Rachel Cargle: I've been teaching a lot on the fact that anti-racism work for white people is not a space for self improvement. The point of anti-racism work is to protect black lives, so if everything you do within the anti-racism work is for your benefit, then you're just enhancing white lives. You're not protecting black lives. It's not just a space for you to go to a conference and get a gift bag and take a picture with me and post it on Instagram. None of that translates to black lives being protected.
Kerri Kelly: Welcome to CTZN Podcast. My name's Kerri Kelly and have we got a treat for you. Rachel Cargle joins us today for a special live interview, and if you don't know who Rachel is, you must be hiding under a rock because she has become one of the most prominent and provocative voices in intersectional and inclusive feminism. She's a writer, speaker, academic, and activist who uses her platform to speak truth and wake white women up.
Kerri Kelly: This conversation is fierce and it's important. And while white folks need to do the work, as Rachel says, it's not really about us. It's about protecting black lives, and so she invites us consider how we are really showing up and for what purpose. It's not enough to attend an event or post something on social media. Real allyship looks like going to get our people, paying our privilege forward, and listening, really listening, to black women and following their lead.
Kerri Kelly: This podcast is gonna change everything. Check it out.
Rachel Cargle: Thank you.
Kerri Kelly: All right. Hello. Welcome everyone. Welcome to CTZN Podcast. I'm Kerri Kelly and we're having conversations at the intersection of well being and social justice. We're not afraid to ask hard questions about politics and patriarchy, about white supremacy and worthiness, and today is no exception. We're here with the amazing Rachel Cargle, who is a writer, a speaker, and activist, whose work is rooted in providing intellectual discourse, tools, and resources that explore the intersection of race and womanhood. You may have heard of her on social media because she reaches over, I think, 200,000 people each week and really has become a prominent voice in intersectional and inclusive feminism. So please help me welcome Rachel Cargle.
Rachel Cargle: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much. There's so many people here.
Kerri Kelly: I'm super happy that you're here. I've been following ... It's such a weird thing to be like, "I follow you."
Rachel Cargle: What's even weirder, I have people who DM me like, "Rachel, I was sitting next to you on the plane but I was too scared to say something." I'm like, "What the fuck was I doing on the plane?" Who knows? It makes me so anxious about what I might have been doing.
Kerri Kelly: It's probably a whole other level of who's watching, who's recognizing me.
Rachel Cargle: This visibility is very different now, yes.
Kerri Kelly: Well, I want to dig right in because one of the things I really appreciate is that you are relentless in your truth telling. This is obviously International Women's Month, and I really want to begin with the history of women's rights in this country, because like with all American history, we seem to have some amnesia about how things really went down and how we got here. A big part of your work ... and I attended one of your workshops this past weekend ... is re-educating women about the real history of feminism in America. And so, what is the real story that we should all be telling about women's liberation in America?
Rachel Cargle: Well, I think it's super important not to forget what this country was founded on. It was founded on the white community using the black community to build the wealth that they now have. And that's why it's the greatest nation only on the backs of, and the land of, and on the work of people of color ...
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: ... across the country, whether it's the black people that they enslaved, the Native Americans that they pushed out of their spaces in order to get their land, and it continues on today. And so I think that that racism is thread throughout every part of our existence, because it was the foundation of how the country started. It didn't dissipate at any point, and so-
Kerri Kelly: It didn't happen when Trump got elected.
Rachel Cargle: No. And so you have to be incredibly critical in how you rationalize what's happening, because it's not like there was ... One, it's not like this was eight million years ago. It's not like it's the dinosaurs and we're like, "Oh, where'd it all go?" The racism is still very much here, it just manifests in new ways. And so I teach a lot about modern manifestations of the things that we saw before, so that's a lot of work that can be talked about in the future and on your own time, but I think that it should be clearer that even a movement like the feminist movement has those same strains of the racism that this country was built on. It should be obvious.
Rachel Cargle: What I teach on in my Unpacking White Feminism lecture that you attended is just the ways that, often within the feminist movement, women's rights always mean white women's rights. If black women benefited from it then good for them, but it was never intentionally inclusive across the board. And if you look at the heroes of the suffrage movement when they were going out to campaign, they were obviously campaigning to white men, which were the people who had the power at the time. They were saying things like, "If you give women the right to vote," ... aka white women ... "we will uphold white supremacy." White women were always aware of what their position was and aware of how they could use it for their agendas. And as the movement continued, if women of color benefited from it a little bit then it was kind of like the scraps of the movement. It was never intentionally inclusive.
Kerri Kelly: And you wrote in this Huff Post piece ... and I'm gonna quote you ... "No longer will I skirt around topics to make others comfortable, nor will I be apologetic for taking a stance that caters to the two parts of me that need to have a voice." And you just named this, but white women have a history of trading their womanhood for their whiteness. We saw that in the 53% of white women who voted for Trump, and it wasn't much better in this last election. I think it was 51% of white women voted with the Republican party. We see it with tone policing, we see it with white tears. So what does it look like for white women to take responsibility of those two parts of themselves?
Rachel Cargle: Well, I think it's a really hard pill for white women to swallow that they can both be oppressed by the patriarchy and the oppressor of race. There's a space there that you exist in, and so that's something that you need to digest and deal with in a way that should ... it shouldn't be too wild of a space to be in, because if you have been oppressed ... which we all have been by the patriarchy. The patriarchy's literally killing us all. And you know that feeling but you decide to distance yourself from the realities of how you, in your white privilege, oppress people of color, then what that really is is a disassociation of you really needing to keep any power you can get.
Rachel Cargle: I've been teaching this a lot and I always say, if your feminism is intended to have equality with white men, then you will automatically be oppressing someone ...
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: ... 'cause that's the only way men got power ...
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: ... is by oppressing full groups, whether it was women or whether it was people of color, whether it was poor people. That's the only way. So if you are looking to have this ... if your feminism only is looking to get what men have, to get what white men have, then I don't even want that feminism because it automatically means you're gonna have to oppress someone. Someone's gonna have to be put under the bus in order for you to have any type of power. So look into what the successes of what your feminism is. If it has to do with who's getting the jobs, looking at the glass ceiling ... if the glass ceiling breaks, right now looking at the way white women function, all that glass is landing on women of color, I promise. So you need to consider who's all going together and what your feminism reach is for, because if it's just the type of power that white men have, someone's going to be continuously losing.
Kerri Kelly: And it's funny, I was having this conversation as I was telling people about this event and what we were gonna talk about, and someone responded on my Instagram feed, "Not this white woman." And then another woman said, "Not this white woman." And then another woman said, "Not this white woman." And I've had that feeling, too. I've been in spaces where I've been like, "Oh, no. She's not talking to me because I've done this work, or that." And I really just feel like I want to stress this, 'cause I heard this from you loud and clear this past weekend. It's all white women. It is all of us, because regardless of how woke we are or how well behaved we are in these situations, we're all implicated because we all benefit. Correct?
Rachel Cargle: Well, what I always says is two things. Whenever I go out and speak ... and I didn't say it here, but ... this is not a room full of the good white women and we're talking about everyone else. I'm talking to the people in the room and the people who you have connections with. But then also, I had posted something and I had a follower give this description and I kind of continued to build on it to make the most sense in the way that white privilege is a wheel and every single white person is a spoke on the wheel. Even if one spoke breaks and that's the woke one, the wheel's still going. You're still benefiting.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: So until the entire thing is broken down, we have not made the progress necessary to do what this anti-racism work is, which is to protect black people. And so even as woke as you are, as broken of a spoke as you are on that wheel, the wheel's still turning and you're still benefiting from it, whether you are aware of it ... your awareness isn't the change. It's a start to it, but you coming to this does not make you an ally. You following me on Instagram does not make you anti-racist. It's the every day work that makes change in the community, so you being aware ... Someone said, "Oh, I had no idea about all this, Rachel. Now I know. Thanks so much." And I'm like, "You're cute, but also you knowing is the least of things." 'Cause you knowing is what people of color have known for their entire lives. So you becoming aware is the least of it, and so for people to say, "Not me," it is you, 'cause you're still rolling on that wheel even though you're one of the broken spokes.
Kerri Kelly: I want to talk about white fragility, because I feel like that's often where that emerges. We think we know and then we have this default reaction of defensiveness or desperation. I mean, often I find that it's very irrational behavior when women get fragile. And just to kind of bring everybody into this conversation ... Robin DiAngelo coined the term white fragility to describe the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when their ideas about race and racism are challenged, and particularly ... and this is what you were just naming ... when they feel implicated in white supremacy. And I know that you're fielding white fragility all day long in your social media.
Rachel Cargle: All day.
Kerri Kelly: All day. So can you give folks and idea of what white fragility looks like in action? 'Cause you're right, it's not just enough to have the words or the perfect post, but it's how we behave. It's how we show up, it's how we respond, it's what we do every day.
Rachel Cargle: Yeah. Well, looking at the idea of white fragility, it's really interesting because I get the most fragile reactions. And I want everyone to know, when I say I, I am not speaking on behalf of black women but I'm representative of a lot of experiences of black women. So it's not just me when I'm saying I. I am speaking to experiences that I know happen to a lot of other black women, so take it as a black woman you might know might be experiencing this as well. But it's usually the people who seem to be most interested in this conversation that show the most fragility because they are so desperate to be one of the good ones. They're so desperate to be seen as one of the good ones that they will do anything necessary to have the affirmation of ... I'll just say that marginalized group, 'cause this looks this way across a lot of marginalized spaces.
Rachel Cargle: But it's all rooted in two things. It's either rooted in ego, like, "I don't want to feel like I don't know things and in order for me to move through the world the way I want to feel, I'm gonna pretend like my feelings matter more than a person's experiences." And then also, I've been teaching a lot on the fact that anti-racism work for white people is not a space for self improvement. You showing up to these spaces is not for you to be able to go home and sleep better tonight knowing that you came to listen to a black girl talk. The point of anti-racism work is to protect black lives, so if everything you do within the anti-racism work is for your benefit, then you're just enhancing white lives. You're not protecting black lives.
Rachel Cargle: So consider how you're really showing up. Consider how you're really coming into spaces to actually protect and pay your privilege forward, as Brittany Packnett says. Paying your privilege forward in order to ensure that actual black lives are being protected and it's not just a space for you to go to a conference and get a gift bag and take a picture with me and post it on Instagram. None of that translates to black lives being protected. So consider how that looks.
Rachel Cargle: I do workshops when I tour and one thing I do is that I have everyone in the room tell me ... and it's usually a room full of white women. Out of my 205,000 followers, probably about 200,000 of them are white women. So in my workshops, I say, "Tell me why you came. Why did you pay money to talk about race?" And I have everyone go around the room, and it's usually a mix of, "I started dating someone of color and so I want to be able to show up for them," or, "I moved into a neighborhood and there's black kids there and I want to make sure I'm showing up for them," or, "A friend shared your work and I saw that you were coming to my city and so I wanted to show up."
Rachel Cargle: So I let everyone go through and I take tally of what people are saying and at the end I say, "Wow, not one person said they are showing up for black lives." Not one person says it. In all of my workshops, maybe three or four people in all of the cities have said, "I saw a black man die and the police go unsentenced. I saw the way that little black boy got harassed at that bodega in Brooklyn and that white woman had no consequences." So I encourage you to consider ... And the thing is, black people have been dying from police brutality, from medical racism, from the variety of things that happen in this country for years. So it's not like there's any new material for you to stumble upon to care all of a sudden. So you caring all of a sudden, you coming to this moment ... which a lot of white women say it's from the election, and which that shows us that they didn't care about all of us until they were personally affected.
Rachel Cargle: But also consider why you show up and who's being protected in each time you're coming and saying that you're doing anti-racism work. 'Cause if you're willing to come to my lecture, but you're not willing to say anything to your racist uncle at the dinner table, then you might as well not come to my lecture.
Kerri Kelly: I feel like this is a really important point, because I know that often the interactions on your social feed get people fired up. And that's particularly because white folks, white women in particular, are used to being taken care of all the time so they don't like the feeling of fragility or being defensive, and that's just white supremacy at work. But what I'm hearing you say ... One of the things I really appreciate about your feed ... and it really does feel like a gift to white folks and white women that you are so revealing of your truth-
Rachel Cargle: Can I speak about that really quickly?
Kerri Kelly: Yeah.
Rachel Cargle: I have to remind people that my work is very white facing.
Rachel Cargle: Oh, hey Destiny. Sorry.
Rachel Cargle: My work is very, very white facing, but the work that I do is for the black community.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: I get that all the time, like, "Rachel, thank you so much." And I'm like, "This isn't for you." And my goal, in all of my work ... The best compliment I've ever gotten after a lecture is a black girl who came up to me and said, "Wow, I have never been in a room of white people and felt so comfortable." That's what I do and who I do it for. And that's why the work is so hard and it's so exhausting and it's so mentally straining, because I'm not where I want to be, which is usually in a room full of women of color, which is where I feel safest and most heard and most loved and most taken care of.
Rachel Cargle: And so as I do this work, I have to constantly think in my head, "What is this for?" Because when I speak to white women, I'm doing it for the black person at their job. I'm doing it for the black person that their kid’s playing with. I'm doing it for the black lady at the PTA who's not being heard. So that's who it's for, and I want that to be known and clear and understood, that even though my work is white facing, the work that I do is for my community of color.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah. And that was gonna be the second part of my point, because I know a lot of people are like, "Why can't you say it nicer?" Like, "Why does it have to be so combative?" And I think a lot of people refer to it as the call-out culture and when I hear you talk, I'm thinking, "People are fucking dying. People are fucking dying and it doesn't matter how you get the message, if it's polite, if you feel like it's in a trusting environment." We get a lot of this in the wellness community, like ...
Rachel Cargle: Oh my gosh.
Kerri Kelly: ... "There's not enough trust here and so therefore we can't have a hard conversation." It's like, who fucking cares? Sit back and listen to the message that you need to hear because people are dying.
Rachel Cargle: Yeah, for sure. I mean, there have been spaces in which white women felt they needed a safe space to talk about race. White women are never unsafe in the conversation of race.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: Ever. That's like a bunch of men saying, "We need to get away from women now and figure out a safe way to talk about feminism." That's irrational.
Kerri Kelly: That's right. It's ridiculous.
Rachel Cargle: And it also perpetrates the idea that black women are dangerous, like if we're in your space we're dangerous and white women need a safe space. So that's that.
Kerri Kelly: And it feels like it's also about accountability, right?
Rachel Cargle: Yeah.
Kerri Kelly: Like we need to be fierce in our truth telling and in our confrontation, because we actually need accountability, and that's not a bad thing.
Rachel Cargle: It's the most necessary thing. Yeah.
Kerri Kelly: I had a teacher once who said, "I hold you accountable because I value what you do. We need you." And that changed my whole perspective on what accountability is. But we do demonize accountability, I think, in our culture all the time and nobody wants to be held accountable.
Rachel Cargle: Yeah. I can see that.
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Kerri Kelly: I heard you speaking this weekend about decolonizing intellect. I want to talk about decolonizing wellness.
Rachel Cargle: Please do.
Kerri Kelly: Because that's the domain that we operate in, and I think a lot of people here probably have some relationship to wellness. And the wellness culture has been effectively indoctrinated into the ideology of white supremacy, capitalism, individual ... I mean, I could go on and on and on, but the way in which mainstream wellness culture is showing up is doing more harm than helping, I think, in many ways.
Kerri Kelly: You have this great quote that I think has gone viral. "I don't want your love and light if it doesn't come with solidarity and action." So in your perspective, what does decolonizing wellness look like?
Rachel Cargle: I'm gonna grab my wine for this conversation.
Kerri Kelly: Yeah, yeah. Wait, hold on. Let's all just adjust. Everybody get comfortable.
Rachel Cargle: I wouldn't say that I exist in the wellness space. I'm not up in those conversations. There are a lot of incredible black women who are in those conversations doing that work, and I encourage you to go into their spaces and learn from them to have more of a perspective about decolonizing the wellness space in particular, 'cause they would know more than I know. But I do know a few things.
Rachel Cargle: I want us to really consider the idea of wellness and the idea of health and the idea of a person's autonomy in taking care of their bodies and feeling good in their bodies, and how white supremacy is latched onto controlling that and deciding who gets that, who gets to feel it or not. I'm gonna take it all the way back to the continent of Africa in which so much colonization happened. I took a course last semester and we were talking about decolonizing things like motherhood, decolonizing womanhood, decolonizing areas of our existence that we don't even consider. We talked about decolonizing domesticity, the fact that in Africa, a lot of people in various countries in Africa, they eat with their hands. And that's just a normal ass thing to do there, but colonizers came in and made school children learn how to eat with forks and spoons in order to decide how they existed in the world.
Rachel Cargle: And so even things as little as how we eat at a table is part of white people coming into spaces and saying, "What we do is deemed civilized and what you do is deemed not." And that's what we think. So when you see someone eat with their hands, you're like, "What are you doing?" But that's absolutely normal and dignitaries do it in various countries, so consider where colonization comes into those.
Rachel Cargle: But particularly ... just to take an example and then you all can think critically and go beyond and do your own research into other ways that this has happened ... but particularly around ... and which is a big thing in the wellness world, looking at birth, giving birth, and how privileged you have to be to have a doula. You really have to be privileged to have a midwife or a doula. But in these countries that were colonized, that was the norm. And these were people of color that the older women would be birthing the children and then white people came in and said, "No, you have to use our hospitals." And what they ended up doing is that they would train younger girls in order to push out the older women who were actually birthing children, so they were controlling the culture so no longer could older women be doing it. They got younger women who they could now teach whatever they wanted to teach to them to move them out of the space.
Rachel Cargle: So think about how wild it is that they took something away from people of color, and now we have to pay and we don't even have access to it. And so I want you to consider what that looks like across the board. How much is your yoga class? How much is the class that you're taking, and can the actual people of color from the origin countries of yoga come and afford to take what they have fucking gifted you with? There's so much that people of color gift Western culture only for them to commercialize it and make it out of reach. So consider how so much of what you have ... even something as much as fruit water. The fruit that you can put into the water. You can buy it now at Whole Foods for $8. Why is someone who immigrated here from Jamaica not able to get the type of water that they could make at their house? It's so wild that there's this grip from white supremacy and from capitalism onto everything they can in order to make ... everything that they can find to benefit them, I should say.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: They're literally ripping it away. And now it's like if there's a little girl from India who can't afford a yoga class, she's shunned even though it's probably part of her culture 100%. So consider how white people in this room are thriving off of a culture that was stolen and commercialized and people who gifted it to you, that you value it so much it was a gift to you, they don't even have access to it.
Rachel Cargle: And so I think ... I'm gonna propose this for the first time ever. If you're taking a yoga class, if you can't afford for you and a person of color to donate it, then don't take it. If you can't afford to gift it to someone else. 'Cause that whole culture was a gift to you. If you can't gift it to the people of color who have been oppressed in this country who gifted it to you then don't take it. You can't afford it.
Rachel Cargle: That's an exclusive.
Kerri Kelly: You heard it here first, people.
Kerri Kelly: I also think about how powerful the images are that we advertise and distribute of what wellness looks like, who gets to do it, body types, race, sexual orientation, gender, and how much we have to untangle and dismantle those images, too, so that we actually send a message that other people are welcome in their own way. I think we have a way of telling people, like, prescribing wellness. Like, "It needs to look like this. You roll out your yoga mat and you drink a green juice and you drive a hybrid." That's the American-
Rachel Cargle: Well, that's all capitalism. "I want you to buy this in order to make you feel good," obviously. But capitalism is inherently racist because of just the way that it's set up and the fact that, speaking as a black woman, our culture was enslaved in order for you to have the wealth that you have.
Kerri Kelly:That's right.
Rachel Cargle: Just consider what that looks like.
Kerri Kelly: And it's thriving off of a culture that's telling us that we're not good enough and we have to do ...
Rachel Cargle: All the things.
Kerri Kelly: ... all the things to feel whole, which is bull shit.
Rachel Cargle: Yeah. My friend Dana Suchow, she taught me ... and I think about it all the time, and she probably got it from somewhere, or maybe she thought about it herself ... this idea like whenever you're feeling bad about yourself, who's profiting off of this. So when I feel bad that I didn't shave my legs and I'm like ... before a trip, like, "Oh my gosh, I have to go. I have to go buy a razor, I have to go buy this." Why are people profiting off of how I feel about my natural body hair? Or if you feel fat and you're like, "Oh, I have to go do this and I have to go do this. I have to buy this." Who's profiting off of how you feel about your body? And think about that every single time you have a hurtful feeling about who you are or how you feel. Just consider who's profiting off of it and be like, "Okay, well you're not getting any of my time, money, or thoughts," and then go on with your day.
Kerri Kelly: I think even when you're having a good feeling. I mean, to me, that's one of the ... you were saying before go back and do research and inquire. But part of I feel like what we need to do ... especially as those of us who are associated with dominant culture, white folks, cisgender, straight ... need to be interrogating ourselves every freaking day on who benefits, how am I benefiting ...
Rachel Cargle: At the cost of someone else.
Kerri Kelly: ... who is this harming, on whose back. And I feel like the only way to get to a place of clarity is to actually ask that question every minute of every day.
Rachel Cargle: And not just in your head. Out loud. Ask it out loud to the owner. I was recently ... I'm having a friend visit and I was looking at spas, and I was like, "Oh, let's just go to the spa." Part of the wellness world. We can talk about that. But I was like, "Oh, let's go to the spa." But he's a transgender man and I was like, "They're going to make us separate and go to different gender-based bathrooms before we get into the spa," and I just melted 'cause I'm like, do we have to have this turmoil within ourselves before going to the spa? And that's a privilege that I have that I never had to think about that. I can go anywhere, and the idea of having to go into a changing room doesn't affect me one bit. But it really affects people and how they show up and whether they even want to go to a place 'cause they have to explain themselves or have fear of how other people will take them.
Rachel Cargle: And so even in my own privileges, I have to be asking the questions out loud, make myself incredibly uncomfortable, call up the spa and say, "What the fuck? You're about to lose money because people are feeling uncomfortable in a space that's supposed to be ultimate comfort."
Kerri Kelly: That's the paradox.
Rachel Cargle: So say it out loud. Agitate. Your job is to realize where your privilege is and use it to agitate every single system that you have the privilege in. 'Cause as a black woman who's agitating the white supremacy, the marginalized people are going to agitate 'cause they have to to survive, and so your job is to do it every single chance you get.
Kerri Kelly: To choose to do it.
Rachel Cargle: To choose to do it, yeah.
Kerri Kelly: Because we have the privilege of choice.
Rachel Cargle: Yeah, yeah.
Kerri Kelly: I want to talk about so-called allyship. My friend Reverend angel Kyodo williams calls it "so-called allyship" because so much of allyship has become performative, like proving and saying the right thing and putting the perfect meme out. I mean, you were already naming a lot of those things. The kind of desperation to be the one who knows, and making sure everybody else knows that you know.
Rachel Cargle: Knows that you know, yeah.
Kerri Kelly:But it does feel like, ultimately, allyship is about relationship, authentic relationship, learning how to be in relationship, learning how to locate yourself socially in relationship, learning how to get out of the way. So I'd love for you to share how so-called allyship or authentic relationship across lines of difference shows up in your life. What does it look like?
Rachel Cargle:Yeah. What it looks like ... Well, I want to talk on the so-called allyship. I still use the word allyship, but I am happy to share the way a lot of other activists of color have showed up to have this conversation in saying we don't need allies, we need accomplices. We don't need someone to be our friend. We need someone to be breaking down the system with us. It's just like the same conversation. It's not enough to just be not racist. You have to be actively anti-racist, or you're complicit in the system. That's it. There's no other options.
Rachel Cargle: So there's no real need for allies because we just don't want a lot of people saying, "We see you, we hear you." We need people saying, "We're here to keep you alive. We're here to ensure your family gets an education. We're here to ensure you eat. We're here to ensure you have opportunity." So consider that. So I will use the word allyship, but I really want you to start using allyship and accomplice interchangeably.
Rachel Cargle: How it shows up ... Well, let me go back. My equation for allyship is knowledge plus empathy plus action. If you take any one of those out, you're either doing it for your ego ... this is either a self help space for you, or you're ... it's either for your ego or for, like, a self help. So consider how you're showing up. If you're doing something without knowledge, if you're not actually learning the history of these people, you're not actually doing research, and you're not actually trying to have a intellectual understanding of their existence in the world ... because I promise you your entire education has been whitewashed so you really don't know. And so unless you're knowing and you're only doing something off of how you feel and then taking action, then you just want to feel better. So you really need to learn about them.
Rachel Cargle: And if you're intellectualizing only and then taking action ... You cannot intellectualize the experiences of people of color. It's not an academic space. It's an actual, real, live space that people are existing in, so if you're only feeling like, "Well, I've studied ..." Like all of the white African American studies professors, like, "I've studied black people and I know what they experience," and then they try to take action without picking up the empathy part, then what they're really doing is hardcore fucking colonizing. Like, "I know what you need so I'm going to take action," without picking up the empathy part of the equation to say, "I know what's happening. Now tell me what you need and how can I take action on behalf of you?" So consider you need knowledge plus empathy plus action.
Rachel Cargle: How this shows up ... and it's something that I talked about in Bend, Oregon where she saw me speak ... is that ... One of the spaces is I have lots of white friends and there are times when they'll call me and be like, "Hey, Rachel. We're having this event." And they'll say, "But I just want you to know you'll probably be the only black person in the room if you come here, so let me know if you want to come." So just being aware of how I exist in the world and the fact that I rarely want to be in a place where I'm the only black person in the room.
Rachel Cargle: Or if I'm having an event or a ... say I have a sleepover and I post it on Instagram. I don't feel any feelings about how my white friends are gonna feel seeing me with all my black friends, 'cause they know that's what I need. So they don't have fragility around like, "I thought I was your friend. I thought we were all the same and I could come to your party." No. You know that I need to be in black spaces. And so those are very practical ways that it shows up ...
Kerri Kelly: That's helpful.
Rachel Cargle: ... in the ways that my white friends interact with me. But also, all the way to how people are voting. Regular allyship. But like I said, if your work isn't centering black lives, then it's not anti-racism work. It's, "I want to feel better about how I happen to be born" work and we don't need that.
Kerri Kelly: What about mistake making and repair? And I've heard you say white folks can't move through the world and be afraid to make a mistake, and so they don't engage or they silence themselves. But when mistakes happen, what does repair look like?
Rachel Cargle: I encourage everyone to consider in a question like this, reframing it with men and feminism. So if a man makes a mistake and he does something incredibly misogynistic, how could he repair? I'm interested to know your answer.
Kerri Kelly: How could he repair?
Rachel Cargle: Yeah, if he did something incredibly hurtful to the community of women that he's part of.
Kerri Kelly: I would imagine that he would take responsibility for it and name it and maybe ask like, "How did this feel?" Or, "I may have done something wrong," or, "Give me feedback," or, "I want feedback." So there's some kind of responsibility taking and self accountability, I would say. And then I would say an apology. But even that doesn't feel like enough. Then I feel like practice. Continuing to navigate doing the right thing and continuing to take responsibility for mistakes and continuing to build relationship and showing up as a reflection of accompliceship, essentially.
Rachel Cargle: So that's the answer.
Kerri Kelly: Okay. That was tricky, Rachel.
Kerri Kelly: I've heard you say that we need new heroes. And I think about this also in the feminist movement, how we've heard a lot about Susan B. Anthony and Carrie Chapman Catt and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but we don't hear as much about Sojourner Truth and Mary Church Terrell and Ida B. Wells. And it's not surprising that those women have been erased from our history. And that's not historical. I mean, that happens even today. We were with Tarana Burke this weekend and she tells a story about how she was almost erased from the Me Too movement and how it took a lot of people being like, "Wait up."
Kerri Kelly: I know this is a part of your definition of intersectional feminism, but how do we co-create a new story that centers black women, new heroes, lives on the margins, and really invites white people to get out of the way?
Rachel Cargle: Yeah. I make a post every so often where I challenge people to think, like, looking at the books you've read this year, who writes them. If you've read only books written by white people, you're putting yourself in this white-warped space again than what has already been taught to you. Whose music are you listening to? Whose books are you reading? What movies are you seeing? What means something's valid to you?
Rachel Cargle: I realize that a pillar of my work is decolonizing intellect and that also goes into this idea ... and I'm writing a book right now ...
Kerri Kelly: Yay.
Rachel Cargle:... and I'm working right now on the chapter called Your Heroes Are Not My Heroes, where we're really digging into our understanding of who gets celebrated and why. Even aside from the incredible women like Mary Church Terrell, Anna Julia Cooper, those women along with the normal people we sometimes hear about ... Sojourner Truth or Ida B. Wells ... Even who do we deem as a valid source of knowledge today? Who do we deem as a valid entertainer today? Or even ... let's talk about the Oscars. What do we deem as valid? Until you're awarded by a group of white people?
Kerri Kelly: Who gets to decide?
Rachel Cargle: Who gets to decide? And so I'm deciding and we need to decide who our heroes are, because we definitely don't have a Malcolm X day. We have a Martin Luther King Day, who he was deemed super peaceful and that's why, and he was the one-
Kerri Kelly: Which he wasn't entirely.
Rachel Cargle: Which he wasn't entirely.
Kerri Kelly: That too was whitewashed.
Rachel Cargle: So that too was whitewashed. But if you really look into who gets chosen to be cared about and why they're chosen. Really look into who gets to be valid in this country and why, and you'll see that it all pours into the white supremacist agenda, that of course they'd choose Martin. He was the one saying, "Why don't we all join hands?"
Kerri Kelly: He was palatable.
Rachel Cargle: He was palatable. Of course he'd have a day just to honor the civil rights, which really didn't manifest into anything super concrete today. And so looking at who your heroes are, who you celebrate, who's valid. It goes into who are you reading, who feels valid to you. And even taking it away from heroes, taking it down to human-to-human perspective. At-Nehisi Coates in his book Between the World and Me ... which is required reading in my world, not that I have a class or anything, but ... he says that one of the most tragic things about humanity is that white people really think they're white. They think that their whiteness means something.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: They really, truly do. They walk through the world-
Kerri Kelly: Even if they don't see it.
Rachel Cargle: Even if they don't see it, they exist with some type of hierarchy based on their skin color. When if we think about it, the people who started ... They could have chosen anything. They could have chosen height. They could have chosen hair color. They could have chosen anything, but they chose white skin and white skinned people actually think that it materializes into something meaningful as in hierarchy of existence. And white people are not the default of existence. In decolonizing intellect, in decolonizing heroes, white people are not the knowers and everything else is to be known. That's how the world works now, like in academia and the world. White people discover things. Shit was existing before white people laid eyes on it. Why are we talking about people being discovered? Do you know how supremacist that is that you are the center of existence and you get to go out and find the rest of the world and then it ... It only exists after you've discovered it? That's some crazy shit that you really think that.
Rachel Cargle: As I'm getting more into the academy, I'm learning so much that every canon of every field of work is filled with white people, mostly white men, and that is honored as the understanding, the theory of that field. And so within all of our education, white people are the brains and everyone else either gets to learn from them or they're going out ... We have African American studies, we have Asian studies, and every other culture gets to be picked apart and scrutinized. Who's picking apart and scrutinizing how white people exist? Because they ...
Kerri Kelly: Assumed.
Rachel Cargle: ... understand themselves as the default and it's wild. It's absolutely wild. So that's that.
Kerri Kelly: So that's that. I just want to point out that you do have a social syllabus on your website and you do have a class. It's called Instagram and we're all in it. So what is the other required reading in our class, Teacher Cargle? Professor Cargle, tell us.
Rachel Cargle: Like I said, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me completely kind of shook up the way that I understood a lot of things. You really need to pull from ... Right before I came here, I ran into Brittney Cooper and I was like-
Kerri Kelly: Like literally outside?
Rachel Cargle: Well, on the way here. I was at a co-working space and she was there and I ran into her and I was like, so hype. I was thinking out of all the celebrities I've seen walking through New York City ...
Kerri Kelly: That's really cool.
Rachel Cargle: ... I literally did a cartwheel to Brittney like, "Hi, Dr. Cooper." And she's like, "Who are you?" So anyways, read her work. I hope this makes up for the way I ambushed her earlier today. Dr. Brittney Cooper, Imani Perry ... she writes a lot of incredible work. I encourage you, whatever field you're in, Google "black innovators in this field," and you will find some people who are doing incredible work that you probably have never heard of because they don't get cited and they don't get put into things, but I promise you they're probably developing knowledge for your field. So look into that and consider who those are because even ...
Rachel Cargle: I'm speaking from the space of black women who are doing race-based work, but that's not the only people you should listen to, the black women talking about race. You also need to listen to the black woman engineer. You need to listen to the black woman artist. You need to listen to the black woman teacher. It's not just the people who are out here on the front lines doing the work whose voices are valid in this space. Every single black woman is a fucking expert in this and if you're not listening to her, if you're only listening to me, a light-skinned, Ivy League educated, well written, well spoken, super cute black girl, then you're only listening to me 'cause you find me palatable. It's just like when men only think the women they're attracted to are valid. If you're not listening to the women you're not attracted to, then you're not really listening to women. And if you're only paying attention to the black women you find interesting or you find palatable, then you're not really listening to black people.
Kerri Kelly: So you've had the wildest two years ever.
Rachel Cargle: It hasn't even been two years. It's literally been like, nine months.
Kerri Kelly: Since the Women's March, your picture went viral.
Rachel Cargle: Yes. That was two years.
Kerri Kelly: You all know that picture, right?
Kerri Kelly: I mean, everybody's seen that picture. I'm sure bagillions of people have seen that picture. So that goes viral. You're in school at the time. You're a nanny at the time.
Rachel Cargle: I'm a nanny at the time. Yeah.
Kerri Kelly: And then what happens? Because your 205,000 Instagram people later. How did that unfold for you and how did you navigate that?
Rachel Cargle: I'm still learning how to navigate it. When that photo went viral, I think I had like, 2,000 followers and then kind of all the sudden my face and my feminism was kind of in the front of my existence and I had to talk about it a lot more 'cause people were associating me with that photo, and so me, I'm not gonna show up without a depth of knowledge of where I'm showing up. And so I started doing my own research and I wasn't in school yet, but I was nannying and so I had more time and more brain space to do this research and I was watching videos and I was thinking more critically about my own experiences as a feminist, as a black woman, and this was the first time I was bringing them together. So really, these last two years have just been me fusing these two parts of myself and how I'm showing up in both of those spaces.
Rachel Cargle: That was one of the big things is when the photo went viral, I just had a bunch of conversations that I had to have with myself, with my white friends, with my ancestors, with other black women in my community, and I'm like, "Where are we situated here?" And so then I just kind of started speaking as I learned, talking on it and writing about it as I went, and I just started building a following who was listening, going on this journey of learning with me. And then what really kind of boosted things was in July of last year, I got in an argument with a white woman on Instagram and pretty much our interaction went pretty viral.
Kerri Kelly: Is that the Nia Wilson ...
Rachel Cargle: Yeah. I made a post that said, "Where are all the white feminists now that Nia Wilson's died?" And I told my followers, I said, "Tag your favorite feminist and ask her why she hasn't mentioned it" and it caused a shit show of grand proportions. Well, it caused a shit show of white fragility. But what it really did, it gave me all the teaching material I could ever need.
Kerri Kelly: That's right.
Rachel Cargle: It was textbook of everything I had been teaching and talking about and learning about. And so after that happened, I think my following ... I think a lot of white women who followed that woman ... and you can go to my Instagram page and there's a whole highlight on it. But I think that it came up that people were ... that was the first time they were coming up against that conversation. They had never really considered how their white feminism played into race relations in the country, and I think I got, like, 40,000 followers that weekend, of white women like, "Wait, I never thought about this. I never considered this." And I started just developing more content around that conversation and I think in June I had, like, 10K followers and I have 202 now and it's just people coming in part of the conversation, part of the conversation.
Rachel Cargle: Even with my lecture tour, it's all been just people on the ground saying, "We need you here to have this conversation with our community," and so they connect with my assistant and they get everything together. So it's been very much so a ... I always say when I come into spaces, "I am here in conversation and in community," because that's how we're all showing up in order to start talking, and then my little brown fingers can be crossed that it will lead to more action.
Kerri Kelly: And I think it has. Just knowing who I know that knows you, your words are resonating, your teaching is resonating. People are listening and watching you for a reason and it's really helpful.
Kerri Kelly: You asked this question to Tarana, and so I want to ask it of you.
Rachel Cargle: Oh, don't. I'm gonna cry. Go.
Kerri Kelly: Knowing what you know now, what would you say to your younger self?
Rachel Cargle: To my younger self, I would say your words are powerful. I always wrote. I always enjoyed it, and it felt very wispy, like what I was writing didn't really mean anything. And so I would definitely tell my younger self that writing is part of my power, so I would probably encourage that. And I also would just say, dig into your curiosity. I was always a very curious kid. Even my application essay to Columbia was all about how the university would benefit from my curiosity, like that's why they should bring me in.
Kerri Kelly: Nice.
Rachel Cargle: I wish I just dug more. Like, read more crazy books that no one else was picking up, demanded more critical conversation from my mom and my friends when I was like ... I remember being young and being like, "I've learned about the cycle of poverty and we need to talk about this," just pushing more critical conversation with people who didn't want to be part of it but realizing that it was always important to me. So just tell myself to go deeper.
Kerri Kelly: I'm so glad ... Clearly you've had that seed, because after the Women's March you went deeper and you could've opted out. You could've went back to your life. You could've just followed along, and it feels like, to me, that you just pulled out all the stops and leaned in. I don't know this from personal experience being a white woman, but I know that choosing to do the work that you do, especially given the fact that you spar with white fragility every day on your social media feed, must be really intense. That's not just an intellectual thing. That's direct. It's real. It can be violent at times. And so I just want to acknowledge you.
Rachel Cargle: Yeah. I always say, with this work I didn't put up a sign that said, "200,000 white women, come follow me. Let's talk about race." I didn't call on this, so I have to assume it's my work. Nothing about how I existed in the world was like ... I definitely wasn't a little girl like, "I'm gonna grow up and talk about race," and my race and my womanhood. It wasn't something that I did. But I think that now that I'm in this space, I am recognizing how different gifts that I have all lend to this, and so it's been an incredible experience to feel purposeful and feel on a path that's meaningful because I recognize that not everyone gets to be in that space at one point in life or another. But also, like I said, it's so deeply meaningful when I have 16-year-old black girls say, "I didn't know I could talk to white people like that." I'm like, "Girl, talk to them like that."
Kerri Kelly: You were saying before that you didn't choose to work with white women, but here you are, and that if your vision was realized, your community, your spaces would look really different. What is your vision for our future? How will you know you've been successful? What will it look like?
Rachel Cargle: It'll look like a deep ringing in my ears of black girls. It'll look like voices of black women and girls just being wildly heard. Not just spoken, but heard. Not just existing, but heard. And I just want to be overwhelmed by the voices of black girls who are demanding what they deserve and what they're not accepting anymore and what they're expecting of the world and what they want in terms of existing. I always say I have a deep commitment to making white people uncomfortable. That's my work right now, is going throughout the country and making white people uncomfortable. And I hope that I just have an army of black girls behind me making white people uncomfortable.
Rachel Cargle: I have very little hope that much will change in my generation, just going off of how things have progressed. But I do believe that with social media ... which is such an interest ... I can't wait to read academic work on social media now and activism and organizing and things like that. But I just hope ... my dream and my hope, by the time I'm like, 70 years old, releasing another book and getting to go out to universities and lecture is for me to have a room full of black girls who are like, "This is what we've been saying. This is what we've been doing. This is why this university has you." A deep ringing in my ears of black girls is my dream.
Kerri Kelly: Yes, yes. Thank you for that. Everyone, Rachel Cargle.
Rachel Cargle: Thank you.
While this podcast is coming to an end, our work in the world is just beginning. This week's call to action is to do the work. Not to simply engage with it on social media, but to put your privilege on the line and take a risk. You can follow Rachel on Instagram @rachel.cargle, and check out her website at rachelcargle.com to attend a lecture and download her social syllabus on how to be an ally to black women.
Thanks to our producer Trevor Exter and to DJ Drez for the amazing soundtrack. You can check out his music at djdrez.com. And thank you for being here today. You can stay in the know and engaged by subscribing to our weekly newsletter, WELLread, at ctznwell.org. CTZN Podcast is community inspired and crowdsourced. That's how we keep it real. Join our community on Patreon for as little as $1 per month so that we can keep doing the work of curating content that matters for citizens who care.