Race in America – Podcast

diverse group of people in group therapy
By LifeStance Health on July 13, 2020

Dwight Thompson (00:00):
Hi, welcome to Reset Your Mindset by LifeStance Health. Myself, Dwight Thompson, and my cohost, Nicholette Leanza will bring you conversations with leading LifeStance health professionals, who will help guide you on your journey to positive mental health and wellbeing. At LifeStance, we believe in the three pillars of mental health. Mental flexibility, mindfulness, and resilience. Welcome, everyone. Today, we are joined by a panel of four individuals to talk about a topic that has been visceral throughout our nation over the last couple of weeks, and truly, over several 100 years. Today, we are really fortunate, because we are each individuals coming at this from a unique perspective, and from different backgrounds, to talk about race in America, and the sense of divide and unrest that a lot of the nation is feeling right now.
Dwight Thompson (01:04):
We’re joined by myself, Dwight Thompson, Nikki Leanza, my cohost. And then, we have Kim Hardy coming as a first-time guest. And we are really, really thankful that you joined us today, Kim. And then, a returned guest, Dr. Omer Elhag, who we are always very grateful for your time. Dr. Kim, we are really happy that you’ve joined us today. Before we get started chatting with one another over this, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself?
Dr. Kim Hardy (01:32):
Sure. I’m a mental health therapist with PsychBC. I work out of our Avon, Ohio location. I’ve been with the organization for about four years, and I’m also an IOP facilitator, and that’s about it.
Dwight Thompson (01:49):
Well, yes. We’re really happy to have you. You’re definitely a phenomenal asset at the organization. And with that being said-
Dr. Kim Hardy (01:58):
Thank you.
Dwight Thompson (01:58):
… during your time here, you have a unique perspective. You are an African-American female that is working with all of your patients. And I’m sure that you’re hearing a lot of discussion, and concerns stemming from what happened in Minnesota a few weeks ago. What are your thoughts about all of this?
Dr. Kim Hardy (02:20):
Well, I think that it’s super sad. It definitely leaves me reflecting on who I am as a black female, as well as being empathetic and compassionate to the views of other people right now.
Dwight Thompson (02:43):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Dr. Kim Hardy (02:44):
So, I’m just trying to remain open.
Dwight Thompson (02:47):
Sure. Yeah. That piece of empathy is really important right now. Nikki, what about you?
Nicholettei Leanza (02:55):
Sharing my thoughts as well. It’s deeply sad about the events. But also, the growth and the positivity that can come from this as well. People are protesting, people are angry, but that’s not necessarily a negative thing, you guys. People are talking about this. This is a movement. We want to keep this going. We don’t want it just to be, “Yes, it was on the news cycle for a while. And now it’s old news, and we’re going to the next thing.” I think the critical thing is that I keep hearing from people is like, “Taking action, keeping the conversations going with this.” And I think that’s key right there. For sure.
Dwight Thompson (03:32):
Yeah. I mean, we’ve alluded on this podcast in prior times, how impactful the human race can be when we are challenged. We’ve obviously faced a lot of challenges throughout 2020, up to this point. We had talked about COVID-19, and when our backs are up against the wall, sometimes that is when action is sort of spurred and you’re right. There’s an opportunity for a lot of growth from what happened. Omar, what are your thoughts?
Dr. Omer Elhag (04:06):
It’s just very interesting when you’re talking about what we went through in 2020. And there is an interesting theme in my mind when I think about COVID-19, and the killing of George Floyd. Both made people have difficulty breathing, and it’s really both have uncovered the disparity and lack of understanding that we have in our society. And it has opened opportunities for us to learn more about each other, about ourselves, about our biases, about what really makes us one nation, and what can separate us, and help us, hopefully, find a way forward. So, there is always going to be a silver lining in whatever we go through.
Nicholettei Leanza (05:05):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well put, Omar.
Dwight Thompson (05:06):
Yeah. Very well put. Very well put.
Nicholettei Leanza (05:08):
Dwight, what about you? Tell us your thoughts on this.
Dwight Thompson (05:13):
It’s redundant, but sad. My first response is, very hurt, very saddened. Disappointed, also. There is a theme with what happened to George Floyd that has been a reoccurring instance in our country for quite some time. And I think that although this is something that happened recently, in some ways, it sort of felt like this was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back. This is something that our nation has been dealing with for several 100 years. This is nothing new, which is one of the most disappointing parts about the whole thing is, we have been facing this for so long as a nation. And although I am feeling hopeful from some of the reaction I have seen pouring out all across … Not even just our country, but the world in support of Black Lives has been very moving.
Dwight Thompson (06:10):
Especially as a person of color myself, it’s been really refreshing to see people that do not look like myself speaking up, and also, having a visceral response to what happened. And that visceral response is what’s needed. That’s what’s appropriate. I do see a lot of possibilities for growth, that we are stepping towards. But overall, yeah. I’ve been a mixture of emotion. It’s been everything from very sad to, very hopeful, to frustrated. And I know that I’m not the only one that shares those sentiments. I know that everyone is-
Nicholettei Leanza (06:43):
I know.
Dwight Thompson (06:43):
… feeling the variety of emotion.
Nicholettei Leanza (06:45):
Dwight Thompson (06:46):
And I think that’s okay right now.
Nicholettei Leanza (06:47):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Omer Elhag (06:47):
True. And I just want to say something that really struck me while listening to you, Dwight. You said, redundant. Well, redundant is okay now, because I think we need to suspend our bias, and to allow each one of us to talk, and allow ourselves to listen, so that’s okay to actually have the redundancy, because that enforces the collective experience of a lot of us, and enforces that we need to listen. So, if you feel like you’re repeating what you’ve said before, or you’re repeating what somebody else has said, or feels, that’s okay. And I think you also mentioned something really important. Having a lot of different emotions. And I think that’s what I’m actually trying to work through with my patients and everybody I’m talking to about this. Yes, we will have a lot of different emotions, and it’s very difficult to singularly identify one or two, and that it’s okay to have all of them at once, or at different times. I don’t know. I mean, what do you think, Kim?
Dr. Kim Hardy (07:59):
No, I think you’re right. And it’s funny, because I just said that to someone earlier. I said, “It’s okay to have those emotions. Acknowledge them, and try and reflect on them, because it’s not going to be so easy to identify what emotion is what, in the moment.” I mean, these are very deep, very layered emotions and thoughts that’s happening right now to everyone, to most people. I can’t speak for everyone. I like to believe that some are impacted. Some may not be by what’s happening in the world right now. What is happening, when we feel it for ourselves, or we recognize it, and we empathize with others … It’s important to feel it. To feel it, and try and figure out what it is, and not have this knee jerk reaction to what’s happening.
Dwight Thompson (08:59):
I appreciate the words from both you, Omar and Kim. The thing that we all four already mentioned is, listening. And that is where … In my judgment, where the growth that we are talking about, and the possibility for change, and bridging the gap that is … While we’re recognizing our emotions, and being realistic, it’s also important to recognize that there is a gap, in a lot of ways, in our nation. And that gap really is the first step to bridging it, is having dialogue like we’re having right now-
Nicholettei Leanza (09:35):
Yep. Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dwight Thompson (09:36):
… listening to people that … Kim, you said, you don’t want to speak for people that aren’t impacted by maybe some of these situations. Listening to those who have been impacted is really where we start to see a change. And I think that we have done a solid job of doing that as [inaudible 00:09:56] That dialogue is just so important.
Nicholettei Leanza (09:59):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Kim Hardy (09:59):
Nicholettei Leanza (10:00):
So, what else guys? So, it’s dialogue, yes. What else can we do to continue to bridge this gap? This divide?
Dwight Thompson (10:09):
Well, I think when you hear, divide, the first thing that sort of comes to mind is, that implies that there’s two sides. And-
Nicholettei Leanza (10:16):
Dwight Thompson (10:16):
… I think that right now, a large part of the conversation right now has been supporting Black Lives, while also supporting our first responders, who try so often to do their job, and protect, and serve. And in some sense, it does feel as if when you’re supporting one side, quote unquote, in this, that you are stepping on the other side. And that is just not the case. You can be supportive of two things at once. I’m certainly saying that as a person of color, I know how mad I am and how angry I am. And I also recognize how deep and layered the distrust is at times between people of color and first responders. But what I also recognize is that there’s work to be done on both sides, to bridge the gap that lies. And I just think that this dialogue that we’re having is important because, you can recognize someone else’s perspective while also understanding that they are not just defending a side, to step on another side. Both things can be true at the same time.
Nicholettei Leanza (11:28):
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Agree.
Dr. Omer Elhag (11:31):
I agree. And I mean, I think you remind me of something the judge who presided over the ceremony of my citizenship a couple of years ago. And he said something that really stayed with me. He said that we always refer to America as a melting pot. And he said, in his view, that was wrong, because a melting pot means everybody is the same, and everybody has the same color, the same texture, the same background. And he said that we are actually like a stew, where we each have our own story, background, texture, color, flavor. And that the collective of all of us is what makes America the country that we all have dreamt of before coming here, and have lived in since coming here. And I think there is something that I think it has been talked about in the past decade, or so, about, “Well, we need to be a colorblind society.” I think that is just really the wrong way to do. We should actually be very well aware of our differences, and celebrate them, and nurture them-
Nicholettei Leanza (13:06):
I agree.
Dr. Omer Elhag (13:06):
And learn from them, because we’re not the same.
Nicholettei Leanza (13:09):
Dr. Omer Elhag (13:10):
Look at us. I mean, the four of us. We each have her and his own background life experience, set of values, a set of dreams. But we’re still sitting around this table, virtual table, and recording this podcast about such am intricate and delicate topic. Each one of us is bringing her, and his own perspective. And it doesn’t have to be all the same perspective.
Nicholettei Leanza (13:39):
Dr. Omer Elhag (13:39):
And I think that’s what we need to kind of help move the conversation that yes, we are different, and it’s okay to be different, and we can be different together.
Nicholettei Leanza (13:49):
Yes. Yes.
Dwight Thompson (13:50):
Dr. Omer Elhag (13:50):
We don’t have to be either all the same-
Nicholettei Leanza (13:53):
Dr. Omer Elhag (13:53):
.. or different and separate.
Nicholettei Leanza (13:54):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dwight Thompson (13:55):
Dr. Omer Elhag (13:56):
And being different and separate does not mean that we’re not equal, and that we’re getting not just equality, but equitability, and access to care, and access to [inaudible 00:00:14:07], help, to finances, to a lot of things that … I mean, the protestors, they’re not just protesting about that. They’re protesting about so many other things. These are … Like what Dwight said, it’s just the last straw that broke the camel’s back. But there’s [crosstalk 00:14:24]
Dr. Kim Hardy (14:24):
That’s interesting, because I don’t think it’s a last straw. I think has been very systemic.
Dwight Thompson (14:29):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Nicholettei Leanza (14:30):
Oh, good point.
Dr. Kim Hardy (14:31):
It’s been very systemic.
Dr. Omer Elhag (14:32):
[crosstalk 00:14:32].
Dr. Kim Hardy (14:32):
[crosstalk 00:14:34].
Nicholettei Leanza (14:32):
Dr. Kim Hardy (14:34):
And that has-
Dwight Thompson (14:35):
With what?
Dr. Kim Hardy (14:37):
… contributed to discrimination, that has allowed it to stay alive in this country for so long. And that pushes that divide. That makes it very difficult for us to close that gap, and to appreciate one another’s values, and beliefs, and differences, and cultures. And say, for example, when someone calls in to a place of business, and they have a different accent, and the person can’t understand them, then it’s that type of systemic discrimination where they’re like, “Well, why don’t they just learn the language? They have to learn the language. They’re not from here.”
Dwight Thompson (15:22):
Dr. Kim Hardy (15:22):
We benefit from embracing their differences, and learning about them, and not insisting that people know who we are, and melting in that pot, [crosstalk 00:15:33] I think that was part of what that judge was saying. It’s about the differences.
Nicholettei Leanza (15:38):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dwight Thompson (15:38):
Nicholettei Leanza (15:39):
And I think it’s-
Dwight Thompson (15:40):
Yeah, I couldn’t have put it any better.
Nicholettei Leanza (15:42):
… Think it’s so important too, because often, where do we learn our biases? Where do we learn our prejudices? Often, [inaudible 00:15:49] is, we’re taught it, you’re shown it, right? Our families, society, we see it inadvertently all over through the media, right? And I think it’s so critical that if a person can recognize, even in the culture of their family, if it was a bias towards black people, for Jewish people, but to jump away from that, and to try to see it from a broader picture, to educate yourself, to purposely go and learn more about different cultures.
Dwight Thompson (16:15):
Nicholettei Leanza (16:16):
To understand, to seek to understanding, to educate yourself, and not continue just to kind of fall under the guise of this, the bias and the stereotypes.
Dr. Kim Hardy (16:26):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dwight Thompson (16:26):
Nicholettei Leanza (16:26):
Feel very strongly about that, for sure.
Dwight Thompson (16:28):
Right. Absolutely. I think that alludes to Omar’s point of … We don’t need to be colorblind.
Nicholettei Leanza (16:32):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dwight Thompson (16:33):
It is so important for us to recognize our differences. Otherwise, we’re being naive. Kim, you said something that I’d like to touch on when you brought up the protesting. The conversation is so much bigger than obviously we have the time for here today, but we can certainly share our perspective and share our insight. And when you bring up the systematic racism, that is very real in this nation. You’re right. The protesting may … It has picked up in a result of what happened in Minnesota to George Floyd. But this is something that has been building throughout people of color for several years. And they are protesting that. When we talk about the protests, I would love to get your perspective on that topic. A lot of what I have heard in regards to the protesting and the quote unquote, “Rioting,” has been so negative. And there has certainly been some forms of protesting that have been destructive in some ways, from a physical standpoint, perhaps.
Dwight Thompson (17:40):
However, the first thing that I take away when I am watching people marching in the streets, and even people rioting, is that I like to understand why someone is doing what they’re doing. Not necessarily the result of what they’re doing, but when you have the compassion, and you are recognizing why someone is acting the way they are, I think it sort of gives you a new perspective. I think people are at times not able to harness their anger that they feel from what happened, and it results in rioting. And that is coming from a place of hurt. It’s coming from a place of pain. It’s coming from a place of frustration, and feeling like no one is listening. And I think that is the way for some folks to be heard. That’s just something that I have sort of been pondering. And I’m just interested to see and hear what you guys have to say.
Dr. Kim Hardy (18:33):
Yeah. I think it can come from a place of oppression as well. It’s interesting, because when we were talking about all the different prejudices and biases that people have, I was thinking. I said, “Well, that’s kind of interesting because a lot of times, it’s not so explicit. It’s not so on the surface.” And even when people … Say, for example, with the protest, when people are talking to me … I have friends and family. They’ll call and say, “Hey, have you seen the riots?” And I’m like, “The riots or the protests? What exactly are you referencing?” And I feel myself getting upset and frustrated, because they’re referencing it as riots, versus seeing the need and the necessity to protest.
Dr. Kim Hardy (19:28):
And I believe that if we begin to recognize those smaller things … Not even smaller things, the bigger things, the level of having to protest and understand what’s coming from that. The anger, the frustration, the oppression, the feeling like we don’t have a voice, and I have a voice, and the murders, and the hurt, and the pain, and everything that goes along with that, that has been so systemic. I think at that point, we can stop and recognize that these actions of others are guiding us to question it. So, like you said earlier, ask those questions, and not simply make these presumptions and assumptions that it is a riot, and it’s being done to simply be violent or, take advantage of businesses, and wreck them. And there’s so much more that underneath that.
Dr. Omer Elhag (20:26):
Right. I could not agree more. And I think I just want to dovetail to what Nikki said. It’s like, we’re not born racist or prejudiced. We get taught. And I think it’s such a tragic event can present an amazing opportunity of intense understanding and education, because in the end, we all do need each other. As black, white, native Americans, of all the races and the ethnicities and the religions, the socioeconomic backgrounds, the sexual orientations, all the things that separate us, and makes us unique as human beings, we need to all of that to move forward, because I think if we can use the pain, and the anger, and the angst that this has generated, and re-triggered, to actually educate and create allies. That’s going to advance the cause of the healing. And something that Dwight mentioned earlier is that the composition of the protests is different than what they were after the Rodney King murder in the ’80s. They are different than what they were in, in, in Selma.
Dr. Omer Elhag (22:03):
So, I think, yes, it is painful to have to go through this. But I also think that we are moving forward. It’s not just black people, or brown people protesting, you have people from all ages, all backgrounds, all colors of their skins protesting hand in hand, because in the end, I think racism affect all of us.
Dr. Kim Hardy (22:28):
Oh, for sure it does.
Dwight Thompson (22:29):
Nicholettei Leanza (22:29):
Dr. Omer Elhag (22:29):
It does affect all of us. And when you are discriminated against, in the end it’s going to affect me too.
Dr. Kim Hardy (22:36):
Dwight Thompson (22:36):
Dr. Omer Elhag (22:37):
We all do actually benefit when we address racism.
Dr. Kim Hardy (22:41):
Oh, for sure.
Dr. Omer Elhag (22:42):
And that’s one of the things that when we talk about our differences … Talking about that is going to actually help us move forward. And you said something really stuck in my mind, Dwight. It’s like agreeing with both sides does not make you a hypocrite, or not belonging to both sides. I mean, you can agree with both sides, and actually be the bridge that they might need to have this conversation.
Nicholettei Leanza (23:16):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dwight Thompson (23:16):
Yep. Yeah.
Nicholettei Leanza (23:16):
Dr. Kim Hardy (23:17):
Yeah. So, I do believe that sometimes, when there are biases and prejudices that exist, that’s an opportunity to address that. And to ask those questions. I consider myself very confrontational in a healthy way. So, when people are doing something that I’m uncomfortable with, or if I recognize it, I will say something. I’ll be like, “Oh, [crosstalk 00:23:48]?” Or, “Is that an issue?” Or, “Is there something you want to do about it?” Because sometimes, people want to sit with that and they’re okay with being who they are, and that’s fine. Hey, do you, but at the same time, if there’s something that they want to change … Then, I’m open to having that dialogue with them, and trying to help them change by answering any questions I can about who I am, or who they are.
Nicholettei Leanza (24:16):
And I agree with you, Kim. For sure. Of speaking up. One of the things I try to impart to my children is, if you see something speak up. If you’re seeing someone being racist, or saying something just very offensive, say something, speak up, talk back against that. Don’t just let it slide. You’re contributing by not saying it. Even though I know you don’t agree with it, but you need to speak up and say something about that. And I think that’s truly we continue to help move society forward when we’re each speaking up. And sending it back down when we see it.
Dr. Kim Hardy (24:50):
And doing it in a healthy and a safe way though, because-
Nicholettei Leanza (24:53):
Dwight Thompson (24:54):
Nicholettei Leanza (24:54):
Dr. Kim Hardy (24:55):
[crosstalk 00:24:55] Where they’re putting theirself in danger, or hurt, or [crosstalk 00:24:59] staying in a safe, healthy setting absolutely is something that can be addressed and probably communicated in a healthy way, and open up that bridge to dialoguing.
Nicholettei Leanza (25:12):
For sure.
Dwight Thompson (25:12):
And Kim, I commend you for providing that safe space for people to have that dialogue with you, to recognize the things that they’d like to change, because that’s easier said than done.
Dr. Kim Hardy (25:23):
All good.
Dwight Thompson (25:26):
You providing someone the space to evolve, and talk through their thought processes, that’s very important. So, I commend you for providing that space.
Dr. Omer Elhag (25:39):
[crosstalk 00:25:39]
Dr. Kim Hardy (25:39):
It’s not always done in therapy. This is something-
Dwight Thompson (25:41):
Dr. Kim Hardy (25:43):
… I do out and about as well.
Dwight Thompson (25:43):
Yeah, right.
Dr. Kim Hardy (25:44):
If there’s something that I see that’s not right, and not okay … I do check my setting. I do check my environment before I do speak up, or how I’m going to speak up. I still speak up. But how I speak up is what’s important. I don’t want to be loud and angry, but I am very straightforward about what I see.
Nicholettei Leanza (26:07):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dwight Thompson (26:07):
Nicholettei Leanza (26:15):
Dwight, may I jump in? I understand you’ve had some interesting conversations that I think would be really cool for you to share. I wanted to give you the moment to tell us a little bit about some of the conversations you’ve been having.
Dwight Thompson (26:30):
Yeah. This dialogue piece really is somewhere where I think everyone can start. I think when you look at this big picture, this issue that is so massive, it’s hard to sort of maybe navigate, “Well, where do I lie in the solution?” And it all starts with dialogue. So, I have spent a lot of time trying to have some introspection, and look at what types of conversations can I have that will be impactful? And that also people might be with individuals that have a different perspective than I do. I was actually taking the time to speak with some law enforcement officials about this issue throughout the years. And when I have, my biggest take away is that people, when they’re sitting down with you to listen, it’s hard to sort of leave your biases at the door, and truly get yourself into a space to not be defensive. It’s really harder to do than one might think. But when I’m talking with … Law enforcement officials is a great example, because that’s a conversation that’s been important to me as a young man of color.
Dwight Thompson (27:57):
I have witnessed, firsthand, the distrust at times that lies within the black community and police. But that’s not … Doesn’t get fixed overnight. And it also doesn’t get fixed without conversation. And so, I have found that sharing, being candid about why our fears are what they are when we see law enforcement officials at times, hearing from law enforcement officials, what their anxieties are, and what their fear comes from. I just think that there’s so much room for sharing perspective. And until you are forced to listen and understand someone else’s perspective, you can’t be expected to understand where one is coming from, as we all have different backgrounds. All four of us we’ve … I think, alluded to … We are all four, just so different with so significantly different backgrounds. And how else are we going to learn about those backgrounds other than having a dialogue?
Nicholettei Leanza (28:55):
Right. I agree.
Dwight Thompson (29:04):
These conversations bring up, I think, a lot of different feelings. And some of them are uncomfortable. These are difficult conversations. Omar, can you give us any insight into some of the emotions, and some of the feelings that you recognize when we’re having these types of discussions?
Dr. Omer Elhag (29:20):
Absolutely. I mean, we talked about anger, sadness, hurt, being misunderstood. And I think also, there was the insecurities that fuel a lot of this, including racism and supremacy. We generally try to act as better somebody else when we are insecure about ourselves, when we are confident about who we are, what we do. We don’t need to actually show supremacy or prejudice towards others. And I think, to have that part of the conversation, it’s going to be very helpful, because I think then … Similar to what you were talking about, Dwight, approaching law enforcement and police officers. They might have their own insecurities, and that’s why they might act the way that they do act. And I’m not talking about excusing the heinous act that anyone does, but understanding that will build the bridge, and understanding the insecurities, and the fears that underlie all of that can actually be a key to help us build the bridge on feeling secure. And feeling secure actually require me feeling safe.
Nicholettei Leanza (30:47):
Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dwight Thompson (30:47):
Dr. Omer Elhag (30:49):
And it goes both ways.
Nicholettei Leanza (30:52):
Omar, well put. I couldn’t say it better than myself. Thank you. Very poignant, what you just shared. And I want to thank everyone for this just wonderful, amazing-
Dwight Thompson (31:01):
Nicholettei Leanza (31:01):
… conversation. It’s so important. The discussions of these topics is so crucial, to continue to move us forward on these types of issues.
Dwight Thompson (31:11):
I agree. I just want to echo that. Thank you for joining, and having this … We’ll call it like it is. This is a difficult conversation. It’s a conversation that brings up a lot of emotion. I know, from a personal standpoint, that I will continue to do, to try to be a part of the solution. And it’s very clear that everyone in this discussion wants to be part of the solution. And we’re taking it one step at a time. So, I very much appreciate you guys joining.
Dr. Kim Hardy (31:42):
Thank you.
Dr. Omer Elhag (31:44):
Thank you, guys. This has been a wonderful podcast.
Nicholettei Leanza (31:47):
Take care.
Dr. Kim Hardy (31:48):
Thank you.
Nicholettei Leanza (31:48):
Dwight Thompson (31:50):
On behalf of the LifeStance team, we are unified to fight for those impacted by racial inequality. We stand with Black Lives Matter. We will continue to do our part to support those impacted by injustice. And we sincerely thank you for listening.