"How to talk about Identity, Diversity and Justice"
with Kenji Yoshino
Season 8, Episode 1

Kenji Yoshino is father to two children and the Chief Justice, Earl Warren, Professor of Constitutional law at NYU School of law and the Director of the school’s Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging.

He specializes in constitutional law, anti-discrimination, law, and law and literature, and has won numerous awards for his teaching and scholarship. He has published in major academic journals, including the Harvard Law Review, the Stanford Law Review and the Yale Law Journal, and he has written for the Los Angeles Times, the  New York Times, the Washington Post, among many others. He makes regular appearances on radio and television programs, such as NPR, CNN, and MSNBC. Kenji has served as the President of the Harvard Board of Overseers, and currently serves on the board of the Brennan Center of Justice and on advisory boards for diversity and inclusion for Morgan Stanley, and Charter Communications. He’s a graduate of Harvard University, Oxford University, as a Rhodes Scholar, and Yale Law School.

He’s also the author of four books. His latest “Say the Right Thing. How to Talk about Identity, Diversity and Justice” is the topic of this episode.

In this episode you will learn:

  • The 7 principles for having productive identity conversations
  • How to avoid the 4 conversational traps
  • How to have conversations about identity that are transformative and positive rather than divisive and disheartening
  • How to apply this skill to your parenting

Petal Modeste: Kenji Yushchino is father to 2 children and the Chief Justice, Earl Warren, Professor of Constitutional law at NYU. School of law and the director of the school’s Meltzer center for diversity, inclusion, and belonging. He specializes in constitutional law, anti discrimination, law, and law and literature, and has won numerous awards for his teaching and scholarship. He has published in major academic journals, including the Harvard Law Review, the Stanford Law Review and the Yale Law Journal, and he has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the Washington Post. Among many others he makes regular appearances on radio and television programs, such as NPR. CNN, and MSNB. Kenji has served as the president of the Harvard Board of overseers, and currently serves on the board of the Brennan Center of justice and on advisory boards for diversity and inclusion for Morgan Stanley, and charter communications. He’s a graduate of Harvard University, Oxford University, as a Rhodes Scholar, and Yale Law School. He’s also the author of 4 books. His latest say the right thing. How to talk about identity, diversity and justice
is our topic to day. At the end of this episode you will learn how to have conversations about identity that are transformative and positive rather than divisive and disheartening, and you will learn how to apply this skill to your parenting. Welcome Kenji, to parenting for the future. I am absolutely thrilled to have you here.

Kenji: It’s such a pleasure to be here, Petal. Thank you for having me.

Petal Modeste: So I mentioned in the introduction that you and your co-author, David Glasgow, founded and direct the work of the Meltzer Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU. The center is dedicated to research-backed approaches to diversity and inclusion, and over the years you have taught thousands of individuals from all walks of life, how to communicate effectively and meaningfully across difference.

But what led you here, Kenji? What early experiences led you first to law school and then to the work of the Meltzer Centre.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): it’s actually a lovely place to start. So thank you for the question. I was an English major undergraduate. So I thought I was going to be a writer, you know my first love was really fiction and poetry. But as I came to think about it, the reason that I love literature so much is that it felt like particularly the realist novels, a way of inhabiting many different lives. We each only have the one life to live directly. But if we are readers, we can actually look at the world through many different perspectives. And so I think that that was a initial commitment.
I became rather disillusioned by the end of my undergraduate career, because I thought, if I really care about issues of social justice, and probably writing about them in the Victorian novel is not gonna be the way to advance those causes. And so, like many humanists, I turned to the law as the language of power and you know my commitments remain the same of trying to think about how to build a more equitable and inclusive society, and I had a really good run as a kind of very traditional law professor. For some period of time, about the first 10 or so years of my career but then I became disillusioned again, as I think, too negative a word. But I became a little bit restless because I began to realize that law was a very blunt instrument and was limited at what it could do. So law can create the floor. Basic entitlements for treatment with equality or with dignity. But when we want to do the work of building above that floor, we have to do the work of culture which is the world of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

So, about 7 years ago, my co-author, David Glasgow, is also my Executive Director, founded the center for Diversity and Inclusion and Belonging, we recently became endowed as a Meltzer Center and that’s what brings me to you today

Petal Modeste: so let’s start to get into the book. You say that it was really important to write this book at this moment in time, because conversations about identity, inclusion, and belonging are inescapable. Well, first of all. Yay, I’m happy about that. But second of all, what are the reasons for this? Because certainly people who have always been marginalized, whether because of their abilities, their race, their gender, gender identity, etc., have had to navigate a largely inhospitable world for forever. So they have always been talking about these issues. So what’s happening now? Is it or changing demographics? Is it technology? Is it social media?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): I think it is all of those things that you just mentioned, but I particularly want to focus on demographics. I agree with you that this has been the lived experience of equity, deserving groups from time immemorial. But I think the thing that has changed, at least in us. Society is that those individuals now have a critical mass. So I’m very fond of saying that by 2042 we will be a majority minority nation already in the under 18 cohort. So I know this is a parenting. Podcast so if we’re talking about our kids, right, that world is already here under 18
right whites are a minority right of the country. Then, if you think about gender, if you look at the individuals who have college degrees, more than 50% of those are women since 2019, and that has survived even the great resignation that occurred during the pandemic. And it’s disparate effects on women. And if you look at Gen. Z. 20% of Gen. Z identifies as something other than straight, right? And so you see, just if you just think about race, gender, and sexual orientation, which I realize is a very kind of
, right way of approaching diversity. There are many other forms of diversity, but even just looking at those 3. Just see that there’s a critical mass of individuals, and that we can’t possibly hope to navigate American society without having the leadership capabilities and the conversational capabilities to speak across difference So I think that is what’s driving the change. I’m sure social media and other factors are also in play. But I think that demographics alone, right, could explain this enough.

Petal: Before we go further, I think it would be really good to define some of the terms that will come up over and over again in our conversation. So let’s start with bias which you say occurs in infinite interactions every day. What is bias?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): Bias is just a preference that is not based in reason, so it could be positive or negative. But the important thing about bias is that it is not undergirded by any rational kind of driver.

Petal Modeste: Okay what about identity?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): Identity are the characteristics and the qualities that make us who we are.

Petal Modeste: Okay. Diversity

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): Diversity is I think you know, in the space that we’re talking about. So I’m gonna leave aside issues like biodiversity or other kinds of diversity. But diversity and the context that we’re talking about is really a human condition. So it’s a condition of having individuals who differ with regard to basic demographic characteristics or social characteristics from each other.

Petal Modeste: Okay, justice.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): Yeah. Justice is a fundamental sort of philosophical principle of fairness and equity.

Petal Modeste: And finally, ally.

Kenji Yoshino: ally is just meaning that, you have advantages that you are willing to leverage in favor of those who lack those same advantages.

Petal Modeste: This is who this book was written for. Right? You wrote it primarily for people who are in a higher position, power, position, and all of us actually are at different times in those positions. Is that right?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): That’s absolutely right. So even in that definition, someone who leverages their advantages in favor of those who don’t have those same advantages. I hope everyone who’s listening to this. Podcast so looks at that and says, Well, that’s every human being right. All of us, as human beings have some cluster of advantages and some cluster of disadvantages. That means that all of us can give allyship where we happen to have advantages in a particular situation, and receive allyship where we lack them, so no one is so powerful as a human being that they are not at some point going to need an ally. Nobody is so powerless that they can’t offer their allyship to somebody else.

Petal Modeste: I think that’s extremely powerful. And I actually hope that is something that stays with everyone as we’re listening to day. What about people who don’t see themselves as allies? could they still benefit from this book?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): I think so just exactly on this point that if someone says I can’t benefit from this book, because I don’t really see myself as an ally. I would say, well, are you a human being? Because if you’re a human being at some point, you are going to need an ally. If you’re a human being, you are going to be capable at some point of offering your allyship. So given that this is a great kind of reciprocal exchange that’s occurring among human communities. Why wouldn’t you want to be a part of that?

Petal Modeste: Yeah. So you offer 7 principles in the book for having productive identity conversations. I see them as really wonderful guidelines, and the very first one is to be careful during those conversations, not to fall into 4 conversational traps, or to not to do 4 things, and those are to avoid, deflect, deny, or attack. Now, I imagine that people can avoid by walking away like physically walking away, or even staying silent, perhaps, but what are some not so obvious forms of avoiding?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): The least intuitive one that we found was what is known as preference falsification, where you bring an issue of identity or diversity or justice to me, and I disagree with you but I falsify my preferences. I nod along and say, Yes, Petal, you’re exactly right, and then the meeting ends, and we leave now. I have formally not avoided you in any obvious way, because I’m talking to you. We’re engaging. I’m not saying, “look at the time”, I gotta go to a meeting” and running out of the room. I’m talking to you right, but we still want you to think about that as a form of avoidance. Because I’ve not given you the respect of my real opinion, right? So I can just not along and not change any of my views or not do anything. But ultimately that’s avoiding the concern that you’ve raised with me. So in the instance where you disagree with somebody’s viewpoint, by all means. You know, we have a chapter on Disagreement that I’m sure we’ll talk about later, but it’s much better to voice a disagreement and give the person the benefit of your thinking rather than to simply not along to keep the peace, because ultimately that will be experienced as a form of avoidance.

Petal Modeste: Deflection, which is the other trap. One form of it that you write about is tone policing. What is that? Exactly? And can you give us an example?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): That tone policing is when you say I agree with the substance of your view, or see that it might be legitimate. But I really don’t appreciate the way that you put it right. And so this happens all the time, you know, particularly to a minority communities, particularly to, you know, people of color, etc., etc. Where, to give an example from my actual life, you know, I’m on the board of several organizations, and at 1 point an individual turned to another one and said, You may have a valid point, but the tone that you’re using is overly aggressive and abrasive and judgmental. Right? So what’s happening when someone does that, we really experience that as deflection because you’re gear shifting over from something that you’re uncomfortable talking about, which is the subject of the conversation. And you’re shifting it to something that you’re more comfortable talking about, which is criticizing somebody else’s tone and of course I’m not saying that there aren’t times when people could work on their tone, but oftentimes we don’t do it in good faith, we’re not going in there to say, oh, I really object to your tone. We tone police in order to escape having to talk about the substance of the concern.

Petal Modeste: You gave an example in the book of a white man, who has an Asian friend, another man. and every year he would invite this Asian friend of his to his holiday party and his friend never comes and finally he says. Look, I don’t come because your group of friends are homogeneous, and I don’t really feel that welcome at your parties or at your gatherings.
What will the white man’s response sound like if he avoids denial, which is the third conversational trap.

Kenji: Right? So denial is, as you say, the third conversational trap along with, you know, avoidance and deflection. Denial could take the form of either denying the facts or denying the legitimacy of the concern, so denying the facts might be. How dare you say my parties are not, you know, diverse. Look at all the people I’ve invited, and then you would start listing people that you thought of as diverse, whereas denying the legitimacy of the feeling would be you know, I why are you always sort of banging on about? You know, race, you know I am color blind. I don’t see, or I guess that’s enablers term. So I am very inclusive. I’m not color conscious, and so therefore you know II don’t think that that your concern is legitimate. Why on earth would you avoid my party simply because of who else I invite to those parties. You know. I think that that’s a really small minded approach. Right? So the both of those are denials, right? And so far as it’s sort of the gate comes down, and you’re just saying I categorically push back against what you’re saying. So it’s a little bit more hostile than either avoidance or deflection, and in general, as we go down the row of responses, they get more and more kind of heated and aggressive in nature.

Petal Modeste: Right, and could lead to the attack right, which is the fourth trap and there are so many examples of this that we all live with every day, especially on social media. Where you know, people just go on the attack. But you tell us that if we’re aiming to be a good ally. We have to move from being reflexive in these conversations, to be in reflective and so to your point where you say there’s a sort of a continuum. you start with denial, and then you could get to that point where you’re attacking the person. How is it possible, Kenji, to be reflective when you’re getting more and more heated?

Kenji: Yes, so we really think that resilience and curiosity which are the second and third principles of the book, really help you, and avoiding these 4 conversational traps. So the bad news is that we routinely fall into all of these traps. The good news is that as far as David, and I can tell this is a pretty exhaustive set right of behaviors. Right? So if you just memorize what we call adda behaviors of avoid deflect, denying attack. Right? You’re gonna be in pretty good shape where, as you say, you might notice in yourself that you’re pushing back. And then the question is, why are you having this outsized reaction in this conversation? And usually it’s because we’re afraid of where the conversation is. Gonna take us whether or not. We’re gonna get cancelled, you know whether or not our reputation is gonna be sullied, whether or not our party opposite, might be right, and that we should have something that we need to examine in ourselves about our own biases. So I think particularly resilience, which is a next principle, is a means of overcoming that. But you’re quite right, and saying that, you know, and I liked how you put it in your own voice, because I certainly fall into these traps all the time of
you know. You can sort of do anything from suddenly like looking at your watch, and like, you know, saying, I have a meeting to go to and do, and avoid all the way up to attacking and saying, Why are you so thin skinned ? Why are you always talking about Diversity? This isn’t a diversity issue. That would be attack right? But once I know these 4 behaviors. I can watch out for them skip a weather app for them in my life. And then the how of getting past them are these 2 principles of resilience and curiosity?

Petal Modeste: Yeah, so let’s talk about resilience now, you said that it helps us to manage by the emotional discomfort triggered by these identity conversations. and you give us a lot of good resilience building strategies in the book. One of them is adopting a growth mindset which we know is a Carol Dweck creation from many years ago. Where we view our mistakes, for instance, as opportunities to grow right rather than an indication of our stained character. Like, we’re terrible. We’re racist, we’re sexist. and we can also name, which is another strategy name, the specific emotional experience we are having and reframe the situation, so it does not hold us captive. Can you give me an example, Kenji, of a situation, probably from your own life, or in your work at the center where you saw this happen effectively, this reframing.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): Yes, absolutely. So. We were working with a group of executives in a mentoring program, and the mentors were mostly white, and the mentees were all people of color, and it was a program to advance the interests and the promotion opportunities of people of color. In the first meeting the mentors talked a lot, and there’s a lot of kind of positive contributions, but also kind of virtue signaling. And maybe even cookie seeking behavior right on their part. So they got a kind of wave of negative feedback from the mentees, saying, You need to share the air. You need to listen more than you talk like this. Space is really not meant for your advancement. It’s meant for our advancement, etc. So you can probably predict what happened in our second meeting, which is, the mentor, said nothing, hey? And then they got criticism again of silences, violence. And you know you need to participate more. And if we’re gonna show up for this, you can’t just sit on the sidelines. And so then we have to have an emergency meeting of just some mentors and me, cause I was advisor to this program. And they said, we’re all gonna quit right? We can’t do anything right. And so I said, like, What are you feeling right now? And they said, Well, obviously, we’re feeling incredibly uncomfortable like, are you not listening to us when we say we wanna quit? And I said, Well, actually, what I’m trying to get you to do is to drill down a bit into the specific emotion, because the social science tells us that the more specifically we can name an emotion the more we can drive it up from the kind of reptile part of our brains to, or cognitive part of our brain. And so what emotion are you feeling, and not to stereotype. But these are kind of very busy, high powered corporate executives. So there are like, we don’t know, like, you know, don’t talk to us about emotion. Yeah, so I literally was like, okay, multiple choice. Now, is it fear? Is it anger? Is it guilt? Is it hopelessness? Because those are the emotions that we most often see in these conversations. And once I said hopelessness, they said, That’s it. We feel hopeless because we did. X, we’re criticized. We did not. X. We were criticized, and so there doesn’t seem to be a way out. And then, Pedal, I didn’t even need to land the plan like I didn’t need to point out right that there was no cause for hopelessness here, because one of their own number said, I think we’re being a little bit silly here,
because if we went into the room the first day, and it was like 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the room, and we said, It’s way too hot in here, and so we lowered the temperature to like 30°F, and everyone said, It’s too cold. We wouldn’t say it’s therefore hopeless. There’s no middle ground right between 90 degrees and 30 degrees. And so, he said I was his analogy, he said. All we need to do is to find some set point right in between those 2. Temperatures are in between these 2 modalities of interactions. So they ended up speaking, but not, you know, as much as they had done in the first meeting. And the program went on to become a kind of Marquis success of that particular organization.

Petal: Yeah, that’s a great example. What is ring theory? And why is it so powerful? When it comes to building resilience?

Kenji: I love ring theory as a strategy for resilience. And one of the reasons I love it is that, the other strategies that we recommend for resilience are really about forms of self. Talk of how to think about. You know your own behavior and a reflective kind of arm share way at the end of the day. Ring theory is really about how we all support each other. Right? So it’s a way in which we mutually support each other as allies. So this comes from Susan silk and Barry Goldman. And, interestingly enough, It doesn’t come from her academic research. It comes from her
own personal experience with breast cancer. So she has cancer. She’s in the hospital, and her best friend calls her and says, I wanna come visit you in the hospital, and Silk says that’s really kind of you, but I don’t really like hospital visits. Please wait until I’m released, and then I’ll be happy to see you when I’m home. Then the friend said. Wait a minute. You know this isn’t just about you, Susan, right? I have the right to come visit you because I’m worried about you. And so response was understandably, Wait a minute. I have cancer. And I’m and this isn’t about me. This is somehow about you, right? And she later on reflected on this, and she had a really compassionate, evolved response which was the friend actually did have needs that were legitimate. It’s just that she had turned to the wrong person to satisfy those needs. And so I’m trying to model out how she wanted her friend to behave. She created this thing called ring theory. So imagine, like multiple concentric circles, the innermost circle is the person who is in crisis. And one circle out is me as the ally.
They are the best friend as the allies. And then there are other circles like my friends and family, you know. My, you know, work acquaintances, you know, my, you know, broader communities, right? And what she says is comfort in dump out right? As a rule, someone is in a ring that is closer to the epicenter of the crisis. You can only do one thing which is to comfort. whereas if someone is further out right then you can actually dump out to them. So I find this incredibly helpful Petal, because to, you know, close the loop on the Susan Silk story. What she was saying is that the friend deserved comfort, but not from Silk herself because Silk was the affected person at the of the crisis. So the best friend needed to go to her own support communities to get the kind of support that she needed in that moment. I personally find this useful because I used to think I don’t know if this is your experience, Petal, that if I were showing up as an ally, I really needed to adopt a kind of superhero model of like I used to be tough. no matter how many times I got punched in the face, or how tired I got, I could never complain, because, no matter what I was going through, it was as nothing compared to the person I was trying to support. And then I realized, when I read silks ring theory is that this is an unsustainable model. I need comfort. we do this day to day. Right? It’s tough work to do. And I would not be able to like, you know show up every day in the way that I show up if I didn’t go home and like hug the dog and kick the furniture, and then, you know, I cry on my husband’s shoulder about that, or talk to friends about it. Right? So the thing is to recognize that you have your own needs. But ring theory tells us where to satisfy those needs when we’re in the allied position. The only thing that we can do relative to the affected person the person we’re there to support is to them. And if we need to dump, we can’t dump in. We have to dump out to people who are, you know, further away from the crisis than we are. And of course we need to perform that role when other people, right as allies, come to us and say you’re further out from the situation. Can I kind of bend your ear about this situation because I need your feedback, and possibly like a kind of hug or a pat on the back.

Petal Modeste: Yeah. So I don’t know if you know this. But I struggled with breast cancer between last year and this year, and I actually had a lot of those experiences where everyone means well. Everyone really wants to support me as somebody who is going through this very tough thing. I didn’t always know how to respond to the way that that support was offered.
And this ring theory is so eye-opening because it’s so healthy. It just says your instincts are correct to support a friend, to be an ally. But you can’t look for them to help you do that job. I’m never going to forget this, Thank you.

Kenji Yoshino: Thank you for sharing that, and I’m so glad that you are recovered. That’s wonderful news.

Petal: Thank you very much. So the third principle is to cultivate curiosity, and you know
I’m a black woman. I’m in the legal industry, I’m in a law school like you. I was a lawyer. It’s not a very diverse industry, as we know. I immigrated to the United States. I have all these identities. And I have to tell you that it has always perplexed me. How people who call themselves allies are not curious enough to put themselves in situations where they could better understand the experiences of those they are purporting to support. I wanna start off our conversation about cultivating curiosity with a story from the book. You might remember about his name was, I think, Darius. He was a black student, and there was this wonderful administrator at his school, whose name was Helen. Do you remember this story? It was just so powerful. So I’ll let you tell it.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): Yes, absolutely so. Darius. I was telling Helen, who was a white ally, you know, very involved and Black Lives Matter about his experiences of racism at the school, and he had actually even done as a person who’d been trained in the social sciences, a sociological study of racial dynamics in the Law school. And so she read it. and she was both horrified and disbelieving because, she said, This is not my experience of the school. I think this is a very humane, you know, antiracist environment. So what am I not seeing? So to her credit she said she didn’t say, this is wrong, she said. This is not my experience. You know. What am I missing? So he said, well, I want you watch, you know, as I walk to you down the street, and then I want you to watch as we walk down the street together. Right? And so he walked up the street. first with her, and then I want you to watch me walk down the street without you. Right so stand at the end of the block. I’ll walk down the block, and you should just watch me. And as he walked down the block alone. He was very large, you know, imposing, you know, Black man, she saw person after person, right who was not Black, sort of across the street to avoid him
and the body language towards him was completely different when he was unaccompanied by a white individual. So this kind of brought tears to her eyes because it was such a crisp encapsulation of, subject position is everything, just because she didn’t see it didn’t mean it did not exist right? Because by dint of her identity, there are things that she was gonna be unable to see right unless she had a very kind of compassionate, friendly interlocutor who was willing to show her his life experience.

Petal Modeste: Yeah, I really love that story. What are 3 practical ways we can cultivate our curiosity, Kenji.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): So the first one is, just make sure that you fill in the holes where you don’t know something. So this is, you know, a really kind of dopey one, because we all know that there’s a gap in your knowledge, and you don’t know something. Then go out and do the research right? So that’s a really simple one. The next one is much, much harder, which is what happens when you don’t know that you don’t know. Right? So this is the difference between what Donald Rumsfeld called the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. So if there’s a known unknown like you, I, any researcher right, can say I know how to fill that gap at my knowledge. So if I don’t know enough about the diverse community, I know how to read the books and listen to the podcast and, you know, go to the conferences that would Sort of up my game on that much trickier one is when you don’t know that you don’t know, because how can I fill a hole when I don’t even know that the hole exists? And so, David my coauthor, and I tore a hair out over this one because it actually is very difficult to deal with. And our answer came not from the social sciences, which was generally where we went in the book. but from a humanist, from a philosopher. Christy Dawson, who studies epistemology like the nature of knowing and knowledge. What she said is, whenever you enter into any DNA conversation. just put yourself in a posture of radical humility. And the way she cashes this out. It out is to say, put yourself in the nuclear physics seminar. So you know what it’s gonna be just my luck to all the listeners on your podcast or yeah, exactly, or nuclear physicists. so if that’s the case and think of some other subject matter that intimidates you? But I think of myself as like a decently smart person. But if I were in a nuclear physics seminar, I know I would listen completely differently. Then I would listen if I were in a constitutional law seminar, right? And so I would share much more tentatively, and I would listen much more attentively, even if I’d done all the reading, even if I had prepared for class, I would just be like, this is nuclear physics. This is so beyond anything that I understand. Let me be very, very careful and humble here. Our tendency, when we have these diversity inclusion conversations, is to not do that. So I might actually be talking to somebody about an experience they don’t have in my lived experience. So let’s say, you know, a woman is talking to me about her experience getting interrupted, or having her ideas appropriated right with the best of intentions, I might try to create a touchpoint and say, Oh, I think I kind of know what that must feel like. Because I have a sister, I have a mom. And so I basically got this like, I understand this phenomenon. whereas I really don’t have this right is what all of the social science tells us. So. It’s a much healthier assumption to make of like this is a nuclear physics seminar, I don’t know anything.

So to actually go full circle on this. A few years ago the wonderful Sherrilyn Ifill, came to my Center, this is a former president of the NAACP LDF, and we were chatting about the Supreme Court, and I asked her some version of you know. What cases would you have liked to the court to have decided differently? And she, in her inimitable way, said, I kind of wanna tweak the question because it’s not really this case or that case, it’s a whole mindset that the justices have about race, which is that they think that they got this like they think that they understand race.
whereas, you know, just because you, you know, spend money as in handy. Lopez says doesn’t mean you’re an economist, you know, just because you live in a multiracial society doesn’t mean like you’re an expert on race. So she said, justices are not arrogant people like. If it’s something that they know they don’t understand like social media, they’ll appoint the special master, or they’ll read the mica’s briefs. They’ll do their own research, or have the clerks do their research for them. But they will approach it with radical humility. And she said, the problem with race is that they simply assume that they know that they somehow gotten this knowledge osmotically, and she said, what I would want to have different about the court is this kind of posture of arrogance or non humility? Right? And she says she independently sort of came up with this idea that it would be useful to have more humility, and Christy Dodson really, I think, delivers when she says the way to maintain that is to think about the nuclear physics seminar.

So I want all of our listeners whenever they go into an identity conversation where they know they’re gonna be talking about diversity inclusion. They don’t have the identity instead of thinking, oh, I basically know what’s going on here to say, I have no idea what’s going on here. That is completely okay. This is nuclear physics. I’ll get much further if I assume that I don’t know anything than if I assume that I know a lot.

And then the last way of cultivating curiosity is to make sure that you believe the people who do know right, so that oftentimes people are testifying about their experiences with discrimination. This is up in your neck of the woods, because it’s Gerald Wing Sue at Columbia School of Ed. Wonderful research on this, where he says that we tend to disbelieve the people who are testifying about an experience with discrimination.
So his example is, if an Asian man walks into a restaurant and then doesn’t get seated, even though he was there first, and a white couple gets seated before him, and he talks about that the next day to a colleague, the colleague is, gonna listen really, sympathetically, and will be able to hear what is being said. But all the time he says that there’s this kind of running internal commentary usual, based on the colleagues part. This is not a criticism of anyone. This is just how we operate as human beings. That because, right the individual belongs to a historically subordinated or disfavored group will kind of poke at the testimony question ways that you wouldn’t poke at it or question it if the person belonged to a dominant group.
So the way David, my co-author and I like to think about this is, it’s almost like you’re watching somebody on cable news like CNN, right? And you can hear what the talking head is saying. But the whole time this person is talking about their experience of discrimination, there’s a banner running under them that has like all these running things. Yeah. So I’m saying, for example, like, Oh, I thought I was discriminating against. And then the banner underneath
Oh, Kenji is being a snowflake, you know. Maybe they had a reservation, and he did. Exactly. Those people had a reservation. Yeah, all them and didn’t see you so it was a totally innocent mistake. Maybe it was a table for 2, and he wanted to see you with the bar, etc., etc. Right? So all these explanations. So it’s not to say like, you know, totally throw out, you know, any kind of skepticism like you’re allowed to test.

Do you know people’s claims? But don’t do it in a way that is unequal, right between them and somebody who is from the dominant group saying exactly the same thing. So I always think about the slogan. Believe woman in the sexual harassment context like, believe woman does not mean like. believe every single woman all when they’re talking about sexual harassment, it just means understand that we have a tendency to disbelieve women relative to man. Right? And so we want to have a level playing field. So being able to spot that banner right, that’s running under the person as they’re talking, and to ignore it, and to really try to listen to what they’re saying is another means of cultivating curiosity.

Petal Modeste: The fourth principle which we touched on a little bit earlier is to disagree respectfully. you tell us that if we don’t learn how to do this to share disagreement, we will not only compromise our dignity and authenticity. but our ability to be an ally will take a hit. how so? And then we’ll talk a little bit more about the scale you created. That I am fascinated by.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): So, the reason that we think that it is critical to be able to disagree is that I think oftentimes people feel like they can’t, as allies, disagree in identity conversations. So I think I can best sharpen this up with a story where a student of ours broke our hearts when he came to us after a session that our center had hosted. and he said, I made a comment to a colleague afterwards, and the colleague said that he thought my comment was sexist. I didn’t think it was, but I’m a man. Am I allowed to disagree? And we thought, Well, this is an institution of higher learning. We’re talking about ideas. Of course you’re allowed to disagree. But also we understood where he was coming from, because I think he was saying, this is not my life experience again to your point, like I should exercise radical humility. So I should be careful. And how I disagree.

Petal: Yeah

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): So we’re all for being careful, being thoughtful, and how you disagree. But we’ll die in the hill of saying, if ultimately you’ve reflected on it, and you really do disagree right that what you said was sexist. You have to be able to voice that, because if you don’t voice it, it’s going to fester inside of you, and it’s gradually going to push you away from having these conversations at all, because, if the notion is, whenever I have these diversity or inclusion conversations, I have 2 options, I can either totally agree, or I can apologize for anything that I said. You’re not gonna stay in that game very long, right? Because again, we have to be not just allies, but sort of authentic and engaged and dignified allies. And we’re not going to be able to sustain, as you said, our authenticity or our dignity if we’re deprived of the capacity to disagree.

Petal Modeste: Yeah. So you know, you, you wrote about this in the book you wrote about it in a great article, for I think the MIT Sloan Review. About the fact that you know you are in a same sex marriage. You have numerous debates with people over same-sex marriage and over the years. You’ve noticed that what barely ever happens is that your opponents in these debates acknowledge that you might have, you might experience their views as a personal strike against your basic humanity. And so you and your co-author decided to develop a controversy scale. I want you to tell us about that. And how does that scale help us disagree disrespectfully?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): Sure, the controversy scale that maps out different sort of stations about what we’re disagreeing about. So on the least controversial end of the scale, because it goes from least to most controversial are tastes. So Petal. If you and I are fighting over which is the best Netflix show, which is the best sports team, or, which is the best cocktail like those are. Gonna be very friendly disagreements right? We’ll razz each other about our terrible taste. Right? We’ll get closer right by ribbing each other. For the most part. one station over is facts right? And if we’re disagreeing about facts so long as they’re really like journalistic facts like, who did what, when, where, and why? We are unlikely to really get into a heated debate about that. We’re talking about policies, which is the third station. Things get a little bit hotter, hotter still at values of 4 station, and hottest of all, at the last station, is equal humanity where one or both of us feels like our equal, humanity is being called into question, and is on the table for debate. So thank you, for you know, reading the book so carefully, I do use the example of these debates that I had prior to 2015, when the Berger fell, decision made same sex marriage legal throughout the country. I used to sort of traipse around the country having these debates with people who oppose same-sex marriage, and it’s legalization. And in green after green room and prep call after prep call, they would say, you know, look, we know that you’re in a same sex marriage. But please don’t bring that up in the debate. This is a matter purely a policy. So we want to keep your emotions in your personal life, you know, at home.
On the one hand, like fair enough, right? I’m a constitutional law professor. I think I have the better arguments. I’m fully, you know, able and willing to get up on that stage and debate you purely as a matter of law. But, on the other hand, I remember thinking, wow! You could do yourself so much good and not deprive yourself of any substantive argument. If you had just handled that slightly differently. If you had said to me, Kenji, we know you’re in a same-sex marriage. We realize that in arguing against same-sex marriage we might be experienced by you as striking at your basic humanity, right? Because we’re saying your relationships are not equal to our relationships. And so we will try to be respectful of your equal humanity in this conversation to the extent that we fail in that respect and courtesy. Please let us know.
Now the shoes on the other foot, after 2015, because same sex marriage is now the law of the land. So the people I’m debating, are now people who say I want religious exemptions from having to celebrate same sex marriage, the wedding cake, More recently in the past term of the Supreme Court, the web designer. And you know. in the name of being completely authentic. I have realized aknew how hard this medicine is to take now that I have to take it myself, but I do abide by my rule. I say to my parties opposite in these debates. I realize that for me this is an issue of policy. But for you it might be experiences an issue of equal humanity about whether or not right you can publicly about your faith, in spheres of commerce and elsewhere, and so I’ll try to be respectful of that, as we have this debate to the extent that I fail. Please let me know.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): again. That does not deprive me of any substantive argument. As you know, I will die on the hill of saying there should not be exemptions of that nature from laws. But you know we can have a completely different conversation. If there’s that inter subjective, you know recognition. I will say. Given that, I’m sure, as I talk about disagreements. This is on at least some of your listeners minds one of the things that I get asked about a lot. Having written this book is, you know, what about the current sort of Middle East Crisis? Right? I think. What makes that so challenging is that both sides constantly feel like they’re equal. Humanity is being called into question. And of course, right? I can’t, you know, with this

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): Slim volume like solve. You know that problem, but I hope I can at least contribute to the solution by saying that the Equal Humanity principle really says when you’re talking to somebody about anything. and you lose sight of the equal humanity of your conversation, partner. That might be a really good cue to stop having the conversation to say, Look, I’m not bringing my best self to this conversation. I would love to take a break, and maybe we can resume this one more able to sort of bring my better self to the conversation right? Because once you lose sight of the equal humanity of your conversation, partner, it’s not really a conversation anymore. You can’t have a respectful disagreement when you can’t even see them as a human being.

Petal Modeste: Yeah, I mean one of the things that I have said a lot on this podcast. And maybe one day I’ll write a book is that the essence of all of our conflict. All of the things we disagree about or troubled histories in the modern world. is exactly that the inability to see each other as equal human beings. It is as simple and as profound as that.
And if we find ways, in our parenting in our lives every day to be intentional about cultivating the ability to see that in others, call me a Pollyanna , call me optimistic. I really do think we will have a different experience as human beings on earth.
I think these are such useful tools Kenji. So let’s go on to the fifth principle. which is to apologize authentically. And this one I was laughing so hard because I totally understand it, both as the recipient and the giver of apologies. You say that to do a really good authentic apology we have to avoid using 2 words, if and but and in the book you say no. “Ifpologies” and no “butapologies”. Why are, if a bot such bad words when it comes to apologies, and then tell us what are the elements, then, of a really authentic and satisfactory apology?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): The apology chapter was a ball to write I really had fun and David had fun, too. In writing this chapter, so I’m glad we conveyed some of the joy, and that it occasioned a chuckle or 2 from you. I think that the chapter really begins with an understanding of the psychology of why apologies are hard for us. So Aaron Lazar, who’s a physician, has written a really great sort of lay book about authentic apologies, has said, apologies make us feel incredibly vulnerable, and so to limit our own exposure and to kind of hedge against our feelings of fear and vulnerability. We kind of modify our apologies in ways that make us feel less vulnerable. So if I’m apologizing to you to make this really concrete, I might think well, I’m making myself really vulnerable to Petal. Because what if she says, Yeah, you should be sorry and just piles on? Or what if you just hold it against me and say, like, well, you admitted error there, right? And so therefore I’m gonna sue you, or therefore I’m gonna hold this above your head morally for the rest of our friendship together, or so on, and so forth. and so what do I do in reaction to that? I kind of, whether consciously or not, hedge my apologies, so I say things like Petal. If I did what you said I did, I’m sorry or petal. I’m sorry, but my intentions were good, or I’m sorry, but I was having a really miserable day. and what Lozar says is that this accomplishes neither end. It doesn’t accomplish the end of offering an apology, because you’re kind of as a recipient of the apology, saying, if you did that, are you unsure like if I’m genuinely unsure. That’s a curiosity, but usually I know darn well what I did and what I’m trying to do with the if is to somehow make it kind of vague right? So that I’m not truly acknowledging or recognizing the harm that I’ve caused you. So you don’t see, feel sort of seen, and heard, and that if I say you know, I’m sorry, but I was having a miserable day. The word but you know, might be from my perspective, kind of exculpatory, because it will be like, you know. You have to understand why I said what I said, but from your perspective you could easily hear it as well. What happens next time? Kenji has a miserable day, am I to expect key to the same behavior? Right? So why not? Just say I’m sorry period. There’s no excuse period right? And that would be a more rich, you know, assumption of responsibility. So what Lazar says is, you don’t succeed in giving an apology, but you also ultimately don’t succeed in protecting yourself, because if I apologize to you in these kind of imperfect ways, then you might well reject the apology, and I haven’t really protected myself from anything, because it’ll just be like I didn’t even have the courage to acknowledge what he did. In order to avoid these kind of shortfalls and apology. We really have 4 elements. So I’m afraid this is the lawyer in me which I hope speaks to the lawyer and you

Petal: Which I embrace

Which is, you know, elements, you know, so that we know what we need to do and what marks we need to hit. For mnemonic purposes all these start with an R. So it’s recognition, responsibility, remorse, and redress. The recognition is acknowledging what exactly you did. And so an if apology fails, principle of recognition. So recognizing it.

responsibility is what is just saying. I did this, and I take full responsibility for not trying to squirm away and justify what you did. So if I say I’m sorry. Come a. But that comma. But right is a denial of responsibility. Again, I actually really love these days the formulation of I’m sorry period. There is no excuse. Period right? how much of a relief is it to hear that right, and in this day and age. Then the next one is remorse. And here there aren’t really buzz words on the way that we’ve been talking about. It’s more like context factors, a little bit more nuanced right to figure out what someone genuinely feels sorry for what they did. And we’re big fans, David and I of saying, if you’re not genuinely remorseful, then don’t apologize. That might be an opportunity to explore like respectful disagreement rather than inauthentic apologies, if you’re not experiencing remorse. That’s not a real apology. Our example here is celebrity. Chef Mario Batali, who gave a Let’s say good, but not great, you know apology in response to allegations of sexual harassment, but he blew it up at the end. Whatever good work he had done by attaching a recipe for cinnamon rolls to the end, of his apology, and I was like, I’m out like I don’t buy any like. If you’re attaching a recipe to this apology, then I don’t think you’re sorry at all right.
Don’t apologize if you don’t feel remorseful right, and one of the queues that you don’t feel remorseful. Right is that there are kind of context factors that suggest that you’re not genuinely sorry, in which case we want you to have a disagreement.
and then last, but not least, is redress, which is, you know, you can’t talk your way out of something you acted your way into. So that means saying, I’m sorry if I say that to you is not just closing the book on. You know the bad conduct. It’s actually opening up another book on a future course of conduct. So I’m promising you that my behavior in the future will be different. So a lot of times, people say, like, I apologize, we’re done but you know my apology has implicit within it the promise of redress. If I do the same thing that I apologize for the day after I offer you the apology, then the apology is not worth that much. So when I apologize to you, if it’s an authentic apology. It needs to be followed up with conduct that is different from the conduct that led me to the apology.

Petal Modeste: Also a great guide for not just conversations about identity, but conversations with our children. But that’s another podcast okay. So the sixth principle is to apply the platinum rule, which means that we help people as they wish to be helped rather than as we wish to help them. It requires us to consider whether the affected person wants help, whether they want the help we want to offer, and whether there are other solutions for that person. I thought I was very clear, very crisp and actually quite difficult. So can you give us an example again, from your own life, from your life at the center that will help us understand how to apply this rule. And also, I think it’s important which you mentioned in the book to touch on, how popular media films and books and movies, and so on, might distort our ability to apply this rule. Cause I think this is a hard one.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): I agree. This is really challenging in that. Oftentimes we think with the best of intentions. Again, if I see somebody suffering, I’m not gonna force them to come beg me for my allyship. I’m just gonna jump right in and be an ally. And the study that was most helpful to us in this regard was done by Monica Schneider, who’s a psychology professor up at Suny. and it was with white teaching assistants and black students and the white teaching assistants gave unsolicited help to the black students on a word test. and she found that the black students emerged with lower self-esteem and greater resentment toward their would-be allies when they received that unsolicited help. Then either the black students who receive no help, or the white students who receive the same unsolicited help. So it wasn’t the unsolicited help on its own. It was a toxic mash up of the unsolicited nature of the help and the subordinated nature of the group that led the inadvertent message that the white teaching assistants were sending to be. If we didn’t come riding in as your saviors, you would never be able to hack it on your own. So the dangers of Saviorism of unsolicited help is really the theme right of Monica Schneider’s at least one tranche right of her research. So what’s the upshot of that. The upshot of that is, please ask, as an ally like, if you’re uncertain about whether somebody needs your allyship, you can go to them privately and say.
I notice and care about what just happened, I would like to be your ally. Would that be helpful if they say yes, or off to the races. You can strategize together about how to advance that allyship
if they say no, that might sting a little bit as rejection. But I still want us to regard that as a huge win for allyship, because you’ve now allowed the affected person to bank you as an ally.
So even if they don’t need you today, you know, a month from now, a year from now a decade from now they can come back to you and say, oh, I remember that conversation. I didn’t need you then. But, goodness! Do I need you now? One of the things that we hear over and over again from affected people is we don’t know who our real allies in this organization are. There’s a lot of silence. There’s a lot of performative allyship. So once you have that substantive offer of help and that conversation they have banked you for a future use. And then the other point that you were raising, am I helping the person as they wish to be helped right? So even if the person wants help, do they want this kind of help? So here the person is saying, I want your help. So we’ve overcome the first hurdle. You might think, well, what’s the problem then? And the problem is that when somebody comes to us and asks us for our help, oftentimes our response is to say, Well. I will help you. But in the way that I deem fit to help you rather than giving you the help that you have asked for. So the killer study on this petal is by Katie Wang at Yale. She’s a psychologist. She set up this beautiful hypothetical of a blind woman, Mary asking 2 pedestrians for directions to the bus station. The first pedestrian, says, Nope, too hard for you. Go home. And the second pedestrian says, Oh, that might be challenging. But I’m headed that way myself. Let me take you there and takes her by the arm and begins walking into the bus station. So the question that she asked respondents was, Who helped better? And you know, when I first read the study, it was like, how is this? Even a question given that, of course, the second pedestrian help better? And, in fact, what she discovered is that she, when she talked to people who are sighted, they all, said the second pedestrian help better by a landslide. But then the really interesting thing, Petal, was that when she asked individuals who, like Mary, were themselves visually impaired, they said both forms of help were almost equally inappropriate, and that was such an Aha! Moment for me, because, as I read the study, I came to understand that.
Well, gosh, right. You and I are both lawyers. We know that if you grab somebody by the arm and begin walking them to the bus station that’s assault, like touching somebody’s body without the consent is assault, and then also right it underscores. Some really problematic stereotypes about the way people who are able, bodied, treat people who are disabled, and that people with disabilities are constantly being told. You don’t know your own mind. You don’t know what’s good for you. You don’t really know how to navigate your own environment.
So what’s the best practice there? The best practice is really just to listen to what Mary is asking for, she said. May I have directions to the bus station? So give her the direction to the bus station. If you wanna go further, of course you could say I can give you direction to the bus station. Here they are. I’m also heading that way myself, like, Can I take you there, right? You can say that. But ultimately like that’s her decision to make, not yours to decide for her. You ask for a personal anecdote, you know. I will say that as you noted, this is really hard advice for me to take, because sometimes I’m like, Well, I’m right. someone came to me and said like, oh, I want, you know, this new course and the curriculum. And I think it’s really important that this be covered. I was like, I totally agree. And the students like great like. So what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna go to the Dean, and you know, talk to him about this demand, and we’re not gonna leave office until he gives it to us. I was not doing that. And so I said, You know, I made it legal academia for 25 years. I know where the bodies are buried. I know how to run the traps, do this my way, and the soon said, No, I don’t wanna do it your way. I wanna do it my way. And at that point I really had to steal myself to do what I think, is the right thing to do, which is to say to him, I’m sorry, but I’m not your best ally in this situation. I you know he didn’t have the right to force me to help him in the way that he wanted to be helped, if that was something that I was uncomfortable doing. But, on the other hand, I did not have the right to unilaterally say we’re doing it my way, because I know better, because he had his own autonomy interest in being helped in a way that he wanted to be helped. So at the point where he had reflected on my offer, and he had rejected it. It was not for me, at least in the name of being an ally to him, to advocate for the course on his behalf in a way that he didn’t want me to do

Petal Modeste: we’re back to that radical humility, we’re back to that equal humanity. So the last principle that you discussed in the book is that we should be generous to the source.
This, principle to me really hits home. because it’s not just you and the person that you are offering allyship to it’s also the person causing the problem that the person needing allyship is dealing with right? Why should we be generous to the source of the problem? Why is that important in this quest of ours to be good allies. And then what are 3 strategies that you have seen Allies use that constitute being generous to the source, because I also think that this might be a little bit Not so easy.

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): I love that you are pushing me on this, because I will admit that you know, other parts of this book might sort of raise eyebrows or cause people to scratch their heads. But it’s really just puzzlement when we get to this last principle, people move from being puzzled to being like furious at us. So people get really mad. But so you’ve been very kind and polite as usual, but people often say like, why on earth should I be an ally to the source of non-inclusive behavior like that’s a bad actor. Maybe they should be canceled, but I shouldn’t be burning any of my energy on them. I should be devoting all the energy to the affected person. In fact, this got to the point where, you know, when we were working with Microsoft, you know, the Chief diversity officer said, you know, help me come up with a response to this, because, you know, I’m getting this from so many different quarters, and we really believed in this principle, and so David and I had to huddle for a few weeks, you know, to come up with a really crisp response. We came up with a one sentence response, and the one sentence response was, You should be an ally to the source, because someday that source will be you. In other words, when we look at that triangle of ally, effective person source, I think we all tend to sort of unconsciously anchor on sitting in the Ally position at all times, but in point of fact, like, we will travel among all 3 points in this triangle in a very short period of time. So even in the course of a month I might be the ally in one situation, the affected person, another, and unfortunately Petal I’m gonna be the bad actor. I’m gonna be the source of behavior, I’m going to misgender a colleague. I’m going to confuse 2 students and call them by each other’s names right? If they or when they share the same ethnicity, probably because they have shared the same ethnicity. Right? I’m going to interrupt a female colleague, you know, more than I would have interrupted a male colleague, etc., etc., etc. Right? So once we realize that we’re all gonna be the source, you know. Someday soon. then we have to ask ourselves, what world we wanna be living in when we are that source like, do we wanna be staring up our bedroom ceiling, wondering if we’re bad people, or if we’re gonna get cancelled the next day or stewing in our offices in isolation? Or do we wanna get the friendly text, you know, or the knock on the door with a person saying, hey, Kenji? That wasn’t great. But I’m here for you. How are we gonna get past this together? Every single person I know would much rather be in that second world of having allies when they are the source. But if you want allies, when you’re the source that means when you’re the ally, you have to be an ally to the source, because those allies have to come from somewhere. Right?

Petal Yes, Yes

Kemji Yoshino: And so we, we think this is a really critical aspect of the book and trying to move us from cancel culture to what we call coaching culture of instead of shunning and shaming right sources of non-exclusive behavior. We believe that the better approach is to coach them, and to say, You know you did this, but I’ve done very similar things in my own life. You know how we’re gonna get through this together. 2 really important caveats to this, and I can’t underscore enough. How important these exceptions are! We don’t think that you need to be an ally to the source in 2 circumstances. One is where the behaviors truly egregious. So if someone’s engaging in illegal harassment or discrimination, or just rank bigotry of some kind, then I suppose you could be their ally, but we don’t think there’s any moral obligation on you to be an ally like we’re really talking about more good faith mistakes that people make in a day to day way rather than people who are like died in the world, kind of bigots, you know, or just, or against the project of DNI altogether.

And the other exception is, you don’t need to be an ally to the source of the source is no interest in learning or changing. So some people, as we know, have an ideological objection to DNI. And for those individuals we, you know, say, just leave them alone. Be really careful where you put them in that category, but once you know that they are, you know, died in the world, you know opponents of DNA. Then don’t waste any more of your energy on them.
But those are pretty small exceptions. So for the rest of us, right when we’re the sources of non -inclusive we believe all of us deserve allies, and, as you noted, we have 3 best practices so
quickly. You know the first one is separate the behavior from the person, and I think this is very, gonna be very familiar to many of your audience members of like don’t go after the human being, go after the behavior, but the value. Add that I hope I can introduce here comes from the work of the psychologist Scott Plous, where he says, please be wary of
leaving the person behind. When you separate the behavior from the person, it’s much better if you can bring the person back into the frame in a positive light.
So you have to genuinely believe this, but if you genuinely believe it, if you were to come to me and say, Kenji, I believe that you’re a deeply inclusive person, and that’s why this behavior of yours yesterday surprised me right? That affirms a person and then challenges the behavior, and Plous says that has a couple of effects. One is that it lowers my sense of self threat, that kind of fear factor that we’re always laboring under. And these conversation. So it makes me less expensive, more open, more curious, more resilient. But then the other point is a kind of subtle one, which is that it creates this cognitive dissonance in between the person that you’ve affirmed and the behavior that you’ve criticized, and I’m much more likely because we all hate to live in cognitive dissonance to want to resolve that tension. And which way am I going to resolve it? Obviously, I’m gonna resolve it in favor of changing the behavior rather than changing the human being that you affirm.

The second one is actually my favorite sort of prompt of. You know all of the ones that we have in the book. I don’t really know why. I think it’s just because it speaks to something so human about us which is show that you’re on the journey to, and show that you’re learning to because of a phenomenon that is called do good or derogation. And this is the concept that so enamored of Dogooder derogation comes from Stanford, psychologist Ben Amina, And it’s this idea that I can believe that your behavior is better than my own.

But if I sense that you’re talking down to me in any way, I will engage and do go to derogation. I will expend all of my energy trying to knock you off of your perceived high horse and bring you down to my level rather than using that energy to rise to yours. So the classic study that he did was with meat eaters, and vegetarians, where he asked me eaters what they thought of vegetarians, and if you ask that, and without a neutral prompt.
the meat eaters will say like, Oh, I think vegetarians are great like, you know. I think they’re really moral. I wish I had the discipline to be one myself, but if you just add one drop of dye into the water like just a tiny kind of aspect of judgment to it. Then the response and the assessment changes dramatically. So before you ask me as a meat eater like what I think of vegetarians. If you say, Hey, Kenji! As a meat eater, what do you think vegetarians think of you?
I think like Oh, my gosh! Those nasty vegetarians are good. Beat them to the door of judgment, and I start saying things like, oh, vegetarians are not all. They’re cracked up to be a little bit sanctimonious. Don’t you think right. So in the DNI route. How do we avoid that right? S

Kenji: So I’m glad that you like this idea.

Petal: Well, I’m vegetarian. So yeah.

Kenji: So this is perfect. How do we avoid this in DNI. And the answer is, you know, show that you’re on the journey to like. Make sure that you take any kind of judgment or moralizing out of the equation. So

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): we might imagine you know someone else who was less enlightened than you approaching me and saying, Oh, Kenji, that wasn’t great! I’m here to be your ally, to support you as a source of non-inclusive behavior. I’ve won all these awards for diversity inclusion. I’m really good at this stuff. You’re kind of terrible, but I’m willing to take you under my wing. So this is your lucky day. I will show you my ways right, so we don’t need social science to tell us that I’m not gonna react well to that. But we actually do now have the social science that tells us. I’m not gonna react well to that. And why? Right?
So now imagine so if that’s a bad way, what’s a good way that you came to me, and you said, Hey, Kenji, that wasn’t great, so you don’t need to sugarcoat. You can still call out the behavior. But then let’s say you did something that showed that you were learning, and on the journey to like. Say, you know, a few years ago I did something really similar to what you did yesterday, and I survived to tell the tale. And in the near future I’m sure I’ll do something like what you did yesterday, or worse, and then I hope you’re knocking on my door, offering to be my ally. That does a complete and run around, and is the best practice when approaching the source.

And then the last one piece of advice. For how to approach the source is for a different kind of source. This is not for the source who is kind of stewing in their office flagellating themselves. This is where the sources, like blithely oblivious to the fact that they’ve done anything wrong. And we were speaking to a scenario that is a little bit niche, but is really, really common. So this is a scenario where you’re in a large meeting, and someone says something really terrible. And you think, Oh, my gosh! I need to speak up as an ally. But There are 2 things that going to prevent you from intervening effectively. One is that it’s potentially confrontational, and the other one is these are usually time, limited situations. The group is only going to be together for a certain period of time. You know, the clock is ticking, and that’s going to put additional pressure on you. So what happens if you’re anything like me, Petal, what happens is that you think of exactly the right thing to say, but only after the meeting.
So to avoid that we have, and this is in the book like created a set of scripts, which is just like one liners, according to what temperament you have. Right? So we have a bunch of strategies like saying something short and sharp, or educate or affirm the person, etc. And we want you to sort of scan down the strategies because we’re diverse with regard to your own temperaments and personalities as with everything else. So we want you to find not the ones that are authentic to me or to David or to you, petal, but the ones that are authentic to you as the listener. and then to find the locutions that match that strategies. Again, we give you examples. So if I’m educating right, I might say something along the lines of I see that differently. Can I share my perspective? I can totally imagine saying that where I can’t really imagine the saying something short and sharp, like Excuse me, or Yikes, or Ouch!
I’m too formal. I’m too non-confrontational. That doesn’t really work for me. But I can completely imagine saying the educate one or the affirm their values. the point is not which ones you choose, but that you choose right. 2 of these. Stick them in your back pocket right, and have them at the ready, so that the next time something happens you can intervene, because that will astronomically increase the chances that you’ll make the intervention in the room where it could actually make a difference

Petal Modeste: One of the most wonderful things that you’ve said in the book to me is towards the end, where you say the way that we get the change, that we want to see, the way that we do These conversations, right? So that everybody grows and learns is that we do them in our local spares of influence. The places where we live, the schools, our workplaces, our group of friends, our social media platforms. Because this is how you believe, and I believe that completely this how we actually have the greatest impact. So as we start to wrap up. I want to acknowledge that our children, as early as 2 years old. As I understand from the research, start to recognize difference. They see it in color, in ability, in gender, sometimes gender identity, religious identity. And so what advice do you have for parents?, whether their child is a toddler, a tween, or a teen who want to teach their children to be allies. How do we start thinking about this intentionally as parents?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): I love this question. I’ve had occasion to think about it quite deeply as I’ve written. because I have a 12 year old and 11 year old, who are the kind of light of my life.
And a lot of things that I said in the book, I mean, I might have committed some human rights violations along the way. Because I tested a lot of my ideas. Children, right? So literally like, you know, this is book has been cooking for a long time, but when they were much younger I was sort of thinking about apologies, and would have their kind of stuffed animals in our bedtime rituals, like apologies to each other. and then I would say, What was wrong about that apology? Can you tell me like if you thought was a good apology or not, and they would almost unerringly be able to say, No, that wasn’t a good apology, they wouldn’t initially be able to put their finger on. Why, but they would very intuitively understand that that was like a non- apology. Right? I think that the principles really are kind of universal and work for any J generation, and that really, it’s about languaging the principal, so that children can use them without having the, you know, reading level to read the book as it’s currently written. You know my agent is kind of kicking us to like, write a version of this book for kids, right?

Petal: Do it.

Kenji: We’ll see but certainly, You know, these issues come up really early on, You know, the conversations are unavoidable even for very young kids, because to tie it to what you just said, you know, the idea of difference is very legible to individuals from a very, very young age. So the story that you know I’m sharing my daughter’s permission is that she saw a student who, she thought, looked a lot like her friend, and so she said, Oh, are you Matteo’s brother? Right? You look a lot like him. And the student said, like, I am not related to Mateo at all like you’re just saying that because I brown skin, and that’s racist. Right? So she came home. She was about 7 or 8 at the time, and then she said, like was. You know I didn’t think I was being racist. But is that what happened there? Essentially, what she was asking me like? She was saying like and very open hearted way, I was saying, like, Am I racist, you know, and I was, how do you
talk a kid through something like this? And I really thought, like, Well, goodness! Again, the book was kind of cooking, you know, as we were having this conversation, and so I really did sort of take a flyer and say, like, Well, if I really believe in these principles. It’s really just a question of whether or not I can adequately communicate them to my daughter. And so it really was. This notion of you know you’re having the conversation over here like, quite innocently, but he’s experiencing as a strike at his inner human, at his equal humanity, because already at his age. Presumably he has been treated differently because of his skin color, and that’s been lofted up as something that is salient about him in ways that could have been quite painful to him. So that might be one thing that’s going on right. Another thing that’s going on here is that you might need to build up your resilience. So self, affirm, like name, and reframe your emotions like, did you feel scared? Did you feel angry? Did you feel not understood. You know, when he said that to you. and then to the extent that you feel like as she ultimately did, you need to apologize to them. She initially just wanted to explain that, like she had just seen Mateo, and she’s friends with him. She knew he had a brother, and was so excited to meet the brother just make sure that when you’re apologizing like you offer those things like, ask about whether or not this is all the explanation is for him or for you. because if it’s to mitigate your own culpability, that’s not good. But if it’s to help them understand right that the harm right was not intended, and hopefully to mitigate that extent to the harm. That’s a different matter. So I realize, you know, it’s a big song and dance about a relatively minor incident. but it was a really useful kind of exercise, because it really did give me the confidence to feel like we’re all human beings at different stages of development. And these principles help, you know, no matter where you are on your life’s journey. Yeah, absolutely

Petal Modeste: and you know they help us be allies for our children, right? Especially for children, and have you know their neuro diverse. They? They are transgender. They’re Black, they’re what have you? It also helps us be really wonderful allies for them, and that to me is also a really great lesson from all of this. My very last question to you is going right back to where we started about this moment that we are as a human family. You know, we have people who are who’ve been historically disempowered. And they have their allies and then, you know, they’re starting to challenge right all that they’ve gone through for so long. And then we have the opposers who are strategically mobilizing to prevent large scale empowerment.
First of all, what is it that you think that fuels the opponents? Is it shame? Is it guilt? Why is the idea of a more just society so scary for them. And then things are going to happen anyway. look at where we are demographically. I am kind of optimistic, actually, that ultimately the opponents don’t win, just raw numbers, and the way that thought is evolving will win out, and that kind of keeps me optimistic. And then what keeps you, Kenji optimistic in all of this?

Kenji Yoshino (he/him): I agree that it’s a good question to ask, like, what is fueling the opponents of diversity, equity and inclusion. And also I agree with your optimism. So with regard to the first, I think that there is a
a case to be made that the reason that people oppose diversity, equity, inclusion, is that they either believe that something is being taken away from them right, or from the get, go, feel like they have not received respect or esteem in society right? So if we think about who joins, you know white supremacist, you know movements. It’s generally people who feel like they have not gotten respect or esteem in any other aspect of their lives like, why would you put your pride right in your, you know. Dominant skin color right? If you had other sources of esteem in your life, right so. And I don’t mean that in a shaming or excoriating way. I really mean it in a hopefully compassionate way of saying we can actually address right that issue and say you are esteemed you are valued. You, you, too, are a human being like this is not intended to, right esteem from you. It’s meant to show what to what we were talking about earlier the equal humanity in all of us. So that doesn’t mean it’s being taken away from you. It just means that, you know we’re seeing it in in everyone. So that’s you know, the first thought. And then the second thought is, I share your optimism, and the reason that I share it is precisely because of the fight that we’re having right now. So I realize that may sound counterintuitive.

Because I often get. How can you say that? You know diversity and inclusion is succeeding when there’s such a huge, backlash against. And my answer to that petal is that I think that the backlash is a symptom of our success rather than a symptom of our failure like you don’t need to fight something that isn’t strong. So I always think of that labor organizing quote. Where it’s up. First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win. if I look back at my own career over sort of. conservatively speaking, like 15 years in diversity inclusion. When I first started out, people didn’t even know what diversity inclusion was and then people like, knew what it was, but kind of derided me right? They said. Like you’re in the most prestigious field and law constitutional law. Why would you go and work on this. You know, fringe area that nobody knows or cares about, right that doesn’t intellectually rigorous enough. I kept doing it because I thought, this is exactly the same commitments that are driving me to teach in both fields. That’s I teach equal protection, clause and right on the equal protection clause and equality issues and antidiscrimination issues and con law. I do the same thing. With regard to DNI, I think DNI is a continuation of that, so I see more continuity than rupture, you know, in between these 2 different fields. But I get what people are saying. But I will note, petal, that nobody is laughing anymore. No one ridicules me or being interested in DNA, because I understand that the fight over DNI’s a fight for the soul and the identity of the nation. So it’s precisely because people like you people like me, people, you know, many, many, many, many other people throughout the country and the world have fought so hard for these values over so long that there needs to be a fight, that there needs to be a backlash, because people feel that we are getting strong enough to call the shots.
And so, if you look at it in that broader sort of landscape, in that more longitudinal way, rather than sort of being in the weeds of the fights that we’re having right now, and we think about it as first ignore you. Then they laugh at you, then they fight you. The fight that we’re having right now is actually a sign of respect for the strength that we built up over time. And I think it is on the cusp, before that point where, as you say, we win

Petal Modeste: thank you so much I, just I, it’s a wonderful book.
It’s a great book for everyone to read but it’s really great for us as parents as well. Here’s to equal humanity, radical humility. we ended on such an optimistic note. this is where we are on this, podcast we want a better future. But we want it for every single person we really do. thank you so much, Kenji. For being with us today. Appreciate it.

Kenji It’s such a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

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