“Hating people because of their color is wrong. It doesn’t matter which color does the hating. It’s just wrong.” – Muhammad Ali.
Nikki Lanier, the CEO of Harper Slade Racial Equity Advisor, provides a macroeconomic view of how racial inequality affects everybody, no matter their skin color. Nikki emphasizes the value of RAARE Woman Collective in advancing racial equity, especially for women. Elizabeth mentioned that the biggest impediment to black and brown economic mobility is how we experience racism at work. Take a moment to listen to this episode today and dig into this insightful conversation between Elizabeth Bachman and Nikki Lanier.
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How Black Women & White Women Can Work Together Against Racism
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My guest is Nikki Lanier, who is the Founder of the RAARE Collective, which is a way for Black and White women to work together to move against racism and inequity. Nikki’s official bio is extensive, so I’m going to give you a little bit of it here. Nikki Lanier is the CEO of Harper Slade, a racial equity advisory firm focused on helping organizations and communities advance equity for some who need it and equality for all. She’s an experienced leader with over 25 years of career achievements that span banking, labor and employment law, human resources, and government.
She’s been a Chief Human Resource officer in the private and the public sector in a multitude of disciplines. She has experience in managing operations in multiple sites and comprehensive approaches that effectively align human capital priorities with the overall organizational strategy. She’s been an executive management committee veteran with the Federal Reserve Bank, Philip Morris USA, Georgia Pacific, and Charter Schools USA, as well as many others.
One of the things I wanted to interview Nikki about from her Federal Reserve days is her macroeconomic view of racism and how racial inequality affects everybody no matter what the color of their skin. There’s so much more in her bio, but I want to get to the interview. Nikki, Lanier was fascinating. It took me pulling some strings to get her, so I’m glad. Let’s go on to the interview with Nikki Lanier.
Nikki Lanier, welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m honored to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.
You are so busy and you do so many things. I’m glad that you are giving me your time. Our pre-call and the other times I’ve heard you are fascinating. I have lots of things to ask you. The first question before we get into the policy stuff is, if you could interview somebody who’s no longer with us, who would it be, what would you ask them, and who should be listening?
I would have loved to spend time with Jesus to interview him, primarily because of my work and my orientation around the fundamental human-to-human engagement, how we think about valuing people who are different than we are, and the grace, love, and presumption of full humanity. The ardent guiding to new epiphanies, new ways to think, new ways to believe, new things to hope for in grace, he was masterful at that.
In spite of lots of folks who were assuming the worst of him, who questioned his integrity, impact, and whether he was who he said he was and knew full well that his destiny was to die. Either because of that or in spite of that, he worked to connect human beings with humanity in beautiful sincere ways. I would love to spend time asking questions about that level of conviction, commitment, and sincerity.
Everyone should listen to that interview. If I had the opportunity to do that, that’s something that all people could learn from, irrespective of religious leaning and orientations around religion. This idea of attaching to hope and promise and doing so through love is something that our world could stand much more of.
I love the way you talk about that because I always think about what would it have been like to be him, to be living there, or to be one of the people around him. I look at our political situation now in the US and how the establishment is pushing back against uppity people from the lower classes and uppity people from minority groups who want to take their equal place. It’s an old human pattern, and I’m not happy that we’re in it. Nikki, one of the reasons I wanted to interview you is because I’ve heard you speak. When we did our preliminary call, you had a unique take on how to think about the importance of advancing equality and equity, and what’s the urgency. Please talk to us about that.
It’s important for us to think about racial equity inside of a context other than the right thing to do and social justice. It’s nice to do. It’s hard to attach urgency to that, especially when we recognize that racial equity is de facto disruptive. It is counter-cultural to our norming. It is antithetical. It’s not how we live. We don’t live in a space that embraces the idea that Black and Brown people are equally human. We just don’t.
That’s manifested for hundreds and hundreds of years. What I know to be true, because of my background with the Federal Reserve and having spent some time studying this with those economists and others is that the Browning of the country, meaning by 2045, America will be decidedly Blacker and Browner.
Black and Hispanic people will make up the majority of our citizen body. What we know by way of monetary policymaking, i.e., that which is promulgated by the Federal Reserve and fiscal policy promulgated by Congress, both of those entities are very reliant on the health of the middle class to determine how policy is going to work.
The instruments and the modality that they rely upon and that they go to help determine how to think about policymaking presumes that whoever is the majority in the available workforce and/or the majority in the citizen body, at the very least, is represented in the middle class. In this current dispensation time, the middle class is anywhere between $60,000 to $120,000 income earners. With that strata, we know that Black and Hispanic households have never been meaningfully represented.
It’s going to be important that in as much as we are becoming the majority, we also be well-represented at least in the middle class, if not beyond the middle class and throughout the middle class. Not just button up against it and come into it at the entry-level, but well-represented throughout the entire strata. We also know that the biggest impediment to Black and Brown economic mobility is the way we experience racism at work.
That’s not the world according to Nikki. That’s been well-studied. I see the advancement and the accelerated and amplified activation of Black and Brown talent in America’s workforce and workplaces as the economic imperative of our lifetime. We only have 22 years between now and then. We have to fix that very quickly. That’s why I focus so intently on racial equity within the DEI construct.
What do you say then to those White allies who say, “I’d love to help but I don’t know what to do.” What can we do? On paper, I fit a DEI category, but I know that being White gives me advantages that people don’t see my disability. They don’t see my difference from the outside. It’s completely different. What would you say to someone like me who says, “I want to help. What can I do?”
I have two answers. What I would say corporately from inside of an employment context is first recognizing that racial inequity and racism structurally and behaviorally are already in the workplace. Many of us mistakenly and probably wantingly believe that if we erect enough training programs and write the most darling DEI policy, it won’t come in here. Inequity, unfairness, inequality, and racism won’t come in if we do enough stuff around it.
To that, I say it’s already there because it’s in the United States. It’s in the lifeblood of how we’ve been groomed and it’s part of our inheritance as human beings and certainly as human beings in the United States. It’s been so calcified. It’s almost unrecognizable because it’s so insidious. It’s part of how we think, act, talk, walk, vote, and everything about how we collide with other human beings. It’s already there. That’s the first thing I would say. Corporately, it’s important to first recognize that it is already there. What organizations can then do is think about the remediation of that differently. It’s different when you think about preventing something versus remediating something.
For our international audience, remediating means fixing it, doing something about it, and changing the balance. You have such wonderful words, but I want to make sure everybody understands you.
Thank you. You may have to stop me throughout to do that. Thank you for that.
I love that you think in big words. I’ll stop and translate from time to time. What do you mean by then doing something to fix the problem?
Recognizing that because it’s already here, the way that we train, the way that we set policy, the way that we think about what the Black and Brown experience must be at work with an understanding that your darker employees, of course, are experiencing racial inequity, racism, marginalization, being muted or silenced at work. They are being stifled and stereotyped. Of course, they are. Recognizing that’s already at play, the employer then can look at ways to unearth that.
“Let me find out where that’s happening and then address it.” Put a policy in place to make sure that we are capturing how that’s manifested, how that feels, when and where it shows up so that we can work our policy statements and our training statements, and our cultural integrity as a corporation around that norming versus believing it’s not even in here because we did a two-hour training, so we’re good. I think the latter is where a lot of others are.
My second answer to your question is in an individual capacity, the most important thing that we can do, especially White people interested in being useful in the racial equity advancing space, is to learn about what has uniquely happened to people of color. The structures, the laws, the impediments, the history of policy, and all that. For the entirety of the United States history, we have lived under various laws, policy statements, and practices that have fundamentally required that White people see Black and Brown people as less than human, as subhuman, and as not deserving of the full right or access rights.White people interested in being useful in the racial equity advancing space are to learn about what has uniquely happened to people of color. Click To Tweet
That’s why Jim Crow and slavery worked. That’s why redlining worked. That’s why we don’t have water in some of our Black and Brown communities. That’s why we have police brutality more often than not with Black and Brown people. The reason why those can live is, in my opinion, because we have a belief system that Black and Brown people aren’t human, don’t deserve more, and are victims of their own choices and circumstances. That’s an easy place to go if you don’t know about the laws and the policies that have given rise to keeping Black and Brown people inside of a very tight box so that there are fewer options that have always been able to be exercised.
Most White people believe, “You’ve had the same opportunities and you’ve had the same options as I’ve had.” Historically, there’s no evidence that’s anything close to that, but most of us don’t know it because we don’t teach it in schools. In an environment where CRT is banned for political whatever, we don’t teach it. We hear about it a little bit for Black History Month, but we don’t teach it. That’s important. Learning that is important.
My next question is then learning about it. I’m sure people and well-meaning allies think that they understand. We know that we cannot know for sure. What can we do on the ground? Thinking globally and acting locally. What can we do within our own sphere of influence?
I appreciate the push on this but I’m going to go back to what I said. It’s important that before the doing is manifest. Before we focus on the doing, we first orient ourselves around who we are, vis-a-vis this doctrine or this idea of racial equity sounds great. It sounds like, “I’ll be nice to Black people,” or “If I see somebody being called the N-word, I’ll say something. If there is a conversation that is happening in my neighborhood that seems to be focused on those people and I cannot believe that, then I’m going to intercede.”Manifest before we focus on the “doing”. We first Orient ourselves around who we are vis-a-vis this doctrine. Click To Tweet
All of that is a way but because we have so much, I keep saying calcified, but so much to chip away at how hardened this soil is around the idea of Black and Brown being equal to White and deserving of fixing what happened to us by way of equity. That’s how I define equity. Not only are we presumed to be equal, at the very least, but it’s also presumed that what happened to us, such that we have never been presumed equal, will now be fixed from a policy standpoint.
Wrapping our heads around that takes time. It takes a community of understanding. It takes choosing to be well-read, live inside of experiences that you haven’t before, worship inside of worship places that you haven’t before, and go to grocery stores and Black and Brown communities to see exactly what we are asked to buy.
I have been there.
It’s insane. Thinking about how I spend time understanding what is now the lifestyle and the lived experience of people who have only known generationally for centuries a narrative inside of their home country that says, “You are not equal to me.” That takes time. What I don’t want to rush is asking people to quickly advance racial equity without understanding racial inequity. What then happens, and you’ve mentioned this, is that at best, you can become a supporter of me, someone who respects me, or someone who wants to help me out. I am not necessarily looking to build allies among White people on racial equity. I’m looking for leadership.
Leadership comes from understanding that racism, this ideology, this doctrine, this mindset, this belief system has robbed you too. It affects me more acutely certainly, but no one has escaped the venom of racism. White people too, because it has robbed you from being able to operate in a more fuller economy. It has robbed you of being able to engage with people like me on the street without the noise of presuming, “What’s the narrative on this one?”
We don’t want to admit that, but we all do it. Racism has taught us that that’s what you’re supposed to do. We don’t know how to do anything differently. It’s also robbed us of the ability to imagine a world without it, which is probably the most damaging reality of racism. We are all losing and increasingly so, as we move into the demographic majority.
If we can’t become a part of the full American dream and access it through our efforts, preparedness, educational attainment, and professional acumen, if we can’t also access the fundamentals of how the economy works because the narrative is louder than my preparedness, we all lose. The economy loses. GDP loses. Our G7 footing loses. Our monetary policy frameworks lose. Our fiscal policy frameworks lose, and we’ll be living in apartheid. That’s an untenable state. I want to be an ally. I want you to lead.
Lead how? Nikki, I’m trying to give you an opening to talk about your amazing movement. You’re starting a movement. It’s called RAARE. I want to hear about it. We’re talking about it. I want to advertise it. Tell us what this is.
This is for White women specifically and for inclined White women who are interested and curious or want to know more about how to become racial equity leaders in every space they hold. The RAARE Woman Collective stands for Radical Action Advancing Racial Equity. It is a collective program coaching suite curated by Black women for White women so that White women can become confident, clear, convicted, and understanding of how to identify racism or racial inequity when they see it, what to do about it, how to correct and redirect it, while also not completely damaging the relationships that I’m holding. What we want is for women to be in this space, in their homes, in their workplaces, and in the community.
These are all very precious relationships. Relationships with your spouse, family, kids, coworkers, neighbors, and whomever. We don’t want you to blow those relationships up. To the extent that some of those may be the architects for how you see racial inequity unfolding in your life, and there’s a mindset that you need to help redirect. We want to show you how to do that gracefully with love in the same way that Jesus would, and focusing on real outcomes that reset the sentiment that gives rise to racial inequity. Not necessarily the manifestation of the thing.
RAARE Woman Collective launched in Louisville, Kentucky. We launched with a live event at the Historic Brown Hotel in Louisville. It’s three days of coaching, communing, coalescing, and amazing connection-making, all designed toward radically advancing racial equity. We’re inviting 200 women from all over the country who are coming to Louisville to start this work. There are lots and lots in store. I’d love to talk. Do I have time to talk about how the days will unfold?
What we’ll do is we’ll send people to the website. For those of you who are tuning in, the first one will take place in November 2023. If you’re tuning in to this afterward, still go look at the link on the website. I’m sure this is going to be the first of many of these, building this very important coalition.
For our audience and the people around the world, can we expand the view for a second? Racial inequity in America is the great wound of our history. It is the great bleeding wound of our history. If you are tuning in to this from another country and you see inequity around you, taking a leadership stance against inequity, what would that look like? Talk to me about concepts.
First of all, it starts with a belief system. Taking a leadership role and advancing racial equity is not unlike taking a leadership role in any transformational undertaking and any disruptive undertaking. It first requires a belief that it can happen and it can happen through you. On racial equity, as an example, whether you’re in the United States or not, believing that we can create a world where racism can’t live must be an unmovable fact for you. You have to know that and be unmoved by that.
Leading starts with a belief system that that is true. It starts with a decision that I’m going to start with me. Wherever I am, this idea of inequity cannot also be. The United States, agnostic, wherever you are, if you’re in your home, if you’re at a graduation party, if you’re at the physician’s office or the grocery store, if I am there, racism cannot also be here or inequity can’t also be here.
The belief and then the decision and then the investment. You have to invest in yourself to learn about the structures, impediments, and ways that racial inequity has lived in your home country or the country where you find yourself now, the city, the continent, or wherever. What has that looked like historically? What have I never had the chance to learn that I must know in order to be a credible source of leadership in the space?
We’ve been studying this for some time. Many of us have. I know I cannot know everything about what it is like to be in the world with a Black or Brown face or Asian eyes. I know I cannot know that, but I’ve tried. Knowing that I cannot know it, what’s the next step? What can I do? Is there a concrete action? I know I can’t know it completely, but just studying doesn’t change anything except maybe my attitude. If I want to help, how can I then do something that’s going to make a difference for somebody else instead of having it be just about my education?
Your education is important because as you’re doing that, it conveys sincerity and authenticity. In terms of doing, on the topic of racial equity, things like making decisions to buy Black and Brown for everything. Making a decision to amplify Black and Brown voices as an example, and I’m not suggesting that you do this, Elizabeth, but as an example, in the name of furthering racial equity, you might say your show will only feature Black and Brown voices for the next three years. That’s equity.
It feels exclusive because it’s supposed to. It’s supposed to remediate in terms of what has happened. What hasn’t been activated and amplified will absolutely be activated and amplified on my watch. That’s one way to do it. Focus on conversations with loved ones and asking questions, prompting the question, “In our family, why have we never talked about racial equity before? What do you guys think about it? How do we have those kinds of conversations?”
Being the spearhead of new thinking and awareness within the circles in which you run is huge. It’s huge being able to practice that. In some ways, it’s a safer place to start the navigation of those conversations because it’s family and they love you. That’s one way to do it. Thinking about paying attention to where else do I see the presumption that only the White voice or the White face or the White thinking or the White norms seem to be validated in this space that I can have influence over? Thinking about that.
An example of that would be one of the universities I’m thinking about in Kentucky that is desperate to get more Black and Brown student enrollment, but they don’t have any Black and Brown pictures of anyone on their walls. There’s no acknowledgment of the nuances and the secrecy. There are no Black people on the boards and there are no Black professors. I don’t think it’s hard for people to pay attention to that unless you pause to reflect on that or you have someone like you and other amazing people who are awakening to a sensitivity around this who can say, “I know what your issue is. I know you didn’t ask me. Let me tell you what I think is the problem versus Nikki having to do that.”
Those are some examples. Thinking about what I can do to make sure that Black and Brown economic mobility happens. What we get subject to more often than not is the stereotypes and the microaggressions, and those kinds of things that when we talk about them, it’s hard to have them received in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s whining.
Also, I can’t stress enough the importance of education. If you feel like you’re fairly well-educated on the laws and structures, then I would say pick five people for the remainder of this year to make sure that they are in your circle and are equally invested and equally oriented around at least what you know. Of course, tell folks about The RAARE Woman Collective.
What I love about the idea of The RAARE Women Collective is that it gives you a group to work with. Certainly, I know that working with women and having your group and your community do that with you is good. If you are someone who wants to be an ally like me who makes an effort to do this, how can we reach out without being perceived as being condescending? One of the reasons a lot of people don’t reach out is because they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing.
This is a great question, Elizabeth, and it is fundamental to why I created RAARE to begin with. It is a question that a lot of my White sisters grapple with and it’s a fair one. Here’s the deal. The reality is I don’t know. I can’t guarantee that there will be instances where you won’t get challenged around that. Historically, there has been what people call the White savior dynamic that I think many White women are trying not to fall into. It feels fairly easy to find yourself in that way, even with the most sincere and authentic desire.
One way to get out of that to help blunt the sting of that is to become educated on what specifically happened. I can’t stress that enough. I’m not talking about reading autobiographies about Black people who had done great things. I’m talking about taking it to statute, government, city government, ordinance, federal policy. Things like GI bills, and Social Security, how Black people were exempted from that for years. GI Bill can be that redlining how that worked. What were the lingering effects of Jim Crow and Sharecropping, the Black people’s relationship with banking in the Freedmen’s Bureau? What is all of that, and understanding that.
What tends to get tripped up is when White people bring their social norm and their understanding of how Black people ought to fix themselves, or their very top-line view on how to get themselves out of their own rut or how to fix their own rut, it sometimes feels like that. It’s received as a White savior. That’s one thing. The other thing, in fairness, is because I feel so deeply that this is not about allyship, this is about leadership, and I want White women to feel equally empowered to be mad at racism in the same way that I am. Even if you’re not impacted as directly as I am, it doesn’t mean you’re not impacted.
You have a right to be mad at it too. When you find something you are attached to that you’re singularly frustrated with and angry about, not because of what it’s doing to Nikki, but because in your own right, you attach a different approach to that. If it’s about helping me out as an ally to me, then it feels like it always has to be in deference to me. It always has to be checked over by me. It always has to be evaluated before you try it out to make sure it’s right.
I think that understanding how to reorient the way that we sit our brain and thinking about leading of racial equity and tandem Black women, White women moving this way, not Black women doing this. Black and White women are doing this thing. We’re marching forward together. That’s an important reset of the norming around how to be useful as racial equity leaders.Reorient how we sit our brain, think about eating racial equity, and tandem black and white women marching for racial equity together. Click To Tweet
One other thing I will say to our wonderful audience is if you’re within an organization and in a position to hire or promote, pay attention to the pipeline. Pay attention to recruiting people of color. If they don’t walk in with the degree and the skills, help them train. Help them learn. Help groom people for leadership positions.
One of the sayings from years ago, Michelle Obama said, but she has been saying this for years, is if you get through the door, turn around and hold it open for the next person. We have to make sure that there is a next person there. If you’re in a position, make an effort to reach outside the easy circles and look for someone who would be an interesting candidate or an interesting board member with ideas. A friend of mine worked in a law office. She wasn’t a lawyer herself. They were hiring a new partner. She said, “Did you even look at the Black Lawyers Association in town?” Her boss said, “The what? Is there such a thing?” Make an effort to find the people who will bring diverse voices.
Realize that is what it will take. You have to step outside of your life. Most White people, you have to step outside of your life to experience, collide with, and engage with people who are different from you. That’s definitely important. It’s also important to recognize what environment are Black and Brown people coming into.
I’ve probably had eighteen different jobs during my career before I went out on my own. Seventeen of them were fairly inhospitable, not in ridiculous ways. Just the norming of how society works. They don’t contemplate the way that Black and Brown people walk, talk, sit, stand, the way that we laugh, and how we express ourselves.
All of this feels threatening and unprofessional. If your environment can’t contemplate how I show up, because even with that, what I also know about myself is that I’m brilliant and that I’m super smart and impactful and I know the strategy. I know a lot about the law and HR. I know a lot about things that can help an organization move forward. I’m also wrapped in Black norming.
If you’ve not had any collision, any experience with Black norming prior to coming to work or in your lived experience, how you grew up, the neighborhoods, your Boy and Girl Scout troops, who your parents took you out to dinner with. You just do not have regular collisions with Black and Brown people until you get to work. Nikki is going to be extraordinarily difficult for you to navigate. Not because of me. It’s not that I need a mentor. It’s just that you’re not accustomed to how I show up because you’ve never seen me on a day-to-day basis. That’s important too.
That’s something that I think your RAARE Collective will help with. Spending three days together, learning about each other. When you see someone as a person instead of a stereotype, that can make a huge difference. Nikki Lanier, this has been fascinating. I’m going to have to bring you back a year from now and say, “Where are we? What’s happening?” and get the update. Thank you so much for taking time out from your very busy day to be a guest.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth.
It’s been a delight. If you enjoyed this conversation, please tell your friends, share it, and leave a review on Apple Podcast. That’s the one that people count. I’ll see you on the next one.
- The RAARE Collective
- Harper Slade
- Nikki Lanier – LinkedIn
- Apple Podcast – Speakers Who Get Results
About Nikki Lanier
Nikki Lanier is the CEO of Harper Slade, a racial equity advisory firm focused on helping organizations and communities advance / equity for some / and equality for all. An experienced leader with over 25 years of career achievements that span Banking, Labor and Employment Law, Collective Bargaining, Human Resources, and State Government.
A Private and Public Sector CHRO adept in a multitude of HR disciplines, Nikki is experienced in managing multi-site operations and employing comprehensive approaches that effectively align human capital priorities with the overall organizational strategy.
Nikki is a collaborative leader who is skilled in building synergetic teams in multi-cultural and cross-functional environments.