I love parallel learning. This is a term I use to refer to learning the same concepts in different ways – by reading, by listening, by watching, by firsthand experience. I’m a nerd, so I love when I learn something one way and then happen to absorb the same lesson (or a related one) in another way, in a completely different context. I love how it deepens my learning – like adding another layer to a foundation – and makes things feel so much more…solid.
For me, 2019 has been full of parallel learning so far. I’m taking it as a sign that my life, work, and purpose are lining up more and more – like some kind of cosmic convergence.
Much of my parallel learning this year has centered around systemic oppression and anger. In a way, it feels like a natural component of my work with Embrace Change, an organic progression in the work of the last year or two. But the last few weeks have really distilled things down for me.
Layer 1. I’ve been reading a fantastic book, How Long ’Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin, for the book club I’m in. It’s a set of mind-bending, super inventive and extremely thoughtful short stories in the sci-fi, fantasy genre. I highly recommend it.
Layer 2. With Jemisin’s stories about power, race, destruction, and sacrifice as a backdrop, I then attended a sold-out event called The Furies: Women’s Rage, Women’s Power with Dr. Brittany Cooper, Rebecca Traister, and Irin Carmon. It was a gloriously potent combination – sitting there and listening to these badass thought leaders, with the stories from How Long ’Til Black Future Month floating around the back of my mind. I felt like I left that auditorium a slightly different person – no exaggeration. I was armed with a new critical lens; the discussion that evening helped me zero in with laser focus on the purpose behind my work coaching womxn of color.
Here are two of the lessons that stuck with me from that night. One: the double standard when it comes to anger. Anger aimed down, from the powerful to the powerless, is considered condoned, reflecting the “normal,” natural order of things.
Anger and outrage aimed up, from the oppressed to the oppressors, is condemned and actively suppressed, as it’s a direct threat to the status quo and existing power structures.
At the same time, anger is an important barometer in the lives of POC, WOC, and other marginalized folks because it signals to us that something is being wrongfully taken away from us – often, at its core, that something is a piece of our humanity or dignity.
Two. I keep thinking about something Dr. Cooper said, which is (and I’m paraphrasing here, as I didn’t have the foresight to bring a notebook and pen to take notes, like some of the more brilliant audience members) that if we really believe in equity, then we, womxn, must examine our opinions, beliefs, and internalized oppression extremely closely whenever our decisions end up favoring a white man over a womxn.
Layer 3. I had been reading an issue of Good Company magazine and had a gleeful lightbulb moment when I realized that every single person featured in that magazine – whether in an article or a photograph – was a womxn, nonbinary, or a person of color! There were even two Native American womxn featured in one issue!! It was a beautiful, magical, new experience for me that really highlighted how impactful representation really is (and how low the bar is for equitable representation in media).
Layer 4: my latest podcast obsession and this month’s featured podcast, Battle Tactics for Your Sexist Workplace (BTSW) with Eula Scott Bynoe and Jeanie Yandel. It takes the anger and outrage from Layers 1 and 2 (and the lack of visible representation from Layer 3) and takes them to the next level: ACTION.
Where the magic happens.
The BTSW episode that I highlighted in my February newsletter is the episode about Imposter Syndrome. I chose it because I think it’ll resonate with a lot of my clients and workshop participants. But it was a difficult decision because I’ve binged many of the BTSW episodes now and I can honestly say that they are consistently full of quality advice that I would give – and have given – to clients and other womxn of color. In fact, one of the battle tactics at the end of the Imposter Syndrome episode is a version of one of my strategies from Stop Settling in Your Career!
Listening to BTSW is a direct parallel to my mission – arming womxn and WOCs with strategies to resist and challenge the white patriarchy that pervades all workplaces.
Last, but not least: Layer 5. I’ve been thinking about the record number of womxn of color recently sworn into Congress. That’s something that feels magical too. It’s something that definitely grew out of a lot of collective anger. But now, I think about two theories from Layers 2 and 4 of what will happen to this cohort of WOCs in Congress. From BTSW, we have the theory that womxn are only allowed in to major leadership positions to clean up a mess. Afterwards, they’ll only get blamed for the continued mess. From the Women’s Rage event, we have a theory that these womxn will successfully clean up the mess, but will then be disposed of (sooner or later) so that the white patriarchy can be reinstated. Which makes me think back to my clients and all womxn of color who have lofty career goals.
I know these theories may seem overly cynical. And while I absolutely believe that they could predict our future, it doesn’t mean that I’ll approach my work with any less zeal, fervor, or optimism.
Because all of this parallel learning has left me with two lingering questions that keep echoing around in my head: