The Quechee Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Quechee Reads group recently read and discussed the book, Courageous Discomfort: How to Have Important, Brave, Life-Changing Conversations about Race and Racism, by Shanterra McBride and Rosalind Wiseman.
Wiseman is best known for her book, Queen Bees and Wannabes, which was the basis for the hit movie, Mean Girls. McBride is the founder of Marvelous University, a social enterprise that offers leadership development for girls and young women. It was their decades-long friendship and their shared interest in building the self-esteem of young women that give the foundation for their book on race and racism.
DEI members, discussing Courageous Discomfort, were forthright in describing their own experiences of race and racism. Member Matt Donahue admitted he came from “ground zero about the whole phenomenon [of systemic racism],” having come from the middle-class white world of Lowell, Massachusetts. It was his son, who teaches in Oakland, California, who was the first to sound the wakeup call, telling his dad that he was “clueless.” With that moment of truth, Matt began peeling the onion, he says, of his own “blissful blindness.” He admits that, as a lawyer, systemic racism should have been obvious when he started out in 1986. “[Systemic racism] has been in my face forever and I didn’t see it! That is a revelation!” he says. He now understands how easy it is to live in denial when you live in a segregated world, isolated from the larger reality.
Matt wants to move forward with what he has learned from Courageous Discomfort and believes that the book has provided him with tools to continue the conversation. He says that it is not going to be comfortable or pleasant and he may not feel like there is an impact. He has even mentally rehearsed discussions in preparation to respond to someone’s biased or racist remarks. He acknowledges, “Quechee is a white resort – this effort to have this discussion may feel strange to people.”
Matt is proud of his four sons who are aware of their position of privilege as white males in America. While his sons are aware, Matt looks around and sees white folks who would balk at the notion that the economic and power system is skewed in their favor. Yet he is connecting the dots more and more – of how wealth is inherited and connections are built on generations of privilege. There was an anecdote in Courageous Discomfort how a curious white woman touched the McBride’s hair – Matt quips, “Who has ever come up and touched a white man’s hair? “This points to how white men have not endured the indignities that people of color have.
Retired college professor and administrator Sue Mackler describes Quechee as having been isolated, a place where “people could protect themselves from uncomfortable conversations… [but] the national conversation has changed.” Although Sue has experienced her college community of forty years in Northhampton as a place where there were open conversations, she feels now in Quechee it may not be easy and she “will have to be more patient.”
Sue remarks how we can “get carried away with the beauty [of Quechee] and forget the lack of diversity.” However, she has become very aware herself because members of her diverse family love their time in Quechee and she wants them to enjoy the pool and other resources without the underlying discomfort they sometimes experience. Similarly, DEI member Myrna Brooks also wishes for her two granddaughters, who are Black, to be able to enjoy club activities feeling safe and comfortable.
Sue joined the DEI Council to explore systemic racism and bias at the club. She quips that Jewish guilt helps her do the right thing, confessing that, in the 1990s, she had a transgender friend who wanted Sue to take her shopping for clothes while transitioning. She was uncomfortable with this and lied to her friend that she was unable to go. Later she admitted to this person that she had lied. Her regret has deepened her commitment to do the work [of ending bias and bigotry] “because it’s the right thing to do.”
Similar to Sue’s story of being in a college setting where diversity was discussed is Sandy Reavill’s story. Before coming to Quechee, Sandy was head of the math department at a Virginia high school. Confederate flags flew, and Sandy discussed this with her students. The students of color felt the Confederate flags were an assault – an affront to their family heritage of slavery. Meanwhile, the white students didn’t see any problem with the Confederate flag since their families’ heritage had been soldiers who had fought for the Confederacy. The white students were still enmeshed in “old ideas of protecting [their] legacy” says Sandy. Yet the school communities where she worked strived for inclusivity, creating a multi-cultural environment of educational experiences. Sandy is hopeful: “Awareness can change,” she says, seeing how the elders in her own family have evolved in thinking.
Terese Flaherty, the facilitator of the DE&I Quechee Reads group, suggested the book, Courageous Discomfort. She initially met McBride at a girls’ leadership camp in New Hampshire where Terese’s daughter had enrolled. “What Shanterra did for my daughter was amazing,” states Terese. She then contacted McBride and asked “What can I do?” Terese began her journey with the book White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, and when Courageous Discomfort was published, she reconnected with McBride. Terese said she had happy tears and was “blown away by the honesty” of the Quechee Reads group. And wants the courageous conversations to continue.
DE&I member Andrea Pitera connects her own family history to the “need for white men and women to speak up” noting how she was raised in a home that emphasized the danger of hatred. “My father lost most of his family in the holocaust. He knows too well what happens when we pre-judge a race or religious group. My high school was equally Black and white. But after reading the book, I’m feeling I owe some old friends some apologies.”
Courageous Discomfort speaks out becoming allies or advocates and to take action against injustices and oppression and discusses how being an ally is about acknowledging another’s experience as wrong and acting on that acknowledgment.