Carlos Whittaker - Race and Reconciliation



Introduction: Welcome to Beyond Speaking with Brian Lord. A podcast featuring deeper conversations with the world's top speakers.


Brian Lord: This week, we're excited to have on Carlos Whittaker. Carlos is the author of a number of top books, Moment Maker and others. He is a People's Choice Award winner. He's the son of an African-American father, Mexican mother, and a self-professed hope dealer. He has done a lot of amazing things. I don't even know when you sleep. That's one of the things I'm like this guy does-


Carlos Whittaker: -I don't sleep a lot. [Laughing]


Brian Lord: -So much. And today, Carlos is going to be talking about racial reconciliation in 2020, what you can do today. So we want to make this- so Carlos is going to have some great stories, but also a lot of great takeaways. He's going to speak for about 15 minutes and then we are going to be doing Q&A. So definitely, if you're on Zoom, post your questions- I know we're on Zoom, Facebook Live, Twitter, YouTube, a lot of different places, but make sure to get your questions in to us. We want to answer them for you. And without further ado, Carlos Whitaker.


Carlos Whittaker: Awesome, thanks, man. I really appreciate it. Yes. So today is not going to be kind of what you should do as a corporation, what you should do, you know, in large-scale, this is really going to be like a personal you. Like, what is it that you can do individually? And I honestly believe that when you begin to approach this conversation as an individual thinking about the other person and maybe their heart and their experiences. I think change can actually happen. So let's hop into just a few stories that I think maybe will be beneficial. You know, I am a half-Black, half-Mexican guy that has grown up in Pico Rivera in East L.A. And my family's kind of like a version of the American dream. My father in 1960 immigrated to the United States with 20 dollars cash and a shoeshine kit. And so here's my dad, a young, skinny black man from Panama who comes to United States before Jim Crow laws are eradicated and he shines shoes at LAX for two years and he makes enough money for one semester at L.A. Community College. Then my dad gets straight A's at L.A. Community College and he gets a scholarship for the next semester at L.A. Community College. Then he gets straight A's at the next semester of L.A. Community College. Then he gets a scholarship to UCLA. Then my dad goes on and he ends up getting his doctorate here. He's a hard worker, a hardworking immigrant. He is the American dream. He is exactly what you would expect people to want to do when they come to this country. He's instilled a deep love for this country inside of my heart. And actually I've got a couple of pictures of my dad I need you guys to see my dad. This is a photo of my dad here live in his best immigrant life here at his timeshare in Hawaii, right there. And then also, I know some guys, maybe thinking, "I've seen that man somewhere before," and you're actually right, cause this is also a picture of my dad. My dad is the emoji on your phone. [Laughing] That is actually my dad. The first time I saw that picture, I was like, "Dad!" I don't even text my dad "I love you" anymore. I just sent him that emoji. But I need you guys to see this Black man, a Black man like as African as African-Americans are, but his first language is Spanish, you know. And so that was even a complicated thing for some of my friends to understand. Like, they used to say things, especially when I started talking more about race. "Well, Carlos, I thought you I thought you're Hispanic. Why do you keep talking about being Black?" I'm like, "Well, because Hispanics can also be Black, too. The slave boats didn't just stop in America. They stopped all over the world. Right? And they dropped slaves off everywhere." And so, again, it's a nuanced conversation. To be able to ask questions without feeling dumb, I think is really important. But back to my dad for a second. So my dad, you know, was here when the civil rights movement was happening as a young man. And he told me something just a few days ago, actually, he called me, He Facetimed me and he said, "Carlitos, I feel like this time is different. I feel like this time we may change." And for my dad to say that there is something happening right now in this country, that he can feel a palpable difference, that maybe things can shift friends, right now is the time where we get to have an opportunity to choose what side of history we're gonna be on to choose, if we're gonna be on the side of history that was arguing against something that we know deep in our ethos is the right thing to argue against or maybe align with a community that is desperate for change. So let's hop into maybe a few what I believe can be takeaways for us in this conversation. The first one is this. I believe that protests change policy, but conversations change community. Now, what do I mean by that? Well, you know, I've got a lot of family members that were in the military or are in the military and they go and they serve for our right for freedom of speech. So therefore we get to peacefully protest whatever it may be. You know, if it's you know, you think that Target is doing something wrong and you can't afford your venti skinny hazelnut latte, you've got an opportunity to protest that because we're in a free country. It's a beautiful thing. And protests, those oftentimes they lead to policy change, which is important. But that's not the only thing we need to do. I think that we need to be coming face to face with people in our community and having conversations. This actually happened for me a few weeks ago and I recorded it, which is something that I often do.


People that follow me, they understand this. And I had a neighbor of mine who, when we moved into our street, would leave it live in one of the suburbs in Nashville, Tennessee. All of my neighbors are white. There's one other African-American couple that lives on my street. But, I mean, everyone's great. Like, we have like drinks on the patio. I mean, it's great. Like, I love all my neighbors, but there's this one grumpy old man that lived across the street from me. And this man, I'm telling you, like, I don't know, a hundred times we take the trash out the same time or we get our mail at the same time. I've tried to communicate with him and I've tried to be kind to him and every single time this grumpy old white man would kind of cross his arms and look at me and just kind of like shake his head with, like just this look of disdain on his face for me. And I tried so long to be his friend, but I came to the decision and deciding point that that man doesn't like me. And not only decide did I decide that he didn't like me, but I decided he didn't like me because of my race. Now, let me tell you why this man in his 70's had an American flag hanging on his door. And a lot of people would be like, well, what would make you think that the American flag would make you think that this man doesn't like you because you're black? I love the American flag. I love America. But I've actually had the American flag weaponized against me in my beautiful town of Nashville, Tennessee. Every time I've been called the N-word, the American flag has been either plastered on the bumper or flying from the back of the truck. And so there- what I had to realize what there was, there was a strong bias inside of my heart. And that bias inside of my heart was placing something on this man that I did not know if it was true or not. So what ended up happening was he walked out of his house a couple weeks ago and he has these two bunnies in his front yard and he started to paint one of the bunnies black. Now, they were both white bunnies, but he painted one of them black. And I remember watching him do that, thinking, what is he doing? Then he walked back into his house after he painted the one bunny black. And I had an inkling as to what he was trying to do. But I recorded the conversation when I finally walked across the street to see him. And I want you guys to see exactly what and how conversations can change community when we admit the own bias in our hearts: [Video playing]


Carlos Whittaker: So that's what I'm talking about, having conversations that actually change community. I guess there'd be two takeaway points from this larger point. And the first one is this. I think that we only to name the bias in our own lives. We all have racial bias inside of us. So if this black man that lives in Nashville, Tennessee, can walk across the street to a white man and say, "Hey, listen, I had a racial bias against you" and have that conversation turned into, one of the honestly most surprising friendships I've had in 2020 is with my neighbor, James. Now we talk every single day after four years of never saying a word to each other! I believe a couple things we can do is call out the racial bias in your own life and maybe find somebody that you've maybe had some bias towards and apologize. I actually apologized to James for the bias in my life. We can all do that. And when we all do that, I believe that can accelerate us to a place of healing. The second thing to do is in those small conversations, make sure that you're calling out micro-racism within conversations. And all that simply means is if you hear something and you know there's racism involved there, racial biases involved, it's uncomfortable to do it. But please just call it out. It's really going to help accelerate the healing in our country. The second thing I want to say is this. Don't stand on issues, but walk with people. There are so many issues that are prevalent right now in our country that are prevalent right now in what we bring to work, how we work, all kinds of things, issues that we can have opinions on. But what I love to tell people when they ask me, "Carlos, as a public figure, what's your stance on this issue?" I always say this: "Don't stand on issues. I don't stand on issues. I walk with people." So if there's an issue that I have a disagreement with, if there's an issue that I have an opinion about and we're talking about race specifically here, instead of forming an opinion in a vacuum of your own thoughts, go find somebody that your opinion actually affects. So when you actually begin to do this, standing on- Walking with people as opposed to standing on issues, you realize that a difference of opinion does not equate a loss of a relationship. So please, as you come across people that you work with, that you have a difference of opinions on, remember that the relationship is more important than being right. So don't stand on an issue. Walk with people, find a black person that you may have a difference of opinion with that may be struggling with something that you've never struggled with before. And ask them about that. Be empathetic and listen. You know, something happened last night at the opening night of Major League Baseball that I saw that I think is a perfect example of not standing on an issue, but walking with people. This is the picture that, again, I saw last night. And so you've got one of the L.A. Dodgers who is taking a knee during the National Anthem. Now, some- A lot of people don't agree with that. And I would say that his teammates next to him don't agree with that because they were standing up. They weren't kneeling and they were honoring what they felt like they need to honor during the National Anthem. But can I tell you what's beautiful and moving about this picture? What's beautiful and moving about this picture is you've got two different opinions on the same thing. Yet there is still support for the person that is struggling. So I honestly believe that there can be a difference of opinion while you're still standing up for what you believe. Remember, don't stand on issues, walk with people. And I can't give in to, you know, go into, again, a whole bunch of different various ways that you can do it. And it can get really complicated in this nuanced conversation. You know, a lot of my white brothers and sisters are reaching out saying, "Well, I don't want to act like a white savior. Should I say this? So I say Blacks should as African-Americans> Should I- What should I do?" And again, I would like to say this: Massive movements are made in minuscule moments, okay? So the big movements and the big change we're gonna see are going to happen around your table. And it may feel complicated. It may feel like I'm asking you to do things that you've never done before and you may mess up. And that's actually true. You may mess up. But when you mess up, it's just a way of learning. So don't be scared to mess up. I actually was camping- and I'll end with this- With my family a few years ago. I think this is a good example of messing up at something, but finally getting the better version of it because you've messed up. And this is what's going to happen in conversations about race. While we were camping, my wife looked up at the stars. There were 30000 stars in the sky. She said, Carlos, can you grab the camera and take a picture of the stars? Well, she had one of the fancy cameras with the buttons and the dials and the knobs. And honestly, I didn't know how to use that camera, take a picture of the stars. So it was beautiful- The most beautiful starlit sky you've ever seen. So I took the camera and I put it in auto mode. Right, because. When you're in auto mode, well, it's easy. And, you know, you're going to get a picture. And so I put it in auto mode, I aimed it at the sky. And I took a picture and this was the picture that I took of the 30,000 stars. Now, all you can see in the picture is maybe 10 stars. And the tent. And so I showed my wife and said: "Is this OK?" She said, "No, that's not OK. I know how expensive that camera is. You can take a picture of all the stars." And but I told her, I said I said, "Babe, I don't know how to use the camera that way. I'm going to mess up." She said, "I know, but don't you have friends that know?" So guess what I did? I called my friend Jeremy here in Nashville and I said, "Jeremy, I'm trying to take a picture of the stars." He's a professional photographer, he knows what to do. I said, "But I keep taking a picture and I only get 10 stars, but there's 30,000 stars." And he said, "Are you taking the picture in auto mode?" And here's the thing. Now you're starting to click with me, right? Are you having these conversations about race in auto mode? And are you only getting, like us, a slight fraction of the beauty that's in front of you? This is what he said. You have to take it off of auto mode and put it in manual mode. And when I put the camera in manual mode, it was complicated, actually started a screw up worse. He said, "You have to find it F-stop, which is also called the aperture, and then you have to lower it from 8.2 to 1.2. Then you have to define the ISO and raise it from one hundred to twelve thousand. Then you have to find the shutter speed and lower that down from one 30 to the second 30 seconds that you have to put it on a tripod gives if you hold it is it's gonna be blurry." And I just want a freakin picture of the stars. Right. Like why does it got to be so complicated? And guess what? I tried it and I failed and I tried it and failed and I tried it and I failed and I kept screwing up until I took a picture. And let me show you the picture that I took. This was the picture that I took. How many of us are living in America right now? And it looks like this in auto mode. But when you get risky and you go into manual mode and you start having some crucial conversations, I promise you this is what's available in your life (A clear photo of 30,000 stars). And so I just believe that if you guys take these few steps again, realize that conversations are going to take. Change your community. And also realize that you shouldn't stand on an issue. You should walk with people. Get into the mess of the conversations. I believe that this version of the stars picture is what's waiting for you guys. Thanks so much. And we can hop into some Q&A if you want.


Brian Lord: Yeah, absolutely. Well, first of all, thank you for that. I love your message. And I love kind of the hopefulness for it, I think, a lot people- Some people have hope, but some people don't. I think there's definitely hope for the future. So I guess maybe just a little bit of roleplaying here to start it off. So let's say we're, you know, I'm at the office and I'm talking people, maybe people I haven't talked to before. I mean, how do you begin that process?


Carlos Whittaker: Yeah. You know, I feel like I tell a lot of my friends- A lot of what my white friends who ask me, like, "How do I start this? Like, how do I start the conversations at work?" You know, what you don't want to do is just go find a Black person, go, you know, "Hey, I'm white and you're Black. Let's have a conversation!" Right? Like, the beautiful thing is that I'm realizing is although I'm being asked to speak a lot about race, race isn't the only thing that I'm good at talking about. And so what I would recommend to do is if all your friends are white or they all look like you. Okay, I'll even talk to Black people- If all your friends are Black and they all look like you- Yes. Be intentional about starting a relationship with somebody else. Not just a conversation for the sake of like patting yourself on the back and learning something new about the world, the issues of race, but instead learn something new about a person that is different than you are. And then that relationship will begin to- I promise you, when you have relationships with somebody that doesn't look like you, you no longer have to find- Search the Internet for videos that make people that agree with you on things like, no. Suddenly it becomes a personal relationship issue. So I would say find somebody that you want to build a relationship with, but you do have to be intentional. And I don't think it will offend them to know that you're being intentional about finding somebody that doesn't look like you. To build a relationship with.


Brian Lord: And it's like you're talking about. I mean, there's so many more things about you that you can build relationships like you're an amazing fly fisherman.


Carlos Whittaker: Yeah, I'm a fly fisherman! 


Brian Lord: Musician. Everything else!


Carlos Whittaker: I'm a better fly fisherman than a musician now, but that's okay.


Brian Lord: It looks like we have a question coming in: "What tips or suggestions you have for having these race conversations with your kids for parents?"


Carlos Whittaker: That's a great, great question. This is not something that needs to be hidden in conversation from your kids. Of course, there are kid-friendly ways to go about it. But one of the best examples I've heard of this is there's someone that follows me on Instagram that heard me talk about Black Lives Matter. You know, that being the phrase and how to say the phrase without necessarily aligning with the organization, yada, yada, yada. But what she heard from it and what she talked to our kids about was, "Well, imagine your house is on fire on your street and the fire engine came and the fire engines started spraying the water hose on all the other house has been not on your house. And you're like, 'Wait, my house is on fire. Please focus on my house. I know the other houses are important, but my house is on fire.'" So I talked about how that's what we mean about Black Lives Matter. It doesn't mean all lives don't matter. It does mean all the houses don't matter. We're just trying to put out the one that's on fire. So she explained this to her son, who's like nine years old, and she sent me a video the next day of her son on X-box with his headphones on, talking to a friend going, "When we say Black Lives Matter, we don't mean that all lives don't matter. We just mean if your house is on fire. We don't want the..." And to know that a nine-year-old could take that and to have a conversation with another nine-year-old. My heart leaped out of my chest because I knew that kids even get it. They understand. And again, the beautiful thing is kids aren't born with racial bias. That's not something- that's something that is learned. So, yes, it's so important to have these conversations with your kids, have it an age-appropriate way, but don't sugarcoat the chaos that may be happening in our country. Let them know.


Brian Lord: Yeah, what, what... Or if you're fine sharing it, what conversations have you had with your own kids? Because obviously it's not like the white parent talking to the white kids. It's, you know, a diverse family.


Carlos Whittaker: Absolutely. So here's the crazy thing about my family. I married a white woman. Our first kid came out white as snow- Whiter than you. Our second kid that we both co-created came out darker than me. OK? Two sisters, one's white and one's Black. Same parents. They are living completely different realities in America. It's crazy. So the conversations that I get to have in my house are really real with our kids. Right? And then we adopted a Korean kid. So we've got like a Gap family gap out of a family. Right? Like we've got the United Colors of Benetton. Like we're all represented. All the United Nations are represented. And so, you know, the conversations that we have- And now my kids are a little older. So I've got an 18-year-old, a 16-year-old and a 14-year-old now. Though, I was having these conversations with them when they were really young. A story I'll tell really quickly is when my daughter- My white daughter- I don't call her my white daughter at home. Obviously, I'm doing this for the sake of conversation. But when she was in kindergarten, she went to public school, to her on for the first time. And we were in Atlanta at the time. And then when she came back after a few weeks there, we were riding on the MARTA train in Atlanta and there was a bunch of Black people on the MARTA train and she was hiding under her seat. And I said, "Baby, what are you doing?" She goes, "Oh, my friends told me that those are the scary people." And I said, "Who?" "The Black people with the dark skin." And I said, "Baby, look at me! Your daddy is just as dark as they are!" And then like, something clicked in her head, which she's like... "And look at your sister." But she was being taught by friends to have racial bias. Yet- So just by living with- Because she was colorblind with me. She didn't see it in me. So again, we've got to realize that these conversations are going to happen with your kids, whether you have them or not. So I think it's really important for us to have them.


Brian Lord: Yeah, I do agree [with] that. And by the way, I do want to mention, too, for people watching this, Carlos is one of the most entertaining people on social media. And so I will say, like we've had some conversation, my wife, like, she'll elbow me at 10:00 at night and say, "Oh, look what Carlos is doing." You know, and some of those just those conversations that you've had or talked about with your kids and, you know, some of the funny ones you have about your wife, like... "Yeah. Like how many. That, you know, like your kids are so..." That's your joke to make, not mine. But you know-


Carlos Whittaker: -Sure,that's fine. [Laughing]


Brian Lord: But anyway, it's just it's one of those things that's kind of fascinating for us to see. And of course, I've got like two of my kids were adopted. And so they're different. They look different from me. But they probably would see things differently when they came in the world. I mean, I think it's it's really important for all these things that we're talking about. That it is that conversation that you have, that it's those relationships that are going to, like you say, with policy... Those are things that can change on paper. But if you really want to change people's hearts and change people's minds, that's such a great way to approach it.


Carlos Whittaker: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. I love it.


Brian Lord: Well, great. Let's hear what- And so last question... I'm not quite sure where we are on time? But "What roles do companies in America play in this moment? Any advice for business leaders?" A question from Jonathan.


Carlos Whittaker: Yeah, that's a great question, Jonathan. I think that companies have a big role, a large role to play. You know, I think it goes back to the protests change policy conversations change community. I think maybe I could change that to say statements by companies that may change some things, but actual life change and business leaders will change everything. And if you're a business leader, I would not hide from this conversation, but be the first one to have the conversation. Far too many leaders are maybe shying away from the conversation, waiting for things to blow over. Because the unfortunate thing is this will blow over. This conversation will blow over. And they will- They have the privilege of being able to not have the conversation. What I would tell every business leader, every business leader or leader in general is to actually step forward and have the conversation. And it's going to be an uncomfortable conversation that nobody likes to have this conversation. But I definitely- My advice for business leaders is to not shy away from, but to step forward to have the conversation, invite Black voices in your company to speak out to maybe how they felt in your company. You'll be surprised at how respectful they are yet while telling you that this has made me uncomfortable. I've actually you know, I mean, I've had when I've worked in churches, large megachurches in this country where I know that my coworkers didn't see me as Black. And they would say that that was a good thing. I don't necessarily know if that's a good thing because they would actually start saying some racist things around me because they didn't realize that it offended me. "Oh, that's right, Carlos." And so, yeah. So again, like like bring forward the conversation, lean forward in the conversation, and then ask some voices of color in your company about their experience. This isn't something that you have to blast to your entire company, but invite them into your office and say, "What can we do to better serve you and to be a better organization for you to be a part of." Gosh. And it's going to be some small shifts that you can do that I think can accelerate healing within your own company.


Brian Lord: Absolutely. Yeah. Well, Carlos, thank you so much for sharing this and definitely, you know, send more questions. And I know we can you know, you can answer different things for us as well.


Carlos Whittaker: And I'm answering a lot of these questions, to be honest with you, on my Instagram. I'm having a lot of these conversations in what I feel like is a very grace-filled way. A safe place for my white friends to have conversations or to ask these hard questions. So feel free to ask me in my dreams as well. And I'd love to get back to you.


Beyond Speaking is hosted by Brian Lord and produced by Eric Woodie

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