July 13, 2020 | our foundations
radio interview with DJ Rome on Psychotic Bump School #133.3
We had the privilege and opportunity to chat with DJ Rome on his radio segment, Psychotic Bump School, about how and/now came to be, how we met back in 2015, and how we’re making sense of police brutality and COVID-19 within the racial justice and healing space.
Transcript of the conversation has been slightly shortened, though we did keep the transcript as close a mirror to our original conversation, which means a lot of run on sentences. Enjoy!
DJ ROME: The name of this program is Psychotic Bump School. My name is DJ Rome. And I am very excited about these next two guests. So, ladies and gentlemen, as you know, during the times of this pandemic, a lot of people in the mental health world and education world and all types of disciplines have taken upon themselves to build some new resources that will meet this moment in time and address the needs of the community. As it stands, right now we’re facing racism; we’re facing brutality; we’re facing a pandemic; we’re facing a shortage of employment. All kinds of things are pressing down upon us right now, and there are varying degrees of access to support, to meet this moment in time. I have two guests here who are doing just that. And I’m here to have them share with us their very new platform. It’s called the AND/NOW Collective. So let me go first to our returning champ. She’s a co-founder and a clinical psychologist. She bridges the borders between Atlanta, GA and Oakland, CA, y’all. Oh, but you can’t take the West Coast out of the woman even though the woman’s out of the West Coast. Ask her what her preference is — she ain’t gonna hesitate. She is a clinical psychologist and she’s been here before so ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back to Psychotic Bump School, the good sister, Dr. Dena Scott. Dr. Scott, are you there?
DENA: I am here and it is such a privilege and pleasure to be here again with you, Rome.
DJ ROME: Oh, well, fantastic. You’ve been very busy with our next guest and your partner. She’s also a co-founder and lead equity practitioner out of LA. And she’s got a nice little extensive resume that ranges from LA to the Bay Area to New York City, working in the respective fields of youth justice and restorative practices, as well as inclusivity and equity. She’s a lifelong learner, a graduate of Columbia University, as well as the UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies program. So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome for the very first time to Psychotic Bump School, Miss Connie Chiu! Miss Chiu, are you there?
CONNIE: Yes, I am so excited to be here. Thanks for having us!
DJ ROME: Welcome on aboard. So ladies, how in the world did you come together? Who first wants to share with the audience of Psychotic Bump School — what is the AND/NOW Collective.
DENA: There are so many layers to this project. First and foremost, I want to give credit to Connie for pushing this forward in a way where we weren’t just talking about doing, but we made it happen. And she definitely made it happen. Thinking about AND/NOW is really thinking about our journeys when it comes to both of our professions, and the fact that our professions aren’t just about the work, but really, our hearts’ work. And we talk about this a lot.
We had the privilege of meeting five years ago, when we were working together as senior administrators at an independent school. And immediately, I was just drawn to Connie because of her extreme passion when it came to looking at everything in a very complex, justice oriented lens because that was what drew me into the field of psychology. For me, there’s been so much of, I would say, karma that has come back to, “Hey, what do you feel like you need to do, Dena? What do you feel is really going to push forward some of your heart’s work?” With AND/NOW, I feel like Connie has actually helped me to see everything come to fruition in a way that I had hoped for a long time.
She has a lot to contribute to this conversation, but for me as a clinical psychologist, I got into the field because of my own childhood trauma. I’ve seen so much of the need for healing when it comes to my community — the Black community — and how it doesn’t just connect to one family but also a larger system. So everything that I did in my journey to becoming a psychologist was really about connecting those pieces to a larger system. And again, just five years ago, Connie and I met, and the rest is history.
DJ ROME: How about that — talk about seeking collective rising. Connie, how well does that match your description about how all of this came together? What was it like for you?
CONNIE: If y’all could see me right now, I am smiling so big and cheesin’ because Dena has really been a light for me even when we first met five years ago. I was in a new environment trying to push for equity and justice in a predominantly white institution, so I spent a lot of time in Dena’s office. We were both like, “What is going on? How can you make real change?” Dena is someone that I look to and she’s shed so much wisdom and light. I’m so grateful to be in this space with her.
It’s funny — I’ve been telling a lot of people that AND/NOW was half by accident and half by design. Dena and I have always been in conversations about equity and justice in the space of healing — one cannot exist without the other. Probably two months ago, we started talking to different organizations, individuals, and companies who were like, “We don’t know how to heal. We don’t know how to move forward with the racial injustice and racial violence that’s happening.” So Dena and I dived in and we grew together, and it really did feel like our hearts’ work was coming to fruition.
What’s so exciting about AND/NOW is that the mission is so ambitious because what we’re trying to do is to manifest this concept of collectivism in a nation that is so steeped in individualism, and to be able to do so, we all have to reckon with how race and racism has really structured our past, our present, and our future systems. We have to reckon with how insidious, how painful and frightening all of it is. And more importantly, we all have to heal, especially as people of color, as Black, Latinx, Asian, Indigenous, multiracial communities. We have to heal. That’s something that Dena and I have talked about five years ago and continue to talk now — how it’s so crucial to the equity and justice work.
DJ ROME: Isn’t it amazing that what I’ve said frequently on this show — I’m a psychologist as well — that in many ways, I was made for this moment because there has been so much of a need for people to heal. You may not necessarily be able to access therapy in a conventional sense of what we’ve used therapy to be, in terms of being able to heal and to better understand the social unrest that’s happening in the country right now, and talk about it in a safe space. Tell us about some of the more recent events like the George Floyd protests, the pandemic we’re in the midst of — what can you tell us in terms of specifics as to how you see meeting this moment? How has coronavirus and George Floyd protests about police brutality impacted the respective communities that you serve during the course of your work?
CONNIE: What we try to do at AND/NOW is to center race and center racialized experiences from communities of color. And as we know, with George Floyd, with COVID, with even tracing it further back, there is systemic racism running as a throughline across all of these different aspects. So part of AND/NOW is calling for a reckoning with race and racism to go hand in hand with healing. It’s thinking about racial trauma and racial hurt as rooted within a structure where it’s so much deeper than feelings of “being offended” or being excluded. It’s about our rootedness in the history of this particular country, and examining the pattern of how and where the trauma comes from. So what we’ve been really mindful and conscious of doing is trying to interlock justice and healing by centering race and centering the experiences of people of color.
One of the things that we’ve been doing to meet the community’s needs in the different spaces we’ve been able to support is helping people name racial trauma as a structure. Whether it’s movement within Black Lives Matter, whether it’s within the global pandemic — the trauma, the pain, the despair, the sadness, the anger — all of those emotions and pain are emerging out of racial hurt and trauma, whether it’s direct violence, microaggressions, racial slurs. What we’ve been naming is that these emotions and these pain — they are inherited; they are intergenerational; they are un-reckoned with; they’re erased or minimized by the dominant culture and mainstream curriculum; they’re ongoing and long lasting, as if there isn’t a sense of escape or an ending that feels hopeful yet. So naming the trauma as a structure, as systemic the way that racism is systemic, that naming has really started to give us hope for the window that we can create in helping both communities of color heal and push, but also for white communities or for people in power structures to really think about how to leverage the momentum that is happening right now to continue pushing.
DJ ROME: We do need to continue pushing. Connie, during this time, the leadership in this country has inappropriately ascribed the coronavirus to a part of the world, Wuhan, China. And so as a result or as a direct aggregate of that, there’s been increased violence and racism against Asian Americans. Are you able to articulate ways in which Asian Americans have been impacted during this time?
CONNIE: Asian Americans — if we were to look at the formation of the Asian American identity within this country, it’s often gone under the radar where we are either hypervisible or completely invisible and erased, and with the xenophobia that has come out of coronavirus, and people in power conflating a lot of racial slurs with fear and othering, there has been an uptick and a rise in violence against Asian Americans wherever they may be across this country. Even within cities, where Los Angeles may have the reputation of being more “diverse” and more open and inclusive, even here, we see Asian Americans doing their normal daily activities and being harassed, whether it’s being called names, getting things thrown at them, getting beat up. And what’s been so fascinating to watch is how this has converged with the anti-Black racism that has been happening in this country, particularly with George Floyd, Breonna, Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery because there are comparisons between, “Well, if we’re focusing on Black Lives Matter, does that take away from the harassment and violence directed towards Asian Americans?” And what we’ve been trying to push is that — No, all of this is connected. None of us are free until all of us are free. That’s something I’ve been pushing within the Asian American community — to really think about how things are connected, even if we’re in different racial demographics and communities, even if we’re in different parts of our nation.
DJ ROME: That’s right. Absolutely. Dr. Dena Scott?
DENA: I completely feel what Connie just shared. When thinking about things being busier, and in some sense for mental health professionals right now, when thinking about the pandemic, when thinking about the continuation of racial justice and the historical context of racial injustice within our country, there has been a lot of heaviness that I have personally felt around me from clients, from students, from faculty, staff, administrators, from colleagues. People that I know personally. I feel like there is this tension that folks are holding because there’s a lot of fear. There’s also a lot of rage that might be expressed in different ways. There’s also a lot of pain that folks are feeling that could be a result of the pandemic; it could be a result of what’s going on connected to race. With all of those things happening and also feeling a lack of control, because right now, we’re in a position where folks are wondering, “Is it safe to do this? Is it not safe or are people telling me misinformation to where it might be more safe than I really think it is?” There’s a lot of questioning that’s going on that’s also bringing up some questioning for folks about our systems in general. There are questions about health and wellbeing, but also questions about our government, our systems, and how they’re taking care or not taking care of certain groups of folks.
I feel like there’s a lot of reconciliation that’s needed and required. There’s that much more healing that’s also needed and required because the level of heaviness and intensity is there. Even for folks who are navigating the pandemic, you look at the statistics and the communities it’s hitting the hardest — that also lends to communities of color, particularly looking at some of the Black and Latinx communities in this country. There’s constantly the sense of feeling like I’m carrying that weight. And myself and Connie have talked about how for folks of color, when different things were being shown on the media such as George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, a variety of back to back incidents — there are, at times, white colleagues or counterparts who are calling on some of their colleagues or friends of color to see how they can help, but sometimes that feels burdensome too. So again, the heaviness continues to rise. As much as I can, trying in any venue, in my personal life, private practice, to have conversations with folks about ways to take off that weight in a healthy manner.
DJ ROME: What came up for me was just the need to focus right now because there’s so many issues to dial into that it’s very easy to become distracted. It’s very easy to feel a sense of being overwhelmed about where to start. Where do I dive into this fight? The two of you have picked a particular type of focus, because in Atlanta, as one sad example, you guys just had Secoriea Turner out there, a little girl who was shot. And it’s on and on. Connie, pick up right there. Where do you see all this?
CONNIE: I echo so much of what Dena is saying. Providing the racial equity lens is to really think about healing in context within systems because none of us, as individuals, organizations, companies, communities, or entire cities — none of us exist within a vacuum. We all exist within a system. And we know what the system is. The system has existed and continues to recreate itself so that it can continue existing. I love that Dena opened with feelings as important and that it’s important to understand, see, hold, sit with. We are not in any way trying to dismiss that. What we are pushing for is: how are those feelings contextualized within the systems that we’re operating in.
One thing that Dena and I have talked about is the difference between self care and community care, that community care right now is so much more important given the global pandemic, given racial injustice. It is not just about Connie, myself doing self care. It is about — how am I participating in community care for my Asian American folks or my people of color folks, for my Black folks, for all the people that I am in community with. It’s not just about me, but really about how we can lift each other up knowing and understanding the oppressive systems that we all exist within.
Something that’s really interesting that Dena and I have talked about before we started AND/NOW is that there’s actually a field that studies this phenomenon of epigenetics and how genes express themselves, and this big question of: can a legacy of trauma be passed down through the generations within our bodies? We know that legacies of trauma are passed down socially and culturally through the many stories and traditions within families and societies. But the question being asked is how are all of these connected to form a structure that contains our racialized experiences from generation to generation. Dena and I are not experts or researchers or scientists in this field, but it is something that really resonates with us. We’re doing a ton of self learning, and we’re curious about how this impacts the healing process for this community, whatever community we move in and as an entire nation. And Dena, I love that you used the word reconciliation because I do think that’s a huge part of the healing process that we’re talking about, especially through a racial equity lens.
DJ ROME: I’ve called it a rapturous reckoning that we’re experiencing right now. It’s reverberating all over this country and all over the planet. When I think about some of the rhetorical traps that are out there when it comes to people circling their cultural wagons, if you will, how does the AND/NOW Collective approach empathy, particularly when someone is antithetical to the position that you hold when people say Black Lives Matter — it’s a very polarizing effect, meaning, well, all lives matter, don’t they? How does the AND/NOW Collective approach empathy? What I find challenging is having and finding a way to empathize with people who are not sympathetic to the cause of why we’re circling this particular wagon right now. Empathy as the AND/NOW Collective sees it. How do you both approach empathy?
CONNIE: We get that question a lot even outside and before AND/NOW. Dena and I have had this conversation about empathy — empathy is a really interesting concept and act because I do think that there are limits to empathy, where you have to really see yourself in another person to then feel like you are connected. And the challenge that we are in right now is that people do not see themselves in each other. There is a sense of complete disconnect or divide between communities or even geographies who are not in proximity to each other. Bryan Stevenson, who Dena and I both love, he’s always talking about being proximate. And we aren’t proximate as a nation; we aren’t proximate as a community; we aren’t proximate as individuals. And that is where empathy is hitting a wall. If we’re not proximate with each other — and it doesn’t always have to be physical proximity — even emotional proximity or social proximity, until we can get proximate and really understand each other and everything that we stand for and represent, empathy becomes an empty word we throw as a buzzword.
The way that AND/NOW approaches this gap is to really focus on identity because everyone has an identity. Just like how everyone has a race. White people have a race; we forget this, but white people have a race. Everyone has their story. Everyone has the journey of how their identities formed whether they know it or not. So part of AND/NOW is pulling out their identity. What do they feel affirmed about in their identity? Where are there tensions in their identity? Where are there places that they’re scared of because of what their identity represents in the world? And so a lot of our work in the AND/NOW space is about identity development, which, as far as I know, is a pretty big shift because we do identity development in some progressive schools with children, but I haven’t actually seen grown adults do identity development work within companies or organizations. We tend to be like, “Eh, identity, whatever. It doesn’t mean anything.” But actually identity is core to everything that we find meaning and create meaning in so a lot of our work is focusing on that and leading with race, not to be colorblind but being really color brave. And knowing that this work around identity is messy because as humans, we are messy. And embracing that and finding the connections we can within how different our journeys and our experiences are. And there’s beauty in that. There’s so much beauty in that and so much resiliency. We’re really helping people co-discover that and co-create meaning together.
DJ ROME: Oh, absolutely. Dr. Dena Scott?
DENA: When thinking about empathy, and thinking about what Connie just shared in terms of the need to center ourselves around identity and identity development — one of the things that we’ve also pushed when we started this work with some of the folks is to talk about how there might be this desire that folks have to become empathetic, to have a lens of empathy. But more than anything, we want to make sure that folks are not creating barriers to equity, inclusion, and justice, that folks are not causing pain to others that are around them, that we’re able to figure out ways to understand self and understand others more. When I hear Connie speak, and I think about our work, it is so important for folks to learn identity in relationship to history and to learn identity in relationship to our own personal stories. As much as we can do that, that can create those connections that then create some of that empathetic lens we’re hoping for. But more than anything, we want to make sure that those barriers and that pain is not happening. So how can we help to stop that?
DJ ROME: Absolutely. We have our work cut out for us. We’re talking about reopening schools and wearing masks. All of those topics and discussions are very, very toxic right now. And it is challenging for people to see the validity of someone else’s positions. And that’s why I was curious to see where both of y’all stood on that. They call themselves the AND/NOW Collective. Connie Chiu and Dr. Dena Scott, what is the best way for people to get in touch with the both of you and find the work of the AND/NOW Collective?
CONNIE: We are building as we go but the best way right now is to visit our website. We hope that people take the time to explore our website, get to know us, our stories, our mission and hope that it feels like you’ve been in conversation with us just by visiting our website. We really look forward to hearing from you all!
DJ ROME: Oh, you will definitely be hearing from us again. That’s Connie Chiu, lead equity practitioner and co-founder of the AND/NOW Collective. We also heard from the inimitable Dr. Dena Scott, clinical psychotherapist, as well as co-founder of the AND/NOW Collective. Well that’s our show y’all. Psychotic Bump School is the place where education and entertainment meet at the intersection of funk and soul. My name is DJ Rome. Thank you for joining us this evening.