Skip to Content

raceAhead: Let’s Talk about Shame

Cersi's Walk of Shame. Cersi's Walk of Shame.
Cersi's Walk of Shame. Courtesy of HBO

Hello raceAhead readers! Grace here today filling in for Ellen.

We’ve talked about allies this week and some of the concrete tactics individuals can use to better support those who are different from them. But most of the advice for being a good ally comes down to your own ability to be vulnerable.

“Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous,” says Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston who has studied the subject for years, in her TED Talk from 2012. In fact, she says, “Vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage…. [it] is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

But before she began speaking and writing about vulnerability, she spent six years researching shame, which is often what keeps us from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

In her first TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability, she describes shame as the fear of disconnection—the worry that who we really are keeps us from the love and belonging we seek.

“Shame is an epidemic in our culture,” she says. It’s the voice telling you that you aren’t enough.

Most of us push that voice down. Netflix’s series on puberty, Big Mouth, gives that voice a persona—the Shame Wizard—which, notably, all the characters believe only they can see.

We don’t want to discuss shame, but we can’t have many of the most important conversations without acknowledging it. It’s impossible to talk across difference, across inequity, without accepting that one (but more likely, all) of the parties involved have some sense of shame attached to the topic.

To make our workplaces, our lives, and our societies more inclusive, we need to confront shame, name it, learn to talk about it, and make the brave choice to be vulnerable anyway, Brown says.

Whether it’s shame that comes from growing up queer in a community that calls you unnatural, the shame that comes from battling a disease that’s sometimes only visible to you, or even the shame of privilege that triggers defensiveness when you try to reach for understanding, every human being capable of connection knows the feeling.

“To get out from underneath it, to find our way back to each other, we have to understand how it affects us, how it affects the way we’re parenting, the way we’re working, the way we’re looking at each other,” Brown says.

Take a look at #NationalComingOutDay and #WorldMentalHealthDay for examples from this week of people on the internet trading their shame for vulnerability.

And since no one’s struggle is confined to one day a year, make a daily practice of the courage it takes to name your own shame and share that strength with the community around you.

Ellen is back with Haiku Friday tomorrow, but I’ll leave you with the original definition of courage from Brown’s talk: To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.

On Point

Supreme Court makes it harder for tribal residents to voteThe decision has real consequences for North Dakota’s Senator Heidi Heitkamp, whose facing a tough reelection bid, particularly after her vote against confirming now-Justice Brett Kavanaugh. On Tuesday, SCOTUS upheld a lower court ruling that required North Dakota voters to present proof of residential address to vote. The problem is that the USPS only provides post office boxes to tribal members. The 2017 voter ID law has been challenged by Native residents saying it makes it disproportionately harder for them to vote; if similar laws are enacted, then it’s possible that other tribal members will face similar barriers. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was sworn in on Monday, did not partake in the decision, and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented.Mother Jones

A new survey shows Asian American voters are engaged and ready to vote
A new survey from Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote (APIAVote) and AAPI Data with 1,316 registered Asian American voters shows that they are engaged in the issues and “enthusiastic” about voting this year. The wildly diverse Asian American “community” is significantly under-surveyed as voters, so the results were fascinating. Some highlights: While Vietnamese voters lean Republican, Asian Americans overall are leaning Democratic in House and Senate races; 66% favor affirmative action programs designed to help African Americans, women, and other minorities get better access to higher education; 64% of Asian Americans support a pathway to citizenship for undocumented citizens.
AAPI

A year after #MeToo, a new bill is introduced to address harassment in STEM
Science –  and worse, academia – has a significant problem. Data shows that some 58% of women in research and academia report experiencing sexual harassment. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) introduced the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act, designed to better understand harassment in STEM workforce, which includes many of the academic STEM institutions taking federal grant money. They need to get on board, says Johnson. “This behavior undermines career advancement for women in critical STEM fields, and many women report leaving promising careers in academic research due to sexual harassment,” she says. Johnson is the Ranking Member of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.
Congresswoman Johnson

Black voters crying foul in Georgia
With the deadline to register to vote rapidly approaching in Georgia, persistent voting issues are resurrecting some ugly specters of familiar voter suppression efforts. Many registered voters have found themselves unexpectedly missing from the polls; now, some 53,000 applications from people who have attempted to re-register are on hold via order from Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s office. According to an investigation by the Associated Press the voters on the list are predominantly black. It’s complicated: Kemp, who is in charge of elections and voter registration in the state is also the Republican candidate for governor. His Democratic opponent is former state Rep. Stacey Abrams, who would become the first-ever black female governor of a state if elected. Click through for the whole mess.
WABE

The Woke Leader

A progressive movement grows in the South
Across swaths of the red deep South, and in defiance of gerrymandering schemes, a movement of mostly black progressives are seeking to change the fortunes of communities who have felt ignored by traditional politics. “There’s been historic underfunding and under-resourcing of Democratic structures in the South,” says DeJuana Thompson, an Alabama native who launched WokeVote to target black voters under 40. Instead, they choose to invest in candidates and causes in more politically relevant states. The neglect means that pressing local issues go unaddressed and black voters are labeled apathetic. Trump’s election has galvanized church groups, new activist groups, local NAACP chapters and other PACS to do the organizing work that Democrats have failed to do.
New Republic

When a savior fails to save
This extraordinary long read from ProPublica is a deep dive into a situation wrenching on its own, but also reveals other systemic problems within the global aid community. It’s the story of Katie Meyler, a charismatic young woman who built a charity and school called More than Me (MTM) which sought to save Liberian girls from poverty and sexual exploitation by providing them a loving foundation through education. Her evangelical zeal and Instagram-ready appeals won her grants, followers, donors, and made her one of Time’s Persons of The Year in 2014 for her work fighting ebola. But behind the scenes at MTM, the girls she sought to save had been the victim of a known abuser employed by the school; and Meyler’s energy and charm made her inexperience and lack of oversight easy to overlook. Or maybe, it was even worse than it seems. And then there are the complications of poverty, where people will overlook terrible things for even the smallest possible hope.
Propublica

Meet Nike’s newest professional athlete
If you want to ugly cry at your desk for reasons unrelated to politics, climate change, racism or systemic poverty, then Nike is at your service. Justin Gallegos, a runner with cerebral palsy has been training hard lately. But when he finished a recent race, Nike was waiting for him with a surprise. Bring tissues.
Sports Illustrated

Quote

I think that, in the times we’re living, emotion is the new punk. We are so afraid of being emotional.
director Guillermo del Toro