Tabitha: Today I’m here with my friend, Kristie Williams. She is a professor at Walden university and an affiliate at Northwest Family life. Kristie runs Candid Conversations, book club discussions around diversity, equity and inclusion. What else do you want people to know about you?
Kristie: I’m an educator and a lifelong learner. I am a licensed professional counselor, but I teach clinical mental health counseling and multicultural counseling at Walden University. I’ve been the assistant Dean and the director of diversity, equity and inclusion. I’ve also served as a director of accessibility. So, when I think of this topic, I’m looking at it from a number of different ways.
Tabitha: You’ve shared in the past about the connections and overlap you’ve seen between racism and domestic violence. Can you say more about that?
Kristie: My connection to Northwest family life started over 20 years ago. I’m a graduate of what is now the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. During my time there, the domestic violence certification program started. I was a child witness of domestic violence, so I felt like I needed to be a part of that. I started learning about power and control, and how perpetrators attempt to hold their victims down. I realized, “Oh my gosh, this is the same thing that happens regarding racism!”
When you’re talking about racism, sometimes people just shut down because they think, “I’m going to say the wrong thing,” or “I’m going to offend somebody.” And so, I’ve started facilitating trainings, workshops, and discussions around dating violence, domestic violence, and racism. During these training sessions, I use the Power and Control Wheel to show participants how abusers can manipulate and control others.
Tabitha: There are now many versions of the power and control wheel, with some that illustrate the overlap of gender/race/citizenship privilege. For example, a survivor of domestic violence who is from another country might face even more stigma or have their immigration status held against them.
Kristie: Yes. These “wheels” really illustrate what’s going on in a way that people, especially the students I work with, can understand without making them feel like they are going to say the wrong thing. It helps them to be able to ask questions and learn. I try to teach in a way that people who are new to these topics don’t feel like they are being shamed for what they didn’t know, or didn’t see, or didn’t understand.
Tabitha: It must sometimes be difficult for you sometimes to walk into a space, knowing that people are already afraid they’re going to mess up before you've even presented anything. How does that work with Candid Conversations?
Kristie: Everyone’s already afraid, even if they really want to do the right thing. I have to help them recognize what some people may be coming in with, because when you’re entering these spaces, you’re not coming in alone. You’re bringing all the generational stuff that’s behind you. Someone may say something triggering. It might be the first time they have had the opportunity to discuss these issues. We’re providing a safe space, a brave space, I’d even say a sacred space, for people to hear, “This didn’t start with you.” Something I say so frequently my students roll their eyes is this: The best way to change hearts and minds is in relationships and over time. That’s what’s so good about doing these book discussions. People come together for weeks and get to know each other. It’s not like you have these hard conversations about racism and never see that person again. Just like with support groups, there’s something special about being with people over time that actually impacts and affects change.
Tabitha: Yes. In some of the groups I’ve participated in with you, we’ve had people from really, really different places, levels of understanding, and educational backgrounds. But we meet with the goal of connecting. Even if we don't necessarily end at the same spot, there’s this strong desire to understand the other that I think is really sacred.
Kristie: Absolutely. In some cases, people are coming from different states or even countries. It’s possible they’ve never met somebody that looks or thinks like somebody else on that screen. It knocks down biases they didn’t know they had. It creates a space where people can realize they have mindsets they need to dismantle. Or they meet people or read something in the book where they think, “Me too!” Things I often hear are, “Oh, I had never thought of it that way,” or, “I hadn’t realized that people are actually still experiencing this kind of discrimination and bias.” If you’re a white person who lives in a predominantly white city like Seattle, it can be really easy to think, “That’s only happening over there in that place where they’re kind of backward.” Nope, it’s actually still happening today here.
Tabitha: And when you are face-to-face with someone else who is experiencing it, it suddenly becomes a lot more personal.
Kristie: Yes, absolutely.
Tabitha: Can you tell us a bit more about what books you covered in Candid Conversations? Which book is your favorite?
Kristie: Ooh, that’s going to be a hard question. We started out at the beginning of the pandemic. People were struggling, feeling isolated, and had more time on their hands. Simultaneously, we had George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, all of these things were happening at the same time. I started book clubs to help my students stay connected, and initially the first Candid Conversations book club was just to help therapists connect during the pandemic. Our first book was Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime. What I didn’t realize at first is that his story doesn’t just have racism, but also domestic violence. We also read My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson, and It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn. Each of the books really contributed to the ongoing conversation of how we got to where we are in this country. We’ve talked a lot about inherited trauma. Right now we’re reading The Choice by Edith Eger. It feels really applicable to what’s happening in Ukraine right now. It’s the story of a Holocaust survivor and talks about how we have a choice in how we respond to evil. We don’t have to let evil control us. It’s like everything we’ve read so far culminates in this particular book.
Tabitha: It’s interesting how with all the book studies you’ve done, there’s this spirit led aspect to it because they all fold into one another. With Trevor Noah’s book, you touched on really serious topics but in an accessible way, because he’s so funny. It’s like a side door into tough subjects–one minute you are laughing and the next you are crying. My Grandmother’s Hands was such a good backdrop that helped explain where our culture is at right now. Many people don’t realize that slavery didn’t just come out of nowhere, and neither did the genocide of indigenous peoples. And it’s not an excuse, but it gives us a framework to show us how far we have to go to dismantle oppressive systems–and how much we have to repent of.
Kristie: Absolutely. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Hurt people hurt people.” But as we read our current book, The Choice, we get to hear all these stories of people who have experienced violence and trauma and choose not to pass that on. We have a choice in how we respond.
Tabitha: It’s a powerful truth. In some of the support groups I lead, that’s been a question we’ve been asking. There are women in really difficult circumstances. Sometimes they have to co-parent with their abuser, sometimes they lose their community because their story isn’t believed. But even in these situations they are learning to ask, “Where do I have agency here? I may be forced to encounter someone who’s hurt me, but how do I choose to enter that space? How can I keep myself calm? How can I be a shelter for my children in spite of what we are going through?” I find that question, “Where do I have agency right now?” to be really powerful in my own life.
Kristie: It’s empowering for people to realize that they have the choice to speak up, or to not respond (which is sometimes a valid choice.)
Tabitha: Shifting topics a bit, I’d like to go back to talking about the intersection of domestic violence and racism. What do you think are some of the additional struggles faced by survivors who are also women of color?
Kristie: That’s a great question. Oftentimes, there aren’t any people of color at the organizations who are supposed to help them. Maybe they are in an abusive situation, so they reach out to their church. The church recommends a domestic violence shelter but when they show up, there isn’t a single person who looks like them. Not only are they dealing with the trauma of their particular situation, but they might wonder if there is bias against them from the people who are supposed to help. Or, if their abuser is a person of color, they might worry about perpetuating stereotypes. I am speaking as an African American woman who was a child witness of domestic violence. If I am telling my story to a white person, I am wondering if they can recognize that I still love my father. He was the father God gave me, even though I can see that there were things he did that were horrific. I’m not excusing that–but that wasn’t all he was. So, if someone comes to a DV support group, and their abuser is a person of color, they might not feel safe to share that. They might wonder if others in the group will use their story as a reason to distrust other men of color. They might project your story onto every Black, Latino, Asian, etc. man they meet, and that’s a risk when you share. I think more therapists and facilitators need training on this. It’s also important to note that this is an issue in batterer’s treatment as well. How do men of color who have been abusive trust that their group leaders or counselors think they can actually change? We have to ask ourselves if the people coming to us for help can relate to the helpers. Because they are going to be asking, “Is
this a safe place for me to bring my whole self?”
Tabitha: So, as a white facilitator, what’s the first thing I can do to make women of color feel safer in my group?
Kristie: Start with directly acknowledging that we are all different, and that everyone is bringing different things into the group. Being a survivor can be isolating enough, we don’t want people to feel alone and unacknowledged because of their ethnicity too.
Tabitha: How would you define the term “intersectionality” for someone who’s never heard it before?
Kristie: Intersectionality is the point at which different parts of our identity meet, specifically marginalized identities. I am African American, but I’m also a woman. A survivor might be an immigrant and also be part of the LGBTQ+ community. These identities are connecting and overlapping and we can’t pull them apart. For example, at a college I used to work at, there was a group for LGBTQ+ students, but the students of color within the group felt like there was something missing. They went on to start an additional group that addressed the areas they felt weren’t being heard or seen in the other. These two groups worked together, but the second group was essential to meet those needs that weren’t being met. Intersectionality creates awareness of all of the different components people bring to the table, whether that’s gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or religion.
Tabitha: This is really important for white people to understand. It’s easy for most of us to walk through the world, at least in the West, because everything is catered to us. We tend to think that our way of viewing the world is the baseline for “normal.” We have to learn to walk with the awareness that what might feel “normal” or “average” to us is not necessarily the case for everyone else.
I am trying to have the awareness that I’m going to make mistakes. I’m going to miss things, or make
assumptions that aren’t helpful. And there will be times when I’m called out for that, but it doesn’t have to be a source of shame, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow.
Kristie: A great resource on intersectionality is Dr. Kimberly Crenshaw. I use some of her materials in my courses.
Tabitha: Futures Without Violence is another great resource. They have a phrase in one of their videos on intersectionality that I like: “We can’t end one form of violence without ending all forms of violence.”
Kristie: Sometimes when people are suffering, it can be hard for them to connect or relate to a different form of oppression. But we can’t act like these other forms of violence don’t exist just because they aren’t happening to us. I think we all have purpose. It’s true that we can’t do everything, but that’s why we need to connect with others so we can be, at the very least, a resource. I’m a lifelong learner, and I often point people to the work of someone else more knowledgeable. But we can’t just cover our eyes and pretend like violence against other communities doesn’t exist.
Tabitha: What’s the phrase? “A rising tide lifts all boats?” To me, this means that we’re all connected, and none of us are really free until all of us are free, to paraphrase Fanny Lou Hamer. So I want to see full equality and flourishing for women, and that means I want to see full equality and flourishing for people of all races. As we wrap up, can you tell us what you are reading right now?
Kristie: Well, like I said, I can’t recommend the book The Choice enough. I also just ordered How to Do the Work, which I’ve heard is good. And Dr. Caprice Hollins has been a big influence on me.
Tabitha: Thank you so much for your time and your wisdom, Kristie! You are a gift to Northwest Family Life and to everyone you come into contact with.