Rebel Rising Podcast

Imperfect Allyship with Erica Courdae

Today Erica Courdae is joining us on the Rebel Rising Podcast. She is an entrepreneur, coach, and consultant. She is dedicated to expanding how multicultural professionals, managers, lawyers, coaches, and creative small business owners interact with the world.

Through powerful conversations meant to create dialogue and connection, Erica seamlessly challenges them to perceive their reality through a different lens. Topics including diversity, equality, equity, and inclusion make for the awareness that she uses to create mind shifts for impact. In life and in business. Erica believes talking about important and necessary topics in a safe space creates change and helps people feel comfortable, open, honest, and forward-focused.

Some highlights from this episode:

  • Why conversation and listening are necessary for diversity and inclusion and can be the drivers for change
  • How Erica is creating space for these tough conversations to happen
  • How you can show up and create change in your corner of the world

Tune into the audio:

Michelle: Hi Erica. Welcome to the Rebel Rising Podcast.

Erica: Hello Michelle. Thank you so much for having me. I am extremely excited to do this with you today.

Michelle: Oh my gosh. When I found out your expertise was in diversity and inclusion, I was so excited because this is a conversation I have been wanting to have for a very long time on this podcast. So I'm thrilled you're here.

Erica: I am happy to help with it, and I'm glad that it's something that you are in the room to talk about. A lot of people shy away from it. The hard things are what people struggle with. So the fact that you're like, “Yeah, I want to talk about it.” I'm all on board.

Michelle: Oh, absolutely. Well, and I think, you know, as a white person, I have a duty to talk about this. That's part of my job.

Erica: It's important because it's very easy for those that maybe feel as though they don't have the platform as much to feel like, “Well how am I supposed to get this out?” And I'm a firm believer that when you are not the one that is the target so to speak of said offense, fill in the blank with whatever, then you're the one that speaks up. I think there's really something that goes along with this. Just like little kids, you know, when someone gets bullied, the kid that's like, “Hey, that's not okay.” His voice speaks volumes when he has nothing to do with it, but he's simply speaking out because he sees that something isn't okay.

Michelle: Yes. Yeah, and sometimes it is. It's just like, hey, that's not okay.

Erica: Yes, correct.

Michelle: Yes. I love it.

So tell me, Erica, what are you rebelling against?

Erica: Hmm, that's a loaded statement. 

Michelle: I know.

Erica: Well, a big thing for me on top of pretty much anything is I am rebelling against the lack of conversation and the connection that comes with it. I'm a firm believer that if you take the time to actually speak with and listen to someone, and hear what's being said, you have a better opportunity to figure out where they're coming from, what their thoughts are, what got them there. And having a better context around things changes everything. When people don't talk, when they don't take the time to listen, all it does is create this breeding ground for misunderstanding, and assumptions, and expectations to pop in and fester, and nobody benefits from it. In that space of diversity, and equity, and inclusion, there is absolutely no way that anything is going to shift if people don't talk and leave the space to listen.

Michelle: Oh, that's so good. Can you give me an example of a time where you've seen that happen?

Erica: Absolutely. I grew up with a mother that carried a lot of burden when it came to race, and she didn't talk about it. She had a mother that was very, very fair, and so at a time when the civil rights movement hadn't yet made the impact that we're kind of bearing the benefit of now, her mother could pass, and the children could not. To have a mother that grew up at a time when this is what was normal for them, and then to have moved into a job where she was a black female doing a job that these white men were very vocally angry that she was doing it. She never talked about how she felt about those things. She didn't talk about the impact that it made on her and the anger that it gave her. And the anger, she was absolutely entitled to have it. What she wasn't entitled to have was the space to pass that on to her children through a lack of conversation.

Erica: I remember being seven, and I used to love New Kids on the Block. I'm dating myself here. My parents were divorced when I was five, and my dad, I'd gone out with him, and he'd taken me to buy the tapes. Again, I'm dating myself. I had these posters, and put them up on the wall and all these things, and her comment to me was, “Why are all these white faces on your wall? Don't you know what color you are?” As a seven year old, I kind of didn't understand why she felt so vehemently in that moment. To me, I simply looked at it as well, I like the music and that has nothing to do with how I process my view of myself. Yet as an adult, I absolutely get it.

Erica: I understand how going to work, and receiving racial slurs, and anger, and negativity in your environment day in and day out, wore on her. It impacted how she moved through her life and then in turn, how she moved through her life in reference to her children. It's very interesting to see how so much of what people carry when it comes to, you know, anger and these emotions that they use as ammunition to move through their life or justification, stems back to the fact that somehow or another there's no talking. Even if that talking means that you need to be sitting on a couch somewhere in order for somebody to help you move through something.

Not having dialogue ends up being the root cause of so much pain.

Michelle: This is a almost impossible to answer question, but I'm going to ask it anyway.

How do you think your mother's life would have been different if she could have had that space to talk about what was going on, to talk about race, to talk about what she was seeing in her own workplace? To you, her best friend, to anyone?

Erica: I think that if nothing else, it could have caused her to be less angry. And I say that in the sense that when you have that anger, it affects how well you're able to enjoy your life, and you only get one.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Erica: So when you look at everything through that lens, it tempers everything. It's like having rose-colored glasses, it changes everything. But you know, what's the not so desirable polar opposite of that? When you're carrying this weight of what was put upon you that you had no choice in, because this was where you were born, or how you were born, or what your environment looked like. Because of that, rather on top of that, you weren't prepared or equipped to know what it looks like to separate what is you versus what is someone else's interpretation of you.

Erica: I don't think that there was any separation. Therefore, there's a lot of anger there and it's really hard to move through life and enjoy it, and be able to try to find these moments of happiness, and that bountiful place when there's so much weight. I think she would've moved through things differently. She would've had a different relationship with probably just about everyone in her life because it wouldn't have been tempered by that weight.

Michelle: Yeah, by that weight and by that anger.

Erica: Mm-hmm.

Michelle: Wow. Yeah. Well, and that leads me to my next question.

What change do you want to create in the world?

Erica: I want to create space for people to not shy away from that conversation. Whether it's conversation for yourself or for someone else that you see as necessary so that you can be a part of the change that you want to create. Because sometimes if someone is saying, “I benefit from privilege, and therefore how do I utilize my platform?” Well, I have to start by finding out how can this be of benefit to someone else? Who is someone that I am around or that I can affect, or influence, or impact that can benefit from this. This isn't what I think I should do. This isn't what I think they need. This is me having to have conversation and dialogue to say, “What can I do? What can I do differently?” Having that conversation is such a huge piece of it. Seeing what can I do differently, what have I done that maybe didn't have the type of impact that I would have wanted, or that I know I don't want going forward? What is it that I can affect from my place in the world that can hopefully have a ripple effect?

Erica: Because I think it's very easy to get into this place of, “Oh it's too big. It's too much. What can one person do?” If everybody did that, well then we know what happens. Nothing, nothing positive, nothing forward moving. Simply saying, “This is where I am. What can I do in the area that I live in? What can I do to support someone that doesn't look like me? Where can I vote with my dollars to show that I want something different to happen with my investment in the world? What can I give to my children to ensure that they move through life in a more forward moving and equity based type of way?”

It's figuring out where do I have the space to show up as the change that I want you see right here, right now.

Michelle: I love that. Just to back up a little bit, because I have a theory about this and I'll totally share it after I get your point of view.

What do you think is the biggest objection to people showing up and creating that space?

Erica: When you've always had a certain way of looking at life, processing life, and moving through life, and then all of a sudden you realize that it doesn't adhere to the types of values or beliefs that you thought that you had. And you realize that you almost have to kill off a part of yourself in order to make space for the type of person that you really want to be. Well, a lot of people struggle with that concept because that means you have to say, “I haven't done things in a way that I would do them again. I have made choices that probably weren't the best choices based on the way that I think and feel now.”

Erica: And to have to say, “In order for me to make space for the type of person that I want to be, that's the best version of myself now.”

Everyday it's always an evolution. Expansion's always happening, but you can't keep both. You can't keep the old ways of being and thinking, yet incorporate all this new stuff.

If the old stuff completely undermines the change that you're trying to make, you almost have this rebirth that has to happen, but rebirth only happens if you let something die.

Michelle: That is very true because I know the conversations that I've had with some of my white friends where they have done or said something that was racist. My experience is when you mentioned that they… You know, this is what the book White Fragility is all about, and if you haven't read that book, everyone should read that.

Erica: Mm-hmm.

Michelle: Because what that experience was when I said something, they were like, “But you know me, I'm a good person. I'm not racist. I have black friends.”. I'm like, “Here's the deal,” and this is what I really appreciate it, because I've thought about this for a long time. I believe that all white people are inherently racist, but we don't know how we're racist, and being racist doesn't mean you're like a white supremacist or a member of the KKK. We were just brought up in a society where we have all of this unconscious bias, and we don't know how it impacts us until somebody thankfully says something, and points it out. But that's when it gets really tricky of creating that space where they're open to listening to you or having the conversation. That's kind of, for me, what my experience has been. It's hard. Yeah. Like, oh, white people, please get over yourselves.

Erica: Well, and I think the experience you have is what tends to happen very, very often. It's not this thing of everybody is a full blown robe wearing KKK member, as you said.

Michelle: No.

Erica: What happens is is you'll have these people that will have these implicit biases, and the subconscious programming that we don't even realize is there. You know, they'll do these things, but they'll have those comments that are still very much, “I have to save myself here.”

Michelle: Yes.

Erica: Like, “I have a black friend, or I watch this show, or I listen to this…” And it's like, “No, that's not helping you here.”

Michelle: I listen to Beyonce. I'm like…

Erica: Oh, no. So much of it is realizing that what keeps the system in place isn't the polar, you know, robe wearing KKK member. It is the person on a day-to-day basis that falls into the stereotype of assuming that the black person that just walked in maybe isn't the owner or person in charge. That the person that is wearing a hijab is a terrorist. Or immediately thinking that the black man that got too close is going to snatch your purse. It's these things that you don't realize that pop up when you least expect it that you have to dismantle. Those are the little things that keep it in place. I've had to unfortunately go through this where I had to advocate for my son because there's huge statistics around the fact that children of color, especially boys, are more likely to be labeled a problem than their white counterparts.

Michelle: Mm-hmm.

Erica: It's having to see where these things pop up or where these things don't show up on your radar because they're not a part of your reality.

Michelle: Yes. Yes, and I think as we're having this conversation, part of creating space for diversity and inclusion is doing the work on yourself first. Having uncomfortable conversations around your own unconscious bias before you can impact any other type of change. And then we can start taking, like for me, sometimes it's just the small actions, like having great conversations like this one, or not participating in speaking events that are all white people, and making sure that there is that more diverse viewpoint. Because, I mean, what I think is beautiful about diversity inclusion is that we get to see a whole different point of view.

Erica: Exactly. You actually just hit the nail on the head because the reality is is that there's a number of people out there that are working in that diversity, inclusion, and equity space. You know, we all kind of work in our particular ways and we do things differently. For me it's what can I do in this particular corner of the world? And the answer was that I intersect with, and this is where it starts, and it's that ripple effect from there. When I interact with female business owners that say, “I'm not going to go to this particular conference because they'll say that it's about diversity, but there's zero diversity showing up.” Or people that will call out a business owner in the consulting that they do and say, “I know you want to say that you're diverse, but you're actually not.” Let's put some of these words into play before we begin to use words that are inaccurate and can actually do more harm.

Michelle: Yeah. Yes.

If we created the space for having these kind of conversations, this is my final question for you, what do you think the world would be like?

Erica: Open, progressive. It would be, again, forward moving. I don't think that it's something that's… actually, I know it's not going to happen overnight. There's not going to be any one thing that's going to make it happen. It's going to be a lot of small things that make it happen. There's going to be a lot of people that are simply unwilling to be silent anymore.

A lot of people that are not okay being in homogenous spaces that are keeping the status quo, AKA not allowing the shifts to actually happen. Because with that awareness, you can't unsee it.

Michelle: Yes.

Erica: There's going to be some people that may try to run from it, but there's going to be more people that know, hey, I'm doing this work on myself, and I can't be silent. I'm unable to anymore. With that, there's possibility. That's the best that we can truly hope for, like for someone like me that's a parent, for my kids, for my grandkids. Hoping that at some point in the lineage, they can look back and say, “I had an ancestor that wanted to be a part of the change and not the problem.”

Michelle: Yes, yes. Having that person who was doing the work so that we can open possibility. I love that. I love that vision.

Erica: That's exactly why I do what I do. It's not because I think overnight it's going to change, but it has to start somewhere. Again, it's a ripple effect. Every little thing, you just never know who hears something, and stops and says, “Huh, I didn't even think about that.” Or, “You know what? I don't want my kids to do this, or I don't want to feel all that emotion that I see on that person's face that I'm staring at right now. What can I do?” It's literally a grass roots type type of thing to say, “How can I be the change that I want to see?”

Michelle: Exactly. Exactly.

Erica, tell us where we can find you online.

Erica: I am on Instagram, that is my favorite place, and I'm also on Facebook. On my website, I also have information. I do conversation workshops, and I try to find as many opportunities as I can to, again, hold that space and create a place for facilitation within everything that's going on. I definitely encourage people to, again, whether it's through my website, through Facebook, through Instagram, definitely connect and have dialogue with me.

The entire reason why I do this is the conversation. Connect your conversation is my why.

Michelle: I love it. Thank you so much, Erica. Please do connect with Erica, she's always sharing some amazing thoughts. She has a new podcast as well, so you can check her out there. Yes, the podcast. Don't forget to promote your podcast, Erica.

Erica: I know. It's new. I'm still getting used to it, but I love it so much. I love talking. If you have not already been able to tell. Currently, yes, the two main places that you will find us are iTunes and Spotify, so hop on over the podcast is Pause On The Play.

Michelle: Thank you so much, Erica. I really appreciate you being on the Rebel Rising Podcast and having this conversation with me.

Erica: Thank you so much for having me, Michelle. It was amazing as always. Thank you.

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