Whiteness at Work with Garrett Bucks | Crooked Media
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August 09, 2023
Work Appropriate
Whiteness at Work with Garrett Bucks

In This Episode

Is considering diversity in hiring actually reverse racism? What if advocating for my colleagues of color means I lose my job? What do I do if I think my colleague doesn’t like me because I’m a white guy?  Garrett Bucks, writer of The White Pages and founder of The Barnraisers Project, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer questions from white listeners struggling with issues of allyship and social justice at work.

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Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, and this is Work Appropriate. [music plays] So I’ve told you a few times about Melody, our wonderful producer for Work Appropriate. Like this show is what it is because of her incredible skill and general acumen. And the other day she was scrolling through our ever growing spreadsheet of listener queries, giving you submissions, tags so that she could find them later. And she realized something. There were a lot of questions covering a lot of areas of work that had a similar theme. They were from white people dealing with white people feelings. You might know exactly what I’m talking about here. Or you might need to listen more to this episode to get your head around it. But the gist is that white people have a lot of societal privilege. We know this. And yes, that privilege intersects with other parts of identity, but the whiteness that’s still there. And it’s really hard to let go some of the comforts in and outside of the office that that privilege allots. I mean, this is the biggest barrier to actual social justice. People with privilege struggling with the fact that equity isn’t just about trying to give other people advantages. It’s also about letting go of some of yours. So that’s what this episode is about, well-intentioned white people having some white people feelings, mostly about work. I want to be clear here that people of color are not responsible in any way for these feelings. It is not their job to address or solve them. White people, including me and Melody, this is our job. This is white people work. And it’s also the job of our cohost who is so good at acknowledging the existence of these white people, feelings, unpacking where they come from, and then also doing the very important work of pushing white people to actually be better. I can’t wait for you to meet him. [music plays]


Garrett Bucks: My name is Garrett Bucks and I am an organizer and writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, writing about white people and helping organize white people to be better members of movements for justice. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Okay. I want to hear about your path, because I think it’s actually really interesting. Like you were kind of involved in these white savior-y type social justice, passion, jobs and then took a little bit of a diversion from that route.


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. So the way I tell my story is that I have lived a prototypical white do gooder life, right? I was raised by parents who were very, very socially justice minded. I grew up in Montana, primarily in a you know, in a predominately pretty white place and very much, I think interpreted my parents call to kind of be useful in the world as a white person, as a, oh, I need to go work in other people’s communities. Right. And so I did a lot of the things that prototypical white do gooders did. Right. I was a teacher. I taught refugees in Chicago. I taught fifth graders in the Navajo Nation of New Mexico. I then did a lot of things that are pretty typical for a certain type of white person. I’m not just a white person, but I’m a white cis guy. And I didn’t really question that. Not only did I want my work for justice in other people’s communities, but that I had a right to leadership roles in other people’s communities. And so without really asking questions about it, I found myself both applying for and then taking positions where I was an executive director or senior staff member at education, nonprofits in particular, a long career Teach for America, mostly in very Black and brown places, working with colleagues of color, working with a large percentage of women of color, both in partner organizations and in our organization, and not really questioning that yeah, I deserve both to be here and to be the leader and the loud voice. And I think like a lot of white people, I didn’t start taking seriously the question of race in anything more than a liberal arts college graduate. I’ve read all the right books intellectual way until after a while. In a lot of workplaces, I heard from people who cared about me, but who were also fed up with me again, disproportionately colleagues of color and disproportionately colleagues who are women of color that it suck to work with me [laughter] and it sucked to work with me in ways that are pretty typical for working with white male bosses. Right? And then I went through a whole another stage where I was feeling badly about that and wanting not to have that be my story or my legacy or my connection to my community, but that I interpreted that as I’ve got to both. I’ve got to be the loudest, most vociferous, most unlike other white guys, white guy, right? [laughter] So I’ve got to create as much distance between myself and whiteness and myself and other dudes and myself and any anything that right now feels connected to that shame of I messed up and I wasn’t a great colleague. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Garrett Bucks: And that is really, really useful for yourself and your own ego. But I discovered after a while that that’s not really useful for a lot of other things [laughter] actually is not useful for social change. It’s not useful for building connections or community. And so after a long time of running from whiteness and realizing I was not just not having an impact, but probably having the opposite impact that I was trying to, I kind of took a look in the mirror, was like, I’m not really actually contributing in any real way to stitching communities together at building movements for justice, at doing any of the things I said I was going to do. And I think part of that is because I’m ignoring the piece of the pie that actually is closer to me and that I have more responsibility for. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: And that is got me interested in the story of whiteness and the story of what it would take for white people to not just be in the way, what it would take for white people to be part of the solution and to be better partners for justice. And so now I do that full time. I run a small nonprofit called The Barnraisers Project, where I coach and train people across the country, disproportionately white people, but not just white people, but people who are interested in majority white communities and what has kept them from being part of movements for justice and for the common good and learning how we can make them part of the common good and welcome white people in the movements for justice that are bigger than just themselves. And that’s a really, really interesting thing to think about and care about. And so I also write about it. I have a newsletter called The White Pages and have a book which is kind of a memoir in some parts of the story too coming out next year. And it’s it’s just a thrill right I think that it gives me a lot of hope because I have discovered that I’m not the only person asking these questions. I am not the only person who kind of led the path that I walked on and felt a certain emptiness to it. And while I was feeling really alone for a while now, I feel really, really connected. And that’s only one step on the road towards helping make the world a better place, but it’s been a pretty cool one. 


Anne Helen Petersen: There’s so many places where I could take this conversation and so many things I want to say, but I feel like we’re going to get into all of that in our questions. So the first one we have is from Todd, who is trying to do some risk assessment for allyship at work. 


Todd: I’m a straight cisgendered white guy who’s found himself in a variety of leadership roles through the years. I’ve been very deliberate about speaking up when I see things that contradict my values and I try to hold leaders accountable, especially when their actions have an adverse impact on people who report to me. While I know these are the right things to do at times, it’s also caused me a decent amount of personal stress and had a negative impact on my own advancement in my career. Now I’m a husband and a father who is regularly in a position where I have to choose between my principles and putting food on the table for my family. I’ve hit a point where I need to learn how to choose my battles, but honestly, I’m not sure how. What advice do you have for someone who wants to find a balance between using their position of privilege to support and defend those with less power, while also not limiting my own career advancement and putting my family’s well-being at risk? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So this is, I think, just a pretty common privilege calculus, right? So what do you see happening here? 


Garrett Bucks: Mm. Well, first off, I see Todd trying something new, right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: Something that feels different for him and that feels focused not just on his own career and his own advancement, but feels connected to care for colleagues, care for some principle of justice, etc.. And so the first thing I see is Todd giving it a swing. And I say, hell yeah Todd, way to give it a swing, man. [laughter] And then I see something that seems really familiar to me. And, you know, Todd, identified as a straight cis white guy, which I am as well. And one of the things that from my experience is typical for the workplace and, you know, living experience for people like us, like myself and Todd, but definitely the workplace experience is the frictionlessness of it, right? That we can pursue our career without having to have our identity policed, without ever having to ask questions about if I do this and I come off in this sort of way, if I present in this way, am I going to be judged? Is my identity marker going to be judged, etc.? Right. And that is, I don’t have to tell you, I don’t have to tell every listener is literally the opposite experience [laughter] of folks with any sort of marginalized identity. Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Garrett Bucks: Women in the workplace, queer folks in the workplace, trans folks in the workplace, and definitely people of color in the workplace. And adding all of that on with intersectional identities. Right. And so I think what Todd is experiencing for the first time here is some of the precarity that comes as the feeling, either real or perceived from having to give a crap about any question other than just my own advancement. Right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: And he’s realizing that when I’m starting to think like that, I’m scared. There may be risks to what I’m doing because they feel counterculture. And at this point it’s a countercultural choice that he’s making. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: Which is still a privilege to get to make the choice when they have it foisted on you. But the way our brain processes that choice does feel similar, in particular for the first time. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Garrett Bucks: And so I say that not to just say, welcome to the club, it sucks. Get over it, Todd. [laughter] But I also say like, huh, what does that mean if you never had to feel that before? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: And what does that mean? If you are surrounded by folks, including colleagues that you say you care about quite a bit, for whom that’s been their experience at work their entire damn life. So that’s a first that comes up for me. What do you think? 


Anne Helen Petersen: I mean, I think he feels vulnerable, right. 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And and what you’re saying that that feeling of precarity like that is a feeling of vulnerability in the workplace. And I like that you point out that like. He is put in this place of vulnerability because of decisions that he’s making, as opposed to people who are vulnerable de facto because of their identities. Right. So, like, there is no control. And in some ways, that’s like [laughter] I mean, this is where the tension comes from, right? Is that Todd could be like, I don’t want to make these decisions anymore. I want to back away from that vulnerability. Instead of—


Garrett Bucks: I’ve seen that, yep. 


Anne Helen Petersen: —hanging out in it and, like, feel like exploring it. Right, Which is the much more difficult proposition here, is to figure out how to feel more comfortable in it or like, recognize what it is like. All that stuff. Right? But he could also say, I have responsibilities to my family. I can’t afford this vulnerability. That and like that. What a articulation of privilege. Right. To be able to say. 


Garrett Bucks: Mm hmm. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I can’t afford the vulnerabilities that other people have just because of who they are in the workplace. But so what would your advice to Todd be here? 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah, well, I think after sitting with all that that we just said right, like, and what I’d add on is right, like, we don’t want a situation in which Todd backs down. Where like, oh, cool, I have a choice. I thought that, like, this whole caring about other people thing would just get me tickertape parades, and now it’s getting me having to worry about questions. I liked it much more when I could just be on the fast track. We don’t want that for Todd. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: We don’t want that for Todd’s colleagues. We don’t want that for people he cares about. We don’t want that for Todd’s family. So the first thing I think I would connect with is a a re grounding on why Todd is making these choices. Right. And not just out of guilt, not just out of shame, etc.. But like you sound like you have a professional goal here that is now deeper and more beautiful than just fighting for yourself. What is that and what do you want to be true? And in a lot of ways, what is the opposite? That you don’t want to be true? Then I would ask. Like, I think it’s important to right size the moment, right? And this is important for all of us what we’re feeling fear and precarity. I’d ask Todd, like, what’s been your professional story up to this point and what is objectively the current situation? What has actually changed about your employability? What has actually changed about your family’s financial situation? What is what has changed about opportunities that are actually available for you versus just perceived as being available for you? And I’m not saying that when Todd does that, he’s going to discover, oh, actually, there’s no risk here. There might be. Right. But then I think then like asking, what do I want to be true on both sides? Of saying, like, what is my responsibility to my family? What’s that conversation with my partner about all this? And what am I really, really actually aiming for here in a way that is rooted in as much examined reality as possible? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. You know, he mentions that he was, quote unquote, “pushed out of a situation because he spoke up too early about a CEO” and like, yeah, the getting pushed out of a job is a real consequence. But also I think oftentimes people in Todd’s position can still find jobs pretty readily. Right. It seems like this has been something that has been his experience, like, oh, yeah, I got pushed out of this job, but then I found another another place of employment. So, yes, there is the risk factor, but what are the actual down the line consequences of that risk? Like maybe you do get pushed out of a company that maybe you don’t want to be part of that company anyway, like maybe you call bullshit on it and they’re like, no, we want to stick with our bullshit. [laughter] And so you don’t want to work there anyway and you find another job. But I think this is great advice to like clarify for yourself what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, and also clarify for yourself what are the actual consequences. Right? And like, I think having these conversations too is really useful because when you say it out loud, you’re like, maybe I don’t want to like, stick up for the people who matter to me because I’m like a little bit scared of not getting promoted and not making a little more money. That’s that’s pretty clarifying. 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. And that’s any that’s the kind of conversation I would also lay on the table with my partner and spouse. And say like that. Right now I feel afraid and following the path of fear would mean being the dude that doesn’t speak up and works for these crappy tech bro jobs that I hate and are against my values. Is that something that really amps you up? [laughter] As my partner or not? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: I would hope he’s in a partnership that says, you know what? I think both of us should hold ourselves to a higher standard here than that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: But that’s why I also say, like, I want to go back to our very first reaction to this, which is I do not want to diminish Todd’s feelings by saying, oh, I bet this feels new and novel to you to finally have to feel this. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: But I think naming that does make it a little bit easier to actually right size. How much is your fear actually based on real precarity right now? And how much is it that you’ve never had to worry like this in a workplace before? 




Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is from Hannah, who has questions about considering diversity in hiring. Our producer, Melody, is going to read it for us. 


Hannah: I feel weird about the quote unquote, “reverse racism” happening in the hiring process at my job. I know it’s high time for queer people, people of color and women to get the chances straight white men have always gotten. But we are actively turning down very qualified white male candidates to make our diversity numbers better. They nailed the interview, have great experience, but we passed them up. Their gender and race are the only reason these men are not being hired. I’m the parent of two tiny white boys and this makes me nervous. Is all of this okay? It’s definitely spoken of in hushed terms at work. No one wants to admit that what we’re doing is technically biased, even though it’s with good intentions. The company does have good stats in terms of diversity. So this is paying off. It just feels really weird to say no to a candidate and not really be able to offer them a reason because the real reason is super taboo. 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So Hannah put reverse racism in quotation marks. We don’t know how much she actually thinks this is a thing, but for anyone listening. Can you explain why reverse racism isn’t a thing? 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. So reverse racism. When people say that, what they mean is that I’m a white person or I am watching white people get discriminated against, right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: That I that that we’re receiving treatment that is deleterious and negative based solely on our race. Right. And so reverse sexism which also says white dudes. Right. Would be the same thing that dudes are getting short shrift or getting treated badly solely because of their gender. Right. The reason and you know, this is the kind of stuff that has been pointed out beautifully by folks who are not white guys for generations, but leaning on the wisdom of writers about race, in particular Black women and women of color who write about race. Right. You know, the reason why this has both been debunked and why it’s pointed out as such a dangerous concept is that racism is not just disliking somebody. Right. Racism is not just having a negative experience with somebody because of their race. Right. Racism is rooted in a social system that was built up for economic and political reasons. And different countries have different social caste systems that are built in for this reason by the United States. Ours was founded on chattel slavery against Black people and indigenous land theft. And then other ethnic groups, in particular immigrant ethnic groups, have then been entered into that system of subservience in different ways throughout their history. Right. But all of it was not about disliking Black people or brown people or indigenous people or even being mean to them. It was about whether or not a system is set up to benefit white people or not benefit white people. Right. And that’s. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: That’s the state of structural racism in the country. So when we what we’re talking about in a situation like this is a situation in which an organization probably with some knowledge of there has been a longstanding structural history is trying in one way or another to be intentional about that. Right. At least in its hiring process. Right. And oftentimes, when there is any sort of intentionality about that, be that affirmative action, etc., that’s when we start calling that reverse racism, because we start noticing that this might be, are we picking on the white people? Are we picking on the dudes? Are we picking on the straight people or whatever? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So what do you think is happening in her reaction? For me, I think, you know, the fact she mentions that she has two young boys. It’s a lot going on. 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. [laughs]


Anne Helen Petersen: It’s very like this is where things when things feel personal in some capacity and like, they will have ramifications on you and yours. That’s when I think a lot of white people really struggle with like, yes, I am committed to anti-racism, but also what about my kids? 


Garrett Bucks: Oh, yeah. [laughs] I mean, that’s and that’s what that’s one of the primary ways that this machine has kept rolling on throughout history, is the appeal to white parenthood, disproportionately to white motherhood. To say that your individual care and love for your kids means that you have to stand up for this entire system, right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Garrett Bucks: That you can’t love your white boys in this case unless they get to enter into the same in this place workplace system generations from now that their grandfathers and great grandfathers, etc., would have. Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: And I am a parent to a couple white kids, too. Right. And I 100%, like all parents, understand that parenthood is 90% fear and longing, right like that. That the love we have for our kids is bound up in fears our kids will not be loved and accepted and understood for being as brilliant as we see them. Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: And in our best moments we can identify, in particular those of us who raise kids with a lot of privilege in society that we get to walk the pretty lucky life of having our kids not judged by society the way so many other folks do. In particular the way that happens so much by by race. But that doesn’t take away the fear that we still love our kids want them to be accepted, etc.. And for me, just as a parent, right. The act and art of parenting that my wife and I have to like keep on freaking right sizing right. The question comes up for um is what we really want for our kids. Just the world that’s best for them. Or are we hoping for a world where they’re not as isolated and disconnected from humanity as we were raised to be? Right. That being successful, being caring, being a member of a community doesn’t just involve them getting into the best college, them getting the best job then in getting their own individual brass ring. But it’s about them loving and being loved by a diverse community and helping to make their entire community better and, you know, being seen and using their skills and using their gifts as they do so, but not just for their own benefit. That’s easy to say. That’s hard to do. And I have 100% trust that this writer could speak to that same love and hope for her boys as well. And I’m really, really sympathetic to the fact that the societal message we get about what it means to love and care for your kids often crowds that out. And I would love to start with, like just as parent to parent, like, connect on that conversation before we talk about what’s happening in our workplace, because I get it. It’s rough as hell. And I think there’s a way cooler world of parenting to that’s not just rooted in that fear. Sorry to parent it up on the work talk, but yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughter] No, I think is but I think this is an important point because I do think it’s shadowing a lot of how she’s perceiving what is happening at work. And she wouldn’t have included this fact otherwise. Right. 


Garrett Bucks: Totally yup. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And one thing I think about all the time is like, you know what? If you have so much money in the world, if you’re so successful, if your kids are so successful, like, what does that mean? If the world within which you are living broadly sucks for most people? 


Garrett Bucks: Yep. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Like, it’s going to have effects on you. [laughs] You know, we see this in America that like living in a profoundly white supremacist society is not like always great for white people either. It sucks. 


Garrett Bucks: Pretty, pretty crappy, actually. [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: So so how do you think about, like, the larger context of what you’re aiming for here? That’s kind of a sidebar to this other question of. I do think that this is something that people do observe in hiring practices. 


Garrett Bucks: Yep. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And like I’ve seen it even with just like when I was looking for potential people to help me with some research assistants, you know what I mean? Like how many applicants I received, so many qualified applicants, so many and so many of them were white women. And like, it was so hard for me to, like, figure out cause I didn’t want to choose a white woman because I’m a white woman, right? Like, I didn’t want to replicate myself. 


Garrett Bucks: Yep. 


Anne Helen Petersen: In my assistant. [laughs]


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: But statistically, you’re going to get more applicants, right? Just because of, like, how our racial breakdown in this country is right. Like, you’re going to have more white applicants to a job most of the time. 


Garrett Bucks: That’s right. That’s right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: So. So we can create this feeling of like, why are we turning down all of these qualified applicants who also happen to be white people? So what I’m wondering is if you have advice for sort of like a narrative or a way that you can like a form of self-talk of like, this is why this is working the way it is and this is why it really matters. This is why this makes our workplace a better place to work. This is why this makes our workplace part of a better society. Passing up qualified male applicants. 


Garrett Bucks: You know, look at our track record of being disproportionately most institutions and in most most situations of power. We know we’re we’re just going to nail it, us white guys. So, I mean, how could you pass up to the opportunity to have more of us? I just don’t get it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughs] Oh, wait, wait, wait. I want to interrupt quickly here to say that I think one thing, too, we should point out, too, is part of the reason why it might be easy to perceive a white guy as quote unquote, nailing it is because. 


Garrett Bucks: Oh, yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Our understanding of what professionalism looks like, our understanding of what nailing it in an interview looks like is predisposed to like white masculine characteristics. Right. 


Garrett Bucks: And what is valued and what what is excused. Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Garrett Bucks: How much of my own career trajectory was the past that I could be, quote unquote, “charismatic” in a very, very specific bro ish way? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Garrett Bucks: How much of that was what was excuse to, oh, you know, he’s not going to be as organized at this. He’s going to need, you know, support from other people on that angle. But he’s going to be a visionary, right? He’s going to take risks. He’s going to do all those things. And where does that come from? Right. So that’s a great question. It’s like these white guys are nailing it in the interview. But what does nailing it look like? And what has this organization valued traditionally about nailing it? And where to your point of envisioning something deeper and having a different like vision for the organization? Where where’s that gotten you? Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm. 


Garrett Bucks: Where has being an organization that’s valued a particular set of skill sets, a particular set of backgrounds, a particular set of candidates to what, like limited mountaintop? Have you been able to like climb up to. Right. And we’re haven’t you been, right. What’s been true in your workplace both in terms of the impact you’ve been able to have in your world or whatever your field is, what have who has felt welcomed and who has not felt welcomed? What, perspectives have have really, really shined and which ones haven’t, etc.. Right. So like I think that question of like right sizing, like where is this actually left us prioritizing this and prioritizing [?] the past is a really great place to start. And I think I’m just struck by a lot of other things and there’s a lot of fear and potential fear in this like question. I get it right. And as it’s so often this case of like when organizations are trying to finally do something different and at least have the intentions of doing something better, that’s really, really scary. And often a lot of organizations don’t do it well. So I was like trying to like, think thing like multiple things being true at once, right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: One is like that it can be really, really awesome that this is an organization with an aspiration to become more diverse and equitable in terms of its hiring practices. That’s amazing. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: A lot of organizations are trying to think about how to do that. In particular, since 2020, when we had a singular moment where everyone decided to have our racial reckoning for one summer at one summer alone. [laughter] And a lot of those moves that a lot of organizations made in particular because of the cultural biases and systems they came from and worlds that they came from have been weird and ham-fisted and they’ve been weird and ham-fisted in ways that have been weird both towards white folks, but have been also really, really weird towards people of color in their systems. Right? Like organizations that are trying to diversify their hiring practices in an unthoughtful way are also organizations that sometimes can fall into tokenism, that sometimes can see Black and brown candidates solely as Black and brown candidates as an exciting way to get a number up or that replicate really, really harmful patterns such as, you know, hiring people of color or women to be singular representatives of their race or to solve all the problems of inequity in their systems, and then to blame them when they don’t. All of these things, right? So I’ll say, I don’t know your this person’s workplace. I don’t know in what ways. It’s it’s really, really doing this awesomely. And which way is this being really ham-fisted. But I want to be open to the fact that it may be doing some ham-fisted stuff to try to get there, right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: But what we should care about is not whether the ham-fistedness just primarily means that white guys aren’t getting a fair shot. Right. I think we should again ask, where do we actually does this organization actually want to go? In what way has this process helped them get there? Because it seems like in some ways it has. Right. The saying that, like the question asker mentions that they have good stats in terms of diversity, so it’s paying off. There’s no concerns in the question that the workplace is a less strong place to work because it’s now gotten more diverse. Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: Perhaps that was just left out of the question. But I would really ask, like, what’s the actual fear here? What isn’t going well versus what just is different? And is that different bad or is that different just a relic of we used to do things a certain way. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And I also think like separating these out and being like, is this a question about my kids? Do you have any books that you found particularly useful for people who are in that sort of like, I want everything for my kids, but also I want to live in a socially just world? Like, is there any reading that you would recommend? 


Garrett Bucks: Oh, yeah. So there’s a couple that I often go to. The first is it was somebody’s sociology Ph.D. thesis, so there is some academic language in it, but it’s been since gone to a popular audience. It’s called White Kids Growing Up With Privilege in a Racially Divided America, by Margaret Hagerman, H-A-G-E-R-M-A-N. And it is this result of her ethnography studying white progressive parents, disparately white privileged parents, and the choices they made in parenting. And the implicit and explicit messages that sent their kids over the years about race and about their role in larger society. Fascinating. Right. And there’s so many books about how to talk to your kids about race. This one makes a more powerful case that actually much more than the conversations white parents have with their kids about race, what ends up actually mattering is what choices they see you making as parents and whether or not they see you implicitly sending the message that fighting for every little privilege for you is more important than fighting and caring about your community and the impact of that over time on white kids. So it’s empathetic. It’s amazing. It’s a brilliant scenography. Margaret Hagerman’s White Kids. And then for a very personal narrative of trying to both ask this question to yourself as a white parent, both individually and in the community, particularly related to school choices, but not just school choices. Courtney Martin’s Learning in Public about her journey as a white mother in Oakland Public Schools would read them a million times over with every single white parent book club I could. 




Anne Helen Petersen: Okay, so let’s move on to our next question, which is from Elizabeth, who’s processing the aftermath of some layoffs. 


Elizabeth: I’m new to corporate work, and I’m working for a seven year old tech startup in social impact. Last week, our co-CEOs announced layoffs of 30 employees, including almost everyone on my team except me. It was a shock to the team. The data showed that layoffs impacted primarily women of color. And as a white woman, I felt angry when this data was not addressed. I realize my for profit motivated company does not align with my values in the wake of layoffs. What should I do? Should I try to stay with a flexible, insecure job or go back to the dependable nonprofit grind? How can I support my former colleagues and process survivor’s guilt in a remote environment? 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. So we’re actually only going to address part of this question. So for the part about whether she should stay in her job or look elsewhere, I’m going to recommend that she listen to our recent episode about layoffs and preparing for layoffs with Phoebe Gavin. But, Garrett, I think you and I can take a look at this last part of her question about supporting former colleagues and also about processing her own survivor’s guilt. So what can she do to support her laid off colleagues right now? 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. Well, first off, shout out to the nonprofit world for being something that can be deemed, in any question, a stable grind. Comparatively.


Anne Helen Petersen: It’s all relative. 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. But both of us, both of us, I think, have the experience of being in places that either way,  we were there or afterwards have undergone huge layoffs and supporting and caring for our colleagues. What’s been your story there? 


Anne Helen Petersen: I mean, it’s so like my experience was that no one wanted to, like, really hear from you. You obviously you would you would say something because like, if not saying something is like the person you were being silent when someone is experiencing grief in any form, right? Because getting laid off, is it the experience is one that is filled with grief and anger and sadness and fear and all of those things. But then sometimes the person that you want to talk to, the person that you want to hear from is not necessarily the the person who has the stability. 


Mm hmm. 


And I think that the best thing that you can offer is if you if I can be of any assistance in terms of networking, if I can connect you with any people, if there is any job listing that you’re looking at and you want to know if I know anyone or if I know someone on my network who knows someone like I am here to be that resource for you and being very straightforward and clear about it is not annoying to me. It is not cumbersome to me. You can get in touch with me any time I want to be helpful and any way you can possibly imagine me being helpful, even if it’s just bitching and moaning about the job application process because it is horrible, right? And sometimes you just need a resource. But then also understanding if that person doesn’t take you up on that offer, maybe it’s because they want their resource to be someone who is going through something very similar. I think a lot of times people who are job seeking like to be in community with other job seekers because there isn’t that sort of power differential that exists of like, well, I have a job and you don’t have stability and you don’t. And it just it can feel bad sometimes if you’re in that situation.


Garrett Bucks: 100%. And you know this person talking about survivor’s guilt, which of course is very, very real and is your story is your issue. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Garrett Bucks: Your dilemma to play with and not the dilemma to in any way be solved for by your former colleagues who are going through a really crappy thing. And that includes doing things that if I’m showing up for them, if I am feeling useful on my end to them, then that guilt will be assuaged, right? They don’t have any role in that for you. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Garrett Bucks: It’s tough. It’s real. It sucks. It is there for your loved ones to be a place to process. It is there for if you are somebody who is in therapy to process in that space, it is there to process with colleagues who might be in a similar space. But that is not the job of whatever you do for your other colleagues and I and I’m not in any way accusing the question asker of wanting to do that, but I’ve had to separate that out, when I’m feeling a crappy feeling. I want to remove that crappy feeling is connected to this other person who got a really, really bad deal. If I am just the awesomest person to that person, like, then I might feel a little less of that. Right? Not how it works. I love what you pointed out too, about all the things that they probably don’t need you to be or have the right to say they don’t need you to be. And this is a huge hierarchy of needs situation, right? People who are unemployed, who are job seekers, most likely the number one thing they likely need is a safe landing place is a dignified landing space. And you know, one thing that could be really useful, you know, we’re talking about equity, we’re talking about systemic oppression. This connects to so many of their questions. Right. We can probably assume that people in particular from marginalized backgrounds, women, people of color, etc., are going to be less served by traditional whisper networks. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 


Garrett Bucks: By traditional good ol boy networks, etc., to get new jobs. So, yes, if you can network, if you can make connections, that’s and if that’s what someone wants from you, that’s great. That’s the most important thing here. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I also think I know that when we’re going to talk about whether or not this person should leave her job or not, but also, maybe you do want to leave your job if it’s this shitty, right? If if this is the way that they laid it off. 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And also if they feel like there is no way for the company to build back from this or that, it’s something that’s going to be reproduced over and over again. Like then it’s clearly a company that is not concerned with these questions. 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And do you want to be a part of this? That doesn’t mean that you have to quit as like a way of signaling allyship. Like, I think sometimes white people can like, get really torn up and like, I feel like I need to do this. Like, how do I how do I make it so that everyone knows and like, they want to do it in a really splashy way? Like it doesn’t have to be splashy. You can just say like, this was unacceptable to me. Communicate that in your exit interview. And also, you know, you can communicate that in a non like this is all about me way when you quit. But yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: I could not agree more. It’s not about you. Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: I mean, your own experiences. But, like, the next move you make is not to assuage or appease your guilt. Right. The next move you make, including this one, is not to solve for how you are feeling about the inequity you experience, that you saw around you and yeah, how that makes you feel. And particularly somebody with a little bit more privilege in the situation. Survivor’s guilt alone is not a reason to leave an organization misalignment with the organization’s values and belief that this organization will continue to do harm and not care about harm. And you are not in a position to change that harm is a really good reason. 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right. Our last question is from someone who’s having a rough time with a coworker. This is from Dylan, and our colleague Austin is going to rate it for us. 


Dylan: So how do you navigate bigotry in the workplace when you’re not part of an oppressed class? I’m a heteronormative white guy and I recently have been tasked for working with a person who my gut is telling me will hold that against me. Now, I’ve thought a lot about the ways that I could just simply convey to you that I’m not the problem. But I think for the purpose of exploring the answer to this question, I’ll simply have to ask you to take my word for it. Now I bet the house, that this person has been burned by, quote, “engineering bros” before. So they suspect that I won’t respect them or take them seriously. Now, I understand where that concern is coming from, but I haven’t yet found a way to assuage them of it. Now, I’m not dealing with bigotry nor racism, nor sexism, and I find the situation to be very different to navigate than the others. But the standard advice for someone like me on building networks with other people experiencing this problem, it feels a bit too brown shirty for my taste. So aside from turning the other cheek and having patience, is there anything you would recommend I do to increase harmony? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Okay, this is such an interesting question. Dylan says he has a gut feeling about this. He doesn’t provide some concrete examples of working with this person. But for the purposes of this question, we are going to take his word for it. I will just flag that. I don’t think this is bigotry. I think this is someone maybe not being nice to you. But, Garrett, what’s your initial reaction to this question? 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah, first off, I sensed throughout this question, just this absolute, absolute fear of being judged. Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: You are afraid that your colleague is judging you. You are afraid that we, as random question answerers on a podcast, are going to judge you and how you’re telling the story. You are afraid that you are being made to answer for the sins of people who might have had a similar profession, race, you know, gender, etc., as you in the past. And it reminds me a lot of some elements of the very first question we got right that this experience right. Of feeling judged in the workplace as a white guy heteronormative white guy that this feels probably new to you that being asked to answer for the sins of other people being assumed to be something you’re not, etc. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: That that’s that’s a pretty novel experience and in whatever way your experience and whatever you’re picking up on it, that feels really, really crappy and new to you. And I want to both empathize with that while also really, really welcoming you into a curiosity about why does that feel new to you? Because it feels new to you. In what way are you able to, like view this situation objectively and in what way is there a ton of other stuff going on for you? In what way that might mirror the judgment or fear or experience of being misunderstood that your colleague might experience and what way does that increase curiosity for your colleague? There’s a lot of here that’s not concrete, and I don’t blame you for it, but because that I don’t want to get even further into in the specific advice except to say, I bet that does feel really, really crappy. And I bet that does kind of put your body on alert in a way that makes you then perceive a lot more that may or may not be there. And starting from that place of a grace for yourself that this feels new and different and a curiosity for why it might and therefore curiosity for this other person who probably is not waking up in the morning trying to make you feel crappy is where I would first start. Just with the pure volume of emotions you’re feeling about it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I agree with you and I feel like it feels really hard to be treated in a way based on that person’s experiences or assumptions or built in prejudices. [laughs]


Garrett Bucks: That’s right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: About who you are simply because of your identity. And you know, you said this earlier in our conversation like it’s not a useful solution to be like, welcome to being a marginalized identity. Right. [laughter] Like that doesn’t that doesn’t necessarily make people change their behavior or make them feel better or and we are not in the business here of making this question asker feel better more, we are trying to say, okay, what’s going on here? Why does it feel the way that it feels like? Why does it feel so crappy? Because I think that’s the sense I get too, is that it feels like crap. And so understanding why it feels like crap, like this is for me. Like when you get a diagnosis at the doctor, you’re like, at least I know what’s happening now. He asks for solutions other than patience [laughter] and but I do think patience is part of it, right? You just have to like, show that that’s not who you are. Right. And also show that you are a trustable person in the workplace. And you can’t just say, just trust me to make that you are trustable person in this workplace. 


Garrett Bucks: I love that so much. And there’s another thing this person identified in pretty colorful language, but I still think it was a really interesting thing to identify that I want to just like affirm. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: Which is that they also don’t want to go seek commiseration with other people who he identifies as like most likely to say, hell yeah, I agree with you. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right right. 


Garrett Bucks: Right. But like in this case, other white heteronormative guys are going to be like, yeah, this is reverse racism and stuff like that, right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Garrett Bucks: That that’s the kind of commiseration we don’t need. What I do think is the kind of outreach that you do need is to colleagues from a wide range of backgrounds who, you know, are not going to just agree with you in this case, but say, hey, this is the situation. I’m open to the idea that this goes both ways. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I would caution this person from like doing it in a larger forum of people that you don’t necessarily trust because then it just like frames this other employee as the problem, which is part of probably what this person is pushing back against. Is this perception like because of who I am, because of my identity, I am the problem. So there might be a smaller like maybe it’s a manager, maybe it’s someone who’s lateral to you and you say, what are some ways that I can maybe work on this? I think that there is also maybe a tendency that someone might say, oh, well, why don’t you just go ask her how you can be more trustworthy? What do you think of that advice? 


Garrett Bucks: I would not jump to that. [laughs]


Anne Helen Petersen: I would not either. 


Garrett Bucks: Because again, it would just goes back to the previous conv— Well, first of all, I say just everything you just said about, yes, you should seek advice in places that don’t increase the level of dis-safety for the other person. Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: And if this is a workplace with no venues for that, no ombudsperson, no safe human resources shop, no boss you can trust, etc., then that’s one thing. But I hope that there’s something like that, someone you could trust who is going to not just tell you you’re right. But then the other piece, right? When you go to that other person and say, how can I make you like me? How can I make you trust me, Right? What that is communicating to the other person that their role in the workplace is solely to make you feel good about yourself, that your concerns, whether or not they are or not. Right. What I would want to know about a colleague who is new, who has a different experience or background from me is I would like to know about them. I would like to know about what makes them tick, about what their professional and personal experiences are previous to this space. What has been awesome about this? What have been not about that? What their hopes and dreams are for this job, what their hopes and dreams are for colleagues. And that does not have to be a single rid—


Anne Helen Petersen: Tell me about yourself [laughs] right? Like, let’s go to coffee and tell me about yourself. 


Garrett Bucks: But you all work intimately, right? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: You all work to get to this other person. And if you are only looking at sort of person one or what they’re thinking about me, that means that you are not naturally looking at another other person and wondering, I don’t know much about them. And when you shift back curiosity. Those moments to learn more about them are going to come up. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Like even if you’re just talking about previous work experience. Right. And they’re maybe describing a previous work environment that was kind of hostile. You’re like, that really sucks. I’m sorry that that happened. 


Garrett Bucks: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: That is a form of trust, right? Like, that is a form of trust building. And again, that’s a form of patience, too. But that’s what needs to happen here. Like, there is no fast solution for rebuilding broken trust because of lots of systemic shit. That is part of the work. The work is hard, but the work is hard because it’s worth doing. 


Garrett Bucks: 100%. As a white guy, I operate in a world where a lot of people I care about, a lot of people I admire, A lot of people I respect have been really, really hurt by folks like me. And none of those people in my life need a not all guys, not all men, not all white guys—[laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Garrett Bucks: —for me, none of those people need me necessarily in their life, but if I care about them right, and somebody that I care about enough to build trust with that, that’s because I’ve actually made a decision that this relationship either is one that I want to be important or that needs to be important for a specific reason, or that I’m really, really curious about. And if I’m curious about a relationship I have, I imagine it can be important. And what matters first is that and what matters first is what they need from friends, what they need from colleagues, what they need from my wife, a partner, and what matters. Second is whether or not they view me as being different from other people, from them or not. 


Anne Helen Petersen: That’s a great place for us to wrap up. [laughs] Garrett it has been such a pleasure having you on the podcast. I think we’re going to have you on again because we could talk for for a very long time about these sorts of questions. 


Garrett Bucks: There’s more white people out there? [laughter] 


Anne Helen Petersen: Where can people find you on the Internet if they want to hear more from you?


Garrett Bucks: The easiest to place is go to TheWhitePages.substack.com. My newsletter that I’ll also give you updates on new Barnraisers Project cohorts that are going to be starting in the fall, BarnraisersProject.org. I would love to have you join some of those. They are free on the frontend and very, very fun. The newsletters are fun read too. And you’ll also find out there about my book coming up next year. So it’d be great to connect. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Awesome. Thank you so much Garrett. 


Garrett Bucks: Thank you so much. This has been a pleasure. [music plays]


Anne Helen Petersen: Thanks so much for listening to Work Appropriate. We are working on a bunch of exciting episodes right now and we need your questions. We’ve got one on actually following through on DIY initiatives, one on your toughest, weirdest management questions. We’re going to try to stump Melissa Nightingale, who’s been our guest for our previous management editions. We have another episode on problems from people later in their careers. Think like late forties, aged 50 and up, and then one on the nitty gritty of getting a new job, like dealing with interview anxiety, negotiating pay, scoping out benefits, plus a really fun grab bag with your pettiest or most philosophical questions. Those are so many episodes. We need so many questions. So head to WorkAppropriate.com to tell us your quandaries. And just a general heads up that that link works best on desktop if you’re using your phone. You can also just email your question to workappropriate@crooked.com. Don’t forget to follow us @CrookedMedia on Instagram and Twitter for more original content hosts takeovers and other community events. You can also follow me on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen and you can sign up for my newsletter Culture Study AnneHelen.substack.com. And if you like the show, leave us a review on your podcast app of choice it really helps. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producer is Kendra James. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. [music plays] Next week is a much requested episode on tech and all the ways it’s failing its workers. Our guest is incredible and you will not want to miss it. Subscribe to Work Appropriate and we’ll see you next Wednesday.