In this episode, Ihotu asks Rebecca about her cultural upbringing, and Rebecca reflects candidly on racism and cultural differences she witnessed as a child growing up in the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee. We also explore the harmful impacts of white privilege and white supremacy on birth and reproductive justice work, as well as oppressive agendas that harm communities of color and other marginalized communities.
Ihotu and Rebecca also talk about solutions such as doing inner work, educating yourself, understanding your ancestry, creating solidarity with those from other cultural groups, protecting Black women and girls (vs. being a savior), and being aware of how your actions and words may have harmed people from marginalized groups.
Content warning: We mention racism, white supremacy culture (including aspects of anti-black white supremacy), the uprisings in Minneapolis, the murder of George Floyd, racialized violence against Black communities.
Listen to EBB 199 – ” Writing about Racism’s Effects on Pregnancy and Birth Outcomes” here.
Learn more about “Readings For Diversity And Social Justice” by Maurianne Adams, Warren Blumenfeld, Carmelita Rosie Castaneda, Heather Hackman, Madeline Peters, and Ximena Zuniga here.
Learn more about Minnesota Healing Justice Network here.
Learn more about the Oshun Center for Intercultural Healing here.
Learn more about Ibram X. Kendi’s “So You Want To Be Antiracist” here.
Learn more about Tema Okun’s “Aspects of White Supremacy Culture” here.
Learn more about Dr. Sayida Peprah here.
Rebecca Dekker: Welcome to The Evidence Based Birth® Podcast. My name is Rebecca Dekker and I’m a nurse with my Ph.D. and the founder of Evidence-Based Birth. Join me each week as we work together to get evidence-based information into the hands of families and professionals around the world. As a reminder, this information is not medical advice. See ebbirth.com/disclaimer for more details.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Hi, everyone. Welcome to today’s episode of The EBB Podcast. My name is Ihotu Jennifer Ali, pronouns she/her, and I will be your host for today’s episode. Today is a very special thing. It is the 200th episode of The Evidence Based Birth® Podcast. Wow. This is a huge milestone because most podcasts don’t make it this far. Our team also wanted to celebrate the fact that we have surpassed 2.5 million downloads of this podcast. And to do so, we wanted to talk with the founder of EBB, Dr. Rebecca Dekker, about a topic that is very near and dear to all of our hearts.
My name is Ihotu Jennifer Ali and I’m a research associate at EBB and I was featured on last week’s episode, Episode 199, as well as in Episode 143 on reproductive justice. Before we get started, I want to make you aware of a content morning that we will be having a discussion about racism and white supremacy culture. If there are any other detailed content or trigger warnings, we’ll post them in the description or the show notes that go along with this episode. And now, I’d like to introduce our honored guest whose voice you may already be familiar with, but now we get to switch spots and I’m going to interview her instead of the other way around. And since this interview is about solidarity at birth work, Rebecca also has a few questions for me as well. So let’s get to it.
Dr. Rebecca Dekker is the founder and CEO of Evidence Based Birth® and the author of Babies Are Not Pizzas: They’re Born Not, Delivered. Dr. Dekker has earned a bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. in nursing. From 2010 to 2016, Dr. Dekker was an assistant professor of nursing at the University of Kentucky College of Nursing. In 2016, Dr. Dekker left academia to focus full-time on the mission of Evidence Based Birth®. The team that she leads, and I’m very proud to be a part of, helps birth workers build the evidence-based knowledge, skills, and power they need to protect families’ abilities to give birth with empowerment. The work that we do at Team EBB goes on to, directly and indirectly, impact families who are searching for evidence-based information to empower their prenatal birth and postpartum experiences.
Rebecca Dekker: Yay. Thank you for that introduction, Ihotu.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Absolutely.
Rebecca Dekker: So what questions do you have prepared for me?
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: So I have some great questions, I have lovingly prepared. First of all, I’d like to ask, how did we meet and what’s one story or moment between us that illustrates the connection we have maybe on a human or a soul level, despite how different we might be?
Rebecca Dekker: So the first time I remember meeting you virtually was actually during the uprisings in Minneapolis, after the murder of George Floyd. I think you were already a professional member of Evidence-Based Birth, but I didn’t know you personally. I had made a statement online publicly and I also sent out several emails to our audience of about 45,000 people with some action items. And you wrote back and I could just feel the depth of your pain and emotions. And I think I asked you like, “What do you need? What do you need me to do?” And at the time, there was just so much suffering going on, you literally couldn’t tell me what you needed. And I think sometimes we find that when people are in the midst of a crisis, they don’t know what they need, right?
So I waited until you were ready to respond, but in the meantime, I went on your website for the Minnesota Healing Justice Network and started following some of the action items there. And then you wrote me back. Not only did you tell me what you need, but you had convened with the entire Minnesota Healing Justice Network and had a discussion about, “What we should ask Rebecca,” and so I just remember being so impressed that you didn’t just say, “Hey, can you do this for me.” You were like, “We developed a 10-point action plan for you.” And I was like, “Okay, these people know what’s up and I’m going to do as they say. That was my first interaction with you.
And since then, we’ve had the honor of meeting in person one time this summer at a retreat, but otherwise, we’ve mostly been meeting by Zoom, because in February of 2021, you reached out and asked if you thought and you said, “Rebecca, should I apply for this position that you have open as research associate?” And I was like, “Yes, of course,” because you have your background in research and public health and I was so impressed by how you were open and transparent about what you needed from Evidence Based Birth® during that time. And you were unapologetically working on healing your community and yourself. I was like, “Of course, you should apply.” And so that’s when we started working together weekly and meeting weekly.
And even before then though, even before you start working for EBB, we invited you to come on the podcast and do a takeover and literally take over. I didn’t interview you, your group just had a discussion and I think that reflected some trust that we developed really quickly between each other and that I trusted you as an expert in your area. And you trusted me to not traumatize you. You reached out to me, you kept the conversation going and so we developed a trust rather quickly that has been growing. It wasn’t perfect from the beginning and it still isn’t. But I think that there was an element that we knew we could count on each other to be who we were, that we were genuine people. Does that make sense?
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Right. Absolutely, you brought so many memories back to my mind, just that too. And I think the moment for me would be during the retreat, being able to go out to Kentucky and see the way that you run a retreat. And I think many of us were so surprised and impressed that you gave us the platform. You were like, “I would love for you to talk on anything that you feel is important for EBB instructors to learn about.” And I was able to talk about cultural appropriation and talk about cultural medicines and my work, my healing work that’s outside of EBB.
And for me, that was a moment when I felt like I could really … It wasn’t just I was working for you, but this was like an integration of not only who I am and the work I want to do, but adding research in a way that empowers people and reach a larger audience. I feel like you really trusted your team and that I don’t always see often. So we’ve all felt that way. And I’m just really, really happy to see this continue to grow, this relationship. So let’s go back a little bit into your story, Rebecca, what was your early experience with race and understanding race as a concept and with people of different backgrounds and lifestyles, maybe your neighborhood or your schools?
Rebecca Dekker: So I write about this a little bit in my book, Babies Are Not Pizzas, but I grew up in the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee which is a part of the country that has a long racialized history with a lot of violence and a lot of hatred. There’s a lot of sadness there. And when I talk about it, I’m not really exactly sure what to say because I didn’t really understand what was going on there as a child. It was a highly segregated city. Memphis has always been around 80% Black, but the suburbs are 90% white. And the concept of white flight to the suburbs and the abandonment of the inner city was something I witnessed on a regular basis people, grown ups talking around me about, “Oh, that neighborhoods going downhill,” as soon as a Black family moved in.
That was just normal language that I would hear at my friends’ parents’ parents houses. And I didn’t understand why it was like that. It didn’t make sense to me. And I saw the segregation, but I didn’t understand the history. And other than the basics of the Civil War and the basics of the civil rights movement, there really wasn’t anything taught in our public schools or private schools about the racialized history of Memphis including the bombing of Black neighborhoods, the terror of Jim Crow and lynching and it was never explained to me as a child. And in fact, through my whole experience, through all of my degrees of undergraduate and many years of graduate school, I was never educated on any of this stuff. It’s something that I had to self-educate about starting in my 30s.
And so there was that, but in my immediate family, I had a family member who was disabled in a wheelchair and I also had several adopted family members who are of Korean ethnicity. And my mom was always very open in talking about how horrible Jim Crow was when she was growing up. So she was white and grew up in Texas and witnessed, grew up witnessing the segregation on city buses and in schools and she talked about how unfair it was. She talked about openly about how when she was a nurse in Louisville, Kentucky and her first nursing job, she remembers when they were forced to hire the first Black nurse in this hospital in Louisville and how nobody would talk to that nurse and everybody was just acting like it was the worst thing ever.
And my mom thought that was wrong and she didn’t believe that we should treat people differently because of their skin color. So she was always very open in talking with me about those things as a child, but I still think there still was a lack of depth of understanding. I know my father when he was in the Air Force, he actually flew troops to Mississippi to desegregate the university there. So my parents were very much alive during the desegregation. They were young adults raising their children before I was born. And I came along later in the 1980s where this stuff was recent enough that it was obviously influencing everyday life in Memphis, but it wasn’t in any history books and nobody was talking about what had happened or making any kind of reparations.
So that’s the background of how I grew up. And I grew up in a white family, like I said, with some Korean American family members, but for the most part, my family was of 100% European ancestry. My grandparents on my dad’s side were Dutch immigrants from the Netherlands in the early 1900s, so about half of my ancestry is Dutch and I’m married to a Dutch American as well. My husband is 100% Dutch American.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: I remember at the EBB Instructor Retreat you saying that you had a family member who had disabilities and I have a sister with disabilities as well and I just remember that being like this connection between us. I remember you also said something about having Dutch ancestry and about Dutch culture that really stuck with me and I asked you to share it in the retreat and now I’m going to ask you to share it here again.
Rebecca Dekker: So one of the things I have found is that a lot of white people in America, they think they don’t have a “culture” or an ethnicity and that’s part of the lie of white supremacy and the dominant culture is that you think you’re the norm and everything else is ethnic or cultural, but you’re just the norm because you’re dominant. And you don’t actually start to dissect what makes up your culture. So I did a few years ago start making this and you’re going to ask me about this later on, I know, but I’ll go ahead and bring it up this bullet point list of Aspects Of White Culture: My List. It’s literally just a word document on my desktop. That’s called Aspects of White Culture: My List and I started bullet point listing things that I knew that were like cultural norms in my white community growing up and still today.
And then as I went on, I started thinking more and more about my ancestry and a lot of this is for my relationship with you. And a lot of African Americans and Black people that I have worked with, they talk a lot about their ancestors and I hadn’t really thought about it that much, even though I have an ancestry.com account. I have to trace some things. But Dutch culture, in particular, that’s half of my family and my grandparents came to America as immigrants. I’m a granddaughter of immigrants. My grandmother came with her parents when she was an infant and my grandfather came alone as a teenager when he was only like 18 or 19 years old. He left behind his entire family and came by himself.
And I only met them a few times. I don’t remember a whole lot about my Dutch grandparents because they were in their 80s when I was born and they died when I was a small child. So a lot of what I learned about my Dutch ancestry like comes from family lore, stories written by my dad and his twin brother. And one of the things I learned about Dutch culture, a lot of people talk about my grandfather, how he was an extremely opinionated man who like to share his opinions with just about anyone, “Sometimes in a very forceful manner,” that’s a direct quote from my uncle and that was passed on.
Even though I didn’t have a relationship with my grandfather, my siblings and I started exhibiting some of those same characteristics as children. We were never afraid to share our opinions with the adults in the family and we could all be quite stubborn and strong willed just like my grandfather. And so I looked it up and I found that Wikipedia says about Dutch customs that in most matters, Dutch people tend to be straightforward and open, a tendency known as bespreekbaarhaid which literally means speakability and I found another article that says, what non-Dutch people think is rude or blunt, the Dutch perceive as honesty and truth. They pride themselves in having and expressing an opinion. They consider American “politeness” as a form of weakness and hypocrisy and Dutch people don’t believe in sugarcoating things.
And I just laughed because I don’t know if you’ve been watching Ted Lasso. It’s a very popular show on Apple right now about an American coach who goes to England and coaches a football team there, but they have a Dutch player on the football team and it’s this running joke all season that he just says the most blunt things and everybody looks at him like he’s so rude and they’re just like, “Oh, he’s Dutch. He’s just saying what he thinks.” So I thought that was interesting that this is an aspect of my culture that somehow seeped down into me and my siblings, even though we didn’t have a lot of exposure to our grandparents and just an example of how culture can persist through generations, even when you don’t know that that’s what’s happening.
And I think it’s a benefit. I can lean on that Dutch tendency of mine to not be afraid to speak the truth and that’s a difference between me and a lot of my friends and social group. Even when I worked in academia, people were like, “Do you remember that one time, Rebecca, in front of the whole research team, let everybody know how they were harming someone?” And I’m like, “Yeah, if I see something wrong, I’m going to speak up.” But then that’s so funny that my grandparents did that because I didn’t really know them.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Well, that was a key moment when I learned that about you that I started to trust you more. Because as someone who lived in New York for a decade and is used to straight-talking New Yorkers but then also originally from Minnesota and moved back here about five, six years ago, the kind of racism that often shows up here is that people will be nice to your face, this very Scandinavian, Lutheran Christian, very conservative culture will be nice or they talk about “Minnesota nice” as being very polite, but you never invite someone over for dinner or you never hang out with them outside of the workplace. You’ll be polite and you’ll actually be kind or compassionate or empathetic and you won’t be direct.
And so you might think you have a friend and then you realize they’re not actually your friend. And so I was really value people who are very direct, especially when it’s someone who’s European ancestry and white in these days and then I’m like, “Oh, Rebecca just tells it how it is?” and then everything that you’re saying, I can really trust and I can relax into that.
Rebecca Dekker: That’s cool. It’s one benefit, I guess, of my culture. There’s also many, many negative things, but it’s something that I think it’s important for everybody to think about how you grew up, what you’ve inherited from your ancestors, whether you realize it or not in the past and lean into what works for you and then decide what you’re going to reject in what patterns you’re going to stop.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Absolutely. You could use that straight talking this to call out things that are justice issues or you could use it to just be a mean person in society.
Rebecca Dekker: You could. You could use it and I had-
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: I could use it.
Rebecca Dekker: Exactly and I did have some of my great relatives, I know, for example, a great aunt who died many, many years ago who was known for just being really mean. So it can be used for harm as well. That’s true.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: So I’d love to look more, peek into your white culture list. Would you be willing to share a few examples of them?
Rebecca Dekker: Sure. So I have to say that my white culture list, also I think if you’re going to make up your own list, if you’re listening to this and you’re of any culture, I think it’s always eye opening to examine your own culture, but I think it’s important to remember that class also has an influence on any white culture list. So I grew up what I would consider upper middle class and so there’s going to be differences on there from people who grew up in other classes. But my upper middle class white community that I grew up in valued timeliness, also being polished and professional, only allowing proper English grammar and vocabulary.
Asking what do you do for a living or what do you do for work is an emphasis on your value in society, is based on what you do for a living. And also finding out the status of who you’re talking with to find out if they’re on your status or if they’re higher or lower than you. Only speaking English and complaining when people don’t speak English. I think it’s interesting that in my culture, my community, a lot of people complain about having to get together with families you don’t like for Thanksgiving. So family members you don’t like for different holidays, you complain about having to get together with the extended family.
There’s a lot of either/or thinking a lot of us versus them thinking. A big emphasis on being polite and nice. And you mentioned that in Minnesota, that was definitely something in the south. I think in the south, there’s a little bit more, I think, genuine friendliness, but you definitely need to be a “good girl”, you need to be polite as possible. Avoiding confrontation but then holding grudges, even after someone’s apologized, believing that you should pull yourself up by the bootstraps and there’s an emphasis on individualism which is very much a white supremacy culture concept.
Another thing that comes along with the privilege of being white and especially being white and middle class or upper middle class or upper class is feeling like you deserve the best in everything and that your children deserve the best and everything. And because of that, you want to talk to the manager. This is the classic “Karen thing” that we see on all these videos that go viral, just believing that you’re the best and you deserve the best and you’re going to knock people down on your way up. And then one of the things that I see a lot, especially for white women, is they interrupt each other a lot to make sure their voices heard, or on the other hand, they might stay quiet in meetings because their opinion is already being voiced by other people who look like them. And so you have the luxury of being quiet or introverted if you want to.
And the same thing I see that on social media all the time that white women really have difficulty listening to people of color and instead they want to jump in and they always have to make their opinion heard. So it’s always having to have the last word. And a lot of that again goes with that privilege of feeling like you deserve more because you’re better and superior, goes back to white supremacy. Other funny things include having difficulty letting go at a dance or a party unless alcohol is being ingested. I’ll never forget going to the Caribbean with Dan on our honeymoon and we were on this boat ride with all these Dominican guys who were leading this boat tour. And they were trying to get all the white Americans to loosen up and dance and move and chill. And none of them could do that until they started drinking and then finally they were able to like let go. There’s more, it goes on and on.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Do you have any there that relate to pregnancy or childbirth or raising children?
Rebecca Dekker: You should wait until marriage to have children and also I was raised the belief that you should preferably wait until marriage to have sex as well. Girls should play with dolls and boys play with trucks, cars and action figures. The importance of privacy, so children should have their own bedroom. It’s the woman’s responsibility to plan for contraception and you shouldn’t have too many children too close together or when you’re too young. For example, if an 18-year-old had a baby and then got pregnant again one year later, a white woman from my middle class group would probably think that’s a travesty because it will make her life too difficult.
So there’s a lot of judgment around the timing and spacing of children, if that makes sense, which I know I think I’ve talked with you about it how in other cultures, it’s considered a blessing and a giving of life. It’s really interesting to see that white women in particular hold these really strong judgments about the reproductive choices of other groups and other people. We have a lot of judgment on each other about pregnancy and childbirth and who should have babies. And again it goes back that feeling of being superior and being superior than others and making you feel like you’re superior.
I know this may be hard to listen to for some people because I’m doing the blunt talk right now. There’s a lot of negative stuff on my list. There’s a few positive things, but most of what I’ve just read to you has been pretty negative I think and harmful to other cultures.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: And this is what I hope, is another phase of solidarity in justice work. We’ve had so much conversation and debate and callouts, conversations about the police and violence and really highly charged issues from us in Minnesota, Minneapolis. We feel like the conversation has completely changed or gone away or maybe people aren’t paying attention or caring about the racial justice like they did a year ago. And different studies being shown that support for Black Lives Matter dropped precipitously after last summer. What I’m hoping for is that we can continue to have these conversations, but also about culture because this is the water that we swim in all the time and to understand the way that we were grown, we were raised.
On my culture list, so I have two different cultural lists because on one side, I’m Irish, Polish, Southern Minnesota farm people, very low class, and then on the other side, I’m of a Nigerian immigrant family. And so what’s interesting is I find a lot of similarities between my two sides, for example food, get it when it’s hot, don’t come late or there won’t be any food. That’s on both sides of my family. Dressing up on my Nigerian side of family, so people definitely dress up if they can. On my mom’s side, we don’t really dress up. It’s really relaxed, but then you might have something like timeliness where on both sides, my family were pretty late. We show up when we can.
And so like you’re saying about class, race, we could also add in language or nationality or culture. There’s Black Americans, there’s Black immigrants and I feel like this gets into the why and the how we get to racism because we see each other’s ways of being as different from our ways of being and we judge it, “It’s bad just because it’s different.”
Rebecca Dekker: Well, I think with white culture, the thing that’s so toxic is that they don’t see this as culture. All these things I just told you, they don’t even think about them. They just live that way and they assume everybody should assimilate to that. And that’s what makes toxic work environments for Black people. It’s what makes toxic communities. This expecting everyone to have the same culture but not even realizing you’re expecting that, it’s just like, “Why aren’t you living like us and why aren’t you acting like us? And we’re going to judge you and we’re superior than you.” And it just creates this element of oppression in a community that is dangerous and harmful to families.
You and I know, the research on racism in childbirth and pregnancy and how it affects actual lives of children and birthing people, it sounds cliche to read off these things, but when you realize that many people in my white community don’t even realize that they hold these expectations for everyone else and they’re judging everyone else on this like, “What we’ve decided are the standards of living, but we haven’t even named it publicly or understood where it comes from,” can be really dangerous.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: I think it was Ijeoma Oluo who’s spoken, So You Want To Talk About Race, about how this is very subconscious. You have to go below the level of the consciousness. And so Ibram X. Kendi’s talking about, So You Want To Be Antiracist, it’s not just standing up and saying, “I’m antiracist,” or even that you support antiracist policies, you also need to look inside yourself and say, “What am I carrying that’s judgment, right? And then how do I act on that?” or actively work to protect people from that kind of judgment, even if it’s not something that you hold yourself. So that leads me to another question which is, for you, this term solidarity or being an antiracist or I like to also use the term like being a protector, what does that look like for you on a regular basis?
Rebecca Dekker: So I want to talk about the meaning of solidarity because what it looks like and what it means are connected, but to me, solidarity means knowing that we are bound together, that our fates are intertwined and meaning our fates of our communities at a community level. And I was wondering if it’s okay to share something from my faith community. Is that all right?
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Okay.
Rebecca Dekker: So this summer, I heard a sermon from my pastor, Rev. Stephen Fearing and he quoted a Black pastor in Greater Atlanta, Rev. Aisha Brooks-Johnson. And it was a sermon about the Book of Ruth, where Ruth says, “Do not press me to leave you,” to her mother-in-law. “Your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die. There where I will be buried.” It’s very moving. story when Ruth clings to her mother-in-law and even though her mother-in-law’s from a different culture, a different community.
And in her commentary on this passage, Rev. Aisha Brooks-Johnson said, “We have experienced a lot of death, grief and loss in the midst of a global pandemic, racial brokenness, economic disparity and political division. Can you imagine a world in which we took spiritual oaths like the one we find in the Book of Ruth? What if you resisted the temptation to fight or flee in the face of grief, pain and oppression? What if we took these vows with members of our human family? Imagine a member of the human family before you and speak these words aloud to them. By the mercy of God and because of God’s grace, we are bound to one another. Your pain I s not your own but is now my pain. The plight of your people is held in my hands and my heart as if they were my own. Where you journey and work, I too will journey and work alongside you with God’s help. Where your bones are buried, may I too find a resting place and declare every earthly resting place sacred in the eyes of God?’
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Beautiful.
Rebecca Dekker: I know, isn’t it? And that’s solidarity.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: So I was actually talking with a friend. So in Minnesota Healing Justice Network and also in my other work, the Oshun Center for Intercultural Healing, we have solidarity members who come on to support us for the long haul. And I was just talking with one of them the other day and we were trying to think of words to describe, so you have a biological family and people, as birth workers, we care so much about family, but this idea of, and I was using the term “soul family,” but in this quote talks about a human family. And it just makes me think about the people we’re supposed to walk in this world with, who might come from whatever background, whatever lifestyle, and walk with them and they may not be biologically related to us, but there’s a …
Rebecca Dekker: There’s a connection.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: … human connection. We’re supposed to find those people.
Rebecca Dekker: And knowing that our fates are bound together. It’s not just verbiage, it’s true because we’re all so connected. What happens to one community affects the other. We’re all like intertwined. So it’s not just like working to serve one community, it’s really, in the end, it will uplift everyone because white supremacy harms everyone. It’s obviously got disparate harms on Black and other communities, but it also harms the white community as well in ways they don’t understand. So it’s important for all of us to do the work.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: That beautiful quote that, “If you’ve come here to save me, you’re wasting your time, but if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up in mine,” I think about that a lot and how my life has been enriched by actually being in relationship with people of many different backgrounds. My mom being white, my dad being Black and having cousins from outside the United States, having aunts from Hong Kong, having a cousin who is of Native American background, I, I feel this sense of connectedness that I think also comes when we have a global pandemic and we’re trying to get along or even these moments of like 9/11 or moments of tragedy but also a deep connectedness with the world that I think some spiritual traditions get out of.
A yoga class sometimes, you feel this like oneness. That’s for me why it’s worth it for me to be in contact with people of different backgrounds and I hope other people feel that way too. It can be challenging. So do you feel like there’s ebbs and flows? How do you manage your capacity because I think there’s the sense that, “Okay, well if I’m a white body person, I have to just do more or give more, and what if I have a family and busyness in work and life’s not easy for me, I’m a woman or unclear,” how do you manage that sense of like expectation versus this sense of just connectedness, but also the reality of needing to have action around your sense of connectedness?
Rebecca Dekker: I think it’s important to keep in mind two aspects of white supremacy culture, which I’ve learned a lot about from the writings of Tema Okun. If you just google aspects of white supremacy culture, you’ll find his writings and he talks about how a sense of urgency and perfectionism are aspects of white supremacy culture, which I don’t think most white people realize and because they think that’s normal. They think it is what you’re supposed to do. They don’t realize that other cultures don’t necessarily practice that. And first of all, when you’re saying like, “Don’t you feel like you have to get it all done?” No, you can’t like, “I can’t be perfect and I have to get rid of that expectation,” but it can’t be urgent. It’s not in one year you’re going to become a perfect antiracist.
If I was enmeshed in a white supremacist culture for the first 30 years, so years of my life before I even realized it, I have a lot of unlearning to do. It’s something that you’re going to be doing the rest of your life. So that helps take the pressure off I think knowing that it’s a lifelong journey, not something you’re going to fix about yourself because it’s never going to be truly fixed. And I follow my passions and learning about anti racism and social justice and I find things that interests me and then I work on them for a while. I pick one or two things and I just prioritize it.
So for example, reading, I love to read for pleasure, but I also have a goal that every month I’m working on a new book related to social justice and oppression. And it’s just like I always have one on my nightstand and I have for like the past, I don’t know, five or six years. It never goes away. There’s always another book there because the learning never stops, but I don’t feel an urgency like I have to get it all done by a certain time.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: I think that’s huge. I know a lot of people who’ve just stopped because they feel like it’s so much work and they just can’t do it, when they can’t do it perfectly and so they don’t do it at all. And one thing I remember being impressed and surprised about starting to work with you, Rebecca, was little things like you mentioned from the beginning that we try not to at EBB practice perfectionism and not to practice urgency and open dialogue. It feels like there was something on embracing conflict. I felt like this was a space where I could really show up. Before we didn’t even have to say it, but you walk into a workspace and you assume that there’s going to be certain things that are required of you and you’re like, “No, this is going to be more of a relaxed space, however you like. I want you to meet each other. I want you to know each other’s birthdays.”
You asked about do I have any children or cats, things that people should know about me. I felt like it was more of an environment when you’re in a family rather than when you’re in a professional environment. Because a professional environment, now you have to zip up your coat and become someone that might not be authentic. And I feel like that’s how white supremacy culture hurts all of us, right? Because none of us get to be authentically who we are. We have to play the role and be inside the box and compete with each other rather than just being collaborators and being open.
Rebecca Dekker: I think every single team member at EBB has had a moment where they screwed up in the first three to six months of working for EBB and had like this, “Oh, shit, Rebecca is going to fire me,” moment and then I’m just like, “Oh, it’s okay. We all make mistakes. No big deal.” And they’re just like, “What? I thought I was going to get fired.” And it’s just like, “No, listen, nobody’s perfect.” And obviously, if there’s patterns of difficulty, that’s one thing, but just making one mistake, that’s how we learn and that is very different than most workplace cultures. So I try to be really intentional to make a list of all the things that are toxic about most workplaces and are rooted in white supremacy and try to fish them out. And I’m not perfect. I’m sure there’s still some there, but I’m working on it.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: I love that. I experienced it. I’m grateful for it. Because when I started working for you, I had PTSD really bad and you were very gracious.
Rebecca Dekker: I think most of the team members had told me that they have PTSD from past jobs. It is really interesting being a boss which is never something I ever thought I would be like a business owner and a boss. 10 years ago, I could have never dreamed that. But people are like, “Oh my gosh, my last workplace, I have PTSD.” And I’m like, “Oh, that’s terrible. What can we do to prevent that for all of our team members?” So not perfect, but I’m working on trying to be almost a countercultural workplace, something that’s different and especially having a team that’s at least 50% BIPOC. I think that’s critical to make a safe workplace for them, for your own health.
So that’s a big priority of mine and that’s one reason I do invest so much in my own education in terms of time and resources and reading and watching documentaries because I feel like I have a heavy responsibility as the founder of this business and as the boss of a lot of people who work for me that I could harm a lot of people if I’m not careful. And so I wish more white Americans, especially managers and people in positions of authority would have that same sense of heavy responsibility like, “Oh, geez, my education was really messed up. I need to reeducate myself on these issues and make conscious decisions to create a better workplace for my employees.”
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: And maybe let’s go a little bit deeper into that because with the Black Tiles that you started doing with EBB as well as a really outward support for Pride Month, can you speak about what it’s been like for EBB to take a strong stance on social justice issues during hot button times and getting backlash? How did you manage with comments coming in that were negative? And just how did that affect EBB’s reputation in good ways and also maybe challenging ways?
Rebecca Dekker: I never really was worried about our reputation, so I don’t know if it took a hit or not. I was more worried about doing what’s right which to me makes it an easy decision to speak out about things for example Pride Month when we posted a picture of a trans birthing family and got so much lash back and that and the murder of George Floyd and just sensing the heartbreak and the trauma of a Black birthing community. It’s one of those things where sometimes as a white person, you’re not exactly sure what to do, but then you just realize, “Well, what would white culture do?” White culture would be very polished and professional and they’d put out a statement, a written statement saying something just with words.
But they wouldn’t actually mean it, they wouldn’t put any emotion into it and it wouldn’t be authentic. And that is probably what like 95% of white-owned businesses, if not more, we’re doing and you’re nodding, so I know you agree with me. So I get monthly counseling from Dr. Sayida Peprah about my antiracism journey, again because it’s so important for me like to be on this journey because of the number of people whose lives I impact. And she told me like, “White cultures is polished and professional. You just need to just be yourself,” and so I did.
So both times, we were in these crisis modes, I just went on social media and shared a video a live video of me talking about why we’re taking a stand and what this means and why it’s important, what I’m doing in my personal life, and just trying to talk to people like heart to heart and that was definitely the right decision. So I credit Dr. Sayida Peprah with coaching me towards avoiding white supremacy even in my responses, if that makes sense. So I don’t know how we were affected. I’m sure we lost a lot of followers, but I could care less. I don’t know how is that proper grammar. I could have cared less or I could care less. You know what I’m talking about.
When they left, they left. They’re not going to be part of our community and maybe they’ll come back, but we’re taking a stand and it’s important because it’s the right thing to do. And I often think about 100 years from now, what will people say about one issue or another and I try to avoid being that person that everybody’s going to be like, “Their legacy is gone. It’s been killed because of some terrible thing they said, that they didn’t know it was racist.” So I’m trying to avoid that. I keep thinking of 100 years from now like, “What would people say about those issues?” And to me, it’s super clear that we need to be taking a strong stand on Black human rights and on LGBTQ rights as well.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: And I bring this up and even this entire podcast, not just to say, “Oh, look, Rebecca is a perfect ally,” and this wasn’t Rebecca’s idea, this was actually my idea, I kept pushing the same. You really need to show what it looks like on the inside because after working with a lot of different white people over the last year at Minnesota Human Justice Network and seen how there was an ease for whatever reason in your background or the inner work that you do to say things like, to me working around the time of the Derek Chauvin trial, if I need to take some time off, “Go ahead and do that,” or if something’s too triggering that comes up in social media comments, “We’ll handle it for you,” or coming to our team, asking, “What can we do to help one another in managing the potential backlash around Pride Month posts?”
I want to make sure that people understand there’s a lot of work that’s going on behind the scenes and just see what that looks like. And even things like the way you edit maybe some of the podcasts, comments that might be not in line with EBB values, you’re really being intentional and making space within your organization and not that you’re doing it perfectly, not that we’re not all living in white supremacy culture all the time, myself included. I love opening up this conversation of like, “What are the things that we can do small, small things? This is not leaving your job and becoming an activist on the streets.”
Rebecca Dekker: It seems small, but it’s big. Just like you said, getting to know when people’s birthdays are and celebrating that, but also the one-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder and then the trial of Derek Chauvin and knowing that for you, just telling you that, “There’s grace and to rest. And we don’t expect you to be here or to be here, 100%, whichever you choose.” When I’m in a relationship, like we talked about, being in relationship and in solidarity with one another, when I’m in relationship with someone who is living a life as a Black person in America, I have to always keep in mind that there’s a lot of racial trauma and that you may need to rest at times and that I need to use my privilege to protect you from certain situations or topics.
It’s almost like there’s this like soul wound that I have to be aware of at all times, that this wound was created by white Americans and I have to be cognizant of that and to make sure that I’m not constantly reopening that wound, for example, or that I’m not allowing other people to cause harm and aggravate it, if I have the influence to stop it. So it’s hard for me to really put words on it, but it almost feels like being in friendship or relationship with a wounded or traumatized veteran, which I’ve never been in close relationship with someone like that.
But from what I’ve read, it seems like research is showing that the trauma that comes from racialized violence in our country is similar to trauma that comes from warfare. And so I don’t see people as weak. I see people like you is incredibly strong, but I have to recognize that a wound is present and that people like me have played a role in that. So it’s like … And I see you’re tearing up. I’m sorry. It’s just like I think I have to be hyper aware of that. It’s my responsibility. And I think most white people aren’t hyper aware of their role and they haven’t done the inner work to think about it because of the either/or thinking. They think either you’re racist or you’re not. And I’m definitely not a bad person, so I’m not racist.
And so they don’t even start the inner work of realizing what they’re doing that is causing harm. Lots of little things that we white women in particular do to cause harm all the time. We talked a lot about at our retreat about protection and the difference between protection versus being a white savior and I’m not perfect at distinguishing between that. So one of the things I’ve read a lot about is how Black women, and girls in particular, in America are not considered worthy of protection by many white people. And that is something that needs to change. So I want to be part of that change.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: So yes, I’m crying over here. When you said soul wound, that definitely resonates. Warfare, I’ve never heard of that comparison, but especially after coming out of the uprisings, and for many of us at Minnesota Human Justice Network, it was blocks that was we smelt the fire, was we couldn’t open our doors or we had barricaded our doors and spent nights watching the Unicorn Riots and hearing of reports of the KKK and it very truly viscerally felt like war. And for myself, having previously worked in the United Nations and the Democratic Republic of Congo where there was active war, for me, the PTSD came because I had been in war.
And this again felt exactly like war and I’ll say on a cellular level, because I mixed race, I have white DNA, I have Black DNA and how the two sides felt truly. You see the line of the protesters and you see the line of the police, right? It felt so much like war. And so I do, at least for myself and probably many others, it feels like a constant battle and a constant sense of not finding safety. And so to be able to find a few people in that, I would say you’re in my soul family. That you can start to find a place where you can find ease is really healing. I know it can be hard to get to a place where you can trust to find that, but I’m grateful to be on this journey of trying to find that place with you. And I think that idea of protection, it’s not just protecting a child who can’t fend for themselves…
Rebecca Dekker: Right.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Obviously…but there are certain instances where, to be honest, all of us want to be protected by each other. That’s something we can all for each other and I feel like for the white people in my life, why I started teaching so much more of cultural medicines is because I saw a lot of white people falling into the urgency and falling into the perfectionism, falling into being on time is more important than bringing your presence and feeling grounded. And so I really feel like my ancestors, especially my Nigerian side of the family, has a really good ability to stay happy through, say happy and relaxed through even global pandemic.
And I feel like that’s something that I offer to white people in my circles as well as is like, “There is a deeper part of your culture. Go back to European before capitalism, before the witch trials, right?” If you identify as a woman, in all of us, there’s this sense of cultural groundedness and returning to your soul, that I think a lot of people who have really bought into capitalism, you have to lose some of that culture in that soul. So that’s what I’m hoping to bring back as a mutual exchange, so that-
Rebecca Dekker: I’ve learned so much from you, Ihotu. I’ve learned so much. One gift you’ve given me at the retreat, aside from your amazing presentation and meditation you did with everybody, was just teaching me that birth workers are healers and nurses are healers. And you’ve educated me a lot about the history of healers and different healing traditions. That’s something that white supremacy and colonization took away from, in particular, females, was that we were not considered healers. We were turned into assistants and the doctor’s handmaiden kind of thing and not actually healers with the power of healing touch.
You’ve educated me on a lot of subjects, but that’s one that recently really touched me, was claiming that identity, is like, “I’m a nurse, but I’m part of a deeper healing tradition that was taken away that title and I’m going to reclaim it.” So thank you for that.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: You’re welcome. As birth workers, and I want to say too, whether or not, however you identify gender-wise, digging into that place where you’re a nurturer, your lover, that’s in all of us, and from that soul place, doing our work, that I think go into that subconscious level below, the money we’re trying to make and the business we’re trying to run and the reputation, right? Dropping beneath that work and reputation status part of ourselves, that’s where we find the ability to connect across all kinds of backgrounds, no matter how we were raised, if we’re familiar with people or not, how to do the work to be safe for each other.
Rebecca Dekker: And I think there’s endless amounts of oppression. And I don’t want to get into the oppression Olympics where we’re comparing different kinds of oppression, but as someone who is focused on solidarity, I have to keep working on heterosexism and classism and ableism and other forms of isms. And I’m reading this book. It’s called Readings For Diversity And Social Justice. It’s a textbook that was edited by Maurianne Adams, Warren Blumenfeld, Carmelita Rosie Castaneda, Heather Hackman, Madeline Peters, and Ximena Zuniga. And Dan, my husband, and I have been reading this. It is, I don’t know, like 700 pages long, but it is the most-
It’s the most incredible book I’ve ever read and I feel like it’s teaching me everything that I was not taught in school and graduate school. And I’m getting this huge education from these authors who’ve compiled this work of art, just about all of the different kinds of oppression. And I’m halfway through it and so I know I’m not perfect if I’ve said anything on this podcast today that offends someone, I apologize, I’m trying and I’m going to keep trying and people correct me still, and when they correct me, I just thank them and I take it really seriously and I think on it for a long time and then hopefully I move on a better person.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: And I want to say that publicly to even as a person of color but also someone who’s light skinned, who has European ancestry who grew up in a very cisgendered world, especially the birth worlds, there’s a lot of gender, gender even assumption that everybody’s a cis woman. And so I’m grateful to be inspired even as a person of color like no one is exempt from this work and exempt from having the power to harm or to be a safe person or to be protected for others. So I’m grateful to be the inspiration that I see you’re straight talking this and doing in the world with a big platform that you have as well. And I’m grateful to be in community with the beautiful team that you’ve cultivated that is extremely diverse as well and that we can have straight talk amongst ourselves as a team and learn from each other. So with that, I’ll say it was there any other final thoughts or words or ideas you wanted to bring up?
Rebecca Dekker: No, I think that’s it. You pull a lot out of me, but I appreciate you doing this interview and last week’s interview as well, Ihotu.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Totally, I’m so grateful for you too.
Rebecca Dekker: Thank you everyone for celebrating with us on our 200th episode and we hope we’ll have many more to come.
Ihotu Jennifer Ali: Many more to come by everyone. Bye, everyone.
Rebecca Dekker: Bye. This podcast episode was brought to you by the Evidence Based Birth® Childbirth Class. This is Rebecca speaking. When I walked into the hospital to have my first baby, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Since then, I’ve met countless parents who felt that they too were unprepared for the birth process and navigating the healthcare system. The next time I had a baby, I learned that in order to have the most empowering birth possible, I needed to learn the evidence on childbirth practices.
We are now offering the Evidence Based Birth® Childbirth Class totally online. In your class, you will work with an instructor who will skillfully mentor you and your partner in evidence-based care, comfort measures and advocacy, so that you can both embrace your birth and parenting experiences with courage and competence. Get empowered with an interactive online childbirth class you and your partner will love. Visit evidencebasedbirth.com/childbirth class to find your class now.
Stay empowered, read more :
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