A Discussion on Race Relations
Updated: Jul 7, 2020
“It’s time for us to heal and get real with who we are.” – Jessica P. Lowe-Betts
Kanati is excited to launch the first installment of a new series featuring interesting people and a wide range of topics. In light of world events happening here in Tulsa, we asked community and diversity leader Jessica P. Lowe-Betts to talk with us about bias, race relations and how we can productively move forward.
Jessica is a wife, mother of three and a diversity and inclusion practitioner at ONEOK in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Jessica is originally from Dallas, Texas, but relocated to Oklahoma to attend college at Langston University. Prior to joining the team at ONEOK, Jessica worked for the Tulsa Regional Chamber in a variety of roles, including manager of government affairs and vice president of marketing and branding for Tulsa Regional Tourism.
Kanati Strategies: I know your work is so much more than just a job for you - it's a passion; it's part of your life. How do you promote diversity and inclusion beyond your 8-5?
Jessica: I am becoming more and more comfortable with sharing my personal Diversity & Inclusion (D&I) story and encouraging others to do the same. Storytelling bridges human connections, compassion and empathy. We all have a story and we’ve all lived through adversity and pain at some points in our lives. We’ve experienced happiness and joy. These experiences are great connectors and give a sense of relevance and purpose to our lived experiences and shared humanity.
I have lunch with people I want to learn more about. I invite people into my home for meals. I am a firm believer in the power and spirit of connection.
Kanati Strategies: How do you promote diversity and inclusion without making people feel excluded and uncomfortable? If we hyper-focus on our cultural differences are we unintentionally highlighting and creating division? What is the best approach to create commonality?
Jessica: The best approach to creating commonality is to recognize that we are all on a journey and we all have a story. The subject of diversity and inclusion still makes people uncomfortable. I ask them why? Why do topics of race, gender, economic status, ability, inequality and injustice make us uncomfortable? We have to start leaning into our own discomforts and confronting the person we are versus the person we “mean” to be. I encourage people to sit with who they are and really start unpacking how they are feeling right now in this global conversation on race. This is very personal work and there are so many tools and resources out there to help us connect with feelings of guilt, discomfort and fear. It’s time for us to heal and get real with who we are.
Kanati Strategies: You have three children - two girls and your baby boy. What are the conversations like at home? Do your kids, particularly your older girls, understand?
Jessica: My oldest girls are so disappointed when they see the protests and rallies as a result of the repeated killings of unarmed black men and women. We’ve shared many history lessons with them about the Civil Rights Movement and why we celebrate holidays like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Juneteenth, and to live through the same episodes of discrimination and systemic racism now is heartbreaking to them.
Right after the news of George Floyd’s murder, my 8-year old asked me, “Why do they hate us because our skin is dark?” I had to pause after that question because I struggled with finding the right words to say. She’s aware of her differences. She knows her hair is kinky curly and that her skin is darker than most of the kids in her class, but she also knows that because of this, she can be seen as a threat and a target.
I told her the ugly truth and replied, “Unfortunately, there are some people in the world who do hate us because our skin is dark.” I followed up with the importance of God’s love and forgiveness. I made her recite the names of white friends, teachers and neighbors who have genuinely loved and respected our family. But the sad reality is that my small family of five is extremely vulnerable and is experiencing trauma. I am afraid when my black husband leaves the house to go the store. We are afraid when we are all in the car and get pulled over by the police. I’m experiencing severe anxiety about the words we’ll tell our son, Justin Jr., about how he is supposed to present himself in this world. “Don’t wear a hoodie. Don’t play your music too loudly. Don’t play with toy guns in the front yard. Don’t speak too loudly. Always show your hands when you are in stores and around people in authority. Be safe…”
But the heartbreaking question is, will this advice help save his life? For so many black/African-American parents, the answer is “no.”
Kanati Strategies: Many believe younger generations will create meaningful change. How do we educate and guide children about race relations and especially the Tulsa Race Massacre?
Jessica: We need to start teaching them about our history and having intentional dialog about what happened here 100 years ago. Again, there are several resources available and the State Department of Education is deploying specific curriculum about the massacre for K-12 students.
Model what you want them to do. Cultivate real relationships with black and brown families. Consider shopping in minority-owned business. It starts with us.
Kanati Strategies: It is our understanding that implicit bias is subconscious and under the radar of conscious awareness. Does implicit bias mean you're racist? Can you help explain this?
Jessica: Implicit bias does not mean you are racist, and I think we are throwing the racist card around irresponsibly right now.
We ALL have implicit or unconscious biases, which is our brain’s way of creating shortcuts about life. Our brains naturally create associations and stereotypes that shape how we understand the world. Again, it’s natural.
However, some unconscious biases perpetuate negative, racist stereotypes that can be extremely offensive to groups of people. The good news is once we learn of our own unconscious biases, we can change them. A good D&I practitioner friend describes it so profoundly with these words, “You aren’t responsible for your first thought. But, you are responsible for your second thought and first action.”
Kanati Strategies: Some people struggle with a perceived inability to articulate their feelings and thoughts regarding racism and racial injustice. People are concerned about how to best express themselves. What is your advice to those who want to be part of the movement but are worried about how to approach it?
Jessica: First, remember that racism is a form of trauma and many of us are experiencing severe episodes of mental and emotional trauma right now. Be genuine and authentic. If you are in real relationship with people of color, they should be able to discern your heart, intention and actions. Check on us and be willing to listen, but don’t expect us to have all the right answers about what you can do. We are tired and are desperately trying to survive.
Hold psychologically safe spaces for us to share, if we have the energy to, with an understanding that we are vulnerable and emotionally fragile.
Help to cancel systemic racism by asking your elected officials and systems of government why things are the way they are. Why are certain neighborhoods all white? What systemic barriers are in place that make things extra hard or unnecessarily burdensome for people of color? Why does the quality of education vary depending on where schools are located? Why are certain areas in Tulsa without adequate grocery options? Why is the life expectancy worse for people who live in north Tulsa versus those who live in south Tulsa?
We need all people to start challenging systemic racism and using their voices and influence to ignite change.
Kanati Strategies: Lastly, how do you approach having honest and uncomfortable conversations with your friends and family about race relations?
Jessica: Start by acknowledging your discomfort and name why. Expect them to be defensive, but encourage them to carefully consider the perspective you are providing. It also helps if you can name people that you know and love and how their racist views or behaviors could cause them pain.
We are grateful to Jessica for providing these candid and thoughtful responses. Today is Juneteenth, a sacred celebration in America and especially Tulsa. While we have made some progress, we have so much more to accomplish to effectively address inequality.
If you would like to be part of the change, consider supporting a cause. Here are a few of our favorites: