Join Change Catalyst Founder & CEO Melinda Briana Epler for the first installment in a new series: Leading With Empathy & Allyship. In the first episode we discuss Countering Xenophobia in the Workplace with Co-Founder and CEO of Awaken, Michelle Kim.
Defining xenophobia and anti-Asian racism, harassment and bullying during COVID-19 and beyond; intersectionality and the myth of the “model minority”; holding ourselves accountable as allies and accomplices; practical ways companies can address these issues in the workplace; and more!
Additional resources for allies:
- Awaken’s virtual training on Combating Xenophobia
- Allyship (& Accomplice): The What, Why, and How by Michelle Kim
- Coronavirus fears show how ‘model minority’ Asian Americans become the ‘yellow peril’ by Matthew Lee, NBC News
- Report Hate Crimes and Incidents via Stop APPI Hate
Resources from our Audience
- From Yoriko Morita: New Site Collects Reports Of Racism Against Asian Americans Amid Coronavirus Pandemic (NPR)
- From Linda Li: Misguided Virus Fears Hitting Asian American Businesses In Bay Area, Nation (CBS)
- From Won-Jin Jo: As the coronavirus spreads, so does online racism targeting Asians, new research shows (Washington Post)
- From Corey Ponder: Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights by Kenji Yoshino
- From Jennifer Brown: Uncovering Talent: A New Model of Inclusion (Kenji Yoshino & Dr Christine Smith)
- Lastly, Karen Catlin shared Erin Thomas’ tweet thread about supporting Asian and Black employees during COVID-19
It got real, y’all – thank you Michelle for talking openly and honestly about anti-Asian racism, harassment and bullying during COVID-19 and beyond; intersectionality and the myth of the “model minority”; holding ourselves accountable as allies and accomplices; practical ways companies can address these issues in the workplace; and more.
Don’t stop here – there are great resources here, and we discussed several ways each of us can be allies right now. Learn and take action. 👊
Co-Founder & CEO at Awaken
Michelle Kim is the Co-Founder and CEO of Awaken, a leading provider of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion education programs that go beyond just “checking the box.” Michelle believes in creating compassionate space for uncomfortable conversations in order to build resilient connections and move people beyond awareness to action.
Michelle has consulted hundreds of organizations on their diversity and inclusion strategy and education journey, working with top executives from Fortune 500 to tech giants to influence change.
Michelle is a widely recognized thought leader, keynote speaker, and writer — her work has appeared on world renowned platforms such as Forbes, The New York Times, and NPR, and she was named Medium’s Top Writer in Diversity.
Melinda Briana Epler: Hello, everyone. Welcome, welcome. I hope you are safe and well and sheltering in place. It is awesome to see so many friends, people that I know, and also people that I don’t know here today. Really excited to just have this very first episode of Leading with Empathy & Allyship. I am Melinda Briana Epler, the Founder and CEO of Change Catalyst. Change Catalyst builds inclusive innovation ecosystems through training, consulting and events globally. Just a few logistics before we get started. One is we are extremely lucky to have Anthony Diaz, an ASL interpreter sponsored by Interpreter-Now. This session is also being live captioned by Maggie at White Coat Captioning. To turn on captioning, if you haven’t yet, write down at the bottom of your screen is a closed caption option, so click on that and in your Zoom window and if you want to adjust the text size, you have to go up into the Zoom preferences and then into accessibility and you can change the size there. Also wanted to thank our team who are all on the line and will be monitoring the chat in the Q&A throughout our time. Please be kind. Please be inclusive and chat away. We do have a code of conduct that was sliding through at the beginning. We will be adhering to that. If you stray away from the code of conduct, we will give you one warning and then just let you have. Use the chat for chat. There is a Q&A function down in your Zoom browser. Please use the Q&A function and ask us questions. We will have a discussion for about 20 minutes and then we will go into Q&A. Lots of time for Q&A. Please put your questions there and we will answer them as we can. All right. This series is focused on Leading with Empathy & Allyship and I want to design allyship quickly. There is no magic wand for correcting diversity and inclusion and equity. It is you, and me, working together, creating change, one person at a time, one act at a time, one word at a time. We do that by being allies and recognizing there is an imbalance and acknowledging that and working to correct it and support each other and advocate for each other. A big piece of allyship is listening and learning. Today I am really excited to have Michelle Kim joining us. She is the Co-founder and CEO of awaken. Thank you, Michelle.
Michelle Kim: Thank you for having me. Super humbled and congrats on this launch.
Melinda Briana Epler: Thank you. This week we are talking about xenophobia and specifically anti age and xenophobia and racism coming up as a result of COVID 19. We will define it more in a bit but first want to talk about Michelle. Michelle, can you just tell us briefly what your story is? How did you end up doing what you do and what do you do?
Michelle Kim: Yeah, absolutely. I am so thrilled to be here and I want to say hi to all the folks who are in the audience. I like to say diversity, equity and inclusion work is about lived experiences and human experiences. I don’t call myself a DEI expert because I can only be an expert in my own lived experiences. I want to acknowledge so many people dialing in with experts in their own lived stories. When it comes to my own story, it starts with my experience as an Asian woman immigrant and a queer and navigating the social justice and tech space and that culmination of the experiences led me to what I am doing right now which is running a company called awaken. What we do is provide diversity related workshops that go beyond just checking the box. I was you know, like so many can resonate with this story which is in my experience in the corporate space and tech space, I felt so much of the conversation around diversity, equity and inclusion felt diluted and frankly whitewashed. I wanted to create space where we can have both compassion and criticality to bring a little bit more of the essence which is rooted in social justice work to be able to, you know, make that content accessible to so many people while having a little more challenging conversations that can push the envelope on those conversations. That’s what I do and why I am here and I am excited to share some of my stories.
Melinda Briana Epler: Awesome. I said a little bit about allyship but how do you define allyship? It is different for everyone. What is your definition of allyship?
Michelle Kim: I have our Awakened definition which is grounded in understanding and acknowledging the differences in power and privilege that exist in society and their goal of allyship being about achieving equity and inclusion. A huge part of allyship is holding ourselves accountable to the needs of the marginalized people. I think so often today what we see in the world is performative allyship and how people want to signal their virtues externally and I see a lot of tech companies and companies of all sizes do this. It is a trendy topic and people are too quick to market their desire to be allies before they are committed to working towards and in solidarity. I think a huge definition needs to be accountable and what that looks like and how we doing the work within ourselves even before we are out there intervening on biases because I think that’s what people think of when they hear the word being an ally you are out there advocating for other people or advocating on behalf of folks rather than checking our own privilege and power and showing up in ways that really amplify and create space for marginalized people to do work on their own and recognizing they have the agency and power to do so.
Melinda Briana Epler: Awesome. I think that’s a really important piece of that. Holding ourselves accountable. You know, nobody else is holding us accountable. A great ally is holding themselves accountable for learning, growing, stepping in and doing something. Let’s talk about xenophobia and also define that. You know, it happens daily. It is not just now. It happens daily and it has happened for hundreds of years. We also see a large increase often during major points of history where fear is a driving course, or where fear is grabbing a hold of us, and we saw a rise in xenophobia around 9/11 as well as many times throughout our history. You know, right now, several of my Asian and Asian American friends are really struggling because of harassment and being bullied just walking down the street or sidewalk or going into the grocery stores and are afraid to go out and afraid to wear masks because that might trigger someone and harassment and they are afraid for the safety of their friends and their family members. That’s all on top of the stresses that we all face around the pandemic. Can you help us define xenophobia and what’s happening now?
Michelle Kim: Yeah, of course. I did a little search on the etymology of the word xenophobia and it literally means in Greek stranger fearing. Xeno meaning guest and phobia meaning fear. It literally means you are afraid of and fearful of people of someone who looks different or is deemed to be a foreigner. I think it is such an interesting word for us to be using right now about specifically Asian people in America because, you know, throughout history, Asian Americans and Asian folks have been seen as perpetual foreigners. I don’t know if you have heard that phrase throughout history but no matter the rich histories of Asians in the U.S. contributing to society and the country and our history overall we are rarely seen as actual Americans. We are rarely seen as people who belong in this country and we see historical legacies and policies that have clearly discerned and defined who is American versus who is not, who belongs, who doesn’t belong. I think the term xenophobia really accentuates the way we are seen as foreigner and will always be there perpetual foreigner in this country despite the history we bring to this nation.
Melinda Briana Epler: And how are you seeing this starting to come up in the workplace? We all bring ourselves into the workplace and all that is happening in our lives to the workplace. This is not, you know, one or the other. It is all of the above that people are experiencing that’s outside of the workplace and that affects the energy that we have to do our work. Can you talk a little bit about what’s happening in the workplace?
Michelle Kim: Of course. I think, especially now, when we are doing work in our own homes for those of us who are lucky enough to be able to shelter in place, I think that boundary is getting more and more blurred. What is considered at work versus what is not and I think that blurring of boundaries have been happening for some time now where people are, you know, really advocating for the ability to be able to be who they’re or show up as their best selves at work. I don’t know if I believe necessarily in bringing your whole self to work. That’s a whole other conversation. I think there are boundaries we can set and being able to give that agency to people is important and I think right now the blurred boundaries are becoming more clear than ever around how are current identities or social identities or our living situations or socioeconomic status can influence the way we can cope with the current situation. The xenophobia and anti Asianism even if folks are not experiencing that. Let’s say they are not the ones experiencing that in the streets or encountering verbal abuse, seeing these stories in the news can still have a lasting emotional impact and toll on people who look like me. I think it is also important for us to distinguish the very specific types of racism we are seeing against East Asians or people who look like Chinese. This is a global phenomenon where in my home country in South Korea and Japan there have been instances of anti Chinese racism where Chinese people or people who look Chinese, you know, a lot of people joke you can’t tell us apart, but if you are using a particular accent or are dressed in a certain way that signals your ethnicity and that can become a targeting factor. And you know, I have been talking to a lot of different organizations and I am really in awe of leaders at this moment working to create space for these conversations to happen. I have to give a shout out to Aaron/Erin who is on the call and created space early on to talk about this issue and worked with Asian ERG leaders to create space. Even if folks are not experiencing anti-racist acts, their moms, siblings, communities members, seeing them be attacked in the media has an impact on people. I think it is important for us to not forget about that. And just the fact the FBI has issued a warning about the increase in hate crimes against Asian Americans in this country and folks are reporting there are about 100 hate crimes being reported each day against the Asian Americans which is really an alarming and knowing most hate crimes against any community are very, very underreported because it takes a particular criteria for you to be able to categorize certain acts as hate crimes so taking note of that and knowing any type of reporting out there is probably very underreported which is saddening also. There have been vicious attacks covered by the media and I don’t know if folks have been paying attention to that but there has been an acid attack in Brooklyn, there has been a stabbing against three Asian families in Sam’s Club. These are motivated by people’s fear and people’s hatred, you know, scapegoating a group of people and needing to find some explanation for why all of this is happening which is, to your point, has been a historical pattern we have seen just not against Asian Americans but all marginalized communities.
Melinda Briana Epler: Yeah, yeah. And so on top of all of that, also, there is anti Asian harassment, and discrimination and biases that are coming out. You know, now that the majority of companies are a remote culture now. Some have been thrust into this very quickly without a lot of the things in place that you would have in person around anti harassment/anti bullying and so on top of this we are also, there is also, a danger of having this permeate throughout the internet and the Slack messages and little pieces here and there throughout the remote cultural as well. I think it is really important in the culture to address quickly, have that code of conduct and procedures to really address those things as they come up in the workplace and having safe conversations and like you talked about earlier, it is incredibly important, and powerful, and also a way to open up allies to be able to say something and make that space so that allies can say something when they see something. Let’s talk a little more about what companies can do, what allies can do, to really help make a difference and to step in or step back as the case may be.
Michelle Kim: Yeah, I think I always like to start with allyship and we realize at Awaken allyship it can happen at a variety of levels. I want to urge folks to think about what can I do now personally and I can start with a lot of awareness and also questions and the interrogating of our own bullies. That goes for even Asian people in general too. I think there are a lot of narratives and biases that are fueling the anti Asian racism and xenophobia today. That’s really the two subtle messages we have been receiving about Asian people in general. From the 1800s the message of yellow peril where folks really categorically saw Asian people as global threat because of the economic contribution or the diseases they were bringing and what have you. I think it is important for us to kind of question when we have talking about COVID 19, for example, people are still talking and making jokes about Chinese people eating bats and that being the cause of this entire pandemic or talking about the Asian people being dirty or not going to Chinese restaurants even before the shelter in place took place.
I think these are moments where we can start to question what are some of my deeply held beliefs that haven’t been examined closely to unlearn some of these stereotypes and biases we have. I think another important conversation that I want to lift up because people are not I haven’t heard a lot of conversations happening around this and that’s some folks are reacting, responding to this resurgence of racism conversation by saying well, now that racism is impacting Asian people, now they are talking about racism. Welcome to the club. Finally you are with us in this fight but a little too little too late type of conversation or disappointment around, you know, the lack of social and political engagement on the part of Asian Americans. I think that also is something that we need to lean into and challenge because the whole notion of, you know, Asians being apolitical or Asians not caring about anti black racism, I think those conversations really need to happen in order for us to actually build a coalition across different marginalized communities. On the one hand, I think there is a lot of erasure that Asian Americans experience across different ethnicity because we are so often counted as a monolithically group and one thing organizations can do is disaggregate the data and start being specific about who is represented in the Asian American communities because even in the national data that we gather, we often erase the experiences of so many different Asian communities that are suffering that’s leading to lack of resource allocation. This whole idea of Asian has a monolith or model minority who doesn’t care about the social justice causes can also perpetuate biases and may slow down the progress we can make across different people of color groups and also the complexity around having to hold and talk about anti blackness in the Asian American community is so important so we can collectively do the work of being allies to one another at the same time which is not an easy task and it is complicated and it is messy but I think all of these things actually need to be brought up to the surface for us to be able to have fruit full conversations about what does allyship look like for us and in order for us to have these conversations, what work and what healing do we need to do in each of our communities so we can really build coalition?
Melinda Briana Epler: Absolutely. I fundamentally believe we all have to work together and all need to be allies for each other. Really, you know, we won’t fundamentally change things until we all do and until we stop trying to tear each other down and really help build each other up and really work together to create that change. I agree with you wholeheartedly.
Michelle Kim: I think it is important for us to also talk when we talk about being allies for the Asian American communities or Asian communities, let’s unpack that. What does that look like? It is not just about someone calling out someone saying Chinese virus. That’s one thing that we can do. Or, you know, I think there is a very specific picture that people have about what does that look like being an ally to Asian American communities and we often forget that there are Asian LGBTQ people, there are Asian undocumented people, there are Asian incarcerated people. All these issues we are working on together in different communities there are Asian people impacted by all of these important issues so it is not necessarily this one-dimensional support that I am seeking from other folks who it comes to supporting by community. It is actually being nuanced and bringing in that rich sort of activism being done by Asian people and supporting that work as well, and in particular today, in this circumstance, I think a lot of people who are poor are suffering. People who are service line workers are suffering. People who are disabled are suffering. There are Asian people under all of those umbrellas. We really need to when we are talking about allyship toward Asian American people, it is not just about not calling the virus Chinese virus or not saying you eat bats or making jokes about that. It is actually about lifting up all of these issues that we all have a hand in and knowing that Asians actually are a part of all those discussions as well.
Melinda Briana Epler: Yeah. So awareness is a part of allyship and then the action has been a necessity to create change. What are some practical things that people can do in the workplace to really help create change?
Michelle Kim: You know, the one thing that everybody can do that’s very easy but I don’t see people doing often enough, is actually just checking in with people. A core tenant of allyship is us not assuming we know all of the answers and that same tenant can apply in the workplace by asking people what is it that you need? What’s the support look like for you at this moment? Not just assuming that one size fits all solution will apply to all Asian people categorically. Some Asian people might not want to talk about it and some do and are mad you haven’t brought it up and you don’t know till you ask. Creating the space to check in is really important. It is important also that we are, you know, normalizing this type of behavior because I think, you know, to your point earlier around ensuring we are creating the space are allies can say something, I think about the statistics around how women and people of color when they bring up issues around bias they are often punished or penalized for doing that. It is important for us to create an environment where there are minimal repercussions, if any, for people bringing up concerns. If you are not the one bringing up concerns, the thing that you can do is make sure that the person who is bringing up these issues are not penalized or seen as a troublemaker or, you know, causing unnecessary rift in the workplace. I think that’s also an act of allyship that is often missed. You can actually let people say the things that they want to say, ask for things that they need, without facing repercussions and that’s the job of all allies to be able to create that space.
Melinda Briana Epler: Great. I want to ask a couple more questions but remind everyone if you have questions for us, we will address questions following our discussions so put your questions in the Q&A which is down at the bottom of the screen there. We are seeing them pop up and we will answer them in a few minutes. Let’s talk about you. What do you need as an ally? How have allies really helped you in the past and what do you need from an ally?
Michelle Kim: I really appreciate that question. Often I am not really thinking about what I need. What I need, thank you for asking, what I need I think right now is folks engaging in these conversations and creating space for us to challenge each other. I would love for us to not have a simplified predictive conversation around what being an ally to an Asian American looks like in this moment. I think it is really important for us to bring that lens of intersectionality and also solidarity into this conversation. I see this not as a moment that we should be angry about all the racism we are seeing against Asian people but recognizing this is actually a pattern that so many of us are familiar with; right? Whenever there has been a crisis in this country or globally, some marginalized groups of people will be the scapegoat when it is the 9/11 and the Muslim communities or the AIDS epidemic and the LGBTQ community. I would love for us to recognize this as another example and use this as a moment for us to engage in cross community dialogue which is what we are doing right now and how we are amplifying these conversations inside workplaces as well as outside workplaces. That sort of creation of willingness to create the space to have these conversations for me means a lot and inviting Asian people who have been involved in activism work to actually, you know, bring their perspectives forward, and remembering also that there is such a rich history of American activism in this country that is often forgotten and erased and that is by design. The particular flavor of Asian represents erasure and grouping into a monolithic imagery. I was just recently on a panel with an incredible journalist, writer and activist Helen Zia who talks about Asians being either a gangsta goop, geisha or geek. For us to be able to challenge the narratives about Asian people in this country, I think that will go such a long way. If everybody on this call can actually take a moment to reflect on what are my own beliefs that I have about Asian Americans or Asian people in general. One question that we sometimes ask to our participants of our combating xenophobia workshop is can you name five Asian leaders who have made a difference in the U.S. and the vast majority of people cannot name five. I had a hard time naming five without really taking a moment to think. I think that kind of, you know, a ha moment around how much I don’t know, and how much I have not been given access to know, is such a powerful reckoning for all of us to do the work of understanding how we got to where we are today and what can I do, what do I need to learn, to be able to be a little bit better than I am today in being able to articulate the contribution and presence of Asians in this country and what work they are involved in today in so many different ways.
Melinda Briana Epler: That sent shivers down my spine and I think a lot of people are having the same reaction. It really hit home for them too. I am going to flip it now. You are also an ally for a lot of other groups/people with other identities. Can you talk a little bit about why you are an ally and what you do as an ally?
Michelle Kim: Yeah. You know, I also want to just say I don’t actually call myself an ally because the term allyship is a verb so thank you. I appreciate the reminder that we, you know, send out to folks about allyship being something that is time bound. When you do something that somebody says that was really helpful for me and massive allyship that’s great but that expires the moment that moment is over. I don’t get to keep that as my resume if you will. You know, I think what I commit to doing, and what I try to do is whenever we have talking about any type of, you know, racism toward Asian people, we also need to open that up to talking about other marginalized communities. Right now in this moment there is a lot I am so glad attention is being put on xenophobia and anti Asian racism that folks are experiencing and there are disproportion impact put on black and brown communities, disabled communities, undocumented communities, people who are facing domestic abuse and whenever there is attention being put on my platform I think it is my job to be able to share that platform by amplifying the stories and perspectives of other people and resources you can check out. That’s not just me. I can only tell the stories from my perspective but there are so many folks doing such great work that I would hope if you are following me on social media I am doing the best that I can to amplify those stories and struggles of other people and giving agencies and ownership of folks in those communities to folks to tell their story. I am also not mistake free. I make mistakes. I would love folks, and I always appreciate my team who is my biggest inspiration and motivation and accountability partner in this work, always checking me on who am I for getting and missing in the conversation and whose voice do need to amplify and include in this moment. That is my commitment to all of you witnesses this conversation and the commitment I make to myself in being able to do this work because I can’t do this work alone. Truly building solidarity and coalition is, I believe, the only way we can achieve equity at any level because the systems we live within impact all of us. All of us are free/none of us are free. That’s a quote I am sure many of you are familiar with and I truly deeply believe in that.
Melinda Briana Epler: Awesome. Awaken offers training specifically around xenophobia. How do people learn more about that? Where do they go more to learn about that?
Michelle Kim: You can go to our website. Thank you for that shout out. Www.visionawaken.com. It will have the virtual workshop options which include the xenophobia, combating xenophobia during COVID 19.
Melinda Briana Epler: Great. I am going to go to some questions right now. These are really deep and awesome. What would you say to organizational leaders who are afraid to address issues of race/racial discrimination within the boarder society in the workplace?
Michelle Kim: That is a great question. I think this is not about just this particular issue but a lot of managers and organizational leaders, especially at the executive level too, have a hard time figuring out when is the right time for me to address certain issues that are happening in our society today. I think for me the baseline is if something is impacting your team, if it is something that’s relevant to your team, and it could have an impact on your team that is a workplace issue. When we try to separate this is not a workplace issue, or this is not related to our work, I would challenge that because everything that we are experiencing outside or inside the workplace has an impact on the work that we produce. I think that’s a reason. But also when you are addressing these issues, it can be coming from a place where you are impacted. Even if you are not Asian, if seeing anti Asian racism in the media is bothering you, which I hope it does, you can come from your own perspective of owning that experience and saying hey, I am really bothered and disturbed by what’s happening in this country so I just want to take a moment to let you know I am impacted by this and wanted to check in and see how you are doing. That’s a better approach than saying you are Asian; you must be really impacted by what’s going on so I want to create space to talk about that. That’s an OK approach but there is a lot of assumptions. I think there is more successes that we have seen if you are able to make this about you and being authentic and vulnerable about how you are experiencing this experience right now. You can even say I don’t even have all of the right words to describe this right now but I know that I am being impacted and I am bothered by what’s happening. You can just leave it at that too. Some people may engage in a conversation if they want to. Some folks may think that’s interesting but I am going to go about my day. That’s OK. Because you have already established yourself as someone who can come to you and that is signaling to hold space for folks who want to continue the dialogue and I believe that is a brave and courageous act all organizational leaders can take up.
Melinda Briana Epler: Here is another. Would love to address empathy. Do you believe there is work we need to take before we can empathize and show up as effective allies or do you feel people can show up and learn through empathy? How does empathy play a role in allyship?
Michelle Kim: You know, I think empathy plays a role important role and I wish we could do this work without empathy too. That’s my wishful thinking. Sometimes I wish that we didn’t have to get people to care about it from their own experience, if you will. I wish that people could just see there is injustice and rise to the occasion. However, that’s not been the effective path that I have witnessed in the work that I do and that while I have seen in order for folks to commit to the act of allyship and consistent action over time, there needs to be a deeper why that’s not just about the business case for diversity in the workplace. I think that can x from empathy and the empathy of being able to understand or at least have an idea for the pain that folks might be going through. That has been effective when we are having conversations around how all of our social identities impact the way we see the world differently. I think it is a balance. I don’t want empathy to be the only thing we count on because there is going to be people who don’t give a shit and how do we get people to act regardless of their level of empathy to do the right thing? I think it is a tough balance because I see the effectiveness when people do care what they can do and show up to doing this work and I wish that we didn’t always have to count on somebody developing genuine empathy to do the right thing.
Melinda Briana Epler: Sophie asks three big questions. I will just address one of the three. How do we encourage allyship? How do we encourage others to become allies and to be better allies?
Michelle Kim: In our work, we have seen a lot of success when they know how their own team members or their communities are impacted of disparities, racism or systemic injustice in the workplace. I think that’s one way. Truthfully, I think the journey to allyship is different for everyone. Sometimes I feel conflicted about having people be exposed to the pains and traumas of marginalized people to activate them to be allies. I like to believe that we don’t need that to activate people to do good in the world. However, I do think that for some people that nay be a really sort of compelling way for them to get activated. I don’t want to, you know, shell out any approach. I think we have used all those different approaches. I want to be Cognizant about naming the intention there in, you know, using other people’s pain and trauma to educate folks who may not be privy to that and I think that’s a delicate act that needs to be based on agency and consensual sharing and not educating people at the expense of the most marginalized in the room is a core principle of ours at Awaken. How do we really balance that? And in order for people to really create behavior change they need to go through their own journeys of developing the awareness first but also building that desire, gaining the knowledge and tools that they need to do that, being able to practice, being able to be willing to be uncomfortable and be challenged in moments when they feel challenged or have made a mistake. These are all different skills we can teach. It takes practice for people to be comfortable showing up in very visible ways. There is a lot of things you can do without having to be visible for other people. You can do a lot of the work on your own and in your own community that may not be about sort of putting the ally badge on and saying I am an ally and do all these things. A lot of the active allyship I have experienced in my life has been from people who are silently doing that and amplifying other people’s work.
Melinda Briana Epler: Andrea asks and sounds like she is grappling with this as well. A tough question around so the Asian community has been torn on how to address xenophobia. What are your thoughts about Andrea Yang comments about Asian’s having to show their Asianness in our power to do today as Asians without having to prove our patriotism?
Michelle Kim: Andrew Yang wrote an article about how Asians can combat xenophobia and in a nutshell he said we just need to prove we have been Americans all along. Wear red, white, and blue, drink beer, and all of the things. He is doubling down on the fact we are the model minority and we deserve to not be treated as such. I think that is really, really dangerous and violent narrative that we need to dispel right away. I think the model minority and I have been using this phrase without defining what it is but the whole idea of model minority emerged in the ’60s when there needed to be a divide and there needed to be a tool for us to be able to put down black and brown activists who were causing a lot of quote unquote noise during the Civil Rights Movement. There were folks actively engaged in civil disobedience and we needed to create a different narrative for Asian Americans, specifically Japanese Americans to be seen as docile and submissive and apolitical. These are the good kinds of immigrants and these are the bad kinds of immigrants. Being called the model minority we are losing centuries of histories of us being activists and alongside the black panthers marching in the Civil Rights Movement. We are seen as doctors, lawyers, and tech workers who don’t really care about diversity and inclusion. These are all false narratives we need to challenge. The only way, and by the way, being the model minority has not gotten us to the point we need to be today. If we were successful at delivering against the model minority myth, and we were the model immigrant who didn’t cause any trouble, and that was somehow going to earn us the status that white people have, well, we are not there yet, right? I don’t think the answer is doubling down on that approach yet again. I think now is the time for us to dismantle this narrative and to be able to build solidarity across different communities and really counter and challenge where that trope came from and how that has had a negative impact on the communities. Some folks might say isn’t being a model minority good. Why is Asian being good at math so bad? It is bad because it erases so many histories and identities and experiences of so many people under the Asian American umbrella and leads to lack of funding and data points we can use and communities being pitted against each other. For all those reasons, I think that article by Andrew Yang was crap and we should not promote it. [Laughter] I think there are different ways by building solidarity and speaking up against the model minority myth and claiming some of the contributions we have made in the socialize justice movement and amplifying the work of so many amazing Asian organizations today. I think those are tangible actions we can take to be countering that type of argument. Well said. Well said.
Melinda Briana Epler: Recognizing many well-meaning organizations who want to have candid discussions may not be equipped to. What tools do you use in the moment when you see it escalating place?
Michelle Kim: I appreciate the wording. Well-meaning organizations that are not equipped. If an organization is well meaning, meaning I am expected to see on their career page a stock photo of people of all backgrounds. I am expected to see one of their values touting diversity and inclusion. If there are public facing promises or signaling that there is some level of care going into the topics of diversity, equity and inclusion, I think now is the chance, now is the time, for folks to be able to show that commitment in real ways whether that is investing in resources so that folks can actually have the tools to be able to speak to these types of biases or racism in the workplace, or being able to create space to amplify stories of folks experiencing these issues, or being able to really hold people accountable for saying things that are harmful and causing harm in different ways. I think these are all doable things that well-intentioned people and companies should be able to do right now. The conversation around what can we do around DEI during this time when budgets are getting cut, when, you know, we are playing people off, DEI feels like a nice to have and is yet another signal we are seeing in the industry that DEI has never been a core part of the business and has been an extra curriculum that you do when you have the money, resources, time, and where with all to put the cherry on top where DEI should be an approach we have to all things, all decisions being made whether it is be who are we laying off? Have we done analysis about who is proportionally impacted? Studies are coming out showing black and brown folks and specifically women are disproportionally getting laid off or being unemployed. When we look at these decisions being made without any regard to DEI that is what we are seeing about whether the leader or organization was committed and how we are processing DEI as an approach whether than an extra curriculum one day training is when things are starting to show up. I have been telling people tech has been diversifying the hiring pipeline. How do we recruit more underrepresented candidates? Now is your time to do that. There are lots of folks looking for jobs. If you are hiring that’s one very concrete way that you can actually create equitable processes and create a more diverse pipeline and build a more diverse and inclusive team.
Melinda Briana Epler: Awesome. We are running out of time. I don’t think we will get to Maqluba. I want to ask one final question here. Our entrepreneurial ecosystem has an opportunity to create new solutions. Sorry. That actually wasn’t the one. Another one popped up in that place. I am actually going to skip that one. Sorry, Grace. And go to CZ questions. How do you in your work help people build the resilience needed to practice allyship? Part of that, I think, is also building the resilience in all of us who are doing this work daily because it is emotional work, it is important to take care of ourselves in all of this. How do you help social capacity to accept that they will fail in their efforts and may fall short or cause unintended harm and how do we resolve that or any shame or guilt that comes up?
Michelle Kim: That’s a great question. Appreciate that. I think building resilience is so important in this work and naming the frugality we all experience. And normalize when we are challenged by someone on our behavior it is important to be able to name and normalize the fact these feelings are coming up whether that is defensiveness, shame, guilt or feeling ignorant. There are so many actions that get into the way of us showing up for people we say we want to show up. So practice naming those feelings and notice them when they come up is important and helpful. Number two the skills to be able to gracefully accept responsibility and to be able to hold ourselves accountable. What does that look like? What are the words we can use when we make mistakes and when we mess up, which we all will, how do we apologize? What are things we can say? What are things we should not do that we have inclinations to do like explaining I am not that kind of person. These get in the way of building resilient connections across the board. As someone going into the companies to be able to challenge people in a compassionate and critical way because I think those two can go hand and hand. You can be compassionate and critical and honest at the same time. There are a lot of DEI professionals or leaders not given the leeway to push the boundaries. I think we need to do a better job of showing up with honesty and being able to name the things we haven’t been naming the way we should have been or using euphemisms and coddling the status quo. I think that behavior needs to end. I can we need to do a better job coming in as third parties and say the things perhaps people inside the organization are not able to say because of negative repercussions they face and creating the right container for us to hold that truth in a compassionate and critical way is such an important responsibility that I want all folks to start creating resilience for ourselves so we can speak the truth, we can name those things and hold the frugality in a way that feels authentic and not losing sight of the bigger goal that we all have.
Melinda Briana Epler: We are out of time. Thank you, again, Michelle. Thank you so much. Appreciate you and all your comments. We will compile some of the resources that our colleagues compiled in the chat. It will help answer your question Grace. Thank you for joining us. Join us next week where we will talk about the next episode of Leading with Empathy & Allyship. You can stay in the loop signing up for our newsletter at changecatalyst.co. And thank you to the interpreter for the interpretation. Really appreciate that.
Host: Melinda Briana Epler
Melinda Briana Epler has over 25 years of experience developing business innovation and inclusion strategies for startups, Fortune 500 companies, and global NGOs.
As CEO of Change Catalyst, Melinda currently works with the tech industry to solve diversity and inclusion together. Using her background in storytelling and large-scale culture change, she is a strategic advisor for tech companies, tech hubs, and governments around the world. She co-leads a series of global solutions-focused conferences called Tech Inclusion, where she has partnered with over 450 tech companies and community organizations and hosted 43 solutions-focused diversity and inclusion events around the world.
Previously, Melinda was a Marketing and Culture Executive and award-winning documentary filmmaker – her film and television work includes projects that exposed the AIDS crisis in South Africa, explored women’s rights in Turkey, and prepared communities for the effects of climate change. She has worked on several television shows, including NBC’s The West Wing.
Melinda is a TED speaker. She speaks, mentors and writes about diversity and inclusion in tech, allyship, social entrepreneurship, underrepresented entrepreneurs and investing. She has spoken on hundreds of stages around the world, including SXSW, Grace Hopper, Wisdom 2.0, the World Bank, Obama White House, Clinton Foundation, Black Enterprise, Google, Indeed, Capital One and McKinsey.
Watch Melinda’s TED Talk
Change Catalyst Co-Founder Melinda Briana Epler has spoken across the globe in hundreds of venues and virtual events. Empathy, Allyship, Advocacy, Microaggressions, Inclusive Leadership, and Building Inclusive Teams are just some of the topics Melinda has spoken on. Let us know about your next speaking engagement needs! Melinda has also spoken on how to build organizational capacity to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, such as how to lead behavior change or how to build allies and advocates.
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