Tag Archives: #equity

Mother Loss

My heart has been heavy this week. I thought the goblins and ghouls that sneak into my thoughts more easily near the full moon were poking me into this ‘hot loneliness’. Then, at the Chill and Still yoga class, I quieted down enough to understand it was Mother Loss, awakened by Mother’s Day. June marks fourteen years since my mother passed on to her next realm. I had not been thinking about her, which is why I missed the deeper source of my grief and malaise.

Instead, my thoughts had been on two friends and mothers who passed away within months of my father’s death in 1996. This remembrance was sparked by seeing two rose bushes I planted, one for each, in full bloom. I carefully cut some sprigs to mix in a bouquet — honoring them and mi Mamy Isabel, who doted on her rosas.

Meg died first, the cancer that had stalked her for a few years finally snaking into her brain one month after attending my father’s funeral. She had desired motherhood for many years and finally adopted Natalie, who was about seven years old, a rambunctious girl who must be in her early forties now. I hope she has the same spirited approach to life that stretched Meg’s reticent personality to its limits and beyond. Natalie lost two moms and I wonder if she feels the heaviness I do around this time of year. Meg sent me a card many years ago with a quote by Adrienne Rich that nestles in one of my drawer:

An honorable human relationship – that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word ‘love’ — is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation. It is important to do this because in so doing we do justice to our own complexity. It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.

These words she gifted me have set a high bar in my life and I don’t regret that. I am even more honored she read these words and thought of me. It gave value to a word used too easily and with no thought of its amazing power. Love is a verb and this quote has reminded me of that through the years thanks to Meg. She is nodding quietly at this, a slight smile playing on her face. She was one of very few white friends over the years who did not decide one day, with no dialogue or clear explanation, to unfriend me before that became a thing on FaceBook. She went that hard way with me.

Willa was a force of power and grace who I met at Alameda County Child Protective Services. Her nails were long and her heart was as wide as the Pacific Ocean. After losing her first husband, she had found love again and her son joined an older daughter. Willa died because of the elitism system of health care when the Richmond Kaiser “standby” emergency room was not equipped to deal with her life-threatening illness, a classic case of structural racism. This poem emerged while in my MFA program.

Willa, Willa, Willa
You died too young
left your children too young
your oldest daughter an orphan
her father a Jonestown casualty

what can she use for hope now
what can help her know justice
when her father drinks cyanide for breakfast
on an island he flew to for community

when her mother’s heartbeat fluttered one last time
en route to a second hospital
the hospital she first drove to
had shut its emergency room down

greedy, racist economics killed you, Willa
heart that overflowed in kindness
black body that could not hold the pain
that ate your nerves as you drove that night
drained your adrenals down to empty

you could have lived
to tuck your children into bed
could have laughed that deep joy into the world
for days and weeks and years

if the world loved your people

you are with me when I wear shades indoors
when I grow my fingernails long
your spirit hovered as I watched my babies grow
beyond the age of your son at your death
past your daughter’s age at your death

you are in me when I rail against hate and ignorance
that deprives black and brown women of dignity and health care

Willa, Willa, Willa
Your name means desire and protection
May your strength rain down upon us all

These three mothers made an indelible mark on my soul and on my mothering. My mother never used the word ‘love’, but that did not stop me from learning what I could from how she tended her garden and embracing love, amor, y cariño in my mothering. I take no day for granted with my twins, and am committed to doing justice to the complexity of motherhood.


One Size Does Not Fit All

The Cuddy power pose has been circulating amid folks and is one of the most watched TED talks. It sits into my “One Size Fits All” (OSFA ) file. This is the file that carries the motivation to be writing my coaching/motivational books, the ones that say “One Size does Not Fit All”. The books that contain the challenges and successes of the many people I have coached over the years because they chose to embrace their non-status quo size and create the frameworks and tools that match their life, especially in terms of dealing with interpersonal and societal oppression on a daily basis.

While the Cuddy pose may have some value, nowhere in the talk or book does Ann Cuddy address what happens when women and people of color show their power in a system that is set up to minimize and distort our power. We do not live on a level playing field and the world responds differently to our power posing. I work with my coaching clients on both presence AND taking into account the social, political, psychological, and economic impact of oppression. I read Cuddy’s book Presence because an African-American male client wanted to work with it. I then infused our conversations with the lens of the current state of racism he faces daily and how to notice and manage his particular presence in a corporate setting with very few people of color. Some of the initial questions I asked to enhance the book content were:
When did you feel most present in last two weeks (confident and enthusiastic)?
When this happens, what are the demographics in room? (Race/gender/rank/other variables?)

These are not in the book because OSFA books and speakers don’t worry about the stereotype of being a black man or even a small Latina woman with a big aura. He is magnified and I am diminished. In each instant we feel the privileged folks asking us to be the size that brings them comfort and a sense of supremacy. One of the quiet ways this happens is restaurant seating. Once I saw this, I added yet another habit of scanning the restaurant and deciding where I wanted to sit. If the person directed me to a location I did not like, I voiced my preference. I often tell them before they say anything so I don’t have to experience the ‘ouch’.

The power pose requires time in the bathroom posing in a stall before a big meeting or event. I don’t choose to spend time in bathrooms to pose when societal limitations descend. I might spend half my life in the bathroom! I do, however, see restrooms as a refuge, but not to pose. I smile at my reflection instead — I am real, I am enough, I am loved, and I am powerful. “I see you” is my message. That is my power – inside me all the time. Another question I posed to my client was:
What are adjectives that define your power (to)?

While I absolutely agree with taking up appropriate space, that is not going to look the same for each person depending on your blend of historically privileged and not privileged identities and your environment. While Cuddy says the ‘imposter experience’ is experienced across all types of people (and I agree), my work with POC and women confirm it manifests differently and more profoundly for these groups because society is telling us we don’t deserve to be successful and powerful. As a black man, my added question to my client on this phenomena was:
How to you experience the imposter phenomena and how does the combination of ‘black’ and ‘man’ make it particularly challenging?

Interestingly enough, the value of the power pose has been challenged even without the lens of equity being considered. Even in the discounting of it, no mention is made of who was studied and who was not.

The issue about OSFA writers is that people like Ann Cuddy or Ariana Huffington in her book Thrive get the benefit of the doubt with no credible science or awareness of differences in power. I read Thrive as a possible comp for my books, and noted she quoted hundreds of people, mostly white and mostly men, which seems antithetical to her positioning as a powerful woman. Sometimes a page had no less than 8 quotes -with very little original material.

The focus with my client was to use the notion of presence to get at what I have seen over the years build relaxed confidence. In addition to the ones I have already shared, these are questions to answer to understand your authentic power and internalize the external power pose idea without having to stand like superman/woman/girl/person in a bathroom stall.

Take one a day and explore your authentic power to be your brightest, most amazing self.

What are two personal inner core values?
Why are they core and when was a time it proved to be important to you?
When did you recently feel present and saw that someone else became more present because of your relaxed confidence and attentiveness?
How do you capture moments/situations when you feel personally powerful, in control of your own psychological state?
What has personal power revealed to you about your best self?
What body postures do you manifest that signifies power or powerlessness?
What is your ‘haka’ – where is your ‘belonging place’ and what you do that demonstrates pride in your heritage? How do you reconnect to your spiritual/heart strength?