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The Changemaker Series: Getting (Un)Comfortable Talking About Racism, Featuring Ashley, Along With Sara Blanchard and Misasha Suzuki Graham, Authors of Dear White Women

As a White woman myself, I, like so many others, often find myself fearing that I’ll say or do the wrong thing when it comes to dealing with racism. But my friends, Nardi Media clients, hosts of the popular Dear White Women Podcast, and authors of the book Dear White Women: Let’s Get (Un)Comfortable Talking About Racism, say that in order to talk about racism, we do have to get uncomfortable.

The two women, both mixed-race with Japenese heritage, bring unique perspectives to the current dialogue about anti-racism, bridging the gap to invite readers of all races to confront and reflect on their lived experiences, as well as adjust practices through the examination of history, culture, statistics, and psychology.

Keep scrolling to read a full recap of our conversation, which includes why we have to get uncomfortable talking about racism, how to have conversations around race with adults and kids alike, and small actions we can take to be an ally to women of color.

  • Ashley: Hi ladies! Tell me about your background and what inspired you to write this book?
    • Sara: Misasha and I have known each other for 25 years and we’re both biracial – both of us from one White parent and one Japanese immigrant parent. We were at this Half-Asian Association meeting as undergrads at Harvard, and we both walked out in the middle of it because we had this sense that this is not how we would’ve had these racial identity conversations. And that’s where we met – in the hallway – and we’ve been friends ever since! People usually want to put you in a box – are you White enough? Are you Asian enough? Misasha and I connected on that level off the bat, and we also started having more conversations about how our children will grow up differently because of their different races. I’m married to a White Canadian guy and Misasha is married to a Black man, and we realized that our hopes, fears, and dreams for our kids are very different because of the way they show up in the world.
    • Misasha: My boys are Black, Japanese, and White. I was pregnant with my first son when Trayvon Martin was murdered, and I was holding my second son when Tamir Rice was murdered, so I think those events, coupled with raising a Black boy in America, are really formative. My biggest fear is that my boys leave the house one day and never come back. As a parent, it’s a devastating fear, but those fears didn’t exist when Sara and I were kids because we both grew up in White neighborhoods. So we thought, what if we could change that narrative? We know what is and what isn’t being said in those spaces, so we wanted to harness the power that women have to help do that. That power is undervalued in society, but women can harness their power in all spheres of life to move the needle of racism by both understanding our past and how we move forward. 
  • Ashley: The subtitle of your book is let’s get UNcomfortable, and you chose that for a reason. Let’s dig into that.
    • Sara: Yes, the topic of race is uncomfortable no matter who you are because you’re putting yourself out there for being judged based on how you look. But at the same time, I know a lot of White women and all women get uncomfortable all the time. We go to the gym and put ourselves out there, and we talk about sex with our children and it can all get uncomfortable – but it’s worth it. And it’s not always about White people helping everyone else because we often forget that being White is a race, too. So, it’s about White people being a part of the narrative and also recognizing our own identities and how we show up in the world, and our race is just one of those things. This helps us grow as people.
  • Ashley: As a White woman myself, I felt helpless at the beginning of the pandemic when we collectively watched so many incidents of racial injustice. I wanted to help but I was also afraid of saying the wrong thing. As a White woman, where do you start?
    • Misasha: That’s a really important question because I think a lot of people just jump into trying to do something, but it’s also important to realize that this is really intentional work. Start by recognizing that White is a race and ask yourself what biases you hold and what you don’t know. Educating yourself is part of the work. We were all told stories of our past and it reflects what we know today, even what we were taught in school because it’s not taught equally. When you educate yourself, the next step is starting to have those conversations and realizing that you’re probably going to say the wrong thing, but if you do, take a moment to recognize it, apologize, own it, and move on.
  • Ashley: I want to share a stat that I always go back to and see what you think. More than 80% of White women view themselves as allies to women of color at work. Yet, just 45% of Black women and 55% of Latinas agree. What’s with this difference in perception and what can we do to change it? 
    • Sara: It’s such a good statistic to bring up because it shows the intent vs. the impact that you’re actually having. In all of this work, we talk about the impact because it’s about acknowledging where you went wrong. I think the problem is most organizations don’t ask what women of color need, and what I’ve been learning is that a lot of times women of color just want access to people with opportunities they don’t even know about. For example, if a woman of color is interrupted at your next meeting, you can use your voice and give that person the opportunity to speak instead of just being a nice person.
  • Ashley: I love that you said that because asking can be so powerful. When the Black Lives Matter movement really grew at the beginning of the pandemic, everyone created a book club including myself. It helped me educate myself and others, but I had a realization that maybe this isn’t what’s needed right now and your book really helped me see that.
    • Sara: That’s really awesome! And yes, that’s exactly it, we don’t want to be frozen in the conversation, but what I’ve found is that a lot of White people are tired. However, racism hasn’t gone away and we’ve perhaps gotten more divisive as a country, but we don’t want people to have the option to opt out because we’re all very interdependent. What you can do is if you had a book club or were posting about it on social media, see if you can re-engage your community to continue having those conversations.
    • Misasha: And to add on to that, I think we have a great example of that right now in the confirmation hearings of Ketanji Brown Jackson. She is undoubtedly the most qualified for the Supreme Court, and we’re watching her get grilled in a way that we’ve never seen. This is a situation where you can call your Senator and ask for her confirmation. There are little things you can do that are so powerful, even with something that’s showing us how racism is still definitely out there on a national level.
    • Sara: I love that you said that because I remember the first time I called my Senator – I was terrified because I never engaged my political power! But in my adult years, I’m just realizing that my voice has power and you realize that the more you do this work, the more you feel comfortable doing it even though it might be nerve-racking. It’s that practice that we’re asking people to do more of.
  • Ashley: I agree, and I actually set a reminder every week on my phone to call my lawmaker, so if you need help, try that because it’s helped me stay consistent! Even if you don’t do it every week, it helps me remember to do it on a regular basis.
    • Sara: I always think it’s scary because those who are more heart-led and humanitarian and believe in this work think everyone believes in it just because we do, and because of that we don’t have to get loud. But on the other side, the people who are wired in fear and divisiveness are really loud. And because of that, they’ll get their fellow teammates riled up. So, we won’t make progress if we don’t speak loudly and get louder together.
  • Ashley: I do believe we have this responsibility to share our message with the world, which is what I teach to my clients and what you’ve done with your book, and it’s great that you’re encouraging others to do the same. Another question I have is, what does it mean to have White privilege?
    • Sara: First, I want all of my White friends to slow their heart rates down because there’s a lot of defensiveness and gut reactions around that phrase. Acknowledge your body’s response and let’s breathe in it! But what it’s referring to is this: what you’ve seen in White skin has not disadvantaged you in any way. It’s this idea that you are the default race, but it’s very uncomfortable to be told that all of your hard work actually happened because you’re White. People don’t like hearing that.
    • Misasha: The way we can look at it is “White privilege” holds multiple truths. You can be poor and work really hard to get to where you are and still have White privilege. We talked about divisiveness, but again, multiple things can be true and it doesn’t have to take away from hard work. That’s a really important part of the conversation.
  • Ashley: What about our kids? How do we teach our kids about racism?
    • Sara: It’s such a great question and I think our answers will be totally different because of who our kids are. For my kids who present as White, it’s about having an understanding that they have a race, and these things should and can be taught really early. Children as young as 6-months-old can differentiate between the skin color of their caregiver vs. someone else. By age 3-5, children are choosing their playmates based on their race. Kids see those differences, so raising kids to be color-kind rather than color blind is so important. There are so many amazing tools and resources out there to help with that, but overall it’s about recognizing that they have a race, and then, in an age-appropriate way, teaching them that society has judged people based on their race.
    • Misasha: In my household, we talk about it as survival. And I’ve seen that kids not only understand, but they want to learn. We’ve talked about the science of skin color with second graders and they understood it, and we talked about belonging and systemic racism. They also ask really good questions. As parents, when we get these same questions, we often freeze and push those questions under the rug, and maybe even say dismissive things because that’s what we learned from our own parents. But we want to encourage those questions, and depending on the age of your kid, offer to look up the answer together or read a book together because it validates their question. It’s so important to teach your kids early on because their perception of racism will be shaped by social media and their peers, but you ultimately want it to come from you and your values.
  • Ashley: In hearing you say that Misasha, kids have a lot to teach us adults. Do you think talking about racism with our kids needs to be uncomfortable or should it feel like a more natural conversation?
    • Sara: It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable, but I think it only gets uncomfortable when you judge yourself and worry that you didn’t say the right thing, or you haven’t understood your own response to racism yet. If we can get rid of perfectionism and be humble and admit that we don’t know everything all the time, we’d feel better. We want children to understand that this is a value our family holds. Teenagers now are talking about sexual and gender identity, and race should be one of them. As Misasha said, kids are already forming opinions – you just have to think about whether you as a parent want to be a part of it or not.
  • Ashley: Before we close, I want to give you an opportunity to share anything I didn’t ask.
    • Misasha: This is messy, this is uncomfortable, but if we want to look forward and focus on the future, it’s important to keep asking questions like “why are all my friends White?” or “why do I live in a predominantly White community?”, continuing to be curious about how we got to where we are, and committing to small actions that will move our future to a place that we want to see for ourselves and for our kids.

To learn more about Sara and Misasha, check out their website at dearwhitewomen.com, where you’ll be able to purchase their book, listen to their podcast, and find them on social media.

CLICK HERE to watch my full IG LIVE with Sara and Misasha on Nardi Media’s Instagram. To stay up to date on my upcoming conversations with more changemakers, subscribe to our newsletter HERE, where you’ll also gain insider PR, publishing, and media training tips and be the first to know about upcoming events!

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Tracy Mccubbin

AUTHOR, MAKING SPACE, CLUTTER FREE

"The biggest piece of advice a first-time author is given is to “hire your own publicist,” but what they don’t tell you is to “hire your own Ashley.”  Looking back, I don’t know how I could have released my book without Ashley & her team.  We started working together before the book was published.  First local TV and small blogs and as I got more seasoned and the book got closer to coming, she booked me appearances on bigger and bigger outlets. 

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Susan Peirce Thompson, Ph.D.

New York Times Best Selling Author of Bright Line Eating: The Science of Living Happy, Thin, and Free

"The biggest piece of advice a first-time author is given is to “hire your own publicist,” but what they don’t tell you is to “hire your own Ashley.”  Looking back, I don’t know how I could have released my book without Ashley & her team.  We started working together before the book was published.  First local TV and small blogs and as I got more seasoned and the book got closer to coming, she booked me appearances on bigger and bigger outlets. 

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Susan McGinnis

Correspondent, CBS Newspath

“I am so pleased that Ashley is embarking on this new venture. For many years she has shined as an outstanding booker and producer at CBS News and at start-ups including Clean Skies News.  She was my first hire at Clean Skies, and was the shining star among the pack. She has always had  tremendous dedication to her work, and an untiring ability to accomplish whatever faces her, letting no obstacle stand in the way of an outstanding product.  She consistently goes above and beyond expectations, and never takes “no” as an answer, and never settles for less than outstanding. I would hire Ashley again. And again. And again.”

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Jennifer Oko

Partner, Mad Squid Media

“Ashley and I have worked together is a few different capacities, including CBS News, energyNOW!. I cannot say enough good things about her. Ashley is smart, thorough, quick, creative, and incredibly hard working. Most importantly, to be a successful media liaison and guest booker, relationships are everything. Ashley is a genuinely lovely person, and she wins the respect and trust of everyone she works with. She is the first person I call whenever I need a guest booker or segment producer.”

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Margaret Ryan

Energy Journalist & Analyst

“Ashley Bernardi is a dynamic professional who consistently produces excellent results.  In my three years working with Ashley as the head booker at Clean Skies News/EnergyNOW!, I never saw her fail to complete a job she had been assigned – and complete it admirably. Ashley is creative, energetic and goal-oriented, a true team player who works congenially with other professionals but can also be relied on to execute an assignment on her own. Ashley is the person I wanted on my team when I faced a challenging assignment!”

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Hardy Spire

Senior Producer, CNN’s Reliable Sources. Former General Manager at CleanSkies News and Senior Producer at CBS News.

“Ashley Bernardi has every rare quality in a TV producer — aggressiveness, insight, creativity, a strong work ethic, and pure charm.  She has all this plus she’s a kind and positive person.  And she has great contacts!”

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Silvio Marcacci

Principal, Marcacci Communications

“Ashley is hands down the best media trainer I’ve ever worked with, and she uses her considerable producing experience to make clients feel at ease and ready to learn. In addition, her ability to book clients on television and radio interviews is quite impressive – be ready for hours of interviews if you’re working with her!”

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Mary Jordan

Washington Post National Correspondent and Founding Editor of Washington Post Live

“There is nothing Ashley Bernardi cannot do when it comes to media.  She books top people for TV shows and national conferences and knows the business inside out. I worked closely with Ashley at the Washington Post  and she is not only savvy, but great to be around. She is the always cheerful, smart voice on the other end of the phone who persuades busy people to drop everything they are doing and do what Ashley tells them.”

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Scott Behson, PhD

best-selling author of The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home

“I was a relatively unknown first-time author and Ashley was fantastic in getting my name out there, and ultimately booking me on national TV and radio, as well as major podcasts. She also provided top-notch media training and was always a great listener and advisor. Finally, she was on top of everything and we communicated constantly. I couldn’t have been happier about her efforts on behalf of my book launch!”

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Ron Friedman, Ph.D

author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace

“Ashley Bernardi is extraordinary at her job in every way. Smart, strategic and relentlessly energetic, Ashley is someone I’d want on my team in any public relations campaign.”