When you host a dinner party, you do your absolute darndest to make sure your guests have a good time. You clean like crazy, flick on mood music, bust out the prettiest candles to encourage ambiance, make sure drinks are topped up, and food is ample and delicious.
You stress over awkward silences and worry about potentially heated conversations from colliding points of view. “I just want everyone to feel comfortable and have fun.”
Now, when you run a group like Expats on Purpose, the logistics are different, but the sentiment is the same. As the leader, it’s my responsibility to build and nurture the community so that our 2000 members are better for joining it.
And when the world gets flipped upside down like it has these last few months, how do my “responsibilities” change?
No one has all the answers, but most of us have some of them. This week, I’m honored to welcome back past guest and founder of I Am a Triangle
, Naomi Hattaway. What originally began as her one-woman operation to create a virtual hub for our global community, grew into a support service network with 70+ leaders worldwide.
Naomi joins me to share her valuable perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement and how we can link arms for change — even if it’s just from our kitchen tables.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- Tokenism, Sponsorship & Signaling
- Riverbanks & the lines you don’t cross
- Stepping side-to-side for forward progress
- Why following in another’s lane feels safe
- Unpacking bias & sitting in the ick
Listen to the Full Episode:
The last few months have been depleting, and you can’t pour from an empty cup. I promised you a surprise to help reinvigorate your energy so that you can continue to function, make small progress, and insulate your physical and mental health. We need this, so let’s do it. The FRESH Challenge starts on June 29th, so join us right here
. It’s free, 100% online, and focused on YOU.
Featured on the Show:
We’re delighted by our nomination to the global Top 25 Expat Podcasts
Full Episode Transcript:
Hello. It is 10:00 am in New York 4:00 pm in Johannesburg and 9:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to the Expat Happy Hour. This is Sundae Schneider-Bean from www.sundaebean.com
. I am a solution-orientated coach and intercultural strategist for individuals and organizations. I am on a mission to help you adapt and succeed when living abroad and get you through any life transition.
The definition of responsibility is: “A duty to take care of something, or good judgment and the ability to act correctly and make decisions on your own.” Many of us who are living in communities, in conflict, and in question right now, or leading even online communities are asking ourselves, “What is our responsibility right now?”
In this clear climate where we’re moving from non-racism into anti-racism and we’re realizing where we’ve been fighting for justice or where we’ve been complacent. The idea of responsibility is imperative and I couldn’t think of a better person to join us on Expat Happy Hour today, then Naomi Hattaway, who is the founder of I Am a Triangle. It’s an online community with thousands of people who are globally located around the world and what we have in common in I Am a Triangle, is that they’ve lived around the world away from their passport countries.
So the idea of community there to build globally is a challenging one and she has been able to do it. This is not the first time that she’s been on Expat Happy Hour, you might recognize her from Episode 12: Community and Triangles with Naomi Hattaway. Naomi, thank you for joining us again on Expat Happy Hour.
Naomi: Sundae, I’m so excited to be back and I feel like this is going to be a really insightful and deep conversation. Looking forward to it.
Sundae: Thank you. This is something I can’t do on my own and this is where I need to bring in professionals like you to come in and lead this. Let me just tell you more about Naomi for those of you who are new to her world. Beyond being the founder of this global community, she also owns 8th and Home Real Estate and Relocation, it’s a nationwide referral network, matching families on the move with real estate professionals who chase communities and not commissions.
She’s also lived in several locations in the United States with her family, with her children and they’ve also moved overseas including places like Delhi in India, where she was able to find a way to thrive in the midst of chaos. They also did a stint in Singapore and are now back in the United States and they’ve traipsed their way from Florida to Virginia, to Ohio, and now back into her hometown of Omaha Nebraska.
It’s clear when you know Naomi that she’s passionate about community-building and empowering others to thrive, not just survive, in places that they call home. Something Naomi, I don’t know if you know about me but something I’ve always been impressed by is your natural default is community. No matter what you’re doing, it’s just like you’re ingrain default of engaging.
Naomi: It’s so funny that you say that because I’ve started to realize that about myself also. That it is the default and it’s where my needle points to, even in times of stress and in chaos and conflict. So thank you. Thanks for saying that.
Sundae: Yeah, it’s impressive and you know since we spoke in 2017 on Expat Happy Hour, you’ve gone on to do other really amazing things. From what I know, from your work that you’ve had your hands deep into these conversations about “What do we do about the lack of equity and housing, what do we do about rampant racial bias in the education system?” Specifically in the United States right now, and that has driven you to find ways to have a more of a local impact in your city, which again goes to the focus of community. I know most recently you’ve been very active in the design of pandemic-related housing crisis, again touches on community and you even have your eye on an elected seat in Omaha City Council. That’s so exciting.
Naomi: But you know Sundae, it’s funny because you’re saying it all goes back to community but it also goes back to what you started out the podcast with, with responsibility and our own individual. So yes, yeah.
Sundae: Okay. I have only questions. I have no answers. All I know is that when I’m thinking about the audience that’s listening to Expat Happy Hour most likely, you know living in a globally mobile context. Maybe working in international NGOs or doing charitable work and developing context, maybe engaging in community work in communities that they’ve only had limited experience with.
So while this conversation is applicable to anybody who is connected to community, we’re thinking about the globally mobile community who might have their hands in this specific context. I want to hear from you.
You know, what is the most important thing that you think we need to be talking about right now in the current climate? Where we’re looking left and right and asking ourselves, “What’s our responsibility to ourselves, to our neighbors, to our loved ones, to our fellow humans in this space of dismantling racism?”
Naomi: Yeah, and you know, I think Sundae it’s good to kind of go back also to what you just said about folks that are internationally and globally mobile. One of the things that I am very aware of is that my work that I’m doing currently Is possible because I’m back home. I’m back home, you know where my passport says that I’m from, I’m back home where I can vote in person and be involved civically and in the Democrat or the democracy of our country.
So when you’re living away from home, sometimes that’s not possible. So I just want to honor and hold space also for the people that want to be very involved in the places that they live but can’t because of the structure of the country they live in. Regardless the message is still the same and I think it is about dismantling comfort almost, in our own lives. There’s an Instagram artist, her name is Danielle Coke and she goes by the handle @Ohhappydani and she’s well known for putting hard things into beautiful packages, into beautiful art, and she recently did one that said: there was a heart and an image of a home and an image of the world and it said until you fix it here and it pointed to the heart, until you talk about it here, and it pointed to the home. We can’t do anything about this, and it pointed to the globe, and I’m paraphrasing and I might have gotten that wrong, but I think the sentiment is true.
I believe that folks that are in expat communities, one of the biggest responsibilities you have to each other is to have the hard conversations and to move past what might be surface chitchat or conversations about, I mean, obviously, no one’s traveling right now, but you know, it’s typical holidays and school things and I think it’s just very important to go past the surface and identify and acknowledge what’s in our hearts, what biases do we bring to the table – because I think something that we all have is bias, and then taking that responsibility.
There’s so much happening in the interwebs and on the internet and even in local conversations around “What do we do, how do we fix this, what do I do next?” Especially with expats, we all know what to do. Like we know how to pick up and pack and move our families from country to country and if we’re not the working partner, we know how to find communities where we can thrive.
We know how to get our children engaged in school, and so use those same tools and that same skill set to figure this out also. I think that would be one of the strongest things I could say is that the minute you say to yourself, or say out loud “what do we do or what can I do?” Flip that back and remind yourself that you do know how to find the answers. We might not know what the answer is, but we know how to find it, how to reach out to people, how to find books to read, and how to start the education process.
Sundae: Well what I’m hearing you say is take this moment and attack these questions with the same sort of fervor that we would if we just found out we’re moving across the country or across the world in four weeks like we do.
Naomi: Absolutely and what do we do? We get books, we research, we put the ping out to say, “Does anyone know someone that I can talk to, does anyone understand this specific neighborhood?” and like you said, it is fervor, we go after it. I think that part of what’s scary about dismantling racism and systemic oppression and inequities is that our response, or at least mine, I’ll speak to myself. It’s to freeze and to go numb and to kind of almost cover my ears and go “la la la” It’s too much, it’s too big, It’s been going on for hundreds of years, so, therefore, I can’t possibly do anything about it. Imagine if we had that response to a new expat location.
Sundae: Right. Can everybody just pause for a second like take in what Naomi is saying, if this is important to us, we have that capability and skills and know-how to get very active and make magic happen because we do it all the time in our global lives, and then the question is, “If we’re not, why not?”
Naomi: Yeah, and I think it’s also important to say, as we know, for every expat move, there are 900 different ways It can happen. Some get packages and some do it by themselves, some move into another household living situation, some are doing it solo. So it’s the same for this journey of unpacking bias and dismantling the great depression.
It’s going to look differently for everybody, and I think that it’s important to realize that, and to not shame yourself for going after maybe someone else’s lane, and wanting to copycat or follow because it feels safe. But just to remember also that you know enough inside of you for what your lane might be. So like you mentioned early on, I’ve decided that my lane is to work in the housing space and to work on some of the inequities that exist there and then furthermore, have decided to make it really local, to run for elected office. That’s obviously a privilege that I have because like I said, I’m back home, but I think what I’m trying to say is, find something that you know, you have a passion for and go there.
The sad reality, everything that we experience on a day-to-day basis is impacted by racism. So if food security is your passion or gardening, go that way, if education and ableism in the way that a child can access a classroom is your passion, because of what your children have gone through, go that way. If it’s religion, non-profits, literally no one listening to this podcast could throw me something that they’re passionate about and I wouldn’t be able to find a through-line to raise my hand for systemic oppression. So, you know, even if the encouragement is to start small and just go there, that’s a start.
Sundae: That sort of takes away some of the overwhelm for people who have had the privilege of not having to think about this every day of their entire lives and every interaction. If you are able to escape thinking about this every day, that’s obviously a sign of the privilege that you carry and now it’s like, it is a new thing and now take that existing passion and go further with this new thing, or amplifying it in a way that you haven’t done before.
Naomi: I do have to give a caveat for folks that don’t know me and my story. My dad is black and my mom is white and I have light skin as a result of that marriage and my existence on this Earth is different than it would be if both of my parents were black. So I do have to give that caveat. I only know my experience walking through the world as do you and I think that we need to… this is a bold statement, but… privilege, yes, and responsibility almost trumps that privilege. So we’re past the point of identifying and pointing out our privileges because now it’s all about what we’re going to do about it period. Regardless of our privilege.
Sundae: We all need to take action. I’m hearing from you, there’s no excuse. If you’ve got a passion, if you got something you’re even remotely interested in, you can follow that through and do your part, stay in your lane, but do your part.
Naomi: I think it also can be as simple as that @OhhappyDani artwork, start at home, and I’m not suggesting like so many are, I want to be cautious and not suggest, you don’t have to go talk to all of your family members who might have made a racist comment in the past. I don’t know that that’s actually the healthiest way to take action, but if you’re raising children, or if you have children in your life, which most of us do in one capacity or another, start there.
I’ve long said for many years that we are all leaders and that we all have a platform and sometimes the platform is our kitchen table and I think that if we all did our part to raise the next generation with more awareness of their own bias and more of an anti-racist lens, that’s the work.
There’s a beautiful book called This Book Is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell and it’s written for children. It’s written for young adults, it’s beautiful, it’s graphically designed in such a way that it takes you through the journey of understanding what it is to be anti-racist. So I think even if that’s all you do is pick a child in your life and lean into them and their journey, that’s big enough.
Sundae: So when I hear that, this is where I find the challenge, is the start at home. Do your work, do the learning, and there’s this massive sense of urgency because people’s lives are literally on the line. So I mean, someone who has an influence in an organization or a platform, has a responsibility and there’s an urgency to take action.
One of the questions I have is “What have you observed, what are some organizations’ reflexes right now that you think should actually be resisted?” And what are some examples of organizations and it could be someone who has an online platform or it could be someone who’s the head of a small NGO and we can talk about any context there, but who’s doing it well?
Naomi: Well, I think one of the important things to remember is that our reflex and our response to something like this, that feels so big is to start spinning. It’s either to be numb or to start spinning and I would encourage folks that feel spinny – I don’t think that that’s an actual word, but if you feel like you’re topsy-turvy and you don’t know which way to start just stop and be still because it’s not serving anybody.
Like you said Sundae, people are dying and it’s our reaction to want to go fix all the things and jump into all the things but that’s not helpful until you’re able to realize what is yours to do. So what I’ve been watching, especially in America, now that I’ve been back, my global lens is a little bit smaller, but what I’ve been noticing is every company is rushing to make a statement for fear of otherwise being shamed because of their silence.
I think that what I’m seeing people do well, is if they feel the need to speak up sooner than later, to speak up from a place of humility and say, “I don’t know what to say, or I don’t know what’s going to be next but know that I’m committed.” Those are some of the phrases or the sentiments that I think have been really impactful to me. What I think needs to be resisted are those messages or those feelings of “We’re going to go hire black people because that’ll fix everything.” Or “We are going to have a new initiative and it’s called the DEI initiative which stands for diversity, equity and inclusion.” That also doesn’t fix anything.
I’m also seeing a lot of companies and organizations go external to find experts to bring in, which on the face of it, is wise because as business owners, as CEOs, as presidents of companies you have a task to do and it may not be to make sure that your racially equitable company. But sometimes the first step might be to see who’s already in your organization, whose voice may have previously been silenced because of bias. I’m seeing that as something that I would say needs to be resisted before a company goes out and hires someone external. Do the work internally to see if you already have someone whose voice has previously been silent and bring them to the table.
The other thing that I think you know from that table mentality would be, you have to truly be willing to let others speak and you have to be willing to listen. The seat at the table does nothing if you have to sit on your hands with duct tape over your mouth.
Imagine what a lot of companies are doing right now is pulling up the seat and they are telling us all on the internet “I’ve opened up the table, the seats are there, we’ve asked black and brown people and otherwise marginalized people to sit with us.” But then they’re not asking for their advice and their leadership.
Sundae: Or training the people, I mean Catrice M. Jackson always talks about “weapons of whiteness” or they’re not training their white employees, what weapons that they’re using unknowingly. So it’s actually putting more people at risk.
Naomi: Right. There’s a local organization here in my hometown that the CEO really did some internal thinking and she brought in someone to do a staff presentation, which was beautiful. This person who spoke has a lot of experience being marginalized, he is from another country that was very much oppressed and he just delivered this beautiful mantra to the rest of the organization. The folks that were white felt held and comforted and not ashamed but encouraged. The black and brown folks felt seen and heard and then they did nothing with it, and I think that’s something else to just be very cautious of when we’re talking about our responsibility.
It’s not a one-and-done, you can’t do something that feels right in the moment and then pat yourself on the back and say, “Oh thank goodness, we got that taken care of.” It’s a journey.
Sundae: So people who are doing it well are committed for the long haul, they’re not silencing those who have something important to say, in terms of things that have gone wrong or ideas on how to do better. What else?
Naomi: I think that the other thing is a responsibility to sit in the ick. I mean there is nothing about what’s going on right now, globally, that any of us have ever lived through before. Yes, slavery yes, racism all of those things, but the combination of pandemic. We’re seeing protests happening at levels that haven’t happened in many many years and I think part of it is because people are able to protest. Where if we weren’t living in the middle of a pandemic those people would be in offices and in their field of work.
None of us know what’s next and none of us know how to process the feelings in the ick. I guess the other thing that I would say is when you stop silencing and when you start listening, realize that the inner turmoil probably has just begun because as you start listening to other people. You’re asking them to tell you their lived experience and often with a lived experience comes a whole new awareness of holy jebus.
Sundae: Yep, “What am I getting myself into?” So I’m going to be really honest here. I am a community leader, I guess, you know, I didn’t really think of myself this way, but I am a community leader. I have two thousand members in Expats on Purpose and I value each and every person in there and we’re an incredibly diverse group. Yet, it’s pretty predictable which voices are active in my group.
So for me, I mean, I’m super transparent about this and it feels vulnerable to be transparent about it, but that’s not that uncomfortable. I mean like, big deal if I’m feeling vulnerable, what’s worse is if people don’t feel invited and so on. I guess the thing I’m saying is if you run a Facebook group, you are a community leader. I think everybody listening to this who runs any sort of online community or gathers any sort of group of people together, you are a community leader.
Two, we have a responsibility and for me, I think about “Have I been taking that responsibility seriously?” Now, I feel almost reckless for letting two thousand people come together in one space, I mean it’s been wonderful inside the group in terms of the harmony and support I’ve witnessed. Yet. I’m not equipped, I don’t have guidelines in place.
What if someone says something horribly racist right now? I have not trained my admin to be able to handle that. I don’t have a game plan and now I feel that it’s actually irresponsible, when I have opened up this group of 2,000 people from all over the world to have connection with each other. It’s gone well so far, but when I’m thinking about it in hindsight, I’m like “Geez, I think we all need to start taking our responsibility way more seriously.”
Naomi: So there’s a couple of things I would say to that. Emmy McCarthy and I, Emmy runs Amsterdam Mama’s which is a large Facebook group that she’s run for years and she also is doing some work with Facebook right now around equity and all of the things that Facebook needs. She and I have been working together on community and leadership for many years and looking at redefining how that space is. So I guess the things that I would say is yes, if you were running a group of any kind, online, offline, via text thread or via WhatsApp, it is a community and you are a community leader.
I think there’s a difference between community leader and community builder and I think that is where maybe you’re seeing what you’re calling a responsibility, is the invitation to step into the truth that you also are a community builder. And with the responsibility of being a builder comes the awareness to shift it from being a space, which is what you called your group, which is true into… Oh gosh, I’m struggling with the right word.
When you invite people into a space, you’re hoping that everyone gets along when you have a dinner party, you seat people next to each other that might get along or might have interesting things to say to each other. And then you kind of cross your fingers and hope that the food comes out of the oven well and that everyone will be happy.
You don’t plan for it, is exactly what you’ve said and I think that as community leaders if you take the one small step to just establish what I would call riverbanks. Where this is the boundary of what we don’t tolerate and on the other end, this is the boundary of what we encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone. The stuff in the middle will work itself out but you do have to establish the riverbanks.
Otherwise, you’re right, you may wake up one day and something will happen, especially in online groups. I will say though, for those people that are in community leadership positions, find the advocates that believe in the values in the mission of your community so they can help. Just because you’re a community leader doesn’t mean that the responsibility of this work is all on you.
Sundae: Naomi, that’s what I mean about everything for you, it’s ingrained about community and I wouldn’t even think about that. I feel you know, maybe it’s the individualistic culture that I was raised in but I’m like, “It’s all on me, I have to do it.” And maybe it’s the entrepreneur, the solopreneur part of me, but the fact that you are even like “Hey, look inside your community. Who are the advocates? Ask them to be onboard.” Those are not natural instincts for me and that’s a natural instinct for you.
Naomi: I think that it’s not necessarily as much natural, as it was learning through my own experience. The I am Triangle group, when we were on Facebook, we lived through Trump’s election and the subsequent travel bans and I learned a lot. I didn’t sleep a lot and I learned a lot.
Sundae: Just one of many things you lived through in that group, I know.
Naomi: Oh my goodness, but it really shone a light on the fact that change leadership, which is what we’re all going through right now, cannot live solely on the shoulders of one person. Because we’ll mess it up, and that’s too heavy of a burden, even though we’ve accepted the burden of leadership, maybe it’s unwillingly, but we’ve still accepted it by stepping into that role.
If you try and do it all yourself, I can guarantee you that you will fall and that you will mess it up and so it’s better to think proactively about who you can ask to help you and help looks different for everyone. Like you had said, there’s people that are quieter. There’s people that don’t feel as willing to step up. So find roles where they might be able to fit. Ask them to host, I’m just thinking very specifically about a Facebook group, ask them to host a Friday post where they take the leadership to gather, I’m just thinking off the cuff, “Show me your garden, show me what you’re growing”
That can help build their muscles of comfort and strength, of starting to use their voice. And I think at the end of all of it, if all we’ve done is leaders is linked arms with someone else that also is a leader, accidental, unwilling or quiet leader, that’s the work to, is helping them find steady ground and their footing.
Sundae: I’m just trying to take it in. First of all, what I’m taking in is, I just want to share this with the audience, like for me it’s a paradigm shift. If you have an online or an offline group, if you are the one who is the administrator of a WhatsApp chat, right, you know of the text thread, whatever it is, we are community leaders.
That’s a different paradigm. It’s not “I’m the admin of this chat,” it’s about responsibility. Thank you for naming that. I was cognizant of the leadership of the community, but not the building and then the next thing that I’m hearing from you is “Don’t do it alone because you will mess it up.” Of course, I’ll mess it up, especially when it comes around dismantling racism because I was born and raised in a society where that’s been built into me and I’m unlearning as I go.
So, of course, I’m going to have blind spots, and that is really important. I’m going to ask something that I feel vulnerable asking and I know other people are probably going to ask that too. So if you are in a community where you have predominantly white leadership or group members, the last thing, if you’ve been listening and learning, the last thing you want to do is have a token, right? “Let me just ask the one person of color here if they’ll help” How do you get out of that bind? Like you know enough to not do that, but then you know you need voices. So how do you get out of that?
Naomi: Well, and I’m going to go out also on a limb and be vulnerable and say that there are brown and black women who will listen to my words and they will disagree with what I’m about to say, and that’s also okay. For some of us being the only black or brown person in the room is our responsibility, so for me, and I can only speak for me and my experience, but for me, when I have seen myself sitting at the leadership table at a nonprofit organization and realizing that I’m the only woman of color. That’s my responsibility, is to step into what we typically call the token hire or the token leader and do something with it.
Tokenism in my mind is only that if we’re just sitting on our hands at that seat at the table. We turn it into advantageous leadership when we open our mouths and demand that we be heard and so in an online community space if you feel that you’re the one that is different or the other and it’s predominantly white leadership. If you stay in tokenism, then when they ask you to help that’s how you’ll feel, that you’ve just been asked because you’re the black girl, but you can shift your mentality and you can offer and say, “I have something to lend to this.”
“I would like to gather the other black and brown folks in this community and I’d like to do an off-site.” Or “I’d like to do a side conversation or I’d like to be interviewed on your podcast” or what have you. I think that I, for a long time, sat in that oppression of tokenism, instead of just grabbing it by the hair and saying, “Yes, thank you, I am here as the only one and here’s what we’re going to do about it.” “Here’s how I’m going to bring along my sister who sits in the corner because she’s too afraid to say something.” Or, “Here’s how I’m going to grab your hand Sundae, and we’re going to, together, as a brown woman and a white woman have this conversation.” So I just feel like yes to tokenism because it’s the only way we can get started. There you have it.
Sundae: Yeah, I’m listening. I’m listening through a lens of a female in a work context with predominantly men. And I’m just trying to connect to it with the only experience I can connect to because I don’t know that experience.
I’m hearing it through that lens of what is my responsibility as a woman to show up in that male-dominated context. That’s how I’m trying to hear it because obviously I can’t understand. I don’t understand.
Naomi: Sometimes to use that example of the solo female in a male-dominated space, then oftentimes you end up with the “she’s too aggressive” or “she’s too loud” or all of those things. So in that case, I think it’s important to bring along someone next to you. So if you are in leadership and you’re the only one, whatever the only one is for you, it could be anything, it could be that you are disabled. It could be that you are the only person of a practicing faith in a room full of non-faith folks, whatever.
Find someone to bring along with you and that it’s that linking of the arm and you could say, “You know, I’m so thankful that you asked me to do this project, and I know that if I do it with Jamal it will be better for the organization. So if you don’t mind, I’m just gonna bring them all to the next meeting” and then X. So if you’re the only female you’re going to you know, you’re going to ask to bring Tanisha with you.
Not only does it bolster your voice but it also gives that other person that foot in the door and it goes back to sponsorship of each other which is a different version of leadership than mentorship is. Sponsorship is when you’ll bring the table for someone else and we have to set the example for others.
So if you’re the only female, you have to set the example for the females and I think Sundae, I think part of it too is just unattaching and disassociating ourselves with the results or the outcome. That mind to fix, if I’m the only female in a room full of men, I’m not there to fix them and their perceptions.
If I’m the only brown person in a room full of white people, I’m not there to fix those folks either. It goes back to that lane, I want to see housing equity in my city, and that’s what I’m there to do. It takes a lot of learning and growing and I still wake up every day and know that I need to learn more. That’s a lot, isn’t it? There’s no bow to put on this.
Sundae: I think these are important questions and I was just kind of thinking about why is growth one of my leading values because I realize how much I have to learn.
Naomi: That’s a good statement as well. Growth, I think sometimes gets in our way. For me, growth looks like knowledge and knowledge gets in my way because I continue to say “well, I’ll just read one more book.” Or “I’ll listen to one more podcast.” The fallacy in that knowledge is when you don’t do anything with it, and I think the same can be said for growth.
Growth has a forward mechanism. And if we also don’t do the side-to-side, so I’m recovering from a pretty nasty broken leg accident, and for the longest time, my physical therapist kept saying, “Just one step forward” as I was relearning how to walk. “One step forward, one step forward” and then one day she shook it up and completely knocked me off my axis and she said, “Now take a step to the side.” I was like “Well, I don’t know how to do that.” I know how to go forward and she’s like, “But you can’t go forward until you also learn how to move inside the space that you’re already in.” Which is the side-to-side and I think it’s a good metaphor for this growth and knowledge and dismantling of racism, is it’s nuanced and you can go forward as hard and fast as you want, but you also have to stop in the stillness and make sure that your left to right is also checked.
Sundae: For me personally in this journey, it’s like I know that by going forward I’m going to make a big mistake and that’s the learning and I can’t learn unless I’m moving side-to-side and forward and back and pausing and all of those things and you want to protect your ego. You don’t want to mess this up, but there’s too much at stake. I got to get over myself and keep going because there’s too much at stake.
Naomi: The one thing I will say to you Sundae, to go back a little bit just to the “What do you do when you’re a white leader and you know that you need to fill in the blanks.” One thing that’s good is something called signaling which Nilofer Merchant talks a lot about in her book about loneliness and finding that spot that’s yours to stand-in. I think as leaders if we signal to our communities and say something like for example, “I know that I need to say something, here’s where my personal values intersect with this work and I’m still working on what that means for our community.” But I’m signaling, you don’t have to use that word, but I’m going out there to those of you, if you feel led to help me in this or if you feel like you have something you want to say, I want to offer the platform to you.
Then what you’re doing is you’re signaling to the folks that might feel quieted or silenced or not good enough or not educated enough to be able to quietly raise their hand to you and say I’d like to help you and then that gives everyone a stronger footing to stand on because it’s linked up.
So you can in the statement, just signal what your hope is and then that also addresses some of that tokenism stuff to, where you’re not going to the black person to say, “What do you think, can you help me?” You’re opening up to everyone.
Sundae: I love that metaphor that you keep bringing that I’m going to hold dear is linking arms. It’s that game that you play in school, I think where you link arms and you make each other stronger because you’re doing it. It’s like “I got my arm out here if anybody wants a link-up.” Like you don’t have to but if you feel like it then link up.
Naomi: Another thing I would say around the arm kind of analogy, someone told me a long time ago that when you’re doing the work of community building or any kind of work that’s human-related, putting your arm out feels super scary. But if you envision holding the space of the work that you’re doing or holding the pain or the work that is to be done for the angst in the chaos, you can still hold it in your hand and there’s still space that’s protecting your heart.
I think that that is one thing that I would like to say to everyone who’s listening, whether your leadership platform is your kitchen table or a Facebook community of tens of thousands of people or in-person in NGO work, make sure that you’re protecting your heart because this is big and heavy stuff.
There is shame that comes with not knowing enough. There is hurt that comes with not knowing how to do something fast enough and the onslaught of what we’re seeing from around the world is hard. So I would just encourage you, while your arm is out, and while you’re asking to link up also, make sure that you’ve built in some self-care, true self-care, and protect your heart.
Sundae: When I hear that, I hear the intention of this is the long haul strategy. We are we’ve got to be strong to get going.
Naomi: We’ve got to be strong and we have to be able to wake up the next day and keep doing it. Otherwise, what’s the point? If we burn out, if we allow others opinions of the work that we’re doing get too in-depth, and we can’t show up the next day, so it’s important.
Sundae: Exactly! and that sounds like the episode I published with Ntando Cele, episode 180. She works as an expat who is abroad and she’s a person of color and she says that the work she does with other activists and women of color is around their self-care because they’re exhausted from the fight. And the only way that they can keep going is by taking first-class care of themselves. That can feel hard to remember when so many lives are at stake.
Naomi, thank you for linking arms with me today.
Naomi: Thank you for asking me.
Sundae: It means the world to me. I know that there’s so much to take away from this and I’m so grateful that I do transcripts of these episodes because I’m going to print this out and take notes because I know I’ve got my homework to do.
I hope that those who are listening also take what Naomi has said seriously and think about how you can make that your own, in your work, whether it’s leaving the conversations at the kitchen table, the WhatsApp thread, or the Facebook group. So Naomi again, thank you so much for being part of Expat Happy Hour.
Naomi: Thanks Sundae.
You’ve been listening to Expat Happy Hour with Sundae Schneider-Bean. Thank you for listening. I’ll leave you with the words from Bill Hybels: “The mark of community is not the absence of conflict. It’s the presence of a reconciling spirit.”
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The post 181: Linking Arms with Naomi Hattaway
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