Passionista Susan X Jane — Diversity Educator, Trainer and Speaker
It seems like every day we wake up to the news of another hate crime — a protest march turned deadly, numerous vandalized synagogues, harassment of Latinx deli workers, a shooting of a trans woman buying gas, an attempted lynching? What year is this again?
We have to wonder, is the news really getting more grim or has technology advanced to the point where we just hear about it more? In all honesty, the answer to that question doesn’t matter. What matters is in this country — built on the foundation of inclusion and designed to be a melting pot — discrimination and bigotry are still daily problems. So much for “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses…”
Our phone interview with Susan X Jane — a diversity educator, trainer and speaker — could not have come at a better time. We were thrilled by Susan’s optimism in this time of ceaseless news of racism, sexism, homophobia and general discrimination and hatred. Susan’s message is a simple one. “You are either for justice for everybody or you are not.” There is no grey there.
She asks us all to simply look at racism from a different perspective. “When we talk about racism or sexism or classism, what we're really looking at is division. Ways that we divide up the massive amount of humans on this planet. And the purpose of that division is allocation of resources — time, power, money. That's really the bottom line underneath it all.”
This is a crucially important message that everyone in this country needs to hear. Here’s a brief excerpt of our conversation with Susan.
Passionistas: Susan, what's the one thing you're most passionate about?
Susan X Jane: Definitely diversity and inclusion. Really thinking about race. I care about all kinds of diversity and social justice. I think that we all have to get together. But my particular interest really lies around race and also the way that race is represented. How we talk about it. The stories that we tell about it and how those stories shape what we think race is and how we experience it.
Passionistas: How have the issues surrounding race and media changed since you first developed the project?
Susan X Jane: I think things are so different now than they used to be. I think that you know I think our history is very much a spiral. We kind of go through the same cycles but each time we go through it we've elevated a little bit. And like I said when I first started thinking about race and media it wasn't really a topic that I got any traction with. Nobody was really wanting to talk about it. We really had been thinking that we were kind of post racial. As you know when we got through with the Obama administration we were all crying. We thought that was it. And now I think people realize, "Oh this element that really is at the very foundation of America is still impeding our ability to become the kind of nation that we've always dreamed to be." I call it our better angels.
And so I think that now people are really interested in it. It's super exciting to see things like Oscars So White or the amount of representation on TV. Thinking about who is in the writers room. These are issues that I feel like I've taught about for a long time. And it's like Obama getting elected. I didn't ever think I would see this where we're like, "Hey who's in your writers room?" You know that is really exciting stuff. So I think that we're in a moment where a lot of things can change. But like a lot of change that's happening now we have to really be very vigilant to make sure that we actually turn a corner. So it's an exciting time for sure.
Passionistas: I'm encouraged to hear how optimistic you are in this conversation. But how do we deal with the fact that it's now OK for people to kind of say these things that maybe they weren't saying for a long time?
Susan X Jane: Well the thing is they were always saying them they just maybe weren't saying them in public. And so I think again technology and the shifts in media have really changed the way that conversations and it was really just changed where that conversation it's not behind closed doors. It's out in public.
I like to say that I'm totally unreasonably optimistic. All of the data points to... We're really in a dark corner. And I have my days where I really have to sit and say, "Wow this is really, really bad." Even with the recent election we get so excited we see all this change and then it's like it is a brick by brick process. So it is really difficult. But what makes me optimistic is that we are moving towards something that is inevitable. We are rapidly becoming a majority minority country. For a young people that are under 18, we are already a majority minority country. So millennials really live in a world that is multicultural already.
What we have to do is to have those hard conversations across the boundaries. Not equal conversations. I think a lot of times we get into this fairness bias where they say, “Well one side says this. So we have to hear what the other side says.” And I say we're kind of in a place where there are two sides. You are either for justice for everybody or you are not. And I don't see a middle ground that we really need to cover in there. That's going to move us forward. There may be two sides but if we really want to be able to move forward in a way that is humane and liberatory that's it. And the question is simple.
Passionistas: Is there a lesson that you've learned so far in your career that you've kind of carried with you throughout it?
Susan X Jane: You have to orient yourself in a place of deep empathy to do the work. When we talk about racism or sexism or classism what we're really looking at is division. Ways that we divide up the massive amount of humans on this planet. And the purpose of that division is allocation of resources — time, power, money. That's really the bottom line underneath it all. And so when we are done arguing with who's done what to whom, the question really is who's holding power and who is really in need of power? And so I think that that for me is the thread that runs through all of it. And that I think is the thing that allows you to tap into that empathy.
And that means thinking carefully about why do people disagree. And to not think people are stupid or crazy or ignorant, but to realize that people have very valid points of view that are different. And we need to help them free themselves from these layers of social structure to be able to see deeply their own humanity and to connect to their own compassion and empathy.
It's easy to do the work when you are looking at people that agree with you. It's very hard to sit and to say to someone, "I love you enough to want to walk you back to a place where we are connected, even though you are telling me you hate me." People that are full of hate are not in integrity with themselves. And that is where I get my empathy from. That I'm not angry at you. I see what is out of integrity with your greatest possibilities and that allows me to want the best for you.
Passionistas: What advice would you give to a young woman who wants to get into communications in this climate?
Susan X Jane: Your voice matters. You matter. This space belongs to you. Don't let anybody tell you that it doesn't. And now is your time. The technology is changing and creating more and more space for people. Let's take that space up. Let's fill that space up with our voices and allow our voices to shift the cultural narrative. I would tell her, we need you. Don't be shy. Don't hold back. Do everything. Never quit.
Be sure to listen to the whole episode here.