Untying the Knots | Episode 8 | Anti-Racism and the Trauma of White Supremacy

Dawn Smith and Kristen Files, partners at Atlanta-based family law firm Smith & Files, host “Untying the Knots.” Season 1 offers practical advice and resources to families navigating crisis and covers such themes as co-parenting, intimate partner violence, myths about marriage and divorce, support systems, and financial safety after divorce. The 10-episode series launched July 1 with new episodes weekly through September 2 and includes special guests Chief Judge Christopher Brasher, Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Stolarski, and Historian and Marriage Expert Stephanie Coontz.

Below is a transcript of Episode Episode 8 | Anti-Racism and the Trauma of White Supremacy.

“Untying the Knots” is available on all streaming platforms, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts. To learn more, visit www.smithfileslaw.com/podcast.

DS: Dawn Smith | KF: Kristen Files 

DS

I’m Dawn Smith.

KF

And I’m Kristin Files.

DS

This is Untying the Knots, a podcast about family crisis…

KF

… and what it takes to survive the tangles and strengthen the ties.

DS

Welcome to Untying the knots. We are recording this in the midst or tail end of the marches and protest regarding the murder of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and the multitudes that came before them. And we felt that it was not authentic for us not to speak about race, about the part it’s played in our relationship, and where we see it showing up in parenting or issues we want to be concerned about as parents.

KF

We talk about race a lot in our relationship. We realized, like, just in our normal conversations recently, as we’re preparing to put our podcast out and get our episodes going, we thought, “Interesting, like, we haven’t talked about – or been maybe as intentional about talking about – race in each of our episodes.” And then we started asking ourselves why that was and really wanting to flesh it out and have a conversation about that, because I think the answer to that question is probably all wrapped up into everything we’re going to try to deconstruct in the shallow end of this pool of racism.

DS

Right. I think that our silence or lack of overtly bringing it up was instructive to both of us and made us really want to talk about it. Before we get started, I wanted to check in with you, and see how you are, and see how you feel about having this conversation.

KF

I feel really excited that this conversation is one that people are having in the world right now, like about race and how that plays into everything. I also feel vulnerable because, as a Black woman who has existed in a lot of white spaces through the education in my life, as well as my career, it’s a real vulnerability to talk about my experience. But I also feel really appreciative that you and I have this type of relationship where the things that I’m going to say on this podcast are certainly not the first time you’ve heard any of them. So I’m grateful that we can have the conversation, actually, because when I really think about it, I don’t have these types of conversations with white people, actually. So you know, yeah, that’s how I feel.

DS

I can tell you that I’m honored to have the conversation with you and so appreciative of the grace and generosity of spirit that you showed me. I want to be sure that I ask you at least once. And I’ve become aware that the world, society, social media, and individuals have not sought the consent of those that have been victimized by systemic racism in broadcasting their pain and heartbreak. So I want to make sure that whatever happens today, man, you speak up and tell me, “Shut up, Dawn.”

KF

Well, I appreciate it. But look, I’m not gonna go anywhere I don’t want to go. And I appreciate that. I’m an expert on my experience as a Black person in America. And I’m happy to shed light on my experience, and talk about my experience, and, hopefully, people can relate to that, find value in it, and maybe it’ll impact their day to day life in a way that’s positive. So I’m cool with that.

DS

Okay, yeah. The only thing I’m an expert on is on being a middle-aged, white Southern woman. That’s pretty much it. So — and, you know, I don’t speak for the whole white race, the whole female race, or all Southerners. At all. So, Kristen, it might be helpful if we did some — get an understanding of, like, basic terms for our discussion.

KF

Yes. For sure. So we can all be on the same page. Let’s go. What word do we want to start with?

DS

Racism.

KF

[laughter] How do you define racism?

DS

I define racism — and this may not be all right — that is a system of policies and actions that do not recognize and actively work against the equality of all people, as it relates to everything that we have in life — economics, social, mental health, health, otherwise. So, just, at a basic level, racism is the belief that one race is superior over another,

KF

I think what’s most important that I say about, like, “what is racism” is that it’s not an individual act that is racism. It’s not a(n) individual belief that’s racism. But it’s an entire system that oppresses and marginalizes one race over the other. So like something else we talked about — another definition that I think is important for people to know or talk about — is white privilege. What white privilege to me means is that you are living in a society that is constructed to benefit you, and to see you, and to reinforce pretty much everything about you, like, from the way that you look, from the way that you speak, from the way that you wear your hair, and the type of neighborhoods that you can live in. Anything! Nine times out of 10, you know, you’re going to go into a yoga class and there’s going to be a lot of people that look like you. Whereas, like, for me, I’m going to have to be really intentional about finding spaces that affirm my Blackness, that affirm me, that make me feel good about myself, that are accepting of me. White privilege is the idea that your skin color isn’t something that’s making your life harder.

DS

And the only thing I would add as a white person describing white privilege is an awareness that I am born into a world that automatically flings open her door to welcome me, that defines beauty by standard of what my white sisters and brothers look like, that define(s) how I’m supposed to talk based on how my white sisters and brothers talk, that define how businesses to be conducted. It’s everything, and it doesn’t necessarily mean — and I think people really get tripped up on this — it doesn’t necessarily mean that I automatically, because I’m white, have money. You know, I come from really limited means. Until middle school, we were very poor. But I can tell you, when I walked into every room, for the most part, I did not feel I didn’t belong because of the color of my skin. I never, never questioned it. The whole engine is built to work for me.

KF

Yeah, I appreciate the acknowledgement that this engine is built to work for you. There is such a severe psychological impact of living in a world that is not built for you. And that’s my experience as a Black woman. That’s my peers’ experience who are Black. Honestly, whether you’re in white spaces or Black spaces, it’s just like so pervasive that It doesn’t really matter if white people are around or not anymore. I think probably to help understand that we need to talk about — when I say to people, “This system, this world, this society that we live in is constructed on white supremacy,” I think that it would be very easy to offend the sensibilities of certain people by my saying that, because they think, “Well, that’s crazy and extremist and radical,” like, “We’re not walking around in KKK hoodies,” or something. Like, that is what I think people have been conditioned — some people have been conditioned to believe white supremacy is — but what I mean by that is the entire structure of our government, of our policies, our education system, our policing, our everything is from a white lens, meaning to benefit people who have white skin, and to erase the experience of people who have brown skin. So there is a real psychological impact of trying to maneuver in that space when you’re not white. Does that make sense?

DS

Oh, it makes tons of sense. And then part of white privilege is — so the psychological impact that you indicate that’s significant and severe — white privilege makes sure that I have access to mental health services and health services to treat me. They are much more accessible to me. So there’s the damage that you spoke of, the psychological damage, and a real limitation even on those resources.

KF

Right. Yeah. You know, my friends and I joke all the time, I’m like, “If you’re Black and just making it — you’re winning!” Honestly, in this world. And like if you are winning and you’re not on meds and having therapy, shout out to you! Like, I don’t know how you’re doing it! I certainly have needed those things, not just because of my day-to-day life, but because of being Black in addition to my day to day life. Because doing my day-to-day life, and also being Black at the same time just compounds every single possible issue. It really does.

DS

You described it as this constant hum — that was so powerful to me — that’s always going on around race and not fitting in.

KF

Yeah, the conversation you’re talking about is, you know, one of our many conversations in the office, just about life. And I was talking about how, in my own therapy, I’ve recently spent a lot of time talking about my experience being Black. And, you know, because, frankly, in this new, like, revolution that’s happening, being Black has felt like a full-time job on top of my regular job. And I was talking to her about that and processing that, and she commented on how, typically, in our sessions, race isn’t — and my experience as a Black woman isn’t — something that is at the forefront of our conversations. And I really sat with that a minute, and where I came to was that, you know, the reason why is because, really, the oppression that I feel, as a Black person in this country, in literally every single space, is a constant. And it’s something that’s been a constant since childhood. So it’s like this background humming noise — almost white noise — of like, “Yes, racist things are happening to me.” But if I allowed those things to really sit with me and feel them as deeply as I could is like I would not be able to function or survive in this world. So that’s kind of what I mean, too, just from the psychological impact of it because that’s a super-unhealthy thing. I mean, I’m literally compartmentalizing a lot of pain, grief, and oppression. And I want to just go back for a second, because I’ve said a few times, you know, “me being in white spaces” and I want to talk about what I mean by that. I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, and you know, I didn’t even realize until I left Birmingham for school, really how physically segregated everything is in Birmingham with — there’s a Black side and the white side of town. And I grew up on the black side of town, but my mom really wanted to offer academic opportunities for me and my brothers that the public school in my neighborhood could not and did not have the resources to provide, primarily because we were on the Black side of town. So we went to a private school where I was one of the few people of color in my class for, really, my whole experience from kindergarten through high school. So there’s a trade-off that comes with that. And then, you know, I went to Emory for college and then law school. And so, you know, just being in spaces where I was the minority has been a norm for me when it comes to education and career, although I have always had the experience of then coming home to a Black neighborhood and a Black church and a Black family. So I feel, like, very strongly — and I tell my mom often how meaningful it was in my life to have had so many different experiences — it allows me to see the world in a way that I don’t think I would have otherwise. You know, I lived in a lower middle class Black neighborhood. I went to a super-upper-middle-class private school. And then I went to a church that was like, very middle to upper class Black people, which I actually didn’t fit in with all them either. And so it was really — all those different spaces for me, influenced me as a child and helped me to be as fluid as I am, in weaving in and out of different spaces, both socioeconomically and race-wise. But it doesn’t mean that’s without work and without effort. I think I’ve just really learned how to fit in at different places. And some of those areas take a lot more work for me. Obviously, the one that’s less work is the one that’s most similar to me.

DS

So sort of the last definitional thing that I want to put out there is the difference between — because I hear it so much from my white world — which is “I am not a racist.” Right? And then the definition being — well, first of all, there’s no such thing as a “non-racist.” Right? It just doesn’t exist. You’re either racist or you’re anti-racist. And “anti-racist” meaning “taking steps and actions to dismantle policies, processes and systems that support a racist or unequal system.” And I just feel so strongly that we don’t get to live anymore in 2020 in this lane, this wide highway we created for ourselves, which was the highway of “I’m not a racist.” Right? It’s not enough. Just not enough anymore.

KF

And it’s not enough to just — it’s not enough to just empathize with your Black friends or the Black people in your life and just, “Oh, I’m so sorry you have to go through that” or “I see the things that you have to go through.” Like empathy is so — it’s like the barest of minimums. Honestly, I don’t even know if it is a minimum when it comes to racism. It’s like, this actually isn’t a Black issue. This is a white issue because white people created it, and they have the power to dismantle it. I think until people start looking at it like that, and that we’d like join together to do it, then that really keeps progress from happening. It’s like the example that I give my kid and this isn’t having to do with race. It’s like if you are walking down the hallway, and you see a big kid bullying a little kid, it’s not enough for you to keep walking like, “Dang, I really feel bad for that little kid. I hate that kid has to go through that.” Like you need to stand up for that little kid. You need to think about some stuff to do that are actual efforts. You’re doing nothing when you’re just walking by being like, “Dang, I really feel bad about that, but I’m friends with some small kids, so I don’t really pick on them.”

DS

That’s a great analogy. It’s so true. It’s so true. And I would say as well when you say, “Empathy is not enough–” Guilt is not enough! And I’ll tell you, you know, I attended, in the 90s, these prejudice-reduction workshops. And the one saying that stuck with me was that “guilt is the glue that holds prejudice in place.” It gets us nowhere. Right? This guilt gets us nowhere. “Well, what do I do? What does it mean to be anti-racist?” And you know, we’re gonna have some resources at the end, but educating yourself, talking to each other, you know, donating money, those are all just starts. Right? I didn’t read Black literature in school or college. It wasn’t available. Read. Read! There’s so many resources out there. There’s so many things that we can do besides, you know, wringing our hands and feeling horrible.

KF

Yeah, I agree with that. That individual work that we do helps us personally, but also impacts the way we interact with our families and what we teach our children. Family is everything. And that is so much where our passion is, and why we have this podcast, and all this stuff. And so to talk about race and how it impacts us and not talk about family seems crazy, especially as mothers. You know, it’s like, we were talking one day, Dawn, and I was just recounting how, you know, I remember my daughter, who has this thick, beautiful curly hair. And it’s, you know, just, like, long. She has so much hair. And when she was in kindergarten, she came home and was complaining about how she hated her hair, how she wanted it to be straight, how she hated her hair, that it was too difficult to do, and it hurt too much, and, “I don’t like it.” And it really just took me back to my own childhood of begging my mom for relaxer for my hair so that it could be straight, like all the rest of my friends at school. And that was like, you know, watching her go through that. And this is just one example with hair that — it made me really angry that she was having to feel that way. I mean, that’s a good example of, just, Black children growing up, wishing they had white features. And that is a part of almost every Black person I know’s experience, in America at least, of their childhood, which is — it’s such a comment on how hard it is to really teach, and how intentional you have to be as a mother to teach her self-worth and value and finding representation for her so she can feel good about the way that she’s created. At that time, I had natural hair, but I wore it straight a lot. And the reason I was wearing it straight — at that point blown-out — is because I was at a new firm, and I was very self-conscious about wearing my natural, kinky hair at work, at an all-white firm, where I was the only Black woman there. And I was extremely self-conscious about it. And I would blow my hair out and wear it straight every day. I really had this processing of like, “How am I going to teach my kid to be confident in who she is if I’m not even doing it myself.” So I cut all my hair off to start growing it from, like, very short. You know, like, bald, basically, so it could just start growing naturally again. And at that point that was the second time, I think, that I cut my hair off, because I’d done it once before, but she was so young at that point. And when I tell you, like, honestly, both times — the first time was — to even go natural, my good friend flew down from New York to go to the salon with me. Like, that’s how much deconstruction I had — like, I was so nervous. I didn’t even know how to do my hair. I had never done my natural hair. I had no idea what type of products to buy. I felt ugly. I was so indoctrinated into thinking that I couldn’t be pretty without long straight hair. I was so void of any information about how to take care of my hair that I spent months watching YouTube videos just to learn what products I should use and how to even come and do my natural, kinky hair. You know, so then the second time when I cut my hair off — when I’m talking about with Sydney — it was less of that process, because I had gone through that, but more of, “Now I’m in a corporate space. I’ve intentionally grown my hair out, and I’ve intentionally worn it straight so that I could get hired here and be — and mix-in. And now I have a kid who’s finally at the point of realizing these things: that she hates her hair and how it looks.” And so I’m like, okay, I can’t sit here and say, “Love yourself, love your hair!”

DS

Right.

KF

Okay, now I cut my hair off. And I go to work. And it was a whole thing! And it was exactly what I thought it would be. You know, the first moment I get there, it’s like, I got a lot of ignorant, racist comments. And I’m not even going to lie. I’m not going to say them exactly because I feel like people know who they are. But, um — and, it was hard! I remember going to court, like a couple months later, and winning a case and the other party got so angry at me, that they started yelling in court, “you nappy-headed b–!” Like, loud, in the courtroom. You know, “nappy” is a term that has just been used to marginalize and denigrate Black people because of the texture of their hair. And so, to use that term against me in anger, from a white woman, really shortly after me having cut my hair just kind of makes my point — that being used to, like, further try to marginalize me and hurt me. This is my road to walk, and this is what I’m on because I’m not going to have my kid feeling like her hair is not good enough. And, like, right now my kid loves her hair. She’s like, “I love my hair!” She, like, knows how to do it herself.

DS

[laughs]

KF

You know, I’m, like, skipping to the happy ending, but it is! And it really, like, warms me so much. It makes me emotional to think about how confident she is about her hair and how (much) farther ahead in the game she is than me. Like, I was in my late 20s, almost 30, just learning how to do my hair because I had no idea how to do my natural texture of my hair. And she’s in her teens, loving her hair, knowing how to do it. But also we are living in a different world now, where there are products available that she can buy that are suited for her hair texture, which wasn’t the case when I was growing up. You know, when we talk about creating safe spaces, and we talk about creating an environment where your kids can thrive, that includes them living in an anti-racist world, and people around them being intentional about it.

DS

And, those in the majority, working a teaching our kids. You know–

KF

Exactly.

DS

— just from that powerful story you just told, if people need an example of white supremacy — the fact that there weren’t even products for you when you were growing up, just that — it’s not little. That’s a big deal. You know, I say this as a hairdresser’s daughter. That is what put me through school. Right? I know how important hair is. And the fact there weren’t even products just says it all to me. And what I would say to, you know, white people or people in the majority that are listening is, “This is so important.” First of all, because us realizing how our fellow humans experience the world is part of us ensuring that we get to have full humanity. It’s about us being fully human. But it’s also, I will say this, the youth of this world — the white youth of this world — by and large, care about issues of racial and economic equality. I see it. I see it every day. I have raised two young men that are 19 and 23. And I know their friends. I see what they post on Instagram and Facebook — not really Facebook because that’s so lame, if you’re that age. This is very important. So if you don’t care, parents, or you don’t care as much, you need to know that your kids care. And your kids are watching you. And your kids have learned from you how to treat other people how to ignore conditions that perpetuate this. I was very aware, Kristen, I was raising two white men. And I will tell you that my ex-husband was, too. I know that we were both very, very aware of what we consider the responsibility to raise good, responsible, empathetic, kind white men. It’s hard. Part of that means — and I think we need to talk some about this — we didn’t do it enough, but they were with me frequently in spaces where we were the minority.

KF

Yeah.

DS

I would have people in my home with their children who were Black. Right? It was not weird to have a dinner with someone different. Certainly not enough, but they knew about walking in rooms where you’re the only two or three white faces. That’s uncomfortable. I’ll tell you as a white person who’s been in this space as a bunch, it’s uncomfortable. It’s weird. It means I really need to sit back. I’ve learned from it. You know, not because I’m not welcome there. But because I’m going to take my majority-ness there if I’m not careful. I just steamroll.

KF

Exactly. We talked about white privilege in the beginning of this episode. How do you see that white privilege has benefited you in any of those spaces? motherhood? career?

DS

Wow. Wow. So I think I can give some concrete examples. I mean, first of all in motherhood, I will just say what comes to mind right away is I have never thought that the police would be anything but fair and accommodating to my white boys. I’m really aware of that. Never had to have the conversation about “keep your hands on the steering will at ten and two.” You know, “don’t talk back.” Right?

KF

Right. And I think even with, with parents, that example that you give is a good one because Black parents have very different conversations with their children about police than I imagine what parents do.

DS

Oh, absolutely. And, you know, certainly, I talk to them about drugs and alcohol and how to not do it. And if you do, don’t drive and to be careful. But what I can say is, I don’t worry that — I don’t want my kids to get caught with anything or to have it — but if one of them got pulled over with some weed in the car, I don’t think they’re going away to “big-boy” prison for decades.

DS

Right.

DS

Right? So that’s just I can pretty much tell you that’s not gonna happen.

KF

And that’s a good example.

DS

So professionally, you know, some of the concrete examples are — I’ll just tell you — nobody ever comments on my hair when I walk into court. Nobody ever asks to touch my hair. You know, maybe if it was pink.

KF

Not just because of the way it grows out of your head. Like, “How did you get your hair to be that way?”

DS

Exactly! Which I have done to you! I’ve done that to you. I’ve even said, “Kristen, I know I’m not supposed to touch your hair, but it’s such a springy little curl, and it’s ooooh.”

KF

[laughs] And then I said, “oh, here goes, here goes Dawn being white.”

DS

Yep. [laughs] Which is true! There I was being white. You know, nobody has ever said to me, Kristen, “She’s so articulate.” Right? Which is frequently — not even code. I have heard all my life white people talking about quote-unquote “exceptional” Black people.

KF

Yeah,

DS

Right? Yeah. Now it has been said, “She’s opinionated,” or, “She’s aggressive,” which is a form of sexism.

KF

Right. Because women can’t be those things.

DS

Now we act like a man alright. I’m proud of it.

KF

Exactly.

DS

In business, I will tell you that when I first went to get a line of credit, I got in the door because a white man called for me, the banker. And then I can guarantee you if I did not look, the way that I looked when I walked in that door of that small regional bank, I wouldn’t have gotten that line of credit. So I’m aware that that was opened up to me. I mean, those are just small examples of where I can tell you white privilege has just greased the wheels of my success. I will say that I am aware of every space that I enter that does not have a Black or brown face in it. And I say something. Now I believe my duty is not only to notice and say something but to offer solutions and alternatives for what we can do to constructively change this. And I don’t mean creating a diversity and inclusion committee. I’ve been very intentional about mentoring Black female attorneys because of an access issue. It’s all an access and an option issue. I’m certainly not the best lawyer out there. But I think I have a lot to be able to teach folks. And I think a lot of young white female attorneys just presume they have access to me, and they feel comfortable just coming up to me and ask for me to help them. I’ve been intentional about really reaching out. You know, and the benefit is, it got you in my life. Aside from what I feel is a duty and an obligation as a human citizen of this world. It just — it benefits me

KF

And I think that leads nicely into our relationship. We’ve done some legitimate work in our relationship to break down walls. I know you’ve done work just for us to be able to have conversations and, like, for me to be able to feel seen in this relationship as who I am, and who I am is all the things that we talked about, you know, in our first episode, but who I am first is Black.

DS

Yeah, I think that we have worked really hard. I think we are still working hard. I think that it has required different levels of bravery and courage, certainly a higher level of courage from you, because, you know, you’re walking into this white space, and you don’t know me from Adam. What I will say for me, as a white person, is it has meant that my go-to way to approach anything, and particularly things that are uncomfortable, is intellectualize it. Right? So to be in my head instead of in my heart because I’m trying to get away from the discomfort. This is an uncomfortable conversation. I’m afraid that I’m going to say wrong things — which I will! I’m afraid I will offend. I’m afraid, like, “Oh my god, do I really want to state the obvious? You’re Black, I’m white. What do we do?” You know? I mean, right? But it feels like you’re jumping off a freakin’ cliff to go to that place. And I don’t know what it was about you. I wanted to jump off the cliff. And it was risky. And it could have meant that you run away. I have learned to live in some discomfort and great joy. I mean, great joy with you, but some discomfort. And you’ve been courageous.

KF

Yeah. And so, you know, the first conversation and, really — I don’t know if you feel this way but I feel strongly that, for me, this was the beginning of a turning point in our relationship is that we were in the height of a case it was very stressful. We were preparing for trial. And, when you’re working on a team with someone, there’s a level of in-sync-ness that you need to have so that you can prepare and put on the best case. And it’s a lot of work involved. And so that requires good communication. And something that we struggled with from the, really, time my guide here was, like, being able to communicate with each other. And so much of that was because of just the guard that I talked about having coming in. My experience in white spaces being that I needed to be perfect, that I needed to be able to, like, go above and beyond, that I needed to like never say no when things were asked of me, that I needed to always work harder, do twice as much. And so my experience doing that, it was just causing me so much anxiety, honestly. And it’s certainly not something I felt, at that point, I could express to you. Like, I couldn’t say to you, like, “I’m really stressed out about this case, but also, you know, because I’m Black and, like, dealing with all his stuff.” And so the conversation kind of led to — you asked me in the conversation we were having, which was, uh, you know, we were preparing. We were like — you were frustrated with me, and I was frustrated with you. And you asked me did I feel that race had anything to do with my experience at the firm? And I really — I just started sobbing in response to that question. And I didn’t even have words to say — I mean, that was your answer. Like, obviously, yes. But that moment is so impactful for me because I really, I didn’t even have the words to describe how much, “Yes.” You know how much “Yes –” the answer to that. And not only was it so much of a “yes” answer, but also I didn’t have the words because I had never even had to formulate those words in my life. Because there had never been a time in my life, where I’d been in a white space — which has been the entirety of my life — where any white authority figure had ever asked me, or really cared to understand how my experience as a Black person in this space would impact my experience or my work product. For me, that like really changed the game. But that moment in our, in your office, Dawn, I feel like was such a turning point, because it literally was the first time that I had just felt seen. And that was so emotional for me. And it really still is emotional for me, when I think about it. And I don’t know, even at that moment, if you knew from my perspective how much — like that was the first door opening, so that we could even walk through to start having real conversations. Like, “Yes, race does play a part,” and, like, “Let me tell you how.” And even trying to then, like, verbalize it to you has taken time. That’s like two or three years ago now. And we’ve like walked through, over these past couple years. And I’m sure we will continue to walk through. But yeah, it opened a lot of doors so we could talk

DS

And you know the answer you said you know the problem in communication, and you were talking about what your part was, and I want to go back and say, looking back on it now what my port was, was that I wanted you there, I wanted you to be successful. I have pure intentions. I’m not doing any of these things. So the communication stuff until I ask the question, my part of it was one: we’re in the middle of a trial, and it’s just hard. But two, I thought I had a pure heart. So certainly I wasn’t doing anything to make you not feel comfortable. Which is such BS. Right? Because there are things that I do, not even realizing it because it’s so engrained. And it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. It just means I have to unlearn some things. I happen to believe that that was a higher power intervening, getting that question out of my mouth. Right. I just think it needed to be asked and what it’s resulted in is our having probably — I’m certain — a lifelong conversation around it, and trying to figure it out. Right?

KF

And then, shortly thereafter, I think, is when you and I had that conversation. And it really started to create a little space for me to say, you know, “I really don’t feel like I fit in here.” And I think people underestimate the social experience of their employees or your friends or whomever — that social experience that you’re trying to navigate in addition to just your regular job, which already we have very stressful jobs. It’s really hard to do that. And, and it’s really hard to do that when you feel alone. And so I think what I felt like, leading up to that conversation, was just very isolated. Like I didn’t fit in. Very alone, but also feeling like the need to be stellar in my work product. Feeling inferior because it didn’t feel like my work product was stellar, and then being like, “You know what, maybe I don’t even have what it takes to be here.” Like, I felt like that, too. And a lot of that is my own internalized oppression of, like, believing the narrative and believing the hype. Like, “You know what? You can’t make the cut here.” You’re right. Like, “They were right!” Like, “I’m actually not good enough to be here,” you know, which isn’t — I know that that’s not true. But, from an emotional point, you know, I’m just living in the truth of saying that I have felt that and, really, it’s taken a lot of work to walk out of that, which is so wild to think of having that thought, considering what I have done in my life. But it just kind of like never feels like enough, which is not good.

DS

Yeah. Yeah. Well, I want to really honor all that and hear it. I think then that part of the work we did together after that — there’s been so much different types. But, first of all, I think, for the most part, we’ve been open about what role race plays in our actions. And — or just our views of the world and sort of working on that. But we also started getting very real and sharing some things. Like, I am — I’m a fixer. I’m a nurturer by nature. I like to help everybody else. I don’t like to open up, because it’s very frightening to me. And it makes me really scared. And, you know, you can get really hurt when you look vulnerable. But we started getting real.

KF

And you have to be committed to the process. I mean, I think that, uh, either one of us could have decided, you know, “I don’t really feel like investing all this into this relationship to, like, tell you how I feel, and you tell me how you feel, and then we walk through, like where did that come from?” And, you know, my experiences of being Black and your experiences, and you know, a lot of things. Any relationship that you care about takes work. I think that’s a theme throughout our podcast: relationships change, they evolve. Hopefully, they mature over time and deepen and get more real. It’s been nice to be committed to this relationship with you, really it has. And I think even modeling what a relationship can look like from people who are — who have very different experiences but so many like experiences as well. Our partnership for me represents so much more than me and us, it represents the opportunity for Black lawyers who want to do family law to have an option to see a Black partner at a firm where they can go. And there also will be Black family lawyers who want to start their own firm. Who want to go to a firm with all-Black associates or partners. It’s just like — we deserve options. Like, I don’t know. Every Black person is not the same. Like, you just deserve a choice. And so, you know, it’s, like, sad that it’s 2020. And I am helping to create this option. But it also is really empowering to me. And it means a lot to me. And I know it means a lot to other people because they tell me, and because I have mentees who tell me. And It’s absolutely my duty as a Black woman in this world to create opportunities and spaces to make it easier for people after me. I very strongly, in everything that I do, I carry my ancestors with me. And everything that I do is, like, with the embodiment of their prayers and their hopes and dreams for me. And I — and I just hope that I can be, you know, a part of creating a space for someone else.

DS

Wow. Wow. So I do believe It is my duty and obligation to help create options. I absolutely believe that.

KF

Yeah. Part of the reason that it was important to me that we make this episode and, I believe, to you also, is that this is like a first step in our part of doing better, our part of being more transparent. Because the reality is that race has played a significant role in our relationship with each other. And without breaking down some of the socialized walls that we have because of me growing up in a racist world and because of you growing up in a racist world, had we not broken those things down, we couldn’t be as close as we are right now to talk about the topics that we talked about. And we’re going to do a better job, even on this podcast, of highlighting and doing our part to have the conversation about race.

DS

Absolutely we’re going to do better about that. And I think why it’s wonderful to be in partnership with you, both as lawyers but in this podcast and in conversation, is I think that the inclination is to turn away from the hard conversation. Right? You know, you get exhausted by it. You get exhausted by thinking about it. And so when you’re in partnership with someone else in a safe space, I think that, you know, when I’m tired, you push me there. And when you’re tired, I push you there. That if we have a mutual commitment to have the conversation and, in this podcast, to continue to highlight those areas that white privilege and systemic racism may play into and impact families, that if we do it together, we can hopefully meet that ideal for us.

KF

Yeah.

DS

I would recommend that part of the beginning of the process for my white brethren is to read and educate yourself. And a good start would be reading How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi; The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color-Blindness, and that’s by Michelle Alexander; and White Fragility, that is written by Robin DiAngelo. I would also encourage people to search and find organizations — grassroots organizations — that are pushing and working hard at achieving results that are anti-racist and set up to benefit everyone and not just the few. And as always, the American Civil Liberties Union is representing protesters and those exercising their first amendment rights right now.

KF

If you would like to know more about the topic we discussed today, you can find show notes and resources on our website, which will be linked in the episode description.

DS

Untying the Knots is a production made in partnership with FRQNCY Media. I’m your host Dawn Smith.

KF

And I am Kristen Files. Enna Garkusha is our producer.

DS

Episode research is by Jessica Olivier, Becca Godwin, and Vincent Mitchell.

KF

We are recording in Atlanta, Georgia, during the pandemic.

DS

We want to thank all essential workers and those who are doing their best to keep us healthy and safe.