In today’s episode, CultureRoad™ creator and host DeEtta Jones dialogues with Dr. Jerome Offord, Associate University Librarian of Antiracism at Harvard Library about Critical Race Theory at play throughout his life and work.
Dr. Offord is also the President & CEO of the Mr. HBCU Kings’ Leadership Conference & Competition, providing leadership training, coaching, mentorship, and career development to young men at historically black colleges and universities. Recently, he celebrated 30 years as a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
This episode covers:
This episode is brought to you by:
CultureRoad™, a live and on-demand digital learning solution powered by DeEtta Jones and Associates. CultureRoad™ is an easy-to-use subscription, delivering fresh content monthly and access to experts, to help professionals at all levels thrive in the contemporary workplace. Stay up-to-date with best practices on DEI, and acquire the necessary skills and tools to effectively lead, manage, and influence others. Get connected with this community of practice to further your professional development at cultureroad.com.
About the Host:
DeEtta Jones is a 32-year industry veteran, transformational leadership expert, and owner of DeEtta Jones and Associates, the go-to management training and strategic consulting firm for some of the world’s leading companies and institutions. Visit deetajones.com for more information.
Connect with DeEtta:
Connect with Dr. Offord:
- Welcome to the "CultureRoad" podcast, Episode 3.
Through our work withclients globally, my agency,
DeEtta Jones and Associatespromotes the idea
of next generation leadership,pulling diverse perspectives
to the forefront as itis the way of the future.
the "Culture Road"podcast is a brave space
that celebrates diversity of thought,
where all perspectives are welcomed.
The vision for this podcastis to never shy away
from hot or controversial topics,
but rather to embrace them inan effort to remain neutral,
to protect those in power or to be viewed
as politically correctcompanies often fail
to address the elephant in the room.
However, not givingvoice to defining issues,
it doesn't make them disappear.
Those that feel overlooked and oppressed,
they can become isolatedbreeding tension in the workplace
that becomes a barrier to cultivating
a synergistic workplace culture.
Today we're putting it allon the line, giving language
to a topic that has a nationdivided, Critical Race Theory.
Joining me in conversationis Dr. Jerome Offord Jr.,
the Associate UniversityLibrarian for Antiracism
at Harvard Library, and also presently
a consultant for DeEttaJones and Associates.
Jerome is also the president and CEO
of the Mister HBCU King'sLeadership Conference
and Competition, whichprovides leadership training,
coaching, mentorship, andcareer development to young men
at historically blackcolleges and universities.
And also Jerome recentlycelebrated 30 years
as a very active member ofAlpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc.
In addition to all of thoseother ridiculously interesting
professional and communitylayers of involvement
that you have, Jerome, you and I
have been friends for 30 years.
We have, we went to college together.
Our careers have followed each other.
There's been times when youhired me or I hired you.
(Jerome chuckles)We have supported each other
and been kind of trustedconfidants for decades.
I was even in your wedding.
It's been an amazing journey and I am so
incredibly happy to have you here.
I'm so excited to be here with you
and to be in conversationwith you as well as for us
to be able to shed somelight on this topic
of Critical Race Theory for people.
- Yes. Good.
We need to,
'cause there clearly is alot of confusion about it,-
- Absolutely.- a lot of confusion.
So when the team andI began the discussion
around this topic, youimmediately came to mind and you,
I know are someone who canhelp us create a rich dialogue,
not only from yourprofessional background,
but also from your personal experiences.
The goal today is for us to shed light
on how this 40 year old academic concept
of Critical Race Theory has impacted us
and society at large, in very practical
and even personal ways.
So what I'd love to donow, Jerome, is just shift
the conversation into kindof really understanding
a little bit more aboutCritical Race Theory,
but you know, what'll bea good place to start?
Doesn't have to be complicated,doesn't have to be cited,
but just, can you define how you think
about Critical Race Theory?
- Sure. So from my perspective,
Critical Race Theory isliterally a conceptual framework
that academics talkedabout, and the key piece
that I think most peoplemiss about the definition
of Critical Race Theoryis intersectionality.
The theory and the conceptualframework originally
was talking about theintersection of race in law
and how our systems orthe systems of oppression,
the systems of racism,the systems of injustice
and intersectionality of race
predicts two different outcomes.
- And it's also somethingthat documents history
and how we as a societyhave actually played out
oppressive behavior oroppressive work or language
or policies and intersected with race,
specifically around menand people of color.
- I love it. So that's thepiece that I never ever,
ever hear anybody talking about.
I never heard anybody talkingabout the fact that this is,
is about the law.- Absolutely.
- And that was part of the origins
of Critical Race Theory ispeople who were not just studying
race and systemic interventions,
but also people who were studying law.
And how law is disproportionatelynegatively impacting
certain populations-- Yes.
- and that this whole bodyof academic literature
and knowledge has come to play.
But now it seems like in today's society,
people are just kind ofthrowing the language around
and misusing it in ways thatare incredibly uninformed,
but also really dangerous.- Yes!
- It's like people areweaponizing this language.
- Well, I think part of the weaponization
is a part of oppression andthe oppressive system because
Critical Race Theoryalso talks about history.
And as far as oppression is concerned
and the oppressives' history, being able
to have a conversationabout Critical Race Theory
means that people haveto reconcile our history
and our past as a country, as a society,
as well as how we havecreated laws intentionally
to be very different,to marginalize people,
to keep voices quiet, tominimize people's voice,
their life, their, theiractivities, but to really
continue to have anoppressive system in place.
- Okay, so the wordreconciliation is so big
and it makes me, immediatelymy brain jumps to
how do we reconcile history,
but I'm gonna start off with just
a recent conversation that I had.
And it's a small little conversation
that will be ridiculously familiar to you
because so many peoplehave these conversations
all the time, but I'm at myson's school for an open house,
orientation and preparationfor high school.
We're kind of learning aboutall the different clubs,
whatever, whatever, sothere's a lot of kids there.
There's a lot of parents.
And at some point I meet a parent
and we go into just a random conversation
about random things, right?
Just everything fromneighborhoods to schools,
to, all of a sudden Critical Race Theory.
At one point she mentionedsomething along the lines of,
"Isn't it horrible thatthey're trying to make
our kids pay for something thatthey had nothing to do with,
something that came from the past?"
I knew that she was immediately talking
about Critical RaceTheory, but I feel like
that's the real common understanding
of Critical Race Theory right now,
is that it's about thisidea of reconciliation
is really about trying tomake people in present day,
feel guilty about andeven pay consequences
associated with something thathappened long before them.
Help me just think about this?
- Yeah, so it's interestingthat those conversations
are happening, especiallyacross the nation
around having people feel comfortable
and uncomfortable at teaching.
The truth is if I could be as bluntly
and as direct as possible,
the history that we'rediscussing is not the history
that BIPOC folks have created.
This is history that dominant culture
has played and has implemented.
And now the issues of shame orother pieces that they have,
they don't want us to haveconversations about it.
But as a black man andas a black boy grown up
in the city of Chicago, in the 80s
during the crack epidemic,I know these conversations
were had, and they're still had,
I dread the day that I'd haveto have this conversation
with my great nephew about whatit means to be a black male
and dealing with law enforcement,dealing with society,
dealing with personalities,dealing with aggressiveness.
So uncomfortable conversations,as far as I'm concerned,
black folk have beenhaving this conversation-
- Yeah, yeah!- for years.
- And so, now that majority culture feels
that the conversation is uncomfortable.
The question is, and the way to look at it
from a non monocultural perspective is,
"Why are you uncomfortable?"
"What's making you uncomfortableabout this history?"
And why is it such a problem
that you have to be uncomfortable?
Hell, I've been uncomfortablefor a long, long time.
You know, it's like, "Really?"
We can't have a littleuncomfortableness this time around?
I'm not trying to makethe whole world miserable,
but why I gotta be theonly one uncomfortable.
- Well, and not only thatyou're uncomfortable,
but you're uncomfortableabout your history.
Not about my history.
You're uncomfortable aboutwhat your ancestors did,
what your forefathers and foremothers did,
which has now benefited you in privilege,
in wealth and land ownershipand even status in our society.
- Well, as part of theuncomfortable feeling associated
with not just maybe shame orguilt, that's a potential,
but it also may be, well,if we actually acknowledge
that things are built on a false narrative
and they were built in a way
that wasn't actually equitable,I might actually shift
power dynamics, I may losesome of the privileges
that I've had, and as muchas I might intellectually say
that I want equity,when it's my privileges
that I'm willingly giving over,
then it feels like a loss,doesn't feel equitable
when it feels like whenI've had so much of it.
So you think about everything'sabout winning and losing.
Everybody has to be a winner or a loser.
And that's part of our US-centric society,
which I understand, butwe have been dealing
with that for decades, for centuries.
When you think about winning and losing,
you think about the Tulsarace riots and the Greenwoods
and all the places wherewe've had black business
and black commerce.- Yeah.
And the issue of us continuously seeing
those communitiesdestroyed because someone
of dominant culture feltlike they was losing.
- Yeah.- In the book,
"The Conversation," that I'm reading,
it references "Mississippi Burning,"
where there was a situationwhere a black farmer
who had leased some landhad saved enough money,
bought a mule, and sohe was using the mule
to help farm the landwhile the white farmers
joked with his neighborfarmers so much about it that,
you know, "The black guyis progressing more."
He has a mule, he's able totake care of the land faster
to harvest the land faster.
And so the jealousy of the white male,
eventually they poisonthe mule and killed it.
And what he said in themovie to his son in the car
and excuse my language, he says,
"If you can't be better thana Nigger, what can you be?"
- And so the concept thateven in my brownness,
regardless of my background,my education, my wealth,
that some people still believe-
- Yeah.- That I am less than.
- Yeah.- And to white Americans
who may not have succeededto the same level I am,
I am even more of a threatbecause I am perceived
to be better than them,and that's impossible.
- Yeah.- For folks to understand.
- So that is some of theuncomfortableness historically
that people have to reconcile with.
- Yeah.- That is still alive today.
- And they gotta tell the truth about it.
- You know, there's somany people who are like,
"No, I'm not uncomfortable!"
Or, "No, it's not really race it's class!"
Or, "No, it's this, orit's political divide."
And, you know, at some point people,
and I feel like that'sthe real reconciliation,
you know, that's happening, it's kind of
an internal struggle that so many people
who have power or privilegeor who have untruths
that have been acculturated into them,
have to really be willingto kind of examine,
honestly, and openly.- True.
- It's interesting becausethere are other countries
that have done this like in Germany,
they're like, "Lemmetell you, we screwed up."
"Let's talk about it."- Right, hm mm?
- And, and this reconciliation,I'm not saying it's perfect.
- But I'm saying that there's a...
It's the opposite approach in saying,
instead of pretendinglike it never happened,
like we're just gonna pretend like we're
the three blind monkeys or can't see,
can't hear, can't anything.
And instead, what we're going to do,
is kind of look at it so that we know,
and we don't repeat it.
And it's really interestingthat we are taking
such an incredibly oppositeapproach in the United States.
- Well, and the otherthing, the other topic
that a lot of people shyaway from is reparations.
And so all of this connects to all of
the oppressive history,but even when you think
about reparations, oneof the only communities
that have not receivedreparations for harm
is the African American community.
We know that we hadreparations for the Holocaust.
Canada's now looking at reparations for
its treatment of indigenousyouth over the years
when they were taking indigenouschildren from families
and given 'em up for adoptionto white families in the US.
And so everyone else isfiguring out how to apologize
and not only apologize, butput action behind the apology
and put action into placeto do corrective behavior.
We are seeing just theopposite in the United States.
And we're seeing it as something
to be even more divided about.
- Absolutely.- We're seeing it as a loss.
So I know that you are likeencyclopedic when it comes
to your understanding of thistopic and the kind of academic
and intellectual approach that you have.
But I actually feel like,and because I know you,
I feel like your personal story is a place
that has so much potentialfor really taking this
to a whole different levelas far as the conversation,
but also people's understandingof Critical Race Theory.
So, for me, I would loveto just maybe start off
with you personally,sharing a little bit more
about your story?
You mentioned that you,grew up in Chicago,
you grew up in the eighties,you saw what you saw
during those times, butI would love for you
to tell a little bit moreabout your personal story
and how it is that raceand identity associated
with your own racial identity journey
has helped you understandyour place in the world,
and sometimes the painassociated with that.
So my fondest memoryand my lens around race
comes from my grandparents.
My grandparents werethe predominant figures
in my life as a child.
And so both left the southand they met in Chicago,
working together in a restaurant.
And my grandfather was a bus boy
and my grandmother was the waitress.
And so, so many of my memories around race
and to the point that Iwas actually paralyzed
from some of the storiesor from my grandfather,
when he talked about leaving the south,
talked about lynchings and he gave me
all the the cultural cuesI needed around how to act,
how to interact, whatto do, what not to do
when I was younger, sit inthe very front of the bus,
make sure that you're protected.
Don't sit in the back, watch who gets on,
watch the neighborhoods as you go in.
If you go past this street,make sure you get there
and get out really fast.
And so being able to migratein and outta relationships
and neighborhoods in Chicago,
my dentists orthodontist as a child
was in a predominantly white community,
and one that was known to be very racist.
And so my appointmenttime, my mother made sure
that my appointments at a certain time,
so I can get in and out whenkids weren't outta school.
So there were some issues about me
being chased or being bothered.
But then one of the most poignant moments
in my history as my familymoved to the further southwest
side of the city, and wewere the third black family
to integrate the neighborhood.member as if itwas yesterday,:
there was a KKK rally, ablock and a half of my house
in literally they had afull parade, marching,
the wardrobe, the regalia, the horses,
and to not understand as achild, why I was being hated,
just because I was black isprobably one of the things
that has probably pushedme further to always feel
like I have to prove to theworld that I'm a good black guy.
- Yeah.- And that's a part
of the cultural lens
we have to wear sometimesto see life through
to prove to people that, you know,
we're not what you think we are.
- Yeah?- I am a good guy.
- And I just, yeah, I havechills just thinking about,
I've known you for a long time.
I have never heard that KKK story.
I have never heard that KKK story.
It's so it's so amazing thatthere are so many people
who walk around the worldand just, they may assume
that they have to provethat they're a good person,
but they don't have to assumethat they have to prove
that they're a good person in spite of-
- Absolutely!- their entire race, right?
- And all of the negative stigma
that's associated withthat, even if it's not true.
- Right.- Right!
- We still are constantlytrying to feel like we have to
prove ourselves outside ofwhat these stereotypical,
incredibly unflattering, right,trauma filled stereotypes
are sharing with the world and that people
are ingesting about us.
- And on the opposite sideof that, we have the folks
in dominant culture who want to validate,
"Oh, you're the good guy."
"Oh, you're different."
"Oh, you're so smart."
"You're so intellectual."
And it's like, is that rare?(DeEtta guffaws)
Is that unheard of?- It's only a couple of us!
Yeah,-- Yeah, yeah.
- Exactly.- Yeah.
I know people are trying, but no,
in the absence of being willing and able
to have conversationsaround complicated topics,
like Critical Race Theory,
we're always gonna be ina place of having these
well-meaning folks who are doing things
that are either tonedeaf and or blatantly,
missing the mark becausethey're not going deep enough
because they're like, "Hmm, I care,"
"But I don't,
I'm too scared to actuallyget into the thickness."
- Right.- Of all of that complexity.
And then I have to deal with,how does that make me feel?
How do I look, am I gonna be exposed
for not getting it just right?
Am I gonna be labeled or embarrassed
or whatever, it's like, at some point
we're just gonna have to bemore courageous collectively.
- Absolutely.- And we're gonna need folks
who may be incrediblyuncomfortable with this topic
to just figure out how to navigate it.
- The thing for me aboutCritical Race Theory,
is it's just, it's almost too simple.
I mean, I understand academicallyit's about understanding
the correlation betweenidentities and law.
And there's a whole lot of other bodies
of literature around it.
It's so complex.- Yes!
- There's so much, I get that part.
And so academic and intellectual it is,
but it's also ridiculouslysimple in another way.
Like to me, CriticalRace Theory is history.
It's not black history.It's just freaking history.
(DeEtta scoffs)It's just history, right?
It's like, how do we tellthe truth about history?
And understand thatwherever there is a history,
there's always a person who tells it.
There's always-- Absolutely.
- a point of view fromwhich history is told.
And over time we have to realize
that that point of viewmight have been biased.
You know, the way I'm gonnatell you about my kid, right.
And how perfect and beautifuland pleasant and funny
and smart inte...
And blah, blah, blah, blah, blah he is,
is different than a lot of his teachers
would tell that story, right?
And sometimes you just have to think about
from what vantage pointhas this story been told,
and also, who were the otherpeople who are ingesting,-
- Right.- This story,
as it's being told throughthat biased vantage point
in a way that is having aserious societal impact.
- Right.- Right?
On not just how people likeyou and me are perceived-
- Hm mm.- And our children,
but also on how people whodon't look like you and me
are perceiving themselves,as juxtaposed against us.
And then we have to navigate all of that.
- Absolutely!- Right?
And so at some point, if we don't jump
into understanding this actual history,
we're just gonna continue manifesting
the kind of oppression that we're trying
to work ourself out of right now.
- That's right.
One of the things I think academically
that people miss aboutCritical Race Theory
is that Critical Race Theoryand the intersectionality
of law and race really focused on
what liberal white Americans thought
they were being progressive,and the laws that they created
and Critical Race Theory says,"Even in your liberalism,
you were excluding and being oppressive."
And so I think some of theuncomfortableness around it is
we thought we were being the good folk.
- Yeah, yeah?
- We thought we were being perfect.
But even in that space of trying to be
the liberal, the perfect,the mindful person,
privilege and oppression still shows up.
And I think that's wherefolks are uncomfortable
because folks who consider themselves
to be the good white guysor the good white folk,
see, don't align withfolks who are opposite,
who we see wearing the, the Klan outfits,
who we see-- Right.
- Anti everything,-- Right.
- They can't vision alignthemselves with that vision,
but their actions stillprotect their privilege
be it their individual privilegeor institutional privilege,
whichever one that they'reprotecting, their actions
still created the exactsame oppressive behavior.
- Well, and that's wherethings like anti-racism
and anti oppression come in.
Right, because no, you don'thave to be egregiously racist.
Literally riding around on a horse,
wearing a hood as a cardcarrying member of the KKK,-
- Correct.- That's one level
of racism that's ridiculously obvious.
- But there's a whole lot of other ways
in which racism andoppression in many forms
showed up and that allof us has the ability,
wherever our privileges are, right,
to actually do somethingabout, but we have to,
we can't just say, I don'twant oppression to exist.
We actually have to go the extra effort
to be anti-racist or anti-oppressive,
which means that I have to be willing to
not just look at myself or care,
but I have to be willingto potentially shift
some of the areas of privilege-
- that I've had that I've enjoyedthat I don't want to lose.
- But that I also intellectuallytell myself and others
I'm willing for other people to have.
- If there's only so much to go around,
let's pretend there's onlyso much to go around, right?
There's only so much to go around,
at some point my privilegehas to be something
that I'm willing to distributeif I truly, truly believe
in this, and that's the next step.
But unless we get to aplace where we can even
get everybody to a placewhere they're willing to say,
"I'm engaging in thesedifficult conversations
and I can see myself, not on the horse,
but still not ananti-oppression, anti-racism.
If I can't get pasteither one or the other,
then we have to be willing to have a space
for a discussion and understanding.
And that's where I think the conversation
about Critical Race Theorycould be so incredibly helpful.
And I think the other part of that is
we talk about and dealwith this issue of comfort
is some of the uncomfortablenessis either the theory,
the work around anti-racismsays that either
you're anti-racist or you're racist,
and how do you deal with that?
And so folks not understandinghow to be an anti-racist
and understanding overt and covert racism
and how they play out ineveryday life is a struggle.
And so some of theuncomfortableness is that
if I'm not actively being anti-racist,
then I have to rectify-- Right.
- that I have racist actions and behaviors
that are part of the problem.
- I think that that'sthe place and I think,
it feels it's such a heavyword, but I feel like
if everyone could justbe like, "Yes, get it."
I have a lot of racist stuffthat has been poured into me
and that I have been practicing.
It doesn't it doesn'tcapture all of my essence.
It doesn't mean thatI am forever incapable
of growing or becoming.
And also beyond the scope of racism,
all of our other identities,
going back to intersectionality.
Like, for me, I have aton of areas of privilege.
- Absolutely.- Right?
I'm not only black, I'm not only a woman.
I'm not only a member ofnon-dominant marginalized
I'm also in living in andexperiencing on a day to day basis
of other areas of privilege.
And so for me, it's also that this
isn't my identity in totality.Right.
But it's an opportunity for make
more than just a cognitive choice.
- Absolutely.- But to actually
a behavior based and a resourcebased choice going forward.
- One of the things that we share,
I share with colleagues atHarvard about this work is
that there's two things,I often remind them,
start off with a story and say, you know,
one of my greatest failures in life
is realizing and figuring outthat I don't walk on water.
I've tried it several times.
And what that means to me is that this is
all about us doing the work.
You have to do the personalwork, not conceptually.
I'm a gonna work from nine to five,
I'm working on this job andI'm gonna take two DEI courses.
I'm gonna go to an, anti-bias course.
I'm gonna just tune to a podcast.
You have to do lifelong, deepdive, introspective work,
and doing that, you'regoing to make mistakes
because you're going to bump up against
everything that you have been taught
and everything you think about life,
about race, about culture.
You're going to bump your head.
You're gonna stub yourtoe, give yourself grace.
If it happens in the workplace,
apologize and learn, but don't stop.
Don't get defensive,but really listen, learn
and take a deeper diveinto why this is happening
or why this behavior is being exhibited.
We have to extend graceto ourselves first.
Do we have to extend grace to others?
So this is the question that comes
to me all the time, right?
Cause I heard you say, "If Imess up, I should apologize."
But a lot of times people say to me,
"Look, I don't wanna dothe heavy lifting anymore."
"Just because I'm blackor brown or a woman
or a member of theLGBTQA-community doesn't mean
that I am responsible for your education.
- Absolutely.- Right?
And so the other question I have is like,
"Whose job is this?"
For me, I spend my lifeeducating and trying
to create space for people to learn.
And sometimes people are like,
"Oh, you shouldn't be doing that."
These folks should bedoing that on their own.
Right? These folks, they're grown.
They should be doing this on their own.
On the other hand, I don'treally want a whole lot of folks
who don't have a whole lotabout where to get started.
- Right?- Even their own privileges,
just walking around withall these blind spots,
trying to figure it out on my behalf.
They might be well intentioned,but I feel like together,
we might actually come up withsomething that's more robust
and that's more comprehensiveand that's actually
gonna work better.
Where's your thinking on this-
- Yeah...- and what this is?
- I think if we anticipated that folks
would've figured this out, we've been
in whole different places of society.
We would not be dealing with these things
that we're dealing with now,
if folks could just figure it out.
So I think, no, I don't thinkeverybody's calling in life
is to be that educator, thatperson that helps navigate
the journey with people.
But there's enough of us in the world
that are authenticallyshowing up to do this work
because we care and we love it.
And so being able to haveconversations with people
and understand calling inand calling out-culture,
all those things toreally impact how people
either defend or theyhide, they shell away,
how they engage, how theyapologize, how they connect,
it takes a skill.
It takes a strong willed person to do it.
And someone who knows thatsometimes emotionally,
I need to go fill my cup.- Yeah, yeah.
- Because you're continuously,emotionally pouring out.
How do you find ways to fill your cup?
And so I just had a conversation
with some library science students
at the university of Missouri,
Dr. Jason Austin invited me to his class.
And that was one of the questions asked,
"How do you keep going?"- Yeah?
And I say, "Some days are really hard
and some days I just gohome and close my door
and don't want to talkto anybody in the world."
But I know who to call.
I know what to do...
(DeEtta laughing)I know when I need
to refill my cup, whatthose activities are.
And I don't wait till the cups is depleted
to deploy the activities needed.
I can sense it. I can feel it.
But being able to know that I'm called
to help change the world helps me
stay connected and engaged.
- You know, it's so interestingthe way you describe that,
'cause you and I havehad these conversations
a million times andthere's plenty of times
when I'm sitting therekind of on the floor
with tears in my eyes and calling you,
I just have to tell somebody, and I know
I don't even have to do awhole lot of explanation,
but the through threadsbetween what you're describing
and even other journeys that I'm on
or have been on overthe course of my life,
like meditation and yoga and some of
the more spiritual queststhat have been part
of my life's path has very similar,
if not exactly aligned philosophy, right?
You have to come from aplace of a filled up cup
and then the overflow,-- Yes.
- the spillover is what you give.
- But you can't be depleted.
And I feel like that's part of the problem
with the world that we're living in now
is we have all of theseincredibly depleted people
who are coming from notjust marginalization,
but they're tired.- Absolutely.
They've been, they've been unseen,
othered for so long that they start to be
in this like toxic place,
on whatever side of theideological aisle you're on.
- And then are coming together
to try to figure out like who's right.
But nobody is actually comingwith the actual resources
needed to help us create a successful
and effective path forward, right?
And so I feel like that'sthe other ingredient here.
It's not just understandingand doing the hard work
because nobody wants to do hard work.
You're describing this as hard work
over the course of a life.
How do you sell that to somebody, right?
What's the sell?
- Yeah.But at the same time,
I do feel like if people are seeing this
as a multifaceted experience,
that's part of the wholejourney of life and becoming,
and self betterment,you see it as necessary.
- Right.- Right.
To kind of heal the trauma andconnect with the compassion.
They all have to happenin a coordinated way.
- Absolutely. So here's an analogy I use,
and by no means, am I arelationship or expert
or therapist or anything:
You fall in love, you meetsomebody, you fall in love.
The things you fall in love with
are sometimes externally observable,
something that somebody walked past you,
somebody that talk to you in the right way
or said the right things.
You fall in love.
You're in a relationshipyou ebb and you flow
in your dating, and then you...
Some folks wind up getting married,
all statistics say theroughest years of a marriage
are the first five years,
because you're now havecommingled your life,
commingled your thinking,commingled your finances.
And you're learning ina whole different pace
around what that islike, but you work at it.
The successful marriages out there,
the 30, the 40 years,the 20 year marriages
have been because people have worked at it
and then, oh my goodness, it changes
once you start introducingchildren into it.
So you gotta work onthat new relationship.
- Yeah, yeah, yeah.
So everything about a relationship
and a marriage is about work.
The work around being an anti-racist
and interrogating yourbeliefs is no different
than how you manage anddeal with the the changes
when two become one,as we talk biblically.
- Yeah, yeah. I love that.
Well, the other thingthat's so powerful about it
is that the idea of like going from
this stage of relationship
to this stage of relationship
and that stage of relationship,
even though there's a lot of work,
it's still very aspirational,it's still very desirable.
It's still part of the wholepackage of being fully human.
- Absolutely.- And fully exploring
the breadth and depth of our humanity.
And so to put it all kindof in the same bucket
of, of course we do thisin all aspects of our life.
- Why wouldn't we do this around history?
Around reconciling andmaking congruent the things
that are in our hearts and thethings that are in our minds,
intellectually and the changingenvironment that we live in.
- Yes.- I love it.
- I think at this point weneed to take a quick break.
- So let's, let's cut awayfor just a quick break
to talk about, hear aword from our sponsors,
and then we will be right back.
All right, Dr. Offord,so before the break,
we were talking about all sorts of things,
but one of the things that you did
was start sharing some storiesabout when you were young
and seeing a KKK full-on march and rally.
And I would love to, tojust pick up right there
and just ask you, whatdo you think for you,
over the course of your entire life,
how would you describe the impact
that the way that your racial identity
has been either taught to youand/or perceived by others?
How was the impact thenon you on your life,
on your choices, on yourcareer, on your relationships?
What has that been like?
- Great question, and here's why.
When you turn 50 or get alittle bit over 50, like I am-
- I would not know anything.(both chuckling)
You really start toagain, think about life
and think about experiences.
And so as again, as a young black man,
my grandfather tried to hisbest to prepare me for the world
and understanding what theworld was like for black men.
And his intention was tohelp protect and guard me.
It also created a shell.
And so the concept of not being too big,
when you walk in a room,
to fall in the shadows to just make sure
that you're not outshining other people,
all of that over my life hashad a whole whole effect.
And it took me till I gotto my fifties to realize
that me trying not to feelintimidating to people
is not about me.
It's about other people.
And how do I not fall into the shadows?
How do I not dumb downmyself, my intellect,
or even coddle people tomake them feel comfortable
in the fear that they'regoing to dislike me
because I'm the angry black man
or I'm the aggressiveblack man in the room.
And so, I mean, I'm a shortguy, so the threat of,
of height and all that,doesn't bother people.
But sometimes, you know, I think about
if I hadn't heard those stories.
- How about would I have not dealt
with the imposter syndromeor even if any of that
ever became a part ofmy psyche in my world.
I think about the crossburning in high school,
because folks was upsetthat the Chicago High School
for Agricultural Sciences,they thought it was gonna be
predominantly whitestudents that turned out
to be predominantly blackin the predominantly white
neighborhood in the MountGreenwood area of Chicago.
They did not want us there.We had cross burnings.
They had to escort thecity bus to a certain line,et us home safely.And this is:
This is not 50 years ago.
So all of that again hasplayed into who I am.
And so even though, again, like I said,
my grandparents had the best of intentions
to try to protect me from what they saw
as the world around thelynching, the physical abuse,
the treatment, it created something in me
that made me want to make sure
white people were comfortable around me.
- And at some point psychologically,
that starts to just festerbecause you can't be
your authentic self and makeother people feel comfortable
about you at the same time.
It's interesting, 'cause the word comfort,
came up again even before the break
and it's like verylittle has been invested
in you feeling comfortablein your own skin.
- Absolutely.- You know?
And so it it's like 50 years later
you're actually thinking about,
wait a minute, am I comfortable?
- Right.- You know?
And how is it that Ineed to make adjustments?
And now at this pointyou're making adjustments
that aren't just behavioral.
They're like psychological-- Absolutely.
- and emotional-- Absolutely,
you know, adjustments.
And also there's a lot ofchoices that you've made
along the way that may havebeen differently informed right?
- Yeah.- If you were,
if you were coming from a different place.
- Yeah, this whole issue ofcomfort and you mentioned
earlier about people'ssaying, "This is not my work."
"We shouldn't be doing this."
As people of color, BIPOC by pop folks,
Black, Indigenous peopleof color, and women,
also have had to navigatethe world through the lens
of making sure dominantculture is comfortable.
- And so, how we deal withthat now and understand
that no matter what levelof comfort we bring,
oppression and privilege always shows up,
and people are tired.
And that's where theexhaustion comes from,
because I'm not authentically being me
to try to make you feel comfortable
and you are continuously discrediting
everything about me and my people
or oppressing me and my people,killing me and my people.
Then why am I sacrificingmy authentic self?
For someone who doesn't give a about me?
- So how do you, 50 years'wisdom, I'm like this, tell me,
how do you actually dosomething differently?
How do you make anadjustment to who you are
and how you show upauthentically in the world
after 50 years of being in a shell?
What do you do?- Yeah.
So one of my fondest memoriesand I think it clicked for me,
I'll never forget, duringmy interview for Harvard,
for the position at Harvardand I was grossly intimidated.
It's Harvard. It's like,why would Harvard pick me?
Again, some of that imposter syndrome,
which also goes to self-confidence,
all of that comes as apart of making other folks
feel comfortable aroundyou and shedding yourself.
And I oftentimes willover-intellectualized responses.
And so I was preparing mypresentation and usually you hear,
"Don't put a lot of words on the slides."
"People don't want you to read to them."
And so I leaned into discomfort,my own discomfort and said,
"I'm just gonna do a presentationfrom my authentic self."
And I opened up thepresentation that says,
"This is the lens thatcoming to you from."
"My name's Jerome, I'm from Chicago,
poor kid growing up onthe Southside of Chicago,
"I'm a black male, educated,
identify as same genderlove and gay male."
"Grandparents, my grandparent mother
had a sixth grade education."
"My grandfather was illiterate."
"My mother was a high school dropout."
"My father graduated from high school,
was absent in my life."
"All this is me."
"This is the intersection of Jerome."
"That's what I'm bringingto the table, at Harvard."
And that moment after that presentation,
when I got done hadliterally sat and cried,
because for the first time I felt like
I was authentically mein front of 400 people
who I could see because we were on Zoom
and it felt like I had tookthe weights off my shoulder.
- I love it.
- But you have to take the risk to do it.
And that's it, like,especially, and it's so hard
because you have so manylike ideas in your head
about the box that they'reexpecting you to show up
and feel exactly.
And so it's almost likecontortionism, right?
You're like almost trying to figure out
like how do I fit myselfinto this small box
that I've never actually inhabited?
- Right.- That wasn't designed
for me or people like me, right.
And instead you went exactly the opposite
and clearly they loved it.
- Yes, did.(DeEtta laughs)
And it's work again.
So it really, it's really about
being able to own you.- Yeah?
- And say, if I'm nota good fit, I get it.
So one of the things I sharewith my colleagues who I love,
contrary to popular belief,Harvard is not the place
where people have egosand nobody, you know,
everybody's listing off all their degrees,
is I found folks to be very humble,
very caring, and very engaged.
And I was very clear as apart of my authentic self
as being a diversity officerbefore, you do get exhausted,
you get tired.
Because one of the thingsthat I shared is that
we oftentimes want to talk about diversity
from a theoretical place.- Yeah.
- This is human work.- Yeah, yeah.
- This is self behavioral change
and you have to meet people in that space.
You can't go at it from a theory.
Yes, so theories playa key role in education
and understanding change and all that.
But if you really want tochange people, it has to be
human to human.- Right.
And so I shared withHarvard and they committed.
I said, "I'm not coming here if Jerome
is gonna be doing this work alone."
There has to be co-conspiratorsdoing this work with me
from the senior leadersthroughout the organization.
- Yes.- They have been committed.
You know, I'm sure this ishard work for everybody,
but the beautiful pieceis the team and the staff
has been overwhelmingly welcoming.
Now you do have folks whosaid, "You know, well,
you've been here 90 days, sowhat do you wanna do now?"
- Yeah, yeah, what-(DeEtta scoffs)
- And I'm like, well, Idon't think I can change
Harvard's 350 year history in 90 days.
I can't break down the barriers
of systemic racism in90 days or even a year.
It took Harvard all theseyears or any organization,
replace Harvard with any organization,
all the policies andpractices put in place
to build what we have, isgonna take just as much time,
if not more to dismantleit and to rethink it
and to reprocess it.- Right.
- So one of the things Ithink we fail in our EDI work
is sometimes expectthat one hero to come in
and fix it immediately whenwe have not interrogated
what it means to have an echo-environment,
what it means that we'regoing to look at intentionally
to reviewing policies andpractices and procedures
around income, aroundsalaries, around titles,
around units and organizations.
And so it takes timeand it takes commitment.
- Yeah. I love that. Itotally agree with you.
And I talk about this all the time.
This world that we're living in now,
we have a totally new modelthat has to come into existence
and it needs to be somethat is heavily resourced.
It has to be sustainably built.
So it has to be builtso that it is intended
to be poured into consistentlyjust like the relationship
you were describing a little while ago.
And also it has to be wholly different.
So all of this, silo-izedit where one person comes in
and, "Poof!" we officiallyhave something in place
or where we have a task forceor a small group of people
or HR-centric or HR driven only.
It's just not gonna work anymore.
What we need to have isexactly like you're describing:
Something that is much more systemic
and where people in everysingle role in the organization
understand their workassociated with forwarding
an equity, diversity and inclusion agenda.
- Yes!- That also has anti-racism
and anti-oppression-- Yes!
- squarely involved in it, right.
And they understand, and just for you,
someone who's relatively new in that role,
it's just helping everybodyget on the same page.
Like your title has theword anti-racism in it.
- Hm mm?- That's a huge commitment
that Harvard just made.- Yes.
- I remember talking to theVP beforehand and saying,
this is a commitment,but let me just tell you,
Harvard Harvard has been known to jump up.
- Yeah.- Right?
- Like if you gonna do it,do it, but all of this,
I'm gonna it around theedges or do it by stealth
or kind of do it and see who comes next.
That's not how Harvard rolls.
- If you're gonna do it, do it.
- Yep.- And do it well,
not well in a performative way.
Well, in a, "Here's where our values are."
We're gonna set our own bar and our bar
is going to be very highand then we are gonna work
our tails off to clear it.
And that's the thing thatI feel so excited about
that they were willing to at least start
with a ridiculously cleartitle and then go from there.
Right, and even just thetitle alone, your title
says so much about that commitment
because there's a lot oforganizations that have equity,
diversity, inclusion, belonging,you know, accessibility.
Right? But, but to sayanti-racism, and then actually
to put a position and an entireset of resources around it,
that that's an incrediblystrong starting point.
- Absolutely, and I have to say
the university is very committed.The VP is very committed.
Not just in resources,but just in also engaging.
- Yep.- And so it's key.
There was` some scuttlebuttin the profession
when the title came out, people that,
"How's one person gonna do anti-racism,"
and, "There's things thatwe're working on internally
to support the program."
But Harvard, one of thevalues is that we have
for the library specificallyis, being a world class
anti-racist library.- Yeah.
- And so what folks automaticallythink of is defining
what that value means tothem versus what it means
to Harvard and to Harvard library.
And what it means to usat Harvard library is that
we are going tointerrogate our collection.
How do we look at buildingthat anti-racist library?
What voices are we not buyingor collecting or highlighting,
where are dissentingvoices being published
that we may not understandor know that exists?
And what language are they in?
How do we really talk aboutdecolonizing the collections
to the point of not cancel culture,
but being inclusive of all voices.
So it really talks about anti-racism
and being a world class,interracial library.
It's not just about people,it's about the work that we do,
how we do it, how wethink, how we implement,
how we ideate, how weinnovate, all those parts
are very important toan anti-racist agenda.
- I love it.
And I love the example becausethat's what people need
is to connect the dots.
If we're gonna say thatwe are anti-racist,
we need to understandwhat that looks like.
And again, outside of justthe kind of obvious structures
like HR, right?
It's not just about adding more ways to,
not just adding a place to for pronouns
or not just adding morenon-binary inclusive language
around gender identification, right.
It's really about alsothinking about moving into
the function of the organization.
The business of the organization
and in the library collectionsand, and making accessible
research and scholarlyworks is the business.
- Culture, art, signage,all those things are things
that play a role in anti-racism
and how we see and thinkand provide services
to those who are our users.
- I can also only imagine,walking around the campus
or the libraries, any ofthe libraries at Harvard
with an anti-racist lens and thinking,
"Okay, is this a place that isscreaming anti-racism to me,
like looking around at all those portraits
and none of them look like me.
- And wondering like, howdo we get from a place
of being so proud of this ridiculously
prestigious and exclusivecommunity that we've created
to one that allows usto continue to hold onto
the thing that makes us, aswell as breathe life into-
- Absolutely.- A history that is
yet untold and a futurethat we are discovering.
- Well, and one of thethings we found out,
Dean Claudine Gay, who's the Dean
of the Faculty of Arts andSciences, tremendous leader,
who also created a taskforce for the Faculty
of Arts and Sciences, which is
one of Harvard's oldest colleges.
- Yeah?- And one of the study
participants shared withus in that process is,
"You know, even though I am a white male,
sometimes seeing all thesepictures of older white men
on the wall is intimidating, even for me."
- And what does that saypsychologically to me,
if I feel like I'm not measuring up
to what all these photos,these great people
around the wall, psychologically,what does that do?"
- And so how we're going tointerrogate this work together
is really fascinatingbecause you this generation's
different, all of...
Generations change, so, Gen X'ers
are now in leadership roles.
They're in positionsof power and authority,
but Gen Z and all the othergenerations are seeing things
from a total different lens.
- And how do we,
I'm not saying we needto blow up buildings
and rebuild and restart,
but there's ways that we really can work
to make the spaces more inclusive,
make the visual art more inclusive,
make the collection more inclusive.
And that's what we're focusing on.
You mentioned earlier,something I wanna tap in
before we move off about theGreat Records Resignation,
you talked about it inthe founder's address.
One of the things I thinkpeople are missing about
the Great Resignation is, what I...
It's been happening, butI'm putting voice to it.
The next social justicemovement and the next part
of the Great Resignation arepeople leaving organizations
who put out all these great statements
about Black Lives Matter,supporting the movement.
And that's all they've done.
And it made a promise thatthey were going to commit
to do this and commit to do that.
And there's been no action.
And so people are saying,they're voicing their opinion
and their values by saying,"You know what? You lied."
- Yeah.- You lied.
- Yeah.- You capitalize on a moment,
which is what our our society's become,
capitalization and oppression,
the cycle of repressionand folks like you,
you are benefiting from mylabor as a person of color,
and you are, you're alsonot supporting the movement,
in the actions that you said.
And so people are goingto leave organizations
based on values.
- I see that happening already, in droves.
Right. And so between COVIDand this racial equity movement
that we're in the midst of,and that's the United States,
but it's also in other countries.
- Right, and so ifsomebody hasn't experienced
a sense of urgency yet,and you're a leader
of any shape or form in your organization,
I feel like this values alignment.
I mean, values back in the dayI been talking about values,
for 30 years, nobody cared.
I'm like, "This is super important."
And now all of a sudden it'scentral and it's not optional.
And people expect it to bebehaviorally demonstrable,-
- Hm mm.- Right this minute.
- And if people are in leadership roles
and haven't yet gotten theirducks in a row around this,
shame on them, becauseit's not like nobody's
been telling them.- Right.
- And now we're in, three years, at least.
If the last three yearswasn't enough time,
you should have been doing this before,
but the last threeyears you haven't gotten
your ducks in a row, just get ready.
You know, we're going through something
that is truly a cultural transformation.
Like I've never seen before.
- Absolutely, and just writing a check,
doesn't do it anymore.- Nope. Not anymore.
- Doesn't do it.
People wanna see action and conversations.
Not only just on websites,but in the board room,
in staff meetings, in the organization,
they want the leaders to be able
to talk the talk and walk the walk-
- And not just appointpeople and hire people.
"Somebody gimme a script,"
they need to be able toabsolutely like, get it,
have the message be rightand also to be able to say,
"And here's what we've done
and here's what we will continue to do."
- And here's the associated resourcing.
- Yeah.- Absolutely.
So one of the things that I wanna do
with just the last couple ofminutes that we have together
is just ask you from your vantage point,
related to this topic of CriticalRace Theory specifically,
are there specific thingsthat you think are happening
and/or should be happeningthat could help us
just make some traction or getpast this contentious place
that we are around this topic?
What are some of yourideas or observations?
- Yeah, I think, and it'sprobably the librarian in me,
is that people really have to interrogate
what we see in the media.- Yeah.
- And you know, I'm not saying everybody
needs to go out and buy the book
and read all 300 pages of thebook and all this other stuff,
but really find ways interrogate media
and what we find in themedia, the snippets.
- Everybody knows you'vetaking a communication class.
It's always about, it'snot about what you say.
It's how fast you say it.
So people can't splice your words,
but realize that what you'regetting is always a hot topic,
a snapshot, a picture of you,of what the real issue is.
- Yeah.- And finding ways to paint
the picture for yourself.- Yeah.
- And understand how it impacts your life,
how it impacts your children,how it impacts your family,
the absence of talking aboutrace or oppression or slavery
or in any of the gendermovements or the trans movement.
Any of those, the absence of it,
is we're going to repeat it
or we're gonna have ageneration who doesn't know.
- And that's more damagingthan us saying, you know,
"Let's have a conversation about it."
Now there's appropriate levelsof when have conversations
with children and familiesabout social issues,
but we can't get away from them.
- They're here, and now with social media,
but it's always having the TV on 24/7
with all the pundits, the commentators,
people are just overwhelmedwith information.
I mean, we could talk about COVID
and the facts versus non-facts
and the vaxxers and non-vaxxers,
but COVID is just a new topic.
- Yeah.- Race is the same way.
Gender issues, the same way,salary gap is the same way.
All these issues sometimesare brought to us
because of ratings.
People really want to make sure
that their voice is heard the most.
So how we interrogate the information
that we're receiving isalso one of the things
that we have to learn as a society.
- Love it.
Okay. As always, I love it.
I love being with you.
I love learning with, and from you,
it's funny, we are soclose and we talk so much
(Jerome chukles)and I still learn
and I learn and I learn andI learn every single time.
It's like your wisdom isjust always such a gift.
And I also, I think inaddition to like learning more
about experiences you've had or knowledge
that you've ingested, Ialso feel like I learn more
about my own lenses.
Like it helps me bring into sharper focus.
It's so nice to be able to have a space.
And one of the things that Iencourage our viewers to do is
to create a space withfriends or family or somewhere
where you can actually go andthink about what you think.
Right?- Hm mm.
- 'Cause it brings it intosharper focus it helps clarify.
And it helps kind ofseparate out my own thinking
from the noise, which is so invaluable
in such a noise-filled environment, right?
So I also hope that ourlisteners continue to tune in
and that you have anopportunity to continue thinking
about some of the thingsthat we talked about today
and that you walk away from this episode,
really having more ideas aboutwhat Critical Race Theory is,
about how it is that you cancontinue to do your own work
related to understandingCritical Race Theory,
the way that it is playedout and is playing out
in your everyday lives, butalso how your conversation,
your approach, yourlanguage can fan the flames,
or you can help to workto put out the fire.
And you think about where your stance is.
Jerome, I would love foryou to leave our guests
with some parting words,some parting words of wisdom,
whatever it is that you'dlike to share with us,
and also how we can get in touch with you.
So I'll share the parting words would be
from a perspective of mywork with Mister HBCU.
This year, we had 20institutions represented,
one of the highest numbers we've had
and to make sure thoseyoung men don't repeat
those 20 plus years like I had of feeling,
needing to fall back or to shyaway or dealing with comfort.
One of the most empoweringmoments we had was
we having a conversationabout what it means
to be a black man, what it means to deal
with mental health issues,what it means to be a leader
and seeing those youngmen at age 19 to 21,
struggling because as they go through
their phases of identity development,
their phases of manhood,
what it means to be aman, dealing with culture,
subculture of toxic masculinity,
all those things is forthose of us who've done
the interrogated work, reach back.
- Yeah, yeah.
- And help people in thenext generation not repeat
some of the things that we had to do
to find our authentic voices,
give them the skills now to show up
in their authentic selvesthe best way possible.
- That's what I would tell folks to do.
So for those of us, I'm notsaying we all have arrived
and we are all enlightenedand suddenly, you know,
we all on the same plane with Erykah Badu-
(DeEtta laughs)- But, you know,
how do we reach back andtake the next generation
and protect them, help them,give them the skills they need
because they're our future.
- Yeah. How to pour love into them.
- Yep.- Yep.
That's what culture does.- Yep.
- In the healthiest way.Yep.
And how do we get in touch with you?
- So you can Google Jerome Offord Jr.
plus Harvard to find me at Harvard,
or you can go to www.misterhbcu.org
and you can find us there as well.
- Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
All right, Jerome.
Thank you so much foreverything again, that's it.
That's a wrap on "CultureRoad" podcast Number 3,
for more or tools todrive cultural competency
and performance on topicssuch as maximizing engagement
in a hybrid team or motivating employees
through value-based work,creating brave spaces,
mitigating bias in systems, those topics,
and a lot, lot more,we invite you to visit
culturalroad.com to learn more about
our digital learning solution,
where you get access tofresh monthly content
and community in a liveand on-demand format.
The Culture Road community of practice
will fuel your ongoingprofessional development
and help you to integrateequity, diversity and inclusion
concepts into your everyday life.
So visit www.cultureroad.comfor more information.
Again, thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
And be well.