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Diversity. It’s a big word that causes a lot of conversation. Unfortunately the conversation isn’t leading to action. In fact, it’s leaving some disengaged convinced that others are “fixing” the problems. In this episode of the Bureau Briefing, Willie Jackson shares his thoughts on why we need to get past the concept of diversity and move forward with a focus on inclusion. To do that, we have to accept some uncomfortable truths about how we got here and what we all need to let go of to move forward.

The Bureau is working to create a more inclusive community for digital professionals. Find out more.


Announcer:
Welcome to the Bureau Briefing. A podcast by the Bureau Digital, an organization devoted to giving digital professionals the support system they never had. Each episode we're going to talk to a member of our community doing awesome inspiring things. Now for your host Carl Smith.

Carl Smith:
Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the Bureau Briefing. It is Carl. With me today I have the president and CEO of Equity Impact Group and the founder and publisher of Abernathy, Mr. Willie Jackson. How's it going, Willie?

Willie Jackson:
I'm doing so well, Carl. Thank you for having me today.

Carl Smith:
I appreciate you being on the show. For people who don't know, Willie and I have known each other for quite a while. I think we met the first time in Atlanta at Web Afternoon. I remember sitting there and you were sitting a couple of seats down from me. I was like, "That guy's got it together." Then somebody came up and gave you a big bag of gummy bears. I was like, "What the hell?"

Willie Jackson:
That's so funny. I remember that phase of my life.

Carl Smith:
I was a speaker too. I was like, "Why does Willie get gummy bears?" It was hilarious. I remember I asked you about it and you said, "Yeah, people know that I like gummy bears." I was like, "Wow. That's amazing." Willie, welcome to the show, man. 

Willie Jackson:
Thank you so much. I'm glad to be here and happy to unpack that story. 

Carl Smith:
There you go. For everybody listening, give them a little bit of background. Tell them who you are and what you're about.

Willie Jackson:
Sure. I'm originally from Jacksonville, Florida. Born and raised. Went to school in Tallahassee. I'm a technologist by trade. I started my career with a tiny company called Accenture. I was traveling 40 hours a month, living out of a suitcase, and not spending a whole lot of time in the house that I bought.

Life was great until it wasn't. I've been I guess I'd say jumping out of perfectly good airplanes for a living since then. I started doing some freelance technology consulting. Actually speaking and teaching and doing some other work right there in Atlanta. An opportunity came along for me to move to New York City to help launch a book publishing startup by a guy by the name of Seth Godin, along with Amazon dot com. I made books for six months. 

I've done some [inaudible 00:02:44] since then. I work in media now. I publish an online magazine for [inaudible 00:02:48] called Abernathy. I'm having a lot of fun with that. I relatively recently spun off a consulting arm because my perspective as a black man in America who has enjoyed a tremendous amount of opportunity and privilege but also was deeply connected to his own identity and very conscious of the disparities that exist in tech and beyond for folks who hold historically marginalized identities. 

It gives me a really good lens into how to tackle some of these issues. It's thorny, it's uncomfortable sometimes, but it's an honor and a pleasure to sit at this intersection because I was socialized in a way that gives me empathy for all parties, except for terrible people who don't like gummy bears. Everybody else is fine. I'm a consultant, I'm a speaker, I facilitate workshops, I publish an online magazine. I mostly see things in the world that aren't good enough and I try to fix them. 

Carl Smith:
Let's see. Seth Godin, Amazon, these names they don't mean anything. I'm starting to wonder now if there's actually any credibility in having you here but we'll just forge on.

Willie Jackson:
It's just name drop salad.

Carl Smith:
Let's see if we can't figure it out. Talk about Abernathy a little bit. Obviously I'm in Jacksonville. You were in Jacksonville for a while. You were trying to figure out different things you could do, things you could do for the city. Abernathy, this opportunity, I think this was an opportunity that kind of took you back to New York. If I'm wrong, correct me on that. Talk about that because that feels like the love of your life right now. 

Willie Jackson:
Yeah. It's an expression of who I am really. I was raised in a way that shielded me from a lot of issues that historically affect black communities. Unemployment, police violence, and so forth. I had a fine ... I had a very unremarkable upbringing in fact.

Things came to a head for me in terms of how I viewed the world and myself in it, my place in it, when Mike Brown got killed in Ferguson, Missouri. It wasn't just the senseless death itself and all the hoopla surrounding it. It was the way in which the media covered it, it was the backlash, it was the way in which my friendship circles, or my social graph as it were, fractured along racial lines. I saw some real ugliness just to spring forth from that social rupture.

I'd never really experienced that. Another fascinating consequence of the timing was that citizen journalism played a huge role in that particular case. Normal people got in their cars and got on airplanes and went and livestreamed the events there. For the first time a lot of people saw the disparity between the media narrative and what was actually taking place.

My apartment in downtown Jacksonville, every night, not day, watching provocation of protestors, I was watching tanks rolling down West [inaudible 00:06:00] I was watching my countrymen being tear gassed. A lot of these issues I was following over Twitter. I was active on social media at the time. I would see the protestors in Gaza telling people in Ferguson how to make gas masks out of household equipment.

It just changed me, man. It just changed me seeing that happen. I had to go inside myself and understand what it is that I was dealing with. In many ways, I was oblivious to the realities, the very racial and racist realities of being a black person in the United States. I had to go to my history. I had to really understand the context for a lot of this ugliness that I was seeing because I could no longer give things the benefit of the doubt. I really needed to understand the genesis of what I was seeing.

Just as importantly, what I was feeling. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt on some levels unsafe because I realized ... The reality that came crashing down on me is that regardless of my intention, regardless of who I was, regardless of how innocent I might have felt, and regardless of my accomplishments in life, the color of my skin dictates the fact that I am just one bad traffic stop away from losing my life. 

It wasn't just a fear of my own safety. It was the realization that that is the reality for black people living in the United States right now. That was really, really hard for me because I haven't been raised in a way, and I haven't had experiences in a way, that make me cynical and in a way that make me feel like white people are terrible or out to get black people. That's not my lived experience. I've had a wonderful experiences and collisions and opportunities with people of all stripes. 

I had to make sense of it all, Carl. That involved documentaries, that involved conversations, that involved ... It was deep. I needed an outlet. I wanted an outlet that was productive for the expression of this discomfort, this rage, this anger, and making sense of the world. What I specifically noticed in a new way was the way in which black men were and are portrayed in the media. 

It's shameful because the archetypes representing black men are that of athletes, entertainers, and criminal. Very two dimensional and predictable archetypes. We are so much more than that. I wanted to create a place where we could celebrate the good news, where we could talk about our leaders and our heroes, where we could have some necessary conversations about the work that definitely needs to be done in black communities and in the world in general. We wanted to portray more complex, sophisticated black male archetypes. 

We got on with it. This coincided with the time that I was ready to do some other things. This is where I think the part of the story that you're aware of, I was doing some technology consulting. My work was online. I was frustrated, I was kind of bored. I wanted to do something else. That coincided with the time of all these issues coming up with police violence and social justice. I was ready to do something else.

I reached out to Seth ... For those of you who don't Seth Godin, he is the publisher of 18 bestselling books. He essentially invented commercial email marketing with a company called Yoyodyne about 30 years ago that he sold to Yahoo. He's a daily blogger and speaker, a dear friend, a client, and an advisor of mine. We worked together back in 2011 for this book publishing project that I told you about. 

I reached out and I asked him if he had anything interesting going on that might benefit from my expertise because we like working together. Long story short, we got on the phone and we were in sync. I told him a little about what I was frustrated with and wanting to work on, which became Abernathy. He told me about some of his projects. He was like, "Great. When can you be here?" I was like, "Oh, I don't know. Probably be there in January." He's like, "Well, I'm not waiting." I was like, "Okay, okay. I'll be there tomorrow." 

I flew to New York. I came the next day. We talked about some details, some potential revenue models, some ways of working together, and long story short, he agreed to be the advisor for my thing, which became Abernathy magazine. He brought me on as in-house CTO. I'm actually in his office right now. I spend a couple days here a week. I live in Harlem, New York City, and he's got an office just north of New York City in Westchester. 

Yeah, I don't even remember the question but that's [crosstalk 00:10:58] life. I moved back to New York City to launch the magazine almost two years ago exactly. I left Jacksonville in a hurry. I was really seeking what came next. I understand now, I was creatively frustrated. I wanted an outlet. You caught wind of me thinking about purchasing a gym right there in Jacksonville. I needed an outlet for I think a lot of my skills and interests that hadn't been utilized with the pure technology consulting work that I was doing. I'll pause there. I'm sure you have some separate questions. There's a snapshot into how I got started on my current path. 

Carl Smith:
It was. It was quick. I remember we were walking downtown, we were looking at this gym.

Willie Jackson:
Then I disappeared. 

Carl Smith:
I was sort of in the middle of not working, not knowing what I was doing either. Yeah, we were talking about it and the next thing I knew you were launching a magazine and you were in New York. 

Willie Jackson:
Yeah, I was Audi 5000. 

Carl Smith:
Which, you know what, good because that gym space ... As much potential as [crosstalk 00:12:11]

Willie Jackson:
Three thumbs down. 

Carl Smith:
It was never going to work.

Willie Jackson:
It might have worked but working in that context and that market [crosstalk 00:12:18]

Carl Smith:
For us. 

Willie Jackson:
Yeah. 

Carl Smith:
For us. No. We've got to be creating stuff. Yeah, Abernathy, you launch Abernathy and I have to say the ... I don't even want to call them articles. They're even more than stories. What I've read in there, even as somebody who didn't grow up in your culture, in your skin ... I grew up as a white guy. I read that. I feel like it expands me a little bit. It grabs me and shakes me a little bit.

Willie Jackson:
Yeah, the secret is that the history of black folks in the United States is the history of America and we've all done ourselves and each other a great disservice by not telling the truth about history. The reality is that black labor built this country. That's not debatable, right? By not talking about the legacy of slavery and reconstruction and the way in which it has affected and created this society that we all now enjoy, we've lost the opportunity to connect with each other over this rich, rich history that we share. 

As many revolutionary thinkers would say, our freedom is bound up in yours. Black freedom is tied together with white freedom. My grandparents were sharecroppers. There is white blood in my system. We are of the same thing. We are the same race. We live in a context where we allow the media and these forces that continue to propagate through our society generationally to tell us a lie. That we've divided in ways that we aren't actually divided.

It doesn't surprise me at all, though I am flattered and I really appreciate the feedback, that this stirs something within you. There is a story that isn't being told that should and it is a shared story, it is a shared experience, and that's why this magazine is important to me. That's why I continue to do this work and why it fills me with so much joy because this is vital and necessary work that doesn't have enough of a presence in modern day media. Most of online media is driven by advertising sales and we know that model is completely broken. 

What we frequently see is companies hemorrhaging cash in the race to the bottom. That's the opposite of what we're doing. That's why you don't see ads on Abernathy. That's why I've taken time to create a reading experience that I think the audience we're looking to serve deserves. We really care about the kind of stories that we're talking about because these are long overdue messages and signals that we're putting out. Thank you for your feedback. 

Carl Smith:
Oh, you're totally welcome. I want to use the word uncomfortable but that's not a good word, right? 

Willie Jackson:
It's a [inaudible 00:15:19] word. 

Carl Smith:
It's almost like an awakening or a changing or growth, right? Growth can be uncomfortable. Take what you're doing there and then we talk about, for example, you've got the Dev Bootcamp coming up. You've got things you're doing where you're taking this truth ... I don't want to say narrative because that sounds like it's not the truth.

You're taking this into the technology realm as well. I recently had Mia Patterson on the show. Mia is a young woman, black, I think black Puerto Rican, and she struggled to get into the industry. I think everybody struggles to get into it because there's no on ramp. You just show up and you find somebody that has it. She had extra layers of difficulty in finding her way. 

I'm curious. When you go and talk with these groups, with these tech groups, what is your story? What are you sharing with them? 

Willie Jackson:
Sure. It's such a great question and it gets into the heart of my consulting and where I show up in this space. My story is the story of a technologist. I didn't have a hard time getting into tech. Success for me, and many of my black friends in Jacksonville, was almost a foregone conclusion. There is an internship organization. It's an organization called INROADS, INROADS dot org is the website, that places historically disadvantaged youth in Fortune 500 internships. 

Beginning in 2005 when I still had long hair, I looked very much like black Jacksonville, Florida, I was interning at Convergence Corporation downtown during the summers. Over the summers, when I was taking my breaks from Florida State, I would be working full-time in the corporate environment, understanding how that world works, gaining experience, going to workshops and traveling, and really seeing myself as the kind of person who had a career in corporate America.

I realize now what a lot of the sacrifices that my parents made in getting me into a private school for preschool because of course that's what kids need. Private school again in middle school when I really needed that kind of structure. They really saved my life in many ways. Jacksonville is a fine place to be but Jacksonville is rough in many parts. The education system in many areas leaves a lot ... 

Carl Smith:
Devastating. 

Willie Jackson:
I was trying to be polite. Leaves a lot to be desired. My parents had the foresight to do something about that. It's important because I'm the grandson of sharecroppers. My grandfather had a sixth grade education. My father picked cotton in the segregated south. He's alive. He's 73 years old. He was educated in a one room shack. When I was 22 I bought a five bedroom house in the suburbs. 

In two generations, we see a remarkable amount of progress. It matters a lot to me that even as I'm doing this work around equity and inclusion and social justice and racial justice and equality that I recognize the degree to which I enjoy tremendous amount of privilege as a tall, good looking, black male who is educated. 

What we're not dealing with is overt racism here. What we're dealing with is a lot of classism in the United States. The elephant in the room that we don't talk about. I have a lot of social capital. I can pick up the phone and call folks who have money and influence and make some things happen. That skill is worth something. Me, being in an environment where I had my resume reviewed regularly and I knew to have the kind of email address that ...

A lot of things that we take for granted until you start mentoring young folks who have maybe a historically disadvantaged background, things that aren't so common. Those are the barriers that the young lady you're mentioning was likely coming up against. She might not have been socialized in a way that taught her the inside jokes and the secret handshakes. I had those coming up. I never operated from a place of needing something I felt like I didn't have already.

I've enjoyed a wonderful career. I've been able to quit jobs and walk away from opportunities and have my choice in jobs when I graduated in 2007, for example. A lot of my friends missed the market. A lot of my friends of all stripes missed the market because they stayed behind to get their graduate degree, for example, and the market fell out. 

I was shopping resumes around for friends. One of my buddies, he stayed behind and got his masters at Florida State. He had a ton of experience. He had a lot more experience than I did. He was about to go into the Army. The only reason that he didn't was because his mother had already lost a child.

Life is really, really real out here, Carl. I recognize now in looking back over my career that I am so privileged and so fortunate, which is a bit of a mind F but that's a part of the beautiful heartbreaking poetry that is the experience of life. I bring that into my conversations. 

In tech, there's a lot of conversations about diversity and inclusion. I hold my nose when talking about these things because the way that we're talking about them is deeply patronizing to a lot of folks. It doesn't actually work. There's a reason that Google has spent $264 million over two years and has nothing to show for it. It's because we're starting the story in the middle and there's a huge piece around African-American historical trauma. We can talk about that some other time perhaps. Around why these things aren't working.

What it really comes down to is trust and the legacy psychologically and emotionally and spiritually that American child of slavery has had on African-Americans. There are things that people are carrying invisibly that makes many workplaces a challenging place to work. Many people are perpetuating behaviors that they're not conscious of. Habits and adaptive behaviors that were appropriate for times of overt oppression but not necessarily appropriate for modern day America.

It's complicated but what I try to do is bring my story and the fact that I've had a wonderful career and the fact that I also represent an identity for folks who are having a dickens of a time breaking into this line of work. There are a lot of reasons why this exists but it's most important that we continue having frank discussion around the challenge and the problem.

One of the only reasons that I sit on diversity panels is because I'm the only person who is going to be sitting there talking about slavery, racism, and discrimination. I don't know how else to have a conversation about why things are the way they are because the real question to me isn't why are there more black people in tech? The real question to me is why do we live in a society that reliably produces these disparities across industries. It's not like venture capitalism is full of black folks, it's not like investment banking or law or medicine is filled with black folks. 

What we're dealing with is a national challenge. Diversity and inclusion in tech just happens to be one entry point that I am using to have a broader conversation about the world in which we live. 

Carl Smith:
I've got two questions. I think I can put them together. One is, okay, I've been in the tech space for a long time. On the fringe of it. Digital agencies, web services, that sort of stuff. My shop was never very diverse. [inaudible 00:23:10] Filipino, that's as far as we got. It wasn't a thing. It was just friends. Obviously that is a whole part of the problem with diversity is when you're hiring people you know or hiring people like you. 

Here's my question. You're obviously educated beyond tech. You understand business, you obviously have taken the time to educate yourself and look across businesses. How is tech doing in terms of diversity compared to other sectors? 

Willie Jackson:
Pretty awful. It's pretty awful. We're just talking about it more in tech [crosstalk 00:23:48]

Carl Smith:
Yeah, right?

Willie Jackson:
Why we're talking about it more in tech. What is your understanding of the origin of this diversity and inclusion conversation in tech? Where do you think that stems from? What's your understanding? Not a trick question. 

Carl Smith:
No, for me, it started out with speakers at events. That was where it first came to me. It was that there weren't enough women speaking and there weren't enough underrepresented groups speaking. For me, that was the world I was in. Obviously as a white male who was speaking I heard those conversations very loudly. Really, that was the origin of it for me. Then it became to open my eyes into looking at the shops themselves. That would be how I came into it.

Willie Jackson:
That makes perfect sense. For a lot of folks in and outside of the industry it was Google releasing their diversity numbers a couple years ago that started this longer and louder and sustained conversation about diversity and inclusion in tech. The reason they released their numbers is actually because of Jesse Jackson. 

What he does through the Rainbow Push Coalition is he buys shares of publicly traded tech companies and then he goes to the shareholders meetings and he says, "Where are the black people on our board?" It's the most gangster thing ever. That pressure is actually what resulted in Google filing what you call an EEO1 report that releases the diversity numbers and other tech companies followed suit. 

I'm thrilled to hear that you had a personal example of this and you see that through the speaker circuit because that's just one of many ways in which these numbers are playing out and because of the interconnectedness of our society, because of the weight that social media has, the way that technology allows us to organize and grumble loudly, and get a really visceral insight into what boards of directors look like, what a cohort of speakers looks like. 

People are getting frustrated because there is a lot of opportunity. We're seeing windfalls in tech and companies, billion dollar companies, being birthed in dorm rooms. These aren't black dorm rooms. These aren't the basements of Howard and Spelman. These are in affluent communities or communities that historically have not allowed or have not had many folks of historically disenfranchised identities. 

I think a lot of it comes from frustration. It's not just black folks, it's not just brown folks. It's also women. We're living in a time when things are changing so rapidly. We've lived in a time when you've seen some of the struggle for black rights come to the fore in a way that I haven't. I took that for granted, that was given to me in many ways. The genesis of the modern day civil rights movement, if you will. 

Womens rights is something that a lot of us take for granted as well. Also, getting into gay rights and trans rights. The transgender thing. This came out of nowhere for a lot of people. This is a full blooded thing. Poor North Carolina. It came out of nowhere. We're seeing a shifting of society. 

Even with the election as well what we're seeing is that huge swaths of our country feel overlooked and they feel frustrated and pushed into the margins so they're speaking up loudly and voting accordingly. The world is changing very, very quickly. I will pause there but that's how I'm viewing a lot of the changes that are taking place right now. 

Carl Smith:
Well, I'm glad that you said the tech industry may be talking louder about it because I think sometimes there's a comfort in thinking that it's being taken care of because you heard somebody say something. The reality is nothing changes unless we change it. That is everybody, right? I'm talking to the man in the mirror, Michael. 

It's like if we're not all doing something ... That becomes also a frustration because at the end of the day you look at what you did to take care of yourself and your family and you realize you may not have done everything you could have done to expand other things. You get caught up in your own drama and you forget about the bigger drama. It's all excuses and it's all that crap. It's got to stay forefront. 

Another thing I want to hit on ... We'll just keep talking, I don't care, there's no time on this show. If people get to work, they can listen later. You say equity and inclusion. You're the first person I've ever heard say that. I don't know that you're the only person saying it. There may be tons of people saying it and I'm just not privy to it. What do you mean when you say equity inclusion? When the rest of us are just adding inclusion to diversity. 

Willie Jackson:
It's a great question. Diversity and inclusion are very different things. One of the reasons I wanted to use specific language around equity is because we're not just talking about different colors and we're not just talking about different races and checking boxes. The whole diversity and inclusion movement, if you will, came out of companies being tired of getting sued for $200 million for sexual harassment or workplace discrimination suits. Large companies kept getting taken to task for that. 

This whole diversity and inclusion movement and concern has kind of joined with some of these social justice frustrations that [inaudible 00:29:45] some of the conversations that we're seeing in Silicon Valley. A focus around equity and inclusion really has to do with leveling the playing field in a way that to my way of thinking involves an ongoing conversation. It's not just having black folks represented here or white folks represented in certain ways. 

It really involves an ongoing conversation about what these terms actually mean in a very personal way. I think it's completely fine for places not to have black people. Maybe that seems controversial. I don't think companies should feel harangued into having some diversity hiring. I think people should have a really honest conversation with themselves and the other leadership at their company at the kind of legacy they're looking to leave.

I don't think companies should be bullied or shamed for not having more black representation. I think it's fine. The reason I say that is because a lot of these places don't have a lot of diverse representation because diverse folks don't want to be there. We talk about microaggressions for example and a lot of liberal white America rolls it's eyes when we talk about microaggressions. The tiny pinpricks of inequity and discrimination in annoyances like, "Can I touch your hair?" "What's it like to be ..." Just insensitive questions that span the gamut.

When you look at the interpersonal neurobiology of it these actually register as pain in the body. What that means is for many historically marginalized people many workplaces are actually violent. People are feeling pain when pushed into the margins. When you look at a first generation African-American who is going to work for a fancy company and they're dealing with people of different classes who come from perhaps monied backgrounds or even just different backgrounds that feel unfamiliar and you've internalized all of these media narratives around not being worthy of that opportunity or maybe your life doesn't matter as much. You run on this on your internal operating system and you feel like a fraud.

The reality is that many black professionals in this country feel like they're going to be found out at any moment. It's this Imposter Syndrome. A lot of folks are drowning in this. A lot of these environments it's not hard to detect when somebody doesn't want you around. There is a racial tension that exists in America that we're all aware of. We just don't talk about it. We've just come to accept it. We're all reacting to the same thing. 

Organizations are like systems. They naturally have a balancing effect. Some people just churn out if they're not a good fit for it. They can be a bad fit based on a whole host of factors. Bringing it back to my work around equity and inclusion I wanted to start a more thoughtful conversation around what it is that we are dealing with because diversity involves more traditional ideas around diverse representation. People of different backgrounds, ethnicities, multiple genders, and so forth. 

Inclusion involves creating an environment where those people feel like they belong. This belonging piece is really what companies have to wrangle with because Facebook hiring 200 black engineers today will solve precisely nothing about their challenges with inclusion. If those folks don't feel like they belong there they will reliably churn out. It doesn't matter how much money you throw at recruiting, it doesn't matter what kind of campaigns you activate. You might get some people in your net but if they don't have a home where you're bringing them they are going to leave. That's like for anyone.

Carl Smith:
Yeah. I've had this conversation with a lot of owners around diversity and bringing in new people and how the culture wasn't a fit or these different things. I'm like, "The culture has to change." It can't be ... Culture is not a static thing. 

Willie Jackson:
That's right.

Carl Smith:
It ebbs and flows and if you can't absorb some of that culture from new people regardless of who they are, where they come from, it could be millennials, it could be an ethnic group, it could be whatever. If they come in their jokes have to become part of the culture. 

Willie Jackson:
That's right.

Carl Smith:
Their food has to become part of the culture. Everything about them that makes them them, that makes them comfortable. Everything doesn't have to flop, everything doesn't have to switch, but it has to be able to absorb and to change a little. 

It's interesting. I heard this story. Lori Gold Patterson, who runs a shop Pixo out of Urbana, Illinois, she said that she finally understood inclusion when everybody in her office started eating kale because everybody was talking about how healthy kale was, right? She went to the supermarket and she got some kale. It sat in her fridge and she didn't know how to use it and within a couple of weeks it went brown and she threw it out. 

She said, "That's because I didn't know how to include it in my diet." She goes, "That's what nobody gets is that it's not about buying it. It's about being able to use it, it's about being able to bring it into what you do." She goes, "Once I got some recipes and I understood about how to use it for salads or chips or this or that, suddenly kale was part of what I did, it was part of who I was." That's what inclusion is. It's about understanding it's not enough to have it in the fridge. You've got to understand how to incorporate it. 

Willie Jackson:
Yeah. I think that's a great story. I'm so glad you shared. That's a starting point for a conversation, right? There are black folks who ... There is a diversity of blackness. I have friends who come from extreme affluence and they deal with a completely different set of challenges in reconciling their identity with their career and their story. I have friends who are interested in things that are completely uninteresting to me. People who don't like hip hop music and like all the stereotypes. These must be interrogated. 

We don't spend enough time talking about what identity is like and acknowledging what comprises the identity of blackness. A lot of folks are just uncomfortable with the idea because we're defaulting to stereotypes about what an ethnic group represents and what they comprise. It's not enough to say that environments are simply racist. That's not simply what we're dealing with. 

What we're dealing with is a lot of just plain ignorance. I mean that in the literal sense of the word. Also, a lack of familiarity, a lack of exposure. If you weren't socialized around black folks you're not really going to know what you're dealing with. That's not something we should shame people for but it is something we should talk about. 

Carl Smith:
Yeah, for sure. You used the word familiarity. Being familiar is a cornerstone of trust. 

Willie Jackson:
That's right. That's exactly right. 

Carl Smith:
If you're not familiar then you question yourself and then suddenly if you're in that situation of not knowing what something is then you get a little bit of fear involved and suddenly it starts to fall apart.

Willie Jackson:
One final pice with that. We live in a deeply ahistorical society. I mentioned that my father picked cotton in the segregated south. Can you imagine the things that my father and grandfather have personally witnessed, experienced, and undergone as black men in the United States? Can you imagine?

We're not so far removed from some horrible atrocities that have been perpetuated against black folks. We say with the same breath that things should be fine because we have equal rights now. Most of the audiences I speak with have no idea that 32 years ago the city of Philadelphia bombed a group of black folks in an apartment complex. The MOVE bombing. They have no idea that there was a city in Florida called Rosewood where they'd bring in the armed guard because black folks were hiding in the swamps because white vigilantes came over and were literally burning it to the ground. 

We don't live in a period of time that is so far removed from things looking very different in this country. We are deeply invested as a nation in resolving a lot of that cognitive dissonance because reality is that America was built upon slavery, oppression, genocide, and murder. That's uncomfortable for everyone to talk about but because we haven't had a real conversation, not unlike West Germany, in public education around things that we don't do anymore, the lie perpetuates. We have to actively push back against it otherwise we will spend our time unwittingly wishing and hoping that things weren't as bad as they really are. Nothing changes.

Carl Smith:
Willie, thank you, man. It's been a pleasure having you on the show. You have found where you're supposed to be.

Willie Jackson:
Feels like it.

Carl Smith:
I have no doubt that every group you talk to, every person that you meet, leaves changed with their eyes a little more open. Thank you for being on the show today. 

Willie Jackson:
Much love to you, Carl. I appreciate you, brother. 

Carl Smith:
All right, everybody. We will be back with another guest next week. We'll talk to you then. Thanks for listening. 

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