In this episode, Allie and Michelle identify how allyship is just as much about unlearning certain thoughts, behaviors, and mindsets as it is about learning new ones.

Episode Transcript:

Announcer:
Welcome to the Underrepresented in Tech Podcast, hosted by Michelle Frechette and Allie Nimmons. Underrepresented in Tech is a free database built with the goal of helping people find new opportunities in WordPress and tech overall.

Michelle Frechette:
Hi, Allie.

Allie Nimmons:
Hi Michelle. How are you today?

Michelle Frechette:
I’m good. How are you?

Allie Nimmons:
I’m great. Glad it’s Friday. We’ve got a three day weekend. Well, some of us probably, maybe not everyone listening, but here in the US most people have a three day weekend ahead of us. Good stuff.

Michelle Frechette:
I don’t, but that’s okay.

Allie Nimmons:
Oh, no! Well, it’s interesting.

Michelle Frechette:
I’m not sure about that most thing.

Allie Nimmons:
It’s interesting too, because I find out of all the three day weekend holidays, I find this one to be borderline the most problematic, because Monday is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, which is a day that many companies and people take off. Banks are close and whatnot to honor, celebrate Martin Luther King, which is cool and great, but it ties back into what we talked about a couple months ago about holidays and being tone deaf and stuff of… I was in a thrift stores, I was in a Goodwill earlier this week, and they were like, “Oh, we’re slashing all our prices and having a big sale for Martin Luther King Day.” And I’m like, why? What a bizarre…

Michelle Frechette:
I don’t think that was his dream.

Allie Nimmons:
I guess he wants people to have affordable clothes, but it just seemed a weird excuse of we’re going to take this super important American figure in racial history and use him to push product. It always hits me wrong. I appreciate the extra day that I get to have off, but I always feel weird about it, where it’s like, what is this accomplishing? That’s not the topic for today, but it’s like…

Michelle Frechette:
Wait until next month when we have Presidents Day, and it’s traditionally when people have the white sale, meaning linens. I mean, it’s funny, right? It’s funny that we’re looking at George Washington, we’re looking at the Founding Fathers, if you will, and they’re these white dudes who own slaves. We’re incredibly problematic in a lot of ways. We have a white sale. We don’t call it linen sale. We don’t call it bedding sale. It’s called the white sale on the whites holiday of the year. We’ll talk about that. We’re going to throw these. And all year long, you’re going to hear our funny little celebration.
But today, I wanted to talk about unlearning racism. Over the last I’m going to say a couple of years, we’ve been doing this over a year now, over the last couple of years, we’ve been talking a lot about allyship. Allie has a great workshop on allyship. Make a note to put the link to that workshop in the show notes because it’s a phenomenal workshop.

Allie Nimmons:
Don’t have my super clicky keyboard today, unfortunately, but I’ll make a note. Well, I overemphasized the clickiness.

Michelle Frechette:
I heard it though. I heard it. Allyship, we talk about allyship a lot. As a white person, for sure, I work every day on my allyship. Last week we had a good laugh about the fact that my silly fibromyalgia brain substituted the word picnic for cookout when we talked about being invited to the cookout, right? Just little things like that.

Allie Nimmons:
Which for the record, I didn’t specify last week, you are definitely invited to the picnics/cookout, Michelle.

Michelle Frechette:
I’ve been waiting for my invitation forever.

Allie Nimmons:
You are 1,000% invited to the cookout. There is a spot for you. We’ve made space. I fixed you a plate. You’re good to go.

Michelle Frechette:
I’ll bring my famous baked beans. I’ll contribute. Thank you.

Allie Nimmons:
Learning moment. For people who might not understand this joke, because it just occurred to me that we might have listers who may not understand the joke.

Michelle Frechette:
Why don’t you explain it?

Allie Nimmons:
Yeah. In particularly Southern Black American culture, although there are cookouts at both as well, Black families will often throw cookouts or parties where you barbecue. You hang out outside and you cook food and you drink and you have a good time. It’s usually for the family or very close friends of the family. If you’re invited to the cookout, it means you can hang. We like you enough to bring you into the fold.
It’s like this honor of like if you’re a white person or a non-Black person who if you are “invited to the cookout,” it means we trust you, you’re cool, you’re fine, you can come hang with us sort of a thing. It occurred to me that that’s such a ubiquitous thing here, but other people may not understand what it means.

Michelle Frechette:
True.

Allie Nimmons:
That’s what it means, which is why it was cute when Michelle said picnic.

Michelle Frechette:
The white girl used the wrong word for the invite. Anyway.

Allie Nimmons:
Okay, back on topic.

Michelle Frechette:
Back on topic. Seriously though, allyship is something that you don’t just learn it in two hours and then good, I’m done. I’m an ally now, right? It’s a lifelong journey, because society and community doesn’t just stop. It’s like, well, we’re good now. We’re going to hold in place. Everything morphs. Just as learning, learning doesn’t stop. I do build Legos and I built a really cool set. Allie can see it behind me. It’s an orchid set recently. But I learned different tools on that build that haven’t been in any of my other builds, different pieces, different parts. You can say I know how to build Legos, but I didn’t know how to assemble that one.
I needed instructions to do it. No matter what you’re learning and what you’re striving to do and be in life, if you stop and stagnate, you’re not going to get any better. Learning is a lifelong journey. Becoming an ally and being an ally is a lifelong journey. It’s great to say, “I’m an ally,” but I like to think I’m becoming an ally. I am, but I’m always doing better. I’m becoming a better ally, excuse me. But becoming an ally doesn’t just mean learning things. It also means unlearning things. I was having a conversation with a person at work this week who is BIPOC in the queer community and they were talking to me about…
We’re talking together and I said something about unlearning racism, because there are things that happen in my own family that I recognize it when I see it and I don’t perpetuate it, but I still make mental notes to unlearn those things as they come. A family member, recently there was a restaurant fire not too far away and they used a really derogatory term and asked me if… Basically used a derogatory term for arson that has anti anti-Semitic roots. I just looked at them and I said, “We don’t call it that. If you want to say arson, say arson. We’re not going to equate it to anti-Semitism or any race or ethnicity when we talk about somebody burning down their establishment for insurance money.”
That was the moment when I thought, I am constantly unlearning the racism that I grew up with. Were my parents blatant racists? No, they weren’t. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t racist roots in our family growing up in white America especially. Thinking about some of those terminologies that you have to remove from your vocabulary, thinking about the ways that you interact with people, the ways that you can approach strangers, those kinds of things that happen in your life, it’s not just learning how to do better, it’s unlearning the things that are ingrained in you from childhood.
I thought that would be a good topic because it really dovetails well with all the work that you’ve been doing in allyship or we’ve been doing, but specifically with the courses and training that you’ve done and the podcast, Underrepresented in Tech, everything we stand for, it isn’t just about learning to be an ally, but it’s this dual process of learning to do better, but also unlearning those things that are inherent in who you are from the point where you could learn to talk and you were learning from the elders in your family and your community.

Allie Nimmons:
It’s incredibly important because you can’t not do that because then you start to have conflicting beliefs, conflicting ideas, conflicting practices, where it’s like, okay, if you’re going to hold on to everything that you learned and everything that you were brought up with, when you start to learn new things, you’re going to encounter conflict. That’s going to make it confusing and painful and difficult. But I mean, learning any new thing, if we’re just looking at allyship objectively as a skill, when you’re learning any new thing, you have to be able to admit when you are wrong about something. You can’t hold onto every single thing that you’ve learned.
I don’t know. To me, it’s one of those things where it seems so obvious. Despite I’ve created a content and created courses and stuff like that about teaching other people to be allies, but I’m always learning to be a better ally. I have privileges of my own, I have biases of my own that I’ve learned that I have to unlearn. To me, it seems obvious that for me to learn how to support you in ways that we are different, or for me to learn how to support other people in ways that we are different, I have to unlearn. I mean, still she’s lost a significant amount.
When I was growing up, my mother was overweight and she had a lot of negative things to say about that, about her own body, about other women’s bodies that she would see. I grew up with this fat phobic rhetoric in my head. I don’t think that at any point I was fully fat phobic, like I hate fat people or fat people or this or that, whatever.

Michelle Frechette:
I’ll never hire a fat person, any of those kinds of things.

Allie Nimmons:
Right, but there are assumptions, there are judgments, there are all of these biases, particularly in I was going to say western society, but I think it’s somewhat universal that we judge people based on body type. Those are things that I’m consistently unlearning. When we started the podcast, there was an episode where you talked about not being afraid of the word fat. If somebody calls you fat, that’s like a fact. And that blew my mind where I was like, I would never call you fat because I’ve been trying to unlearn this fat phobia, but it’s a different way of accepting and appreciating the body that you have.
It’s constantly re-evaluating, re-identifying, recalculating based off of external input that I can learn and internalize. The other thing is we are in this vastly changing period of society where so many things are being redefined and we’re having all of these big conversations. That means that sometimes day-to-day things can change. Day-to-day you realize, okay, well, something that I learned a while ago is no longer applicable, so I have to recalculate and reevaluate. That can be difficult, and that can be hard, and that can be time consuming. But like you said, it’s not a one and done thing. It’s a lifestyle, if you want to put it that way.
It’s something that you have to continue up with for the rest of your time that you want to be an ally. There’s different landscapes of like, okay, well, am I learning about this for my own personal self-growth? Am I learning about this for hiring purposes and managing other people in a professional space? There’s overlap, but there’s also different areas. I think that regardless of where you are in that kind of spectrum of what you are learning for, there’s always opportunity to do better. And that always starts with saying, okay, well, what do I have to let go of to make room for a stronger information, the better information, the more correct information?
There has to be some humility in that. In my experience, that is what people struggle with the most, is the humility of saying, “What I know is wrong and I’m going to acknowledge that and put that to the side and take in the new information.”

Michelle Frechette:
Exactly. In the journey of learning, there’s things that you discover as you become more and more an ally. I want to say it was back in maybe 2011, which feels like it was yesterday, but it was a really long time ago now. But when I was on the school board, I attended a conference, the New York State School Boards Convention. It’s just like a WordCamp. You didn’t have to sign up for which rooms you’re going to go listen to or which talks, so you could just wander in and out and see which ones stuck with you. I saw one about how to support students in the LGBTQ community. I was like, I want to learn how to do better in this, and I want to see how can I help our district support students, things like that.
I was woefully undereducated about the LGBTQ community at the time. I’ve done a really good job, I think, of learning more and becoming an ally there too. But back in the early 2000s, we used the word tolerance a lot. You were gay tolerant, or you were tolerant of the LGBTQ community. And that was seen as a positive thing. I sit down in this session, and there was maybe 20 people, so it was a very small attended session, and the two people who were running it were external to the state school board. Most of the people who were presenting were New York State School Board members.
Just like WordPress people, you apply to speak within your own community. Well, they had specifically sought people who could teach us better than we could teach ourselves, which I thought was great. There’s these two people who get up and they say, “How many people here feel like they’re already tolerant of the LGBTQ community?” And all of our hands went up. Nobody’s going to sit there and go, “I’m not tolerant.” They said, “And you think that’s a good thing, right?” And everybody’s like, yeah, that’s a good thing. They said, “Do you want to be tolerated?” And we all look at each other like holy shit.
I want to be embraced for who I am. I want to be welcomed for who I am. I don’t want to be tolerated. As soon as you put that back on yourself, do you want to be tolerated, that means that people don’t like me and they just tolerate me. They just put up with me. And that was like this huge paradigm shift. I don’t even remember everything else that went on in that thing because my mind was blown about just the use of words. At the time, tolerance kind of was akin to people who really thought that they were allies. At the time, tolerance was akin to allyship.
It’s not to say that people who considered themselves tolerant were putting up with, but the terminology meant a huge deal to people within the community that were being tolerated. I’ll never forget the impact. I think we’ve mentioned it before. It’s pervasive in this unlearning, because you could still think that you’ve done really well in the past, and that was part of your journey to getting better, is what I’m trying to say, because you unlearn things like being tolerant to welcoming and embracing people for who they are.

Allie Nimmons:
I think we might have talked about this because I think I remember following up with… We talk, you and I, so sometimes I forget what we’ve talked about.

Michelle Frechette:
Was it on a podcast or not?

Allie Nimmons:
Because I think it’s also a good grounding anecdote, you said the word tolerance, it always makes me think of the show Queer Eye. It was Queer Eye For The Straight Guy in the ’90s and now the reboot is Queer Eye, and the first iteration was all about tolerance. That was their whole spiel. That was the tagline of the show or whatever is creating tolerance. I was too young to really watch that when it was out originally, but I’ve religiously watched the reboot. They’ve said on the show, the first show was about tolerance. The show is about acceptance. They addressed that sort of, right, like we were in a period of time where the next step from all out hatred was tolerance.
Okay, we got there. The next step now is embracing and inclusion and acceptance and all of those things. That’s also I think another way to look at it in terms of these are journeys that various subsets of people have had to go through, queer people in this country, Black people in this country, even women in this country, right?

Michelle Frechette:
Absolutely.

Allie Nimmons:
There are spaces in which women had to fight to be tolerated in schools, hospitals, bare essentials. And then once we can be tolerated, we can work toward going above and beyond that. But you’re totally right. There are so many people who grew up with that mindset and have to unlearn it in order to move forward in the world and do better in the world. It’s important to note too that, okay, if you’re going to unlearn something today, if you’re going to unlearn idea A and replace it with idea B, there might be a time in the near distant future where you have to unlearn Idea B and learn idea C, right?
I always think about how words and terminologies change. We used to call Black people coloreds and Negroes, and now you do not say those words. We go with African American or Black. I mean, even Black I think is kind of falling out of use and more people prefer African American. It’s going to always be changing. I think once you embrace and accept those things, it makes it so much easier to move forward gracefully as an ally.

Michelle Frechette:
Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s not just us changing, it’s society changes, like you said at the beginning. I love her music, but I also just love Lizzo. Lizzo is not only a Black woman who is like claving her place in the world. She’s a woman of size, a BBW, a fat person. My mother always used to say Rubenesque or voluptuous.

Allie Nimmons:
I’m sure Lizzo would love all those words.

Michelle Frechette:
For sure. But I love the acceptance that she has created just through TikTok and things like that for all of the things that she is and the people that fit those different things. She’s created clothing that are inclusive of sizes and just so much. To be able to see somebody like Lizzo take the stage. Does she suffer the slings and arrows of a million people and take a ton of negativity? She does. But I swear to God, that woman goes shields up. Before she takes the stage it’s like, bring it on. It’s just going to be repelled, because I know who I am. I know my energy.” I don’t know.
She may go home and have her moments of tears and things like that, I certainly would, but she is just somebody that I admire tremendously because of how she has moved things forward. I think that there are people we look at over time, like Martin Luther King Jr. There are people we can look at over time and see how the needle gets moved just by them putting into the world the things that they do. For anybody listening, I’m not saying Lizzo is the same as Martin Luther King Jr., but she certainly has done for plus size women, for Black women, for women in general, she’s moved the needle a lot for us. I’m as grateful for people like her.

Allie Nimmons:
I think what they both have in common is radical acceptance, of demanding acceptance, demanding love, being intolerant of intolerance.

Michelle Frechette:
Yes. Yes. That’s a really good way to put it. And not accepting. I don’t demand that people respect me, but I won’t accept when they don’t. There’s a difference. You can come at me. I don’t care. You can attack me however you want. I’m just like, your opinion doesn’t matter. I know who I am, and I’m secure within who I am. I think I’ve mentioned before, the person who said to me, a really slender, athletic person said to me, I don’t know, maybe 15 years ago, “How is it, Michelle, that you are the size that you are and are as confident as you are?” I looked at her and I said, “Why shouldn’t I be?”
She completely started to backpedal, but she, honestly, from a place of fit, athletic, white privilege did not understand how a person as large as I am could be confident didn’t make sense to her. I just turned right back and I said, “Am I less intelligent? Do I have less to share? Am I less creative? No, I’m just less athletic.”

Allie Nimmons:
We should unpack that one day in a show. I hate when people say that. I hate when people are like, “Oh, I wish I had your confidence, or you’re so brave for being X, Y, Z,” or whatever. Because I’ve thought about it so much, there’s a degree to which I can understand the thought of like I admire that you choose to be confident despite how much input you might be getting to challenge that. That is something I feel about you. I always appreciate how you choose to be confident.
You choose to be positive. There are so many people who have or don’t have what society tells them they should or should not have and it really gets to them. It is delightful when you meet someone who’s just like, “I don’t give a crap,” like Lizzo, like you, but I can’t stand the… What’s the word? Not pedantic.

Michelle Frechette:
No, but it’s like putting somebody on a pedestal just because of who they are. I had a blog once upon a time called The Daily Bedhead. I woke up one morning, my hair was crazy. I looked in the mirror and I had this weird thing going on. It was like, oh my God, it reminded me of A Flock Of Seagulls, the band from the ’80s, which if you’re really young and don’t know, Google it. I took a picture in the mirror of this really crazy bedhead and I posted it to Facebook and I said, “Does this mean I could be in Flock Of Seagulls?”
A couple people laughed at it, but at least seven or eight people, I can’t remember now, it’s so long ago, but at least seven or eight people were like, “Wow, you’re so brave to put that on Facebook.” I’m like it’s messy hair. There’s no bravery in it. Brave to me is a firefighter running into a burning building to save a child. That’s bravery. Things that I consider brave.

Allie Nimmons:
It’s such a bizarre display of priorities as well. It almost says more about the person saying it, because it’s like, okay, the person saying that you were braver doing that is basically saying, “I would never do that. I could never do that.” It’s like, why? Why not? What’s the big deal? It’s interesting. The woman that said the first thing to you about your confidence is it’s like, okay, are you, meaning her, are you only confident because society tells you you can be because you’re thin? Your confidence doesn’t come from within you, it comes from outside of you. When you see someone whose confidence comes from within, that’s confusing to you. That’s interesting.

Michelle Frechette:
That makes sense, yeah. That is very interesting. All of this just to say that I love that people are learning and growing, but don’t forget to unlearn some of the things that we grew up with, that we were ingrained with. You at 30 something, me at 50 something, we grew up with different things. We grew up in different areas. We grew up with different societal demands. I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s. It was an incredibly different world than it is in the ’90s and early 2000s. I know my daughter is your age, so I could say I know those things because I watched her go through it.
But we all have those things. Whatever it is that you grew up with, there’s things to unlearn as you move forward to learn too. It’s almost like you have to. It’s a ship that’s trying to get to a better place, but forgets to lift their anchor. You have to lift your anchor to move forward because it’s just going to drag you if you don’t.

Allie Nimmons:
That’s good. I’m going to put that on a t-shirt.

Michelle Frechette:
I like it. I know. I’m like, ooh. A rising tide lift sailboats, but only if you lift the anchor.

Allie Nimmons:
Only if you lift your anchor. I love that. All right, on that high note.

Michelle Frechette:
We’ll see everybody next week.

Allie Nimmons:
We’ll see everyone next week.

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This episode was sponsored by the following companies, YIKES, Inc. YIKES, Inc. is a collaborative, results driven Philadelphia based WordPress agency dedicated to sustainable business practices. If you’re interested in sponsoring an episode using our database, or just want to say hi, go to underrepresentedintech.com. See you next week.