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Black Fatigue

Mary-Frances Winters and Kimberly Atkins

Racism erodes the mind, body, and spirit, leaving lasting impacts on health, productivity, and overall success for those on the receiving end, resulting in Black intergenerational fatigue.

In this special replay of a 2021 session from our Justice, Equity, and Inclusion Series, Black Fatigue author Mary-Frances Winters sheds light on the impact of Black fatigue — not only on Black people, but on society as a whole. She explores the physiological and psychological impacts of racism and offered strategies to manage it in this current racial climate. She also provides ways to ensure self-care is a priority for Black people and people of color, and identifies actions for allyship.

Following Winters’ presentation, she is joined by Kimberly Atkins, senior opinion writer at The Boston Globe and MSNBC contributor for a thought-provoking conversation on the perpetuation of racist systems, the racial disparities on Black people and people of color, and the critical state of mental health as a result of social and racial injustice.

 


Mary-Frances Winters

MARY-FRANCES WINTERS is the founder and CEO of The Winters Group, Inc., a global organization development and diversity and inclusion consulting firm with over 36 years of experience. Dubbed a thought leader in the field, for the past three decades she has impacted over hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals with her thought-provoking message, and her approach to diversity and inclusion. Winters is a master strategist with experience in strategic planning, change management, diversity, organization development, training and facilitation, systems thinking and qualitative and quantitative research methods. She has served on national not-for profit, corporate and university boards, and has received many awards and honors including the ATHENA award, Diversity Pioneer (Profiles in Diversity Journal), The Winds of Change (Forum on Workplace Inclusion) and Forbes Top 10 diversity trailblazers. She is the author of six books, including the recent release of Black Fatigue: How Racism Erodes the Mind, Body, and Spirit and Inclusive Conversations: Fostering Equity Empathy and Belonging Across Differences. @maryfwinters

Kimberly Atkins

KIMBERLY ATKINS is a senior opinion writer at The Boston Globe. She is also an MSNBC contributor. Previously, she was the first Washington, DC-based news correspondent for WBUR. She has also served as the Boston Herald’s Washington bureau chief, guest host of C-SPAN’s morning call-in show Washington Journal, and a Supreme Court reporter for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and its sister publications.

She began her journalism career as an intern at The Boston Globe. She has appeared as a political commentator on a host of national and international television and radio networks, including CNN, Fox News, NBC News, PBS, NPR, Sky News (UK), and CBC News (Canada). Before launching her journalism career, she was a trial and appellate litigation attorney in Boston. Atkins is a native of Michigan, and a graduate of Wayne State University, Boston University School of Law and Boston University College of Communication, and the Columbia University Graduate School

 


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Transcript of Black Fatigue Session

Kem Danner:

Good morning. I’m Kem Danner, senior vice president and global head of human resources at State Street Corporation. And I’m proud to welcome you to the second in a year long series of conversations about justice, equity, and inclusion hosted by the Massachusetts Conference for Women, State Street Corporation, and The Boston Globe. Today’s conversation is for everyone, for people of color and our allies of all identities. Our focus today is on Black Fatigue, the impact of racism on mental health or more specifically the ways in which racism impacts both the health, productivity, and success of black Americans and society as a whole.

Kem Danner:

Today, of course, we face tremendous challenges on many issues, including racial equity, but hopefully we are in the midst of a profound awakening of which brings us a sense of great opportunity, but also hope. What we make of this moment, the ways in which we act to advance justice, equity, and inclusion in 2021 will ultimately depend upon the efforts from all of us. All of us who are willing to show up and dare to be the leaders that we know every one of us can be. I know I speak for State Street and The Boston Globe in saying that we are proud to sponsor and partner with Massachusetts Conference for Women in this year long series.

Kem Danner:

Today, we are happy to have with us Mary-Frances Winters, the founder and CEO of The Winters Group Incorporated and author of Black Fatigue. We’re also happy to be joined by Kimberly Atkins, a senior opinion writer for The Boston Globe and contributor to MSNBC. As the founder and CEO of The Winters Group Incorporated, a global organizational development and diversity and inclusion consulting firm, Mary-Frances has more than three decades of experience working on these issues and has been named Forbes top 10 Diversity Trailblazers. She’s a master strategist and author of six books and she has influenced hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals with her powerful messages and approach to diversity and inclusion.

Kem Danner:

Kimberly, as mentioned earlier, is a senior opinion writer at The Boston Globe and MSNBC contributor. Previously, she was the first DC-based news correspondent for WBUR. She has also served as the Boston Herald’s Washington bureau chief, guest hosts of C-SPAN’s morning call-in show Washington Journal, a Supreme Court reporter for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and its sister publications.

Kem Danner:

So here’s how we’re going to spend our time. Mary-Frances will kick things off with a presentation on the physiological and psychological impacts of racism. She will also offer strategies for how to be a more effective manager in today’s racial climate, but most importantly also provide ways to ensure that self-care is a priority for black people and people of color, and also identify some actions for allyship.

Kem Danner:

Following Mary-Frances’ presentation, she’ll be joined by Kimberly for a thought provoking conversation about the perpetuation of racist systems, racial disparities affecting black people and people of color, and the critical state of mental health as a result of social and racial injustice. So let’s get started empowering ourselves to challenge racism and work towards justice and workplaces that work for all of us. Please join me in a warm virtual welcome to Mary-Frances Winters. Thank you.

Mary-Frances Winters:

Thank you so much Kem for that warm introduction and that warm welcome. It is so good to be with all of you today. I’m sorry that I can’t see you all. And I do hope that everyone is well and that your families are well. This has been a really, really difficult period for us here, not just in the United States, but all over the Globe. So I do hope that everyone is well, and I know that everybody is extremely busy and you have lots of things going on. And so I just really thank you so much and I’m so grateful that you chose to spend this time with us today. And I’m really going to give a short presentation and you sent in lots and lots of quests ahead of time. And we have had a chance to review those and so I hope to get into a real great dialogue with Kimberly in just a few moments. So again, I thank you for joining.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So the first thing I want to do is just say, so what is Black Fatigue? People have asked, what is it anyway? And so as I was writing the book, I looked up the term fatigue and it said that it was exhaustion and all of those kinds of definitions that we know, but it also had a definition of metal fatigue. And it said that when you have metal, it’s the repeated variations of stress on the metal and it weakens it. And so I thought, “Gee, that is really apropos for what we’re talking about when we talk about Black Fatigue.” So I’ve defined it in the book as repeated variations of stress caused by centuries of racism resulting in extreme exhaustion, causing physical, mental, and spiritual maladies that are passed down from generation to generation.

Mary-Frances Winters:

The idea for the book actually came from the sessions that I do often in organizations, in corporations, probably such as the ones that you all work for. And I was hearing from millennials in particular and probably some Gen Z as well. I’m a baby boomer. I’ve been doing this work as Kem said for many, many years, but I was hearing from those younger than me that they were exhausted. And I was like, “Exhausted! You’re 30 years old. How are you exhausted already?” And they would look at me with the side eye and say, “I know that I’m exhausted.” So it got me to thinking that wow, if this generation is saying they’re exhausted from the microaggressions, exhausted from the continued acts of racism and discrimination that some of them subtle and some of them not so subtle, that they were exhausted from seeing unarmed black men and women continue to be killed by law enforcement, that they were exhausted from just all of the examples, and social media of course allows those examples to be amplified.

Mary-Frances Winters:

And so I got this idea that wow, I didn’t think of myself as fatigued because I don’t think our generation thought that way. So I had the opportunity to speak with ambassador Andrew Young and ask, when you were working with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr in the height of the civil rights movement, did you all talk about being fatigued? And of course, Dr. King did write about being exhausted and being tired from continuing to have just the struggle. But he said, “No, we really didn’t talk about it in that way.” He said, “Because we couldn’t be fatigued. We felt that we really needed to continue on.” He said, “I would have a migraine headache and Dr. King would say, get on that plane. And once you’re on the plane, that headache will go away.”

Mary-Frances Winters:

But what I really and why I wrote the book, one of the reasons I wrote the book is because what I’m learning from my younger brothers and sister, is that we are fatigued and that we have to take care of ourselves, that our wellbeing is just so important. And I also learned in writing the book that many of us could not necessarily correlate things that we were feeling perhaps stress or depression or fist physical ailments. And we couldn’t necessarily correlate it to anything. And the social scientists and behavioral scientists and others are now correlating racism with physical and mental maladies. And so I think that is the unique and wonderful contribution that I’m seeing from the younger activists. This notion that we are exhausted, we are fatigued and the willingness to say it and the willingness to recognize the need to address it.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So when I think about the cycle of Black Fatigue, I think about the generations of oppressively inequitable, life experiences and outcomes caused by the unmitigated systemic racism that leads to intergenerational stress and trauma and then that leads to racist disparities in health. And so it’s the cycle that continues from generation to generation. And the scientists are now saying that in fact the stress does get into our cellular system and is passed down from generation to generation, a branch of science known as epigenetics. I am not a scientist, so I am not going to go very far into that. However, there is evidence that racism not race, but racism absolutely causes these conditions and that they are passed down from generation to generation.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So what about me? And so, as I was thinking about I said, I didn’t think about it being fatigue for myself, but it really caused me to do some introspection. And so in the book I say that I was hard pressed to name it. It was an underlying syndrome of sorts that permeates my very being. It operates like a dull droning sound, always present that most of the time is drowned out by my higher pitches of optimism and hope, but I now know it to be Black Fatigue. And so with all of the affirmations, with all of the faith that I have, with all of the joy and the Black Girl Magic and all of those things and all of the positive, there’s still this underlying sort of, because every single day, there’s something about race that impacts me on a regular basis. And I’m sure for other people of color, other women of color, you can absolutely connect to what I’m to what I’m saying.

Mary-Frances Winters:

And we know that there are different levels of racism. And so racism happens in internalize racism and that exacerbates the stress as well. We begin to believe the negative stereotypes about our identity and sometimes we accept them and we don’t even know that we’re accepting them. That’s internalized racism. And then we’re subjected to interpersonal racism on a day to day basis. It might be very overt. Every day you read something, I was reading something in Black Enterprise just yesterday that said that somebody was walking down the street and somebody called them the N word, and this is happening all the time. So at the interpersonal level, it could be that egregious or it could be just something like, can I touch your hair, saying that to a black woman? So the interpersonal happens as well.

Mary-Frances Winters:

And then there’s the institutional, which are the policies and practices that perhaps even unwillingly happen in an organization. I’m working with an organization where I’m coaching the senior leadership team. And just after George Floyd, a group of black employees at this company went to the leadership and said, we really don’t think we have been treated fairly. They felt that they had voice after George Floyd and the protest that ensued. They did a salary study and there are only 36 black people in this company of about 2000. And they discovered that half of them were actually being underpaid by their own standards. And so my question to these leaders is how does that happen? And that’s institutional because it’s a practice. It might not have been policy, but it’s a practice that was going unchecked until this new resurgence of interest in racism happened.

Mary-Frances Winters:

And then the deepest part of racism is the structural aspects of racism. Those very deep roots in our society that go back over 400 years and we can even see how this is playing out in politics in the government. I mean, don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to get into politics today, but when we see what some of the rules and some of the laws are and some of the things that create and maintain structures, we’re seeing them being surfaced now as things are trying to happen. We see it with voter suppression and some of the laws and some of the practices that have happened. And so that’s the structural racism that continues to go on. And so all of these different levels of racism we’re dealing with and it creates fatigue and that fatigue leads to maladies which we have to address.

Mary-Frances Winters:

Some of the definitions that we have not even talked about in our society because, excuse me, particularly in the corporate world, because we feel that those are just words that we don’t even want to talk about. There’s a fear. And so what I’m finding today is that we’re more willing to talk about white supremacy as a culture, as an ideology. Many people think when we’re talking about, I am so sorry. Many people think when we’re talking about white supremacy, that we’re talking about people in hoods and neo-Nazis, but there’s a culture. There’s an ideology that we have to recognize and talk about.

Mary-Frances Winters:

I have clients who won’t even put the word equity in their diversity and inclusion framework. So there’s even controversy over whether we just want equality or we want equity. Equity is giving people what they need and recognizing that it’s not a leveled playing field. Equality is giving everybody the same thing. With terms like anti-racism, organizations don’t like to use those terms because, “Oh, somebody might file a lawsuit if we recognize that we have racist systems.” However, it is about recognizing the system, not necessarily pointing out the individuals.

Mary-Frances Winters:

Privilege, people don’t like to talk about privilege. I often hear from white people, “Well, I don’t have privilege because I grew up poor.” Well, what we have to recognize is that privilege is not binary. You might have privilege in some aspects of your life and not have privilege in other aspects of your life. So from my perspective, for me, I have privilege because I am a member of the middle class. I have privilege because I’m educated and we overvalue those characteristics in our society. I don’t have privilege as a woman and I don’t have privilege as a black person because we have undervalued those aspects. And so when we think about privilege, people don’t understand what we’re talking about.

Mary-Frances Winters:

And again, how does this relate to fatigue? It relates to fatigue because one of my books that I wrote is We Can’t Talk about That at Work! How to Talk about Race, Religion, Politics. We can’t even talk about some of these things and we can’t talk about it, then we cannot address it and that is fatiguing. Robin DiAngelo, who wrote about White Fragility and the defensiveness that often happens when we begin to talk about race, all of this exacerbates the fatigue.

Mary-Frances Winters:

When we think about the progress that we haven’t made. And I mentioned to you having had the opportunity to talk to Andrew Young who go back in the ’60s civil rights movement. But when we think about what progress have we made since then, we’re really hard pressed to find real progress. I have a daughter who’s an electrical engineer. Actually, she now works for The Winters Group. She’s been with me for nine years, but in a STEM career and as a black woman, she found some of the same things that I found in my generation in the corporate world, which is why I left. After 10 years of working in the corporate world, I left and started my own business 36 years ago. So we haven’t made the progress. We haven’t created equitable spaces, but let’s just look at some socioeconomics.

Mary-Frances Winters:

In 1976, blacks home ownership, 44% of black families own their own home. In 2015, that number was 43%. You can see for all other groups, albeit for Latinos it was a very, very small increase, but for all other groups there was an increase. We can look at median household income over a 10 year span. In 2007 for blacks, it was $40,000 and some change. In 2017, it was $40,000 and some change, $62 difference, not even enough to make it on the chart. You can see with the exception of the Asian population, the median household income increase. The reason why the Asian population has a higher household income is because that group tends to live intergenerationally.

Mary-Frances Winters:

If we look at unemployment, we can see that over the years, unemployment rate for blacks has historically been a double that of whites. And even if you have a college degree, the unemployment rate is still twice that of whites. And so, Then is Now, that’s a chapter in the book. Chapter four in the book is called Then is Now showing where we have not made progress over the years in some of the key socioeconomic indicators and it is fatiguing. So when looking at infant mortality rate. Black women are twice as likely to die in child birth, even middle class black women looking.

Mary-Frances Winters:

Looking at employment. Many of us know about the inequities there, but black and brown people are 30% less likely to get a call back. And this was a study that was done over a 20 year period and it looked at, actually a 30 year period. It looked at 1980 to 2015 and found that in fact, discrimination in employment had not improved over that time period. We can think about incarceration. Blacks represent 12% of the population and 33% of the prison population. We can look at education Brown v. Board of Education, landmark Supreme Court decision, 1954. It said that segregated schools were unconstitutional and illegal. Our public schools are more segregated today than they were in 1954. Voter suppression. We saw all sorts of attempts OF voter suppression with this election, but we need not just to look at this election. We can go all the way back to 1865 and throughout history, voter suppression has been rampant in our country.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So then is now. Then is now relative to looking at getting more black people in leadership. So there are some headlines, Wall Street Journal, August 2nd, 1984. 19 84 was the year that I started my own business. Blacks Jump Off The Corporate Ladder: Feeling Their Rise Limited. That’s why I jumped off the corporate ladder. Progress report on the Black executive: The top spots are still elusive. December 9th, 2019, just a little over a year ago, Study Examines Why Black Americans Remain Scarce in Executive Suites. December 11th, 2019, Blacks in corporate America still largely invisible. So people were asking, why are there protests? There are protests because we have not made progress. People ask me why we haven’t made the progress? And it is because of systemic racism. People also ask me, why did you write a book called Black Fatigue? Why didn’t you write a book because these manifestations that you’re speaking of white women have these issues as well, Asian Americans, Latinos, the LGBTQ community, people with disabilities. Absolutely.

Mary-Frances Winters:

And so I’m focusing on Black Fatigue because of the unique experiences that black people have had in this country. And over the years that I have been doing this work, I have often been cautioned not to talk too much about race. So we have not had the conversation, particularly as it relates to blacks and whites because of the white fragility, because of the embarrassment, because of the shame, because of the guilt. And that’s not what I want to do with this book, because I think we have to get over that and have the conversation. Yes, these things happen and they’re still happening. And we believe and I believe that if in fact, we work on the issues and the inequities that we have as it relates to black and African Americans, we will also support and help the other groups.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So I’m not eliminating or dismissing that other groups don’t have issues. However, over the years of my consultancy, I’ve been cautioned not to focus too much on this. And I think now is the time, as a matter of fact, the World Economic Forum just released a couple of days ago that 48 companies have signed on to explore anti-black racism in particular. And I think this is great, because again, we haven’t really focused on this. So just to continue on with the then is now, health disparities. New studies are finding that discrimination leads to aging faster. This lifelong buildup of stress that eventually results in disease and mortality. Black men have the lowest life expectancy of any group, 71 compared to white women, which is 81. And so racism creates these disparities. And here’s what we hear people say in corporations.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So we do a lot of work in corporations where we do listening sessions with black and brown employees and here are some of the things that we hear. I worry about my child’s safety as well, and how he’ll react or respond if he’s confronted with either the police or someone who’s judging him or treating him differently based on the color of the skin. That keeps me up at night. I compartmentalize at work because we, black males, cannot afford to let our work suffer. We are the only people of color/blacks in most meetings. We can’t fail be for those coming behind us.

Mary-Frances Winters:

I’m overwhelmed with the amount of hate, not even with the recent deaths of our brothers and sisters, but the words that people are spewing that stick. I want to be a mouthpiece of encouragement, but I don’t think it’s possible anymore with the amount of strong opinions on social media. As a black male already underrepresented in the company, I can’t afford to let my work suffer. So I say, I’m just managing. 2020 has been challenging. I’m barely managing. I’m emotionally angry, exhausted and confused. As a mother and grandmother of those who look like me, I’m scared. I’ve been in Mr. Floyd’s position, but not as deep. I’ve been pulled out of the car because the police thought I was someone else.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So those are people in the workplace. People who are coming to work with those kinds of emotions, with those kinds of experiences and it’s emotionally taxing, trauma inducing. Studies show, Catalyst did a study that showed that more black people and brown people in organizations say that they have to be on guard. They feel on guard all the time, stress inducing. I feel that they have to cover. You can’t bring all of who they are to the workplace, stress inducing. I feel that they have to code switch, that they have to change their behavior, stress inducing. I remember when I was in the corporate world many years ago, I would drive to work and I’d say, okay, who do I have to be today? Okay. One boss says you’re too aggressive. The other boss says you’re not aggressive enough and you’re this and you’re that, so how do I have to be, stress inducing.

Mary-Frances Winters:

We minimize who we are. We assimilate. We apologize. One of the things that I heard in the listening sessions a lot was people say, I feel sometimes I just have to apologize just for being, just for being. We have the microaggressions and fear. I have friends who I would’ve never thought would have been looking at purchasing firearms. And they’re saying, “I’m going to arm myself because I am really fearful today.” So all of those things that we experience create stress and lead to health disparities.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So one of the way that I think about how we experience difference, I’ve heard a lot from leaders that, “Gee, we didn’t know that racism was still an issue.” So how do we experience difference? What do we even know about these differences? And this tool called the intercultural development inventory or the IDI says, we either see the world from a monocultural perspective or we see it from an intercultural perspective. Monocultural, meaning we only see it from our own world view and we hear a lot of that, right? I didn’t know.

Mary-Frances Winters:

I was talking to somebody the other day about the young man, the 14 year old young man in the New York hotel and the white woman costed him about you have my cell phone. Obviously he didn’t have the cell phone, but the number of people that I’ve talked to leaders have never even heard about that incident, right? And so we don’t know. And so when you’re at this place along this community called denial, you say, “Well, what is the racial problem? I don’t really get it. It just really doesn’t have anything to do with me.” About 2% to 3% of the people who take this tool fall there.

Mary-Frances Winters:

And then there’s polarization. And if you’re in the defense mode of polarization, us and them, you’re saying, they’re a threat to our way of life, whoever they are, or you might be in reverse where you’re ashamed of your own culture. Minimization, where about 68% of the people fall, they would say, “Well gee, all lives matter and I really don’t see color. I just see people.” If we’re stuck in not seeing color, then we’re not going to be able to address the issues. We didn’t create the racialized world that we’re in, but it is a racialized world. If there were no black, there would be no white. If there were no white, there would be no black. Somebody created those distinctions and so not seeing color, doesn’t help us to get to solutions.

Mary-Frances Winters:

When we move further along this continuum and get to acceptance, we want to understand, we’re curious, we don’t assume that we know and we better understand that racism is real and how it impacts. And then lastly on the continuum, where only 2% of the people are, we then are able to understand and to see how we can get some results. We become anti-racist here and we’re actually working to better the system. So minimization may sound like, “Oh, somebody’s a great cultural fit for our organization. They fit.” What do we mean when we say that, or we’re a meritocracy, or I don’t see color, or I just treat everybody the same. We’ve always done it that way and it’s always work. And we’ve always recruited at those top schools. And so those are ways that we can continue to minimize differences and not be inclusive and not see how racism is playing out.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So some people think, I’m here to fix and dismantle racism. I don’t think so. I think what we have to do is we have to recognize that I have to understand who I am in relation to a system of racism in order to disrupt and dismantle it. So if you’re white, who am I in relation to this system? If you’re Asian-American, who am I in relation to this system? If you’re Latino, who am I in relation? If you’re black, African-American, who am I in relation to this system? And we have to each recognize that in a racialized world, we have a place. We didn’t ask for that place, but we have a place. And so it’s not so much that we’re here to fix and dismantle this system. It’s more that we’re here to recognize and understand where we fit in the system so that we can be helpful.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So what can we do now? The first thing that we can do is recognize how race is connected to your identity. So 75%, this is a Pew study that every year asked to what extent is race core to your identity? 75% of black people say it is, 56% of Asians say it is, 59% of Latinx community say it is, only 15% of white people say that race is core to their identity. We need more white people to see race as core to their identity. We need to, our 4-E approach at The Winters Group, we need more exposure to difference. We need more experience. Exposure and experience are two different things. Different races can be all around us, but that doesn’t mean that we’re experiencing having meaningful experience. We need education. Education can come in a lot of different ways, podcasts, documentaries, formal education. Those three E easily lead to empathy. If we’re not able to empathize, we will not be able begin to heal and to work on racism.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So we’re not talking with each other. This is a study that was done by the Public Religion Institute, which says, with whom do you discuss important matters? 75% of white people said only with other white people. 65% of black people said only with other black people and 46% of the Latinx community said with other Latinx. Those are the only three groups that we’re studying here. But if we’re not talking with each other, then we’re certainly not going to be able to make progress.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So what can we do now? Expand your knowledge of the social inequities and take personal accountability for growing your understanding. Reflect on how history and structural inequities influence communities. We’ve got to understand our history folks. We don’t understand our history because we weren’t told it accurately. There are a lot of lies and there was a lot of stuff that was left out. So we have to learn the history. And learn how different forms of oppression operate at that interpersonal and institutional level and [inaudible 00:30:55] about them. Asking yourself am I complicit with my silence. Silence is complicity, right? And continually ask, am I getting the things I deserve? And am I willing to stand with and elevate the voices of those who are not? It takes collective responsibility in order for us to make change.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So I’m going to stop there. I know that I’ve said a lot, but Black Fatigue is real. It is real because of the myriad issues that we continue to have that we have not addressed in over 400 years. So I am going to now turn it over to Kimberly and we’re going to engage in some questions and answers.

Kimberly Atkins:

Oh, Mary-Frances, thank you so much for that presentation. I can say just personally from my experience, I feel it and I understand a lot of what you were talking about. And I’m looking forward to talking to you more now, just for the audience. We got scores of questions ahead of time and we are still getting them in. I’ve been going through a lot of them and I will ask as many as I can in the time that we have. But generally speaking, what I found is that they fell in some broad categories and that’s how I broke them up and that’s how I would like to have our discussion, Mary-Frances.

Kimberly Atkins:

The first category was really for black folks and folks of color about self-care, self-protection, and self-empowerment. The next set of questions were about allyship, a lot of questions from white folks, other people of color about how they can be allies, what that looks like. And then a lot of questions just about the workplace, what people can do, black folks, non-black folks in the workplace to really battle against this fatigue that we’re talking about. So I want to start with the self-care aspect of it. And one person asked, what are some useful strategies to help presenter yourself, especially when you are in a micro or macro aggressive contested white spaces? What’s the first thing that comes to mind in terms of protecting yourself?

Mary-Frances Winters:

That is a really difficult question, but I think the first thing that comes to mind is acknowledging that you have to do that. That you absolutely have to protect yourself and to consider what you need to do for self-care. I remember when I was in the corporate world, I used to go in the ladies room to scream if that helps, that helps. But I think from a broader perspective, and this is one of the things we’re trying to do at The Winters Group, we have to teach leaders, all leaders, leaders of color, all leaders, the toll that racism is taking so that they can recognize and allow BIPOC, Black, Indigenous, people of color to set boundaries. And so setting boundaries about how much you want to actually have these discussions about race because they might be triggering, setting boundaries about why do you just ask all the black and brown people to be on the diversity committee? And if you’re going to ask me to be on the diversity committee, how are you going to compensate me for this extra work?

Mary-Frances Winters:

So I think some of the things that we can do, we can do without the organization being woke in, if you will, but I think other things we can’t. Other things will really take organizational and culture change, but from an individual perspective I would just say learning how to meditate, learning how to set boundaries that you’re able to set within an organizational context. And then lastly if you’re in a place where you’re not valued, where you’re not appreciated, for your own wellbeing, perhaps it’s better not to be there. I mean, I know we have bills, I know we need to work. However, I think we have to be honest with ourselves.

Kimberly Atkins:

And this leads to another question that I have that again, I felt very strongly because I’ve been having this very same issue over the last year, we may experience microaggressions in the workplace, but even if we don’t, we’re in a society particularly right now where we are dealing with racial injustice, we are dealing with ongoing pandemic, we are dealing with caring for family members. We are dealing with seeing racial injustice, play out in videos on our television screens. How can one be resilient in the face of all of that even if certainly our non-black colleagues don’t realize we’re feeling the stress and it’s not visible in the workplace, how does that play out even in the workplace?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Yeah. To be resilient. I have a thing about resiliency because when you look up resiliency in the dictionary, it means that you bounce back. And so bouncing back it doesn’t address the root cause. It just says, this is going to keep happening and you need to be resilient. You need to learn how to deal with it. So I think that we just have to really interrogate what we mean when we say resilience and look at why do I have to be resilient against this in the first place, right? So that’s my thing on resiliency, which is not actually answering your question, I recognize that.

Kimberly Atkins:

No, but it is. I think that’s an important point and I’m glad that you brought that up. I mean, maybe we should back up for a second and ask ourselves, what should we be looking for? It’s not necessarily to bounce back. It’s not necessarily to fit in and make it seem like everything is okay. What should be the goal?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Right. Exactly. And changing the goal, I think is really, really important. And I think one of the things about changing the goal is changing the language. So as one example, the angry black woman, right? And so yes, I am angry rather than that being a negative label that we’re [inaudible 00:37:08], I don’t want to be labeled as an angry black woman. We’ve got a lot to be angry about perhaps, right? And so rather than saying, don’t be that, what about understanding why? What are the reasons for that? So I think that we spend a lot of time trying to shed a label. When I was doing a session the other day and somebody was talking about, “Well, how do you avoid victimhood?” And as a black man when you speak about some of the inequities, somebody says, “Oh, you’re being the victim.” Well, maybe you are a victim and let’s explore that rather than ignoring it.

Kimberly Atkins:

Another question that we got is how does the intersection between being black and being a woman affect this sort of fatigue? I know and firmly believe that the experience of black women are just wholly different from the experience as black people on a whole or as women as a whole. Can you speak a little bit on that?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Absolutely. And in the book I have a chapter on black women. I have a chapter on black men and I have a chapter on black children because I recognize that the fatigue plays out different. I also have a chapter on the layers of Black Fatigue. And so you’re black, you’re a woman, you’re a single mother, all of those compounding identities, if you will, are intersectional identities. And so when we look at that, yes, it exacerbates the Black Fatigue. People have asked me over the years, well do you identify more with your race or with your gender?

Mary-Frances Winters:

For me, it’s more for the race. I mean, for me, I feel the inequities and the racism more than I feel the sexism. I’m sure that they’re both there, but just in terms of how it plays out for me, it plays out for me around race. And so it’s very important for us to recognize how our intersecting identities influence and impact our wellbeing and obviously to reclaim all of them, but it’s really important because it’s a lot. And for black women, of course, we have at least two, right? And even more identities that have been marginalized and have been oppressed over the centuries.

Kimberly Atkins:

Now I want to get to the issue of being an ally. I think we got more questions about that than anything else. And some start simply by how can white colleagues, white counterparts, white managers be allies? It seems that there’s a lot of interest in being a starting point. Some folks said they’ve read books like White Fragility and other things and they’re eager to start, but don’t know where. What do you tell them?

Mary-Frances Winters:

I’m glad that you asked that question. I’m glad others are really asking. Allyship is not something that you can be. It’s something that you become after years of study and understanding. And so I would invite people to say I’m an aspiring ally, right? Because it’s not something that you can just declare. So reading is important, but I think the most important aspect of allyship is the group that you’re trying to be an allyship with, do they see you as an ally? And so it really is on that 4-E model that I talked about, the exposure and the experience. It’s that [inaudible 00:40:45] experience. What meaningful experiences are you having? I hear people say, and this happened yesterday in a session I was doing, “My best friend is black.” Right? That’s not the qualification for being an ally.

Mary-Frances Winters:

I’m reminded of a video that I show sometimes in sessions with Randall Stephenson who’s the recently retired CEO of AT&T. And in this video he was addressing all of the employee resource groups. And he talked about how he has his best friend who is black. And over the 30 years that they’ve known each other, they’ve gone on vacation together. The kids are all friends and they’ve gone through tragedies together and all of this. And he said that he heard his black friends speak at something and the black friend talked about how he was subjected to racism on a daily basis. He was mistaken for the server. When he goes running in his neighborhood, he carries his ID because he knows he might be stopped, all of these things. And his friend is an emergency doctor. But the point of Randall Stevenson’s presentation was that he knew none of this. He had been friends with this man for 30 years and he had no idea that his experience in life as a black man was different from his own. They had never talked about it.

Mary-Frances Winters:

Another example, a CEO of a large financial services institution. I’m not going to give the name. I was the keynote speaker and one of the CEO’s direct reports is a black man. And he said, I have known, I’ll just call him Ed, I’ve known Ed for all of these years. And he said, I never knew Ed as a black man had these different experiences. They’ve never talked about it. So if you want to be an ally, you first of all have to have conversations about what the difference experiences are so that you can get to a point of empathy. So it takes time. And I would say to anybody wanting to do that, say I’m an aspiring ally, I’m learning to be an ally and not declare yourself an ally.

Kimberly Atkins:

So taking all that in, there’s another side of that as well, speaking from someone who has worked with people who are aspiring allies. Sometimes the check-ins the acknowledgements, the constant talking about race issues is a lot on the receiving end. How do you strike that balance both as someone who wants to be an ally and have those conversations that you’re talking about, as well as being a BIPOC folks who are on the receiving end of it. And that those conversations when they’re constant and persistent can actually add to the fatigue?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Oh, absolutely. And so I think setting boundaries, I think is so very important. So you’re an aspiring ally, recognizing that those boundaries should be set and asking the question, would you like to talk about this now? Is this something that we can have a conversation and not assuming. I was with another leader who said, “Yep, I set up one hour of conversation with one of my black employees. And I said, I want you to tell me everything about…” I’m like, “No.” One other thing I want to say about allies, allies are great, but sometimes allies are not in power positions. And so allies can be helpful at the interpersonal level often, but they may not necessarily be able to be helpful in changing systems.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So I say that we also need what I call power brokers. And if you look up the definition of a power broker, and I talk about that in the book too, a power broker is someone who is an insider and they have influence and they can make change. And so we need more power brokers. We saw during the protests this summer, we saw leaders making decisions. We’re going to make Juneteenth a holiday. Not that that changes any system, but the point is, is that there are people in power who have the power to change systems. That’s who we need to have engaged. They’re allies, but I call them power brokers.

Kimberly Atkins:

And another question had to deal with other non-white folks and or whether they are Latino or other BIPOC folks, how can they be allies particularly to black people?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Yeah. I think maybe it might even be, I’m going to assert this, maybe it might be easier for other indigenous, other people of color that are not black, because we have perhaps had some similar life experiences, some similar lived experiences that can be relatable. I would say the caution would be not to play Oppression Olympics. My oppression is worse or not as good or worse than your oppression, those kinds of things. And to not compare, that’s kind of what I’m saying, to really, really listen and that’s, “Oh yeah, that happened to me or I get it.” And I think what we really have to do is unpack how is it different for black people? How is it different for Asian Americans?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Asian Americans oftentimes have to deal with that they’re the model minority, right? And so that’s a very different type of stereotype and a different type of inequity. I don’t think black folks have ever been called the model minority. So it’s different, right? The Latino groups oftentimes have to deal with the barriers of language and being stereotyped in particular ways that are not the same way that black people are stereotyped. So I think it really is allowing each group that has been stigmatized, each group that has been marginalized in the past to have their own stories and not to be conflated or confused or co-mingled with other stories.

Kimberly Atkins:

So I want to move into the workplace and a lot of questions that we got related to that. And one is how do we, all people, invite people who are closed off to look at racism and structural racism? Mary-Frances, I can say from my experience and a lot of times there’s no faster way to close someone down than to bring up issues like race and racism and implicit racism and structural racism. How do you get past that wall?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Sometimes you can’t. So I think that there are people who, I think it’s a small percentage. So I’m going to use a normal distribution curve, right? The bell shape curve. So you’ve got small groups of people on either end who are just totally where they are, not going to change. I don’t want to hear it. I don’t want to talk about it. That’s fatiguing to try to work with those people. But I think that we’ve got a large group of people in the middle who are open. Perhaps will still make mistakes and say the wrong things, but they truly do want to learn. I think we focus there. I don’t think we focus our energy on those who are truly closed.

Mary-Frances Winters:

Now, let me say this because say, well, what if it’s my boss? What if it’s the leader of the organization? So I say, if you want to work with an organization or work for an organization that has declared that we are striving to be an inclusive equitable organization. So they’ve already declared that. So if an organization already declared that, when it’s not happening, then you can point it out because they’ve declared, this is who we want to be. So number one, let’s not even work for organizations who are not willing to espouse to equity. And what will happen is those organizations will begin to learn that they’re losing out on a lot of good talent.

Mary-Frances Winters:

I think secondly, if we’re talking about leaders who are closed, I think that, that has to be a conversation where you go back to the values of the organization. We have values here, Mr. Whoever, there’s usually going to be a Mr that say this, can you help me to understand how we’re demonstrating that on our team? And so I think that there are ways to go back to what the company has said.

Kimberly Atkins:

And on that issue and particularly talking about managers, we got several questions from people. One said that they are white person in a predominantly white company that has a definite interest in protecting against Black Fatigue and creating an inclusive workplace. But aren’t sure how to do that with so few black people in the workplace without putting additional stress on those black folks. I can speak from experience, not in my current job, but in past jobs, that there was a very strong effort for diversity and inclusiveness. And I felt like I was talking to my manager all the time about it. This person was coming to me and while I was eager to be a part of that effort, I thought this isn’t my job and I didn’t create the system. So why is it on me to teach you how to fix it? What’s the solution to that problem?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Wow. Okay. So I think that, again, setting boundaries. We have to be clear that we’re not the spokesperson for all black people. When you’re in an organization where there are very few and I think there are a white person who wants to be an ally, we want to void against the white saviorism, the white savior to come in. And I think it, excuse me, it really has to do with why are there so few? I mean, I think that’s where you start in an organization where there are few and perhaps having conversation, listening session with those who are in the organization.

Mary-Frances Winters:

Again, this all goes back to organizational values and has the organization already said, this is what we want. We want to be an anti-racist. We want to be an inclusive organization. If the organization has already said that, what evidence do you see that they’re moving towards that? And so if representation is the first thing, then I think that what white people can do is question. So if we say we’re wanting to be inclusive, where’s the representation so that the black people don’t have to be the ones asking that question.

Kimberly Atkins:

Okay. Another question that I have sort of the flip side of what the managers should be doing, what do you do if you are one of a very small number of black people in an organization and you want to start opening up these conversations, but that’s a lot of pressure on you as well? Give some advice for folks in those situations?

Mary-Frances Winters:

So if that is truly what you want to do and you want to take that on, I would say try to find some allies, try to find some influential people. People who have not necessarily positional power, excuse me please. It could be positional power, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be, but somebody who’s influential in the organization that you can… So don’t do it alone is what I’m saying, right? Find those allies or aspiring allies, power brokers that can support you.

Kimberly Atkins:

And that leads me to another question that I had. How do you build that kind of support? How do you build the sort of community that you need? And does that community necessarily have to be in your workplace to have that support?

Mary-Frances Winters:

No. I don’t think it has to be in your workplace. I think one way to build that support, building relationships with people, finding out what their beliefs and values are around this with would be a good start. It all comes down to credibility and reputation, right? And so building a reputation of someone who is inclusive, someone who’s looking out for the organization and the organization will be better off if in fact we can enhance people’s feelings about how inclusive we are. So I think it’s building, and it does take time, but I think it’s about building those relationships, people that are like-minded around this, and being able to effectively challenge.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So one organization I’m working with a group of black leaders. They were all in leadership positions, but they were all in different places in the company. They weren’t all in the same area and they didn’t even necessarily know one another, but they did come together, a group of six or seven of them came together. They put together their case statement, if you will, about what was going on in the organization. They asked for a meeting with the CEO and then they hired The Winters Group. Now we’re working with them to support them in moving forward with some strategy in the organization.

Mary-Frances Winters:

So there is strength in numbers and I think that, that would be the way to go. From an outside perspective, from an external perspective, it might be inviting external speakers into the organization or recommending that. But again, it all depends on where you are in the organization, what your cloud is in the organization. And so, again, I would not try to go at it alone.

Kimberly Atkins:

And finally, I want to ask a question that came in during our discussion and I thought was interesting. Can black people from the Caribbean or some other parts of Africa who immigrate to the United States also have Black Fatigue?

Mary-Frances Winters:

Oh, absolutely. You probably didn’t know it until you came here. So don’t be going on social media saying Mary-Frances said that the US causes Black Fatigue, no. My point is, is that my experience has been that people who come from homogenous society, and I’ve been talking with my friends from the Caribbean, first-generation Caribbean, Africans they were saying like, “Everybody was black. Everybody looked like me.” And that they did not know these microaggressions, these kinds of inequities until they came to the United States. So that is what I hear. So yes, absolutely. And it might be even more because in some ways we’re used to it. You all are perhaps coming here and being shocked that the system is still so inequitable

Kimberly Atkins:

Well, an hour goes by very fast. Mary-Frances Winters, thank you so much for this discussion about Black Fatigue. I really appreciate you joining us today.

Mary-Frances Winters:

Well, thank you very much. And if you all are interested in getting the book, I would invite you to purchase it from one of the black bookstores or a bookstore owned by a person of color.

Kimberly Atkins:

All right. All right. Thank you for that. And on behalf of The Boston Globe and the Massachusetts Conference for Women, I’d like to thank all of our participants for joining us today. And if you want to rewatch this program, this event later, you can. A link will be emailed to you at the email address you used to register. Thank you so much. Have a great day and be well.