In This Body – Episode #1: A Conversation with Norman Kim
Hosted by Ashley Bullock, In This Body is a podcast that serves as a wake-up call for greater representation and celebration of body diversity. In each episode, Ashley and her guest speakers shine a light on social inequities, discuss how to address the underlying “isms”, like racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, capitalism and discuss what we can do to radically reform them. In this episode, Ashley’s guest is Dr. Norman Kim.
Norman Kim is the Co-Founder at Institute for Antiracism and Equity in Mental Health and the Deputy Director at Ayana Therapy. He’s been a prominent figure in the development of treatment for eating disorders and was the co-founder of Reasons Eating Disorder Center. After years of helping those with eating disorders, today he is focused on addressing the impact racism and systematic oppression have within the healthcare setting, clinical care, and leadership teams within the mental health field.
In this episode we discuss:
- The ways shame tied into Dr. Kim feeling different from others while growing up as the only Asian person in school and how he’s worked to own his sense of otherness
- The ways social media has magnified stereotypes, pressures, racism, misogyny, and sexism that already existed in our world
- The importance of acknowledging how racism has been woven into our country since it began and how silence about this history only perpetuates oppression
- The ways racism and oppression impacted the development of evidence based treatment in mental health and continue to affect our mental health system
Norman: These are difficult conversations. These are uncomfortable conversations. These are conversations that are speaking to people who might consider themselves allies even. And just sort of acknowledging that upfront, but at the same time the other side of that coin is that these are also necessary conversations.
Ashley: Hello, and welcome to in this body, a show that serves as a wake up call for greater representation and celebration of body diversity. I’m your host, Ashley Bullock, and together we’re shining light on social inequities and discovering how to address the underlying isms like racism, sexism, ageism, ableism, capitalism, and what we can do to radically reform them. Hello, and welcome to in this body. In this show. Today, I’m going to be speaking with Dr. Norman Kim. Norman is the co founder at Institute for anti racism and equity in mental health, and the Deputy Director at aiyana therapy. He’s been a prominent figure in the development of treatment for eating disorders and was the co founder of reasons eating disorders center. After years of helping those with eating disorders. Today, he is focused on addressing the impact racism and systemic oppression have within the healthcare setting, clinical care, and leadership teams within the mental health field. In this show, we’re going to be discussing ways that shame tied into Dr. Kim feeling different from others while growing up as the only Asian person in school and how he’s worked to own his sense of otherness. The importance of acknowledging how racism has been woven into our country since it began and how silence about the history only perpetuates oppression, and also the ways racism and oppression impacted the development of evidence based treatment and mental health and how they continue to affect our mental health system. So let’s dive into the interview.
Ashley: How you doing? Good. Good. So we’re just gonna dive right into things. First question, basic question, how do you identify? How do you describe yourself to folks?
Norman: Um, so that’s always a complicated answer for me, and it would have been a different answer a few years ago. But more or less, like my most consistent identities have been as an immigrant, as a person of color, as a cisgender, male, straight ally, those have all been fairly constant in my life. And I say a person of color really deliberately, because for a number of reasons, I think, other than being an immigrant, that’s kind of been my strongest minority identity. The organizations that I’ve been a part of, as a student and as a professional, were typically much more organizations that were involved in issues around racism and things like that. It wasn’t until I had my kids, four years ago I had my first one, that I really started thinking much more and connecting much more with my own Asian-ness, in particular, as a Korean American. I was born in South Korea. This became very important to me, I think, for understandable reasons, in terms of thinking about what kinds of traditions and what kinds of things I wanted to pass on to my son. And now we have a second one. And so it’s been an evolving thing. And I think that’s true for a lot of us, you know, your identity is never just a static place to be, it’s always dynamic, and not just dynamic over kind of a long period of time, but dynamic from situation to situation. Thinking about passing and thinking about code switching, you know we all kind of get so used to operating in different spaces and how we are and how we identify in those different spaces is really going to be variable.
Norman: I think that’s not something that that people really understand, or that really gets talked about.
Ashley: Yeah, I mean, it just kind of happens. It’s interesting. You said a couple years ago your identity was different any insight on what changed? Or what shifted? Or how you kind of expanded on your identities? I mean, I feel like our identities were a lot more simple a few years back, any insight on that?
Norman: Yeah, for sure. I certainly think it’s a chicken in the egg kind of question for me too, because here it was the it was the birth of my son and thinking about all the things that as new parents, we think about in terms of what we want to pass on. And because so much of my professional life and my personal life have revolved around issues of like discrimination and all of the isms, as an activist, as a Professional, that’s so much a part of the work that I’ve done. Even that started to have a different feeling for me, because it wasn’t just like this kind of abstract, like, “I want to be an activist” or :I want to be a fighter for these issues”, it was really this very concrete “I don’t want my son to experience what I experienced, I don’t want my son to have experienced what so many people have already experienced”. And it’s, you know, it’s such a cliche kind of idea that you want to make the world a different place for your kid. I think that was certainly a big part of it.
Then there was the much more personal thing of wanting them to have a connection to that part of my culture, and to my parents and my extended family. You know, it was never anything I was particularly ashamed of, it just wasn’t anything I always felt very connected to, and then having this new reason to feel connected to them gave it a different resonance like this. It’s funny, I was just thinking yesterday, I was remembering that when my son was born I kind of turned to my wife, and I had this realization that – and he was like minutes old at this point – I had this funny realization that at some point in his life, he’s gonna get his heartbroken. And that was like, such a …
Ashley: … it’s so distressing.
Norman: Yeah, it was genuinely sort of a sad, you know. And then my second thought immediately following that was really thinking about how he’s going to face things like racism and discrimination and stereotyping and microaggressions. That felt like a much more immediate and real thing. And that definitely happened. I mean, before he was even conscious of anything, he was experiencing all of those things, that’s the world we live in. I think that really focused my work in a different direction, and focused what I wanted to do professionally in a different direction, as you and I’ve talked about before, and I think for the better. It really clarified for me that I wanted this to become, what I do with my time and my energy.
Ashley: Yeah, it’s so interesting. I feel like most parents are a lot more sensitive to our own children’s pain and suffering, or the idea of pain and suffering or going through things, then we are our own stuff. So that’s very interesting. I experienced that, too.
Did you see your body and your identity growing up? How did you see it represented?
Norman: No, I didn’t really. You know, I just turned 50. I grew up in the 70s and 80s. The only sort of representations of Asians were like Bruce Lee, basically. Most other if not almost all other Asian characters in movies or on TV were played by white people, mostly. You know, David Carradine in Kung Fu, which was one of my favorite shows growing up. Obviously I didn’t think anything of it at the time. But looking back on things now, there really wasn’t any such thing as representation. This is no different than what’s happened with representation of black people in popular culture, too. It was always a stereotype. They were supplementary characters. They were the nerd character or whatever, or the exotic, sort of sexualized female Asian characters. They were never the main point.
I think, especially this year, there have been this crop of Asian actors in particular. And it’s been really wonderful to see and shows like Kim’s convenience from the Canadian Broadcasting Service, it’s such a lovely show. And it’s a show that I think resonates a lot with first generation immigrant families. I don’t know when I’ve ever seen one I’ve ever seen, like, my kind of very specific growing up history with immigrant parents represented in that same kind of way. The closest thing I connected to growing up that I can think of was Good Times, and just because that took place in Chicago, and it was about like, you know, people who didn’t have a lot of money, but it was mostly about this family unit. And then like the Jeffersons and shows like that, that was as close as I kind of came to seeing myself represented. In a funny way, the other place that kind of played out in the course of my life was, you know, I’m a musician, I’ve always been a musician since the time I was young. And I’ve performed onstage all of my life. It wasn’t until after grad school, actually, that I started writing my own songs and performing my own material, my own music. And I think a lot of that was I had no examples of anybody who looked like me doing that. That’s not a trivial thing. But it is kind of a trivial thing.
So where did I see people who look like me being represented by others… doctors, I guess. The places in the world where you saw a lot of Asian faces were few and far between other than other than that, so most of my life I’ve just been used to being one of the only, or if not even just Asian Americans, but oftentimes one of the few people of color in a particular room or in a particular group or whatever. And I think that’s had a pretty profound impact on me whether or not I was conscious, right? There’s that part of it, too. They send clear messages about what you should aspire to be; what you can be. And that goes for all of our communities, those stereotypes that we see portrayed? That impacts on what you can imagine yourself to be. I think that was, regardless of your politics, there’s no denying the importance of people like President Obama and the message that he sent, Kamala Harris and the message that she sent about the possibilities.
Ashley: Yeah. Is there a story that stands out, like a specific kind of story or anything that you can remember where you feel like your identity was represented, or misrepresented, or…?
Norman: It’s funny if for whatever reason this isn’t exactly what you’re asking. But for whatever reason, the story that came to mind just now as you were talking I very much remember, and I’ve talked about this when I give presentations. I very much remember being in grade school, and you kno, in grade school all you want to be is somebody who fits in, you just want to be like the other kids. And I remember my mom packing me lunches that were Korean food. She didn’t know about sandwiches, that’s not what she made us. And so we had kind of like bento boxes with like different side dishes and rice and kimchi, I’m sure, and soups and stuff that I would kill to have now.
Ashley: For lunch? Yeah.
Norman: Right. I think it was legit. And my mom was a really good cook. And sure, I loved having that food at home. I remember being really mortified that my lunch smelled and looked so different than the other kids and like, again, this wasn’t there my consciousness but metaphorically, isn’t that kind of the ultimate feeling of shame that so many of us feel, right? I smell different. I look different. The clothes I’m wearing maybe are different. The way that I walk through the world maybe is different. The kinds of things that I’m interested in are different. All of those little examples, I think, kind of add up. And you’ve got to kind of find your way around reconciling that. That sense of not belonging and otherness.
Ashley: Yeah, right. But how do we do that? That’s…
Norman: Yeah, that’s…
Ashley: … so hard.
Can you share a time that you were made to feel ashamed of your body?
Norman: I don’t know that it is specific time. Again, thinking about the area in which I grew up, on the one hand in terms of my maleness, I think that’s a very different question for a man to be answering. Especially a man of my generation. When I think about male role models, in my generation it wasn’t really about bodies. Masculinity was kind of about ruggedness, and you know, cigarettes, and like sports or whatever. But there weren’t pictures of six packs, I think boys growing up now absolutely have that kind of pressure. It’s the pressure that girls and women have had for generations. But I think boys now have much more of the kind of pressure of this is what a man is supposed to look like. And we didn’t have that in a physical sense, in sort of a bodily sense.
So there was that part, and not having the same kind of messages that girls and women certainly got over and over again. But then on the other hand, especially going through adolescence and young adulthood, my Asian-ness and being an Asian man… Asian men tend to be sort-of emasculated and under sexualized. Like I said before they were kind of the nerd or anything other than sexual creatures, and in part because there weren’t really representations of Asian man, other than those kinds of representations. And I think that’s something that that definitely made a big impact on sort of how I thought about myself and my place in the world, especially as I started dating, and entering into relationships, that it impacted my sense of self confidence and selfp esteem. And those messages are still around.
Ashley: How much of it do you think is because of social media?
Norman: That those messages are still around?
Ashley: Yeah, yeah, that it’s bigger, you know, that it’s more widespread.
Norman: I think it’s the same as the impact of social media on women’s bodies and on black bodies and brown bodies, in that all of those negative ideas and stereotyped ideas and pressures were there before there was ever social media. I mean, before social media was fashion magazines or TV, and even before that it’s whatever the media of the time was. Racism has existed for, obviously, a very, very long time. Sexism and misogyny have existed for a very long time. So I don’t think you can really blame social media for that.
I do think social media probably bears responsibility for magnifying sort of how personal those messages become, right. So the allure of social media is that even when you’re interacting with people or things that you don’t know, personally, it feels like you are. That’s the power and the addictive quality of social media. And so I think when you see those messages on your feed, it feels much more targeted to you, because in part it is. Those algorithms target those accounts or whatever, and you’re joining accounts that probably feed into that. There’s starting to be research on the impacts of social media usage and unbalanced it can be pretty negative for people who are already at risk. It can certainly do positive things. I think we saw over this last year, so much of the dissemination of social activism and social justice efforts and news about the protests was happening via social media. Because Lord knows, the mainstream media wasn’t really covering that in the same kind of way. So it can absolutely be used for positive goals. But I think on the whole, especially for people who are already sort of predisposed or who are vulnerable in one way or another, I think it can be really problematic.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. So this is a large question and take your time answering it, but I’m curious about systemic oppression, and how it has impacted you personally.
Norman: I think among the ways it really impacted me personally, probably in a sense of the unique experience of Asian Americans in particular in this country, is really that of sort of perpetual foreignness and otherness. I was on a panel recently, during AAPI month and, and the question posed to the panel was about the model minority myth. And it’s honestly not something I had thought a lot about prior to the question. And I think the real problem with the model minority myth is that it reinforces that idea that for Asian Americans, because we physically look so different, there’s always going to be a question of otherness. So for me to say that I identify as Asian American automatically calls into question how patriotic of an American I can possibly be. And it doesn’t matter if I’m first generation, which I happen to be, or if I’m 10th generation Asian American, as long as I look Asian, I’m a foreigner, I’m not from here, I’m not of here. And that constant sense of otherness, that constant idea of not belonging has made a profound impact. I think I’ve tried to take that feeling and sort of do something, I’ve tried to own it in my own kind of way, you know, like tattoos and a certain kind of style. There’s not much about me that screams like, I just want to blend in to the background, you know, the glasses whatever.
Ashley: The colored hair, I loved that
Norman: I loved it in my younger days. I know that all of that is kind of my way of owning that kind of otherness, but, you know, it’s definitely impacted. It’s a constant reminder that no matter how assimilated I might be, I’m always going to be you know, it’s always going to be a question. If White people who identify strongly with being Italian American or Irish American, no one questions their Americanness. That’s generally seen as “Oh, good for you that you know about your history”. That’s not the same if you call yourself an African American. If you focus on where your ancestors were taken from the automatic sort of follow up question, whether it’s made explicit or not, is “Why can’t you just be an American?” In fact, on this panel that I’m referring to that question basically was asked like, “why can’t we all just be proud to be Americans?” And I think that stuff is always kind of in the air.
Ashley: Yeah. Yeah. That’s interesting.
How do you fight against systemic oppression?
Norman: I mean, gosh, I wish I knew. Right? I know. Yeah.
Ashley: It’s, again, a large question, but you personally, it’s in your work. Right?
Norman: Yeah, it’s in my work. And, you know, I, I think this has been what I’ve seen as a really positive conversation to have come out of COVID and have the focus on social justice and racism, in particular, this last year. It’s the refusal of black people, brown people, Asian people, other folks who have been marginalized and had been discriminated against, it’s sort of a refusal to accept that condition. And to be quiet about that condition. The idea that there is a proper and polite way to fight racism, I think has kind of been dispelled. You just can’t really do that. So I think that’s one part of the answer, for better or for worse. I think silence both on the part of allies, but also on the part of those people who’ve experienced oppression and experienced racism and homophobia and transphobia, I think silence on all parts is kind of the death knell of any of these issues. Especially with, with the history of slavery, as such, this country wouldn’t exist without slavery, we depended on chattel slavery to grow this nation, we depended on it for labor, for economic sufficiency, we don’t exist without chattel slavery. And so to turn around and say but that’s a thing of the past and we should move past it and not be so negative, I just, I don’t know how that makes any kind of sense. It obviously still exists, it impacts people’s daily lives to this very day. It’s gonna continue to impact our kids lives, unfortunately. And I think the only way to change that is to confront it head on, and to confront the ways in which it’s woven into our laws, the ways in which it’s woven into our institutions. You and I are both involved in mental health care. And the history of psychiatry, the history of mental health services, is also very deeply interwoven with the history of keeping and labeling. Labeling, for example, slaves who wanted to run away as a mental illness, as opposed to an understandable reaction to being enslaved. When I bring that example up when giving presentations, I always follow it up with “this isn’t just a historic example, because what’s happening now is we’re pathologizing – especially black and brown people’s – responses to intergenerational, histories of trauma through the mechanisms of racism and oppression. We’re pathologizing people’s reaction to that, as opposed to saying there is something wrong with our systems, such that black and brown kids are still having to face this every day, and have to face the consequences of those things every day. That just makes very little sense. So, for as long as oppression and all of the isms are hardwired into all of our systems and institutions, that it’s going to require the same level of reaction. It can’t just come from making Juneteenth the holiday and hoping everyone’s just gonna be happy with that.
Ashley: Yeah, but then not wanting to talk about it in schools, and not wanting to discuss critical race theory and throwing that out the window. I could go on. It’s so problematic, but it’s interesting that you talked about just the mental health field being inherently, I don’t know if those were your words or if these are my words, but inherently racist. I was just reading an article last week about evidence based practice, and how that is racist and superior and elitist. And I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on this as a researcher, because I know you have done a lot of research, and now this article… I wish I could remember to give credit to the person who wrote the article, I’ll have to look it up. It really resonated with me, especially having gone through grad school and having to be just shoved all of these theories that just start “Hey, you know, all of the studies are done on the dominant group” and. Any words on that?
Norman: Yeah, I think that’s true on a number of different levels. You think about the way that we approach, teach, practice – all of what we do in our practice of providing mental health care to people still is reflective of where it came from. Which were two white European men who who developed this approach. And we’ve actually not moved too far away from what Freud was doing, and what Jung was doing.
Leaving the individual people aside for a second, if, at the broadest level, when we think about different kinds of cultures, particularly sort of more individualistically focused, European Western kinds of cultures, including America. Those treatments and those therapies, and most of the therapies that have been developed since then and most of the approaches that have been developed since then, are still very much reflective of and assuming an individualistic framework. And the values in terms of what healthy development is supposed to look like is all very individually focused.
I think particularly for so many people of color and immigrants, most of us come from much more collectivistic cultures, where the value systems are very, very different. Where the idea of shame and guilt are quite different, where the idea of ancestors and the responsibility one has whether it’s your family, or your clan, or your community or your ancestors, that’s a very different sort of hesitation. And to make the assumption that everybody ought to develop in a particular way, just on its face doesn’t make sense. But as far as I know, I don’t think there have been too many, if any, psychotherapies or psychotherapy approaches that have been developed from more indigenous collectivistic lived experience.
Ashley: Yeah, like a lived experience. Yeah.
Norman: Yeah. And just like you said, then it moves forward to not just those approaches, but then also through all of the rules we learn about in terms of how therapy is supposed to be done. And then also into research that, just like you said, almost all of our measures that have been “scientifically validated” have only been scientifically validated in a particular group. And their appropriateness and adequacy and effectiveness for all groups is still a pretty big question.
And so especially in this time of managed care and sort of finite economic resources, when that kind of idea of empirically supported treatments or research based treatments can be used to deny people treatment, or to deny people other kinds of treatment, then and which, by definition is going to disproportionately impact on people of color and impact people who are immigrants. That’s another way in which there sort of systemic, the fact of all of these issues being so systemic impacts people’s daily lives. It’s essentially a different mental health system. It’s a different healthcare system that we access as opposed to someone else.
Ashley: It’s worth taking a look at though because how much time are we losing by not looking at these things and only or over relying on evidence and numbers and statistics. And all of these big fancy words that we like to use and throw out. So just something I’m curious about, thank you for that. And that kind of brings me into the question of the work that you’re doing today. Do you mind telling us a little bit about what you’re doing? And maybe how you – not that you’re not doing any eating disorder work – but how you shifted a bit from, from eating disorders into activism?
Norman: Yeah, absolutely. So the two main things I’ve been working on one are I’ve been helping with an app called Ayana therapy. It’s an online therapy app that matches licensed therapists with clients based on their lived experiences of their identity. So we gather rather detailed information from all parties about how they identify, you know; gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, etc, but also sort of other elements of their identity and lived experience. And the idea is that we’ve gone beyond this idea of cultural competency to more core ideas of cultural humility and cultural intelligence. And not that, again, I think people get all worked up when we start talking about this kind of matching. But it’s not that only a black person can work with another black person, or an Asian person can work with another Asian person, but there are those elements of our identity where it does make a difference in terms of one’s ability to understand where somebody else might be coming from. And I think that’s something that’s really missing. So tele-therapy allows us to sort of get rid of some of the geographic limitations and other logistical limitations that make therapy so difficult, particularly for people who don’t have the kind of privilege where they have the time and resources to go to traditional therapy.
But more importantly, I think the thing that we’re doing uniquely is sort of establishing a cohort of therapists who all kind of come from really diverse backgrounds. That we’re starting from that as our Genesis point. It’s not something we’re tacking on because we recognized that we need more diversity in this pool, which is basically how everyone else functions. When you start with a notion that you want to gather as diverse a group of therapists from the very beginning as possible, because those are the communities you want to start to be able to serve, and not focus on serving as wide a swath of America as you can possibly and then sort of as an afterthought think about other communities, I think it makes a difference. It certainly made a huge difference in the company culture. The CEO is a black man and almost all of our staff and leadership are people who identify as having some sort of marginalized identity. And let me tell you, having worked in all sorts of institutions and companies, many of which I’ve had amazing experiences in but none of which were ever from the ground up started by, run by, and continue to be operated by primarily people who, who have marginalized identities, it’s a whole different experience. And sadly, one that I think is all too rare for most of us. It creates a particular kind of culture, and creates an awareness of the some of the nuances that I think would otherwise go unnoticed and not thought about. So it’s been a pretty profoundly impactful experience for me to, to be doing something like that and helping get that started.
The other thing I’ve been doing is I started something called the Institute for anti-racism and equity. We do consulting, training, education and other sort of similar engagements within healthcare, but also outside of healthcare. Around issues of racism and around how these issues of equity, and anti-racism in particular, the impact on workplaces. In a healthcare setting, the impact on our clinical care, but also on leadership teams. We’ve done quite a bit of work with leadership teams, helping them focus on how can we not only attract more diversity, but how can we have more diverse voices on our leadership team and on our boards, that’s where it’s needed. I think this is this is something that the business world has recognized, but I don’t know that too many companies have figured out exactly what to do with this problem. There’s been a lot of money thrown at diversity, equity, inclusion kinds of efforts. And almost all of those efforts go just towards like “I need to hire more black people, I need to hire more gay people”.
And it kind of stops there. And what the data show us is that there might be a temporary increase in diversity of hires, but those people tend not to stay. Because you haven’t really done anything about the culture, you haven’t brought them into a culture where it feels safe to talk about your experience, to talk about your viewpoint, because it’s probably going to be different than everyone else’s viewpoint. Unless you change that culture, people are going to come in and they’re going to leave, because that’s not a place where I feel safe. That’s not a place where I feel valued, and where I feel seen. So that’s been that’s been pretty exciting work to to be involved in with different organizations and trying to help them figure some of that out.
Ashley: I’m still thinking about a word you said earlier on in the conversation about silence, especially in particular white people staying silent, and not wanting to stir things up. And that kind of being just the gist of our current culture. How do you navigate that in your work? Because I’m sure this is something that you’re having to deal with, getting people to talk. How do you even? Where do you begin? How do you approach that?
Norman: It’s hard. We approach it by acknowledging from day one. The very first things that we talk about are, these are difficult conversations, these are uncomfortable conversations, these are conversations that speak to people who might consider themselves allies, even. These are conversations that might make you feel bad, or guilty or angry. They certainly are conversations that have the possibility of making people feel angry. And acknowledging that upfront, but at the same time, the other side of that coin is that these are also necessary conversations. These are necessary things for us to look at. It seems crazy, on the one hand to have to establish the reality of things like racism, but there is some level of having to establish the reality of racism and the impacts of racism.
I think what my colleagues and I have going for us is that we can really speak with some level of authority in terms of the psychological impact and the medical impact of racism and race based trauma and racial discrimination on people. I think that’s where we probably have an advantage over people doing diversity training, who maybe aren’t coming from that background.
Also, understanding that there are going to be things that are called out as performative allyship as opposed to authentic allyship. I think that it’s been great to see more people talking about that distinction. Signs are great and and posts on social media are great, but even better are actions and even better, things like not being silent. This is one of the things that we do spend a lot of time on in the trainings. It’s not just about awareness around these issues, but then when you see incidents of homophobia or racism or, misogyny in your workplace, that you as the person who doesn’t belong to that group that’s being denigrated, that you have a responsibility to call it out in that moment. That’s actually what authentic allyship looks like. That’s what ultimately makes a difference. It’s the laughing at the off color joke, because even if you might be made uncomfortable by it, it’s going along just because you also don’t want to sort of be the odd man out.
I think those are the kinds of things that that need to change. If you think about a workplace setting, if that’s one of the things that needs to change on the ground, that only happens when there is a culture established, where that kind of behavior is going to be looked on positively, where you’re not going to be called, like a troublemaker or something. Because you’re going against the grain. That’s the importance of diversity in leadership and diversity of experiences in leadership, in addition to just other people.
Ashley: Sounds very soul –filling, the work that you’re doing. Do you find yourself getting stressed or angry or feeling like, how do you manage that?
Norman: Yeah. I think it’s impossible not to get angry. I don’t think you can be aware and not being angry. I just don’t think that’s possible. Or at least I’m not evolved enough a person to be aware of what’s happening and to not allow myself to be angry about it. Just like with anything that’s hard, what allows us to persevere through hard, difficult things is if you have a clear sense of mission and meaning to what you’re doing, and I certainly do. I feel like that’s at least something I’ve had for most of the things that I’ve done in my life. It’s always been with, I think, a fairly clear sense of, like, this is why I’m doing what I do. And I’ve been really fortunate, I don’t think that’s something everyone can say, and I feel very lucky, that I’ve kind of found things that feed me in that way. You know, obviously, really having something concrete like my family to feel like I’m doing this very directly so that their world is maybe a little bit better. That makes a big difference. Not to be too grandiose about it. But those are the kinds of things that keep me going, and I keep referencing this year, but I think there have been so much grief and loss associated with this year? And maybe that was that was kind of what was necessary for some of the other stuff to happen.
I definitely think the disproportionate impact of COVID on people of color and their communities really open the floodgates of people thinking about systemic issues, and how they impact people in a very direct way now. And then with all of the police incidents, particularly with Black people, and then sort of more recently, the anti Asian hate actions, I think it’s elevated to the forefront of our national conversation, something that we’ve been needing to talk about since you know, 1619. I think it’s at least a good thing that we’re not pretending racism doesn’t exist. So hopefully we can continue that momentum.
Ashley: Who inspires you?
Norman: I have such a hard time with that question.
Ashley: A lot of people do actually,
Norman: I’ll tell you why. I don’t think about famous people out there, that’s just not a part of my regular thinking even though there are plenty of those folks who inspire me. I try to say this without it sounding trite, but I’ll tell you what inspires me, what inspires me is the stories like a quick little story I saw on my social media feed. A couple of weeks ago, about a girl who both of her parents I think were maybe migrant workers or something, and she took her graduation photos in the fields that they worked to put her through school. And she was the first kid in their family to graduate from I don’t know if it was high school or college. That’s the stuff that inspires me, the parents who sort of sacrifice, which is absolutely something my parents did. My parents left everything that was familiar to them so that my brother and I could have a better life. It’s things like that. That’s the kind of thing I think that really inspires me, people who are able to maintain hope through so much adversity and not give in to despair and hopelessness.
Ashley: How do you nourish yourself? Like, how do you take care of yourself? Or do you?
Norman: Well, I, you know, you know, as well as I do, as a new parent asleep is not a part of that.
Ashley: I’m always tired.
Norman: But yeah, how do I nourish myself … certainly spending time with my family. That’s been the blessing of this year, for us, at least has been that I’ve gotten to be with my boys. For the last I don’t know how many months now. They’re three and a half and one and a half, and especially during those ages that’s been a real blessing to have been a part of. That’s the biggest thing I think is just is seeing them grow up and seeing them explore and be curious. That’s just an amazing thing.
Ashley: Yeah, totally.
Ashley: Any reading materials, any books, any recommendations for us?
Norman: I’ve been kind of I’ve been re exploring some of the original writings in critical race theory. It’s so much a part of conversation, and very few people really know what it is in reality. I don’t know that there are too many things more apropos of our moment right now than that. So I think that’s probably worth people at least taking a little bit of appetite in and looking back.
Ashley: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It’s been wonderful.
Norman: It’s been great. See ya.
Ashley: Thank you for listening to in this body and being a part of these important conversations. If you want to be on the side of positive change, or all bodies and identities are represented empowered. Keep doing your part to speak up against systems of oppression and injustice and stand up for diversity. As the late great Audrey Lord said, Your silence will not protect you. Your voice matters. Peace and Love, y’all.