The Courage to Show Up: A Response from Susan Davis

I was very excited to be part of Riverside’s dialogue with Brené Brown and DeRay McKesson, “Courage to Show Up.” It was billed in a way that invited our open-hearted curiosity:
“What can a research professor and a Black Lives Matter activist teach us about how to have hard conversations? What does talking about courage, shame, and vulnerability have to do with race and privilege?  Following their viral twitter exchange, bestselling author Brené Brown and community activist DeRay McKesson come together for a live conversation on how we summon the courage to show up for those moments that can make a real difference in our lives and our world.”
I wholeheartedly agree that we had lots to learn from this candid and honest dialogue. There were so many great questions asked and provocative ideas raised: Is Power like pizza? Or is it something different? Why does Joy require vulnerability? Why is empathy the antidote to shame?
This Riverside dialogue has given Middle Church’s Racial Healing Task Force a great kickstart for us to talk about at our next meeting. Many of our members participated or watched on the Livestream. We immediately pulled out favorite questions or ideas to offer our group on email.
One compelling point was about DeRay saying that he gets Brené’s point to empathize with white people’s pain and listen but he said that “white people take up so much space,” e.g. talking too long, not having sensitivity to everyone in the room and sharing the space. Brene asked in turn, “Where does that come from?” We have all witnessed this. So how do we change it? Brene observed that maybe it was because of her privilege but she confronts it head on. The trick is doing it a kind way. She most regrets moments in life when she was unkind. I found myself in agreement.
Another friend told us how she’d wanted DeRay to be mayor of Baltimore, and said: “yet I’m glad he’s still out there doing this significant ongoing work, expanding the conversation. Many points were made, especially about keeping the focus on what an equitable society would look like, and not only on dismantling what we have currently created. And on joy and positivity – so easy to forget, becoming bitter and cynical.”
Another member responded and said “I liked what he said about how some people say their hearts are in the right place, and yet they keep their distance and aren’t there when it counts. He was talking about allies vs. accomplices.”
But I keep wondering about what white people do after our consciousness is raised and we understand our privilege in a world where white supremacy still exists. I loved DeRay and Brene’s exchange on this fundamental question: “What’s next?” I loved them grappling with the question of how we make visible that which is invisible especially when seeing it is an invitation to feel pain. And I heard that I need to ask more questions and listen more to everyone’s stories and perspectives. I can’t dehumanize, shame or ridicule anyone, however clever-sounding and tempting given our political times.
Ultimately we must tackle not only conscious bias but also our unconscious bias. The best news is that fortunately neuroscience has shown that we can change our brains. I know it’s not easy but, for example, I find practical optimism in the approach of Be More America to hack unconscious bias.
And as Brené and DeRay concluded on a hopeful note: “man-made systems” that were created by some of us can be changed by all of us. And we can do it joyfully and from an authentic wholehearted place of love. As Brené quipped “giving up beer was easier than giving up my righteousness” but I know that this is a much needed step in bridging our divides.

Susan Davis is an adjunct professor and advisor at NYU. Her work focuses on social entrepreneurship.

Click here to follow Susan on twitter.

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