to reconcile our history, because the only thing that it does, our denial does not fix the problem, and our denial only creates more hurt, you know, and more division. Because when you deny that truth, you’re denying the burden that my ancestors had to carry.

And so even just given them honor in history, you know, and that should be documented in the White House. There should be memorials, there should be plaques, elevating this type of history because that’s what they do in other countries. You know, when we look at Germany when we see that ugly history that they have, they don’t bring honor to Nazis and Nazism in their country, they’ve created a system that says “that is wrong” and “this is not who we are today.” And they elevate the voices of those that were victims of the Holocaust, you see memorials. There are concentration camps that you see that’s for people to remember to never deny that this happened on this soil and this is not supposed to be repeated again. We have it wrong in America in how we do that, and so creating that safe space is very dangerous for us because we risk backlash, we risk even death.

Jessica: When you say us you’re talking about African-Americans?

Latasha: Yes, when I’m talking about… Because we are really one of the main groups that we haven’t owned our history with. There are some things that we’ve done with native—but we haven’t fully owned the genocide of Native Americans when it comes to the Japanese internment camps here in our country. We’ve owned that, they’ve apologized for that, there’s been some restitution for how we put… During World War II, we locked up and took land and businesses from Japanese Americans that were not connected with that, the fear. But we don’t talk about it, we don’t really teach about it, and so you see…when you don’t talk about and teach about history, you’re at risk to repeat it again.

You know, because you haven’t owned the failure of that, you haven’t owned the sin of that, you haven’t owned the things that were wrong about that history. And so you’ll repeat it again, you know, because we know we live in a racialized society. And then we have the Chinese Exclusion Act where, you know, Chinese families were unable to move here together until the ’60s, you know, and where that came from. You know, for over 60 years only Chinese men were allowed to come, but not with their families, and they only could have certain jobs that service the majority culture, you know.

And so those are things that we have to talk about because history gives an account, and it lets us understand our present. But because we have this lack of common history in our society, people don’t understand why we’re dealing with the things we’re dealing with today. Because that historical part has been removed from textbooks. They call slaves now “workers” in a lot of textbooks, they diminish this history. You know, and we’re not far removed from this, you know, my dad was born into a world that his mom couldn’t vote, and where they couldn’t go and shop and live where they wanted to live, you know.

“History gives an account, and it lets us understand our present. But because we have this lack of common history in our society, people don’t understand why we’re dealing with the things we’re dealing with today.” Latasha Morrison

I’m only one generation removed that, and so this is current history, and we as Black people…and I’m talking as a collective, we were in slavery longer than we’ve been free. So, when we look at history, we look at the history of slavery, the history of Jim Crow, and Civil Rights, and all of that. It wasn’t until 19…we wanna say the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was where we tried to bring about equality. But we’ve never brought about equity, and so not only is equality needed, but equity for all the previous centuries before of not just holding you back, but also when you got ahead we pushed you back. You know, we put our foot on your neck, you know, so just even that, we have to talk about these things.

But what I’ve noticed, you know, Jessica, is in having these conversations with people, when they are given accurate history just like yourself, when you start learning like, "Oh my goodness, what I learned in school was different, this is wrong." You start being able to have empathy, you start looking through a different lens at things that are happening. And I’ve seen people not just reject that, but I’ve seen people respond and they respond with empathy, they respond with listening, they respond with openness, that’s what I’ve seen, and I saw that in our group.

 

The Real Impact of White Privilege

Jessica: Yeah, and when I share that story with you about Amelie, I kind of was… I think what I was looking for was like, "Oh yeah, that’s a little bit extreme." I’m embarrassed to admit this, I truly am. And instead you just looked at me and you said, "Well, she’s going to grow up woke." And I thought, "OK, yes, yes she is, you know, like that…" and I would much rather that. And so, safety we had it in that group but how can we… You said it’s dangerous for African-Americans to even have this conversation. And then I think for white people if I can speak collectively, I think we feel ill-equipped, you know, and you recently told me to…you recommended the book, White Awake by Daniel Hill.

And I have so many moments that I’m just kind of going, "Oh my gosh," and just out loud sort of, you know, gasping and, yes, and amening. And one of my first like, yes, amen, was how he describes privilege, White privilege, he says is simply defined as the ability to walk away. And he says, you know, this is one of the essential truths that we as White people need to remember as we contend with the normalization of Whiteness. When the journey begins to feel like any combination, of scary, or confusing, or disorienting, we have a privilege that people of color do not, we can simply walk away, go back to normal.

And that was such a pivotal sort of moment for me to have this really robust definition of privilege. It made me wanna go back and edit my book, and like, "Wait a minute I wanna like…" It was too late though. So this idea of White privilege, what do you see the impact is as people sort of not only own this idea of, "Wait, history maybe didn’t happen exactly the way that I was taught. And I’m gonna start to see from the perspective of minorities and from other people." What have you also seen as people kind of have to wrestle with this idea of White privilege, because you work with a lot of White people?

Latasha: Yeah, I think there’s two things, two things as people start… They begin as they do this work. Some of the steps that we take you through with our Be the Bridge curriculum, is one of those that their step is as people become aware and they acknowledge the brokenness, the historical brokenness, they begin to carry this shame and guilt. And that’s not what we want, we don’t want shame and guilt, we want conviction, because that conviction is going to enable you to listen. So I think some of the greatest things that you can do with your privilege in this… And this is the way I like to describe White privilege in that sense.

“As people become aware and they acknowledge the brokenness, the historical brokenness, they begin to carry this shame and guilt. And that’s not what we want, we don’t want shame and guilt, we want conviction, because that conviction is going to enable you to listen.” Latasha Morrison

Because I think sometimes the word White privilege people look at it from an economic standpoint, where, you know, my grandfather worked hard and my mom…I had to put myself through college. That has nothing to do with it. OK, so we understand that everybody’s story is different, there are some people that have…you know, they were not given a silver spoon, that’s not what the word privilege we’re talking about.

What we’re talking about is more of a structural privilege that this country has been set up originally from the original intent to advance white men, elite white men, and to hold everybody else back including white women. And so we have to understand that, so there was never a time in history that white men in this country could not vote. There’s nobody else that can say that, you know, even natives couldn’t vote, you know. When we talk about owning land, we talk about the Homestead Acts that were given to White people specifically White men, this land was taken from someone. They were taken from natives, and it was taken from Latina brothers and sisters, you know.

When we start talking about Texas, and New Mexico, and Arizona, California, the property that they had before the war, that property, although it had been in their family for generations could not be inherited by their children. And so we understand that historically, the way we built wealth in this country, is through property and the ownership of land. But when you cut out groups of people for not just a few years, but for centuries before they can do that, we have this gap. And so that’s the type of privilege that we’re talking about.

It doesn’t mean that, you know, the person that got that land didn’t have to work hard or anything, but we have to understand the history into which your privilege and your head-start came from. And I think that’s the responsibility for White people in this work, is to really listen and to understand historically. And it’s not to say that, "OK, I should feel bad that, you know, this property that has been in my family for centuries, this came from such and such, a Cherokee." I mean, there are some people that can trace back, you know, deeds or treaties and different things like that.

But the thing is to say “now that I know this information, or now that I know the color of my skin created a privilege, a certain type of privilege, how now am I gonna use my privilege for good to elevate the voices of the marginalized?” And so that’s what it’s about, you know, that’s… So, privilege can be a good thing when it’s used in a powerful, redeeming, and restorative way. And so I think that’s what you have to do in that.

“[White] privilege can be a good thing when it’s used in a powerful, redeeming, and restorative way.” Latasha Morrison

Jessica: I think for me you gave me permission. And I think that’s what I would love for everyone listening to this podcast right now is, you know, you don’t have to wait for an African-American to give you permission. Like you invited me to go march on MLK Day, and I thought that because of that sort of guilt, White privilege feeling, I thought, "I wouldn’t be invited to that." You know, like it had been happening in my city for years and years, never did I think, "Oh, I could actually show up and march." I thought that my White privilege disinvited me to be involved until you invited me and we went and marched.

Latasha: That’s important too, that’s important because the thing is…just the things that separate us is we feel like you don’t wanna know, and you feel like we don’t want you to know. And so I think, you know, the greatest thing is when we did that march, you know, we put it out there. But I really had no expectation that people would show up, you know, really to be honest. Because I knew it was an environment where…you know, and Austin is actually a very diverse crowd. But in some cities, it’s this environment where you may show up… I think Jennie did it in Dallas this year and when she showed up this year is not like Austin, it was predominately African-American.

She said how people were thanking her for being there because we want you to know, we want you to see through our lens. You know, this is the thing my people…and I’m saying my people because I’m a collectivist, as the African-American culture is very collective. And so when I’m saying that is like it’s never been about retaliation for Black people because if that was gonna happen that would have happened a long time ago. But that is the fear and the narrative that has been created, which is a lie, that we are something to be feared and something to be considered dangerous.

But when we look at the history, there’s never been a moment of retaliation. The only thing that Black people have wanted in this country is to be fully human, to be seen as image-bearers like everyone else, and to be given dignity, and equality, and equity like everyone else. And so, you know, that is what people desire even to this day, to be treated as equals, and to be treated with equity, and to be treated with dignity.

“The only thing that Black people have wanted in this country is to be fully human, to be seen as image-bearers like everyone else, and to be given dignity, and equality, and equity like everyone else.” Latasha Morrison

Jessica: It’s the cry of every human heart.

 

How to Stop Observing and Start Engaging

Latasha: Yes. And I think when we think back, you know, just over history, there’s this narrative that has been created about people of color, but if we really open our eyes to see really the people of color, really have the right to be fearful of what we call White people. This segment, this culture that has become White people, because even yourself you’re not White. Just like, you know, that I’m not Black, you know, I’m considered African-American, but there’s a part of my history that I don’t know, there’s countries and tribes that I come from that I’ll never know.

But just like you, you may have German ancestry, or Irish ancestry, or whatever that is. But all of that now in America has been lumped into what we call Whiteness. And it is your responsibility to redeem what that means and to understand what is White identity, what is White culture? And how does it intersect with other cultures. And I think that’s the importance of that book, White Awake. And, you know, when I give assignments, you know, I always have the expectation, and it’s sad that people will not do, you know what I’m saying? I had this expectation that people will not do, and so…

Jessica: Well, I know you thought I wasn’t gonna be a doer, you kind of had some exceptions about me for a while.

Latasha: Well, the thing is because sometimes I know…because when people are busy, sometimes the first things, those things that we know we need to do, some of those things they leave. But this is what I’ve learned that people make time for the things that are important to them and that are of value. So when something is of value and is important to you, you make time for it. So when I hear my friends…when I look at that group that we had and how people made time for that group the best they could. And not just then, I mean this… We started meeting in 2014, it’s 2018 now, I still have conversations with everyone that was in that group, every White person that was in that group.

You know, there’s a way that I’m connected where something happens, you know, someone calls or whatever. So this is a lifestyle like our lives were changed from that conversation, it wasn’t a box that we checked, it just wasn’t something that we just did to do it. But you parent different because of it, you’re able to see what was happening with your daughter through a different lens because before you could have gotten offended that she was given this book, or that she was told this truth and really rejected that, and caused her to reject it. But no, you processed it, you sought out understanding, and now you welcome it.

And understanding that balance of what your daughter needs, you know, because she’s not gonna have to undo and unlearn some of the things that you’re having to undo and unlearn because of what she’s been exposed to, and because the environment that you’ve placed her in. And so, I think that’s really important, but, you know, the safe space… I wanted to get back to that. The safe space in that room, it takes it longer to be a safe space sometimes for people of color. And that’s just because we have to create this environment of trust.

I would not do that type of conversation with every White person that I meet, I’m not, I’m just not gonna be able to do that in a lot of spaces. But we have to understand that this conversation comes with a cost, it comes with a cost for you, and then also a cost for me. Because the person that’s been marginalized or oppressed they’re having to do some of the leading and teaching and educating. And so, it’s important for those of you who are listening, as you start beginning to engage in this conversation, and understand your history, is for you to do what Jessica has done, is read.

You know, don’t expect people just to teach you, or “I’m gonna ask all the questions when I get into a group, I just wanna know everything, teach me.” That is exhausting. And let me tell you, people of color are gonna run from that, because that’s not their role, you know, and so it’s not our role. But when I see people who are reading, White Awake, they went through what we call Whiteness 101, or they’re listening to voices and podcasts, and reading blogs from people who think different than them and look different from them. They’re reading books by Suchandra, they’re picking up books by people who don’t look like them, who are ethnically different that are talking about these issues.

When I hear people talking about that and telling me about the podcast that they’re listening to, or blogs that they’re reading, or people that they’re following, then I want to engage in conversation with them because I see that they are really serious about this. And they’re not in it to just observe, but they’re in it to see change and transformation in their life.

Jessica: I love that. I love that. Also, if someone’s just beginning into this, like let’s say they are in White suburbia, let’s say they just do not have any diversity in their lives, I also don’t want them to think they have to be an expert before beginning a conversation, right?

Latasha: Right. You have to start somewhere, and I think the simple things that I would give you in starting that, you know, we talk a little bit about understanding yourself, and understanding culture. Because a lot of…most White people that I talk to when I do trainings across the country when I talk about culture or identity, I can go into a room and I can start with people of color, and they tell me, what do you love about your culture? What do you love about, you know, your family’s history, or your identity as what it means to be Asian? They will tell that, and specifically, if that person is Japanese they’re gonna speak from that standpoint because we put everybody into these big categories when they have different identities, you know.

There’s a difference than being a Japanese person and a Chinese person, or a Taiwanese person, or a Vietnamese person. They have different lens and different history, and different stories, you know. And so, when they start talking about that, it’s so beautiful, and how they see themselves. You know, we have these conversations then I will say…well, everybody else will go and then I would say, "OK, now I want a White person to tell me what does it mean…you know, what is something that you like about your identity or your culture?" And people are lost, it goes silent.

And we have to look at understanding why that goes silent, because what has happened is in order to create this whiteness category here in America, in our racial hierarchy, people had to assimilate. There was something that was lost in order for you to become White. And so those who are of Irish descent, those cultural norms, some of those cultural identities, in order to be accepted in America, you had to assimilate, and so things we’re lost. And you just talk about Italian Americans, we can say… I think Armenians is another group, in some ways the Jewish community has been another.

And our context here in America, Jewish people are considered White, their heritage is more or less from a religious culture, but we put them in the same category. And so I think what has to happen is that deconstructing and dismantling and the rejection of that category of whiteness, because when we start understanding where supremacy comes from, and understanding what this category has done that this social construct has been created. Because race in and of itself is a social and political construct.

And so along with being White there’s a social construct that you have embraced, and also…and it is unearned in some ways too that you’ve been placed into, that you have to understand just the same way there’s a narrative and a construct that when we say Black, what Black means or what native means, Asian means in our country. So I think the book, White Awake, helps you understand, start having, exploring some of those things. And so if you’re in an area where this is like foreign to you and you don’t know where to begin, I would say simply begin with reading that book. I would say go to our website and download the Whiteness 101 and create groups around that.

Because there’s some people they’re like, "OK, I’m not ready for Be the Bridge Group, but I want to prepare myself, so how do I do that?" And so, we have kind of like a pre-work guide that’s called Whiteness 101, to start allowing people to understand what I call deconstructing The Four W’s . And that is deconstructing White Privilege, White Fragility, White Supremacy, and White Identity. Those Four W’s when you start understanding that you begin to do this work of reconciliation well, because you understand the foundation of what’s broken.

 

Fostering Cultural Intelligence

Jessica: So let’s talk a little bit about cultural intelligence because you just became certified. So tell me a little bit…for our listeners right now, I mean what are five questions that, you know, we could ask ourselves that can even start to sort of help us frame where we stand on this whole cultural intelligence meter?

Latasha: Yeah, and I think the thing is we don’t understand each other, like, for instance, I’ll give you a perfect example of it. You know, say, for instance, you’re having a business call, and you want people to give their input on this…you know, you’re having this conference call and you want people to give their input. And so some people give input most people don’t, you get off the call and you go into the bathroom or something, and then, you know, you hear these people that were a part of this meeting now being negative or giving input, but they didn’t give that input when it was asked for on the phone.

Understanding those dynamics that relates back to culture because if that person is from a high cultural context or something like that, they’re not going to do that in front of people. They’re not gonna go against what the leader is saying in that moment or give input. So you have to understand that about your audience, and who’s in your audience, and who’s a part of your work structure. Understanding their cultural norms, they’re gonna be different, because what happens is as a majority culture person you see your culture as the norm, and you view everything through that lens, and so you feel like everyone is gonna respond to that.

Now for instance, like I just mentioned being a collectivist, so people who are from Latin, Asian, and African countries they’re more collectivist. That means that it’s relational, it’s communal, you know, when we look at the Bible, the Bible is relational, it’s communal. It’s not just about when you think about things that happen especially in the Old Testament, it’s not just about this person and this tribe doing something. If this person in this tribe did something, then it affected the entire tribe, you know what I’m saying, they will all die.

And so we have to understand but we read the Bible through our cultural lens, and so we talk about a personal relationship when it’s really about a communal relationship. And so we have to start like kind of reconstructing that, and so I think some of the things with that it helps us have mutual trust, you know, because we’re gonna understand culture better. It helps us confront and deal with conflict in a more effective way because we understand each other. Like I understand that, you know, someone not looking me in the eyes is not offensive, it’s just a cultural norm for them. It’s a sign of respect, and it’s how they give honor to their elders.

I understand that if I’m at a dinner with some of my Asian American friends… If it’s a business dinner and they invite you to their home, that’s a part of their structure. It’s not just get down to business, we’re right here. So, when you look at from a European, Western European culture, it’s more of an individualistic, and so it focuses on the individual versus the community. And so, we have to look at that. That plays into our politics, all those things, but the more that we know about each other the better we can understand each other, and the better our relationships can be. Because me understanding White culture helps me go into white spaces and be able to speak into those spaces and live and survive.

“The more that we know about each other the better we can understand each other, and the better our relationships can be.” Latasha Morrison

I’m joking, but it helps me understand being able to speak into a way and speak a language, that can be received and understood. And talking about, "OK, I know that you’re feeling this right now, and I know that you’re feeling this right now because I understand your culture and I understand how that works within your culture." So being able to understand those things, those are some of the things when we understand the cultural differences, and we talk about them and give the implications of that, that is a part of improving our cultural intelligence.

And so, this is the thing, and this is the hope. It doesn’t matter how you grew up, if you wanna work on this you can. Like your culture intelligence can be improved. There’s things that I’m learning now about various cultures, especially Asian American culture, that if I didn’t have friendships, or if I wasn’t reading and learning from people, there’s some mess-ups that would happen. The same thing that I’m trying to learn more now about more native culture, and the only way that I’m gonna do that is by reading books. And so I’ve been buying books that are written by natives, they have to tell their own story. It’s not about… I don’t wanna read something where someone else is trying to tell their story. I wanna hear firsthand first account from their mouth.

And so there are several people that I follow online on Instagram, Twitter, I subscribe to some of their online newspapers, stuff like that. It takes work, you know, in order to do that, but they are my brothers and sisters and I wanna know their story, and I wanna understand, you know, what’s happening in their communities. Because so much of it…they’re not as vocal in some ways, and they may not speak out about what’s happening in their communities, because the numbers due to genocide are so low as far as Native Americans in this country. And so sometimes their voice doesn’t have as much power as other voices.

And so we have to really turn our ears to those voices that are speaking and elevate those voices. So those are things that, you know, that I’m doing. And so you want to… it helps you to navigate the society in which you live in. You know, this cultural intelligence provides guidelines for how we interact with others.

Jessica: Tasha, thank you so much, I just can’t help but think about the…you truly are a bridge builder, and that’s the name of your organization is Be the Bridge. And to choose empathy towards sort of a collective group that has oppressed and held back your people collectively takes a lot of bravery. And let’s wrap it up, I’d love for you to share with… This is, The Going Scared Podcast so I like… I feel like this is a silly question because I feel like your entire work is going scared.

 

Going Scared with Building Bridges

Latasha: It is.

Jessica: You know, I was about to ask you how are you going scared? And I’m like your whole work is going scared. But what is an area where you do feel a little in over your head and out of your comfort zone right now?

Latasha: You know, I always have fear. There’s always fear, but I think fear keeps me dependent and it helps give me the humility that you need in this work. Because we never arrive, I’m always learning. So I would say, you know, for me right now is just carrying this weight of bridge building, understanding the cost and the hard work of that, with bridges you get walked on from both sides. And so knowing sometimes that you’re not gonna please everyone, and that we are representing…you know, because we’re talking about… I’m not just talking about the binary of Black and White, with bridge building the bridge building that we’re doing we’re being inclusive of native voices, and Asian American voices, and Latina voices and Latino voices, you know.

So I think with that, it makes it difficult because you’re not gonna always do that well, because there are so many voices that need to be elevated. And so, I live in the tension of I am an African-American woman that’s leading this organization, and I want to give platform and voice to a lot of issues, but sometimes those issues, they fight each other in that sense. And so, I think it’s important for minority groups, people of color to know each other, and to know our stories, and to know how our stories intersect. And not to feel that one story is above the other story, but to elevate each other’s story and support each other. So that we can do this work of dismantling of racism and racial injustices within our American context.

And I think that’s really hard and I think that’s scary because you’re not gonna please all people of color. I’m not gonna, please… I don’t speak for every African-American. My story is just my story and one story. You know, there’s some commonalities in our story but it’s not all the same, we’re not monolithic.

And so, I think that sometimes there’s fear that you’re not gonna represent well, or people are gonna think you’re too soft, or you’re not…you know, one of the things we pride ourselves as far as our values is that of truth-telling. But I will do truth-telling with grace, and that grace may look…our grace and our tone and all those different things may look different to different people depending on your cultural lens also, too. Where my truth-telling…and although I’m doing it out of love, could be offensive to someone because of the type of lens that they’re looking at, you know. So I think the tension of not being able to make everyone happy. That is the tension. And sometimes the fear that I can be in where I will become irrelevant to my community. And that’s something that I don’t want, you know, I don’t want to strain my community in order to have this ultimate lifestyle of what it looks like to live in racial harmony.

Jessica: I’m so grateful that Tasha practiced that bravery to enter in this conversation and to mobilize a group of women, to have honest conversations around race, and around racial reconciliation. And I’ll be forever grateful to her for inviting me to march on the Martin Luther King March several years ago. You know, sometimes we’re waiting on an invitation and an invitation somehow gives us a permission, it reminds us that our presence matters. And that’s the reason I wrote, Imperfect Courage. I actually extend an invitation to you to show up, to remind you that your presence, it makes a difference. I share all the ways that we can leverage our power and I invite you in to this story.

“Sometimes we’re waiting on an invitation and an invitation somehow gives us a permission, it reminds us that our presence matters. And that’s the reason I wrote, Imperfect Courage. I actually extend an invitation to you to show up, to remind you that your presence, it makes a difference.” Jessica Honegger

Thanks so much for tuning in today. Our wonderful music for today’s show is by my good friend, Ellie Holcomb. Going Scared is produced by Eddie Kaufholz. And I’m Jessica Honegger. Until next time, let’s take each other by the hand and keep going scared.