The Courage to Show Up: A Response from Anurag Gupta

Journey to Belonging

On February 1 I was honored to observe Brené Brown and DeRay McKesson engage in a dialogue on courage, vulnerability, and joy. There were three things that surprised me most about the event. First, Ms. Brown’s honest and direct inquiry into the topic of racial bias. Many would say that talking about racial bias so openly would be professional suicide for someone of her following. But she did not shy away from the topic, rather embraced it in the universe of human emotions that she has committed most of her life investigating – shame, vulnerability, trauma, and belonging. Second, Mr. McKesson’s seamless skillfulness in interrogating why we have had such little racial progress in terms of social, economic, and political outcomes for communities of color, and returning the conversation to race even when it drifted away to other human identities. Third, Ms. Brown’s candor and Mr. McKesson’s skill crystallized a central question that we all ought to ask if we are to truly imagine a beloved community in our nation: how do you make something that (1) is invisible and (2) people do not want to see, visible to people?

In particular, Ms. Brown and Mr. McKesson were speaking about making visible the causes and effects of conscious and unconscious racial biases on individuals and groups marked as non-white in our society, for example inequalities in education, health, criminal justice, and political participation. I heard that question to mean, how do you support people in feeling the discomfort that accompanies feeling an injustice? How do you hold the pain, the anger, the disappointment, even the guilt that would accompany knowing such truths of our society? And how do we hold such emotions when there is no one person to blame?

Like the panelists, I have interrogated this question for almost a decade. While I don’t have the answer, I do have an answer: make the conversation shame-free. For the last four years, my social enterprise BE MORE America has trained over 10,000 professionals from all political persuasions on hacking racial bias. Much like Ms. Brown said, we have noticed time and time again that acknowledging, respecting, and validating the pain of our learners helps us inform them about the root causes and impacts of racial bias in their industry. For example, a senior doctor once shared a painful experience where a patient referred to her with a racial slur in front of her colleagues. She said, “all these years I have been carrying the pain of no one speaking up for me at that moment.” And then she went on to ask, “what stopped me from standing up from myself? I guess a part of me also bought into the patient’s lie about my inferiority.” This is her work of overcoming internalized bias so she can truly unleash her full potential. Yet, it required that we removed shame – that “I am inherently bad” as Ms. Brown defines it – from our perceptual frame so she could ask the question.

The dialogue has left me very hopeful and optimistic. In one of his many inspirational moments, Mr. McKesson said that the society he dreams of – where all people feel like they belong– has never existed. I believe asking the right question, as the panelists skillfully did, is the first step in creating a nation where all people belong.

Anurag Gupta is is the Founder & CEO of BE MORE, a social enterprise that employs proven in-person and online training programs to eradicate bias in key industries to save lives, improve top line performance and reduce billions of dollars of wasted costs. He is also a licensed attorney, an academic researcher, and a mindfulness expert.

Click here to follow Anu on twitter.

Click here to return to the list of responses to The Courage to Show Up.