What Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Confirmation Hearing Is Confirming for Me

  1. Be Me. Have my very existence be a radical act of anti-racism. Speak up. Speak when I’m spoken to. Speak even when I’m not asked to speak. (I’m not asked to speak all that much.) I spent a lot of years being quiet. It was easier not to be the mole sticking my head up in life’s Whack-a-Mole game. But what happened when I didn’t speak was this — I lost myself. Or maybe never knew who I even really was! Sound strange to you? Racism manifests is interesting ways.
  2. Challenge. When I speak up, I challenge all convention. That’s just how it works. No one ever expects the small Asian woman in a room to speak up. Research shows that working from home during the pandemic has benefitted people of color, and especially women of color. We can mostly avoid all of the covert “non-racists” at work, and also all of the thinly-veiled racism and micro aggressions. At work, I have to pretend to be big. What? Yes, you heard me right. I have to pretend to be bigger than I am. Because height matters a lot. We’ve all seen the studies that show that short people make significantly less salary than their taller counterparts? Is this because we have smaller brains and are therefore not as smart? Perhaps, but I think the commonly understood belief is that we’re all a product of biases. I have the trifecta — short x Asian x woman. If we were playing Limbo, some of those characteristics would help me win. But in the corporate environment, they’re a liability for me. I was chatting with @MistieBassBoyd yesterday. She’s this incredible 6'3'’ ex-WNBA basketball player who I have the pleasure of connecting with every so often. We only met during the pandemic, so we’ve never seen each other in person. She’s only ever seen me from torso on up. Yesterday, she guessed my height. “5'6'’?”, she posited. Wow, not bad. Guess I have been playin’ BIG. She gifted me with 4 important inches.
  3. Ask. Now, I always ask. I didn’t use to ask, but now I do. It’s important. While I’d love to be given (nice) things I didn’t ask for, that’s not how the world works. Or that’s never been how my life works. Now that I’ve found my voice, and know who I am and am 10x more confident (thank you @UPFRONT) than I was a year ago, it’s my responsibility to speak up for any number of colleagues, friends, mentees who are still disenfranchised. Here’s my latest example. At Nike, we leverage the expertise of a very renown, creative, unbelievable innovative Innovation consulting firm. They’re well regarded at Nike, and many of my colleagues have worked with this external agency for years. I was fortunate to be invited to a call with them and in the first .25s after joining the call, an unmistakeable trait struck me. It was me and my boss, and three white men. I hope you all hear me as I type this — I have absolutely nothing against white men. I better reiterate this for the MWM in the back. I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NOTHING AGAINST WHITE MEN. My favorite adult human being in the world is a white man. What I do have something against is unknowingly not anti-racist workplaces, systems, structures, norms. With 7 minutes left in our hour-long call (which really wow’d be by the way! These guys are legit!) I built up enough courage to ask four questions. (1) How many employees do you have? (2) What is the average tenure of your employees? (3) What percentage of your employees are Women? (4) How many people of color do you employ? The answers were: (a) 85, (b) 10 years, although the number is falling recently, (c )35–40%, and (d) 3 or 4, but a follow up email after a handcount said the actual number was 11. I didn’t ask these questions to be a bully. People who look like me are rarely effective bullies anyways. I wanted to prompt in others (who I deeply respect) a pause. An Equity pause. Do we think we’re doing the best work, the best innovation, the best thinking — when the majority of the population of the world is not represented?
  1. When people are being themselves, let them be themselves. Better yet, reach out actively and encourage those who are under-represented to be themselves. We will all look at you quizzically, wondering if you’re actually being real. Because everything in our lives has told us it is not safe to be ourselves.
  2. When people Challenge, put your ego in the backseat, and sit yourself back there with it. Give people a chance. And if they fail, give them another chance. And another one. And another one. You know all those chances you got simply for being white? Please consider passing it along.
  3. When people Ask, listen. Excavate your own biases. It can’t be easy to be a white person or man, being asked by the small Asian woman who you’ve decided to surround yourself with. Ask yourself why you’ve chosen to surround yourself with people who look and think like you. If your answer is that there aren’t enough qualified women, qualified women engineers, qualified women of color, I call bullshit. It might behoove you to examine what yardstick you’re using, who created the yardstick, and if the yardstick even accurately represents what you’d ideally be trying to measure and recruit for. I would challenge that the yardstick is woefully insufficient and has a million tiny little cracks running up it. It’s time to create a new unit of measurement.
  4. Create an environment where people feel it’s safe to be themselves, to speak up and to challenge. How do you do this? With any team you’re on, in every meeting you’re in, start with the words, “I don’t know.” It’s really simple. These words invite people to want to help you. When you know, or pretend to know, (and especially if you’re white and/or a man) — most people of color who grew up in this country and immigrants, will not dare “challenge” or even speak up, because they either assume or know you know best, or they personally have enough experiences of being humiliated, denigrated, shot down when they do speak up.
  5. Challenge “not-racist” conventions in everything you see, smell, hear, taste, experience. It’s everywhere, guys.

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Angie Lee

Angie Lee

Lover of life (and living it), full of wonder, amusement and curiosity, fun and functional