Designer & Designer

Black Lives Matter

Episode Summary

We pass the mic to returning guest Bekah Marcum of Black Designers of Seattle to share what she is experiencing as the George Floyd Protests unfold around the world.

Episode Notes

Mentioned in this episode:

- Black Designers of Seattle

- Institutionalized Racism: A Syllabus

- Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Ezra Klein Show

- So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo

- White Fragility: Why it's so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin Diangelo

Additional resources:

- Black Lives Matter &  Black Lives Matter Seattle

- How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi

- Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

- Anti-racist reading list for designers

- Resources In Defense of Black Lives

- What Not To Say To Your Black Colleagues Right Now

- Blacks Who Design

- Support Black Owned Businesses

Episode Transcription

Brian Fling:

Hey, this is Brian and Joe from Designer & Designer. We've been off the air for a while. Like everybody else, we're dealing with the COVID-19 situation. We were looking to come back to the show by doing an interview with a bunch of different designers and how they're coping with how to design in quarantine. We're still planning on doing that episode, but when we reached out to Bekah Marcum who was on a previous episode to talk about what it's to be a black designer, the protests were going on about police brutality. She volunteered to talk to us about what she's going through. We ended up doing an entire episode just focused on that.

Joe Alterio:

I'm really proud of this episode. I will say that over the past week, 10 days, I think that we share the feelings that a lot of folks have had, at turns infuriating and nauseating and enraging, but also quite frankly hopeful at times and glimmers of maybe a better world.

Joe Alterio:

I will say that as a couple of white guys, we may make mistakes in this episode. We, I'm sure, have made mistakes in the past and will continue to make mistakes, but we're growing and we're learning. I think part of why we felt it was important to put out this episode is because we want to spread the message that Bekah has. As far as why, because we think is important and we would love to utilize our small influence that we have to that end. Without further ado, Bekah Marcum.

Joe Alterio:

Welcome back to Designer & Designer. Obviously this is a pretty hard week for a lot of folks out there. We are lucky enough to have Bekah Marcum back to discuss everything in there, anything under the sun. Bekah, welcome back Designer & Designer. How are you?

Bekah Marcum:

Thanks for having me. This has been honestly just a freaking brutal week. I think that a lot of people have reached out to ask, "How are you? How's everything going?" I honestly decided to do a post and just ignore everyone else's well wishes almost and say it's, "No, I'm fucking terrible. It's been hard."

Bekah Marcum:

It's almost been this thing where at the same time it's like, wait. People who I don't even know that well are reaching out to ask me, "How are you?" Usually the American thing to be like is, "I'm great. I'm fine." There's an awkwardness over just being very real. I just had to take the stance and belike, "If you're going to ask me how I'm doing very blatant. [inaudible 00:02:40] white supremacy in a culture that's so steeped in this institutionalized racism, I'm going to tell you. I'm doing terrible."

Bekah Marcum:

It's a daily thing today. I'm better than yesterday but tomorrow, who knows? It's definitely been, I think, an hour by hour thing at this point.

Joe Alterio:

Yeah. I think that one of the things that sounds really tough is the actual event, which is horrific and terrifying, and then there is the mainstream reaction to it which is horrific and terrifying. Then there is the virtue signaling which is in its own weird way virtue terrifying. It adds awkwardness. Do you want to talk about what that feels like?

Bekah Marcum:

Yeah. I'm going to preface, at least my involvement in some of this, and say that black designers, black folks, what I'm saying is not for them. Go paint your nails, if you need to. Go play some Animal Crossings. Do what you need to do to feel okay during this time.

Bekah Marcum:

For all my white folks, or allies or whatever else, this is for you. I think the first thing I would want to just say right off the bat is that black friends and coworkers should not have to be teachers in this time. They are the easy targets. Asking a black friend how to be an ally, and this ties into that virtue that I'm signaling, is honestly the laziest and most harmful shit I've ever heard.

Bekah Marcum:

Basically asking that one black person you know to be a racism guru is essentially perpetuating that black trauma that they've experienced. You're asking them to revisit it, in order for you to better your own understanding, instead of just picking up a book. You don't ask a sexual assault victim to break down their assault and trauma so you can learn from it. I think just for me personally, this experience over the last week and a half has been a new thing that I've been dealing with, because I'm not just going through this as a black woman, but I'm also going through this as a leader and organizer for my community. I've put myself out there to have these conversations. I have tried to have these conversations in hard places, but that's not what many people should be expected to do.

Bekah Marcum:

Yesterday I really didn't want to do this honestly, but I made some time and space for the black designers of Seattle to come together virtually. I was like, "Whatever you guys need, it's here." It ended up being three hours of just people talking of processing. There were tears. There was one person, we needed that comedic relief. Thank you for that.

Bekah Marcum:

Honestly, there's plenty of things to learn from. I think, something I've been happy about is that there has been more of people, allies, saying, "Hey, I'm going to go better my education in these ways, and not talk to my black friends." I think at the same time, just yesterday, hearing the amount of coworkers going to their black coworkers and asking how they can be an ally, managers doing the same thing. They shouldn't be walking over at this time. That goes a long way to go back to your virtue signaling where you're asking someone basically, "What will make me not feel guilty? What's the bare minimum?"

Joe Alterio:

Right. How do I check that box?

Bekah Marcum:

Yeah. It's like, "Hey, black friend, what can I do so that I don't feel guilty anymore," because the white guilt going on, it is a lot. It's a lot. My husband's white, and it's always something where it's privilege. You don't ask for that. It was yes. It was something that was stood up so long ago, but it's something that still exists. Honestly at a certain point it's not something to necessarily feel guilty of. It's something to recognize and then take actions against.

Bekah Marcum:

I think with some virtue signaling, it comes back to, we spoke about this last time, different types of allies and my version of the word ally. I was talking last time, there was the ally versus the co-conspirator. I'm learning in this time and learning new words. Something I've been seeing a lot of is, you have performative allies and then you have authentic allies. Performative is that virtue signaling where it's like, "Hey, I put a black box on my Instagram."

Joe Alterio:

Don't get me started.

Bekah Marcum:

You're going to put a black box. But the next day you're going to make a post about how you're enjoying the weather, going to the beach, hanging out in the pool. I think for me honestly, it's been those actions, and then seeing the next day that they're posting all this lighthearted content. Honestly, that's been one of the most hurtful things, because it's that your black friends you were saying you love, you care about, you're right there for-

Joe Alterio:

In a box.

Bekah Marcum:

... in a box, but then the next day really it's those other things. I don't care if you're actually having fun. But what you're saying is that the pain, me crying between meetings, is so easy for you to ignore. You're only going to really be there for me in this super superficial way. Honestly, nothing else really bothers you. It was like, "Yeah, it's a bad thing, but it's not really affecting me."

Brian Fling:

Right. Right. Is it back to my safe white life where I don't have to experience this daily trauma?

Bekah Marcum:

Absolutely. I think as designers, yes, there is so much power in design. There's so much, but honestly on a day to day basis, especially in Seattle, a lot of us are just making... I spent four years making ads for everything from dog pee pads to shoes. I think the closest thing I ever got to race related there was something for Ancestry DNA. This is not a platform. It's a thing where, even coming off of this last weekend, and I've been so grateful to see. The protest's not even just stopping over the weekend, but continuing. The thing is that you have a bunch of designers who are going back into work and they're like, "Okay. I just saw a black man be lynched, be killed in public."

Bekah Marcum:

I was bombarded with these videos all weekend. The brutality that's come up just from these peaceful protests and the police just coming on top of that. Yes, there's the whole racism thing, but now there's a whole overstepping authority thing. You have reporters who are being attacked and pepper sprayed and everything else and arrested. "There's all of that, and it all has to do with race, but don't worry, I'm going to totally get you those designer visions by end of day." I don't know how those two come together. I don't.

Joe Alterio:

There is this type of fascistic racism that is everywhere at this moment. Am I wrong in feeling this time it's different or something? This time feels, I don't know. It feels different. I don't know why.

Brian Fling:

Does it feel different to you?

Bekah Marcum:

Yes and no. Yes, it has been something where I've seen more social media posts about it. The protests are going on longer than they have before, but I've been in this place of hope before. I've been in this place where I've been super hopeful and what I heard from a group last night, we're scared of being hopeful because there's just been so much nothing for so long. There are things that I have tried to identify as being, "I have appreciated this," ways that people have reached out that I appreciated, things that people have done. It's friends instead of being, "What can I do?" Breanna Taylor, it was her birthday today.

[crosstalk 00:12:49]

Joe Alterio:

Fucking sad.

Bekah Marcum:

Yeah. The thing is that it's still happening. The death is not what we're surprised about. They just did it in public and it just happened to be in such a way that really made it so you couldn't question it, even though there's people questioning it. Yes, I'm trying to find those areas where you can be hopeful. I feel most hopeful when I see posts about white allies being like, "Hey, I see my privilege. I'm learning about my privilege. Here are voices that should be heard," and then also giving someone else the stage. You're saying virtue indicating, and being the voice when they should not be the voice in that time.

Joe Alterio:

What makes you not hopeful?

Bekah Marcum:

Because racism is something that I have seen and experienced and questioned since I was younger than my niece who's five. I did a post on Instagram. My birthday was on Saturday, which was also a terrible day to have a birthday.

Joe Alterio:

Happy birthday. Bad timing.

Bekah Marcum:

It was fucking terrible. People were like, "Have a fantastic week," all that stuff. I was just like, "What are you talking about? We're walking in protest right now." I did a puzzle where I was like, "I am not doing well. I'm saddened and frustrated that racism is still something that's questioned." I essentially was like, "Listen, when I was a very young child, the '90s." You call a friend's house, "Hi, Mr. so and so. This is Bekah. May I speak with so and so?" White friends' parents saying when they first met me, "Oh my gosh, I didn't realize you were black. You didn't sound black on the phone."

Bekah Marcum:

I grew up in the most diverse... California, super diverse. Sacramento was one of the most diverse cities in the nation. Elk Grove is more diversity on top of that. Then in high school, as a freshman in high school, giving my honors English teacher my first summer project that I'd worked on all summer to get a D when I got back because she said that I didn't do it.

Bekah Marcum:

For me as an incoming freshman for my first assignment, for the teacher to say that I was not capable of completing it, and then for her to then give me... My great grandmother went to college as a black woman. My grandmother has a Master's. My mother has a Master's. My sisters have Master's. I know how to put some words together. It also just really goes against this whole meritocracy myth. It's like, no. If that was true, then that paper wouldn't have been too good for me to do. I poured so many hours in on that, and then sure, that was a sucky situation. But then it was a quarter system. I had that same teacher for the first and third quarter and got straight C's, first C I'd ever gotten.

Bekah Marcum:

I had a different English teacher for the other quarters. I got a straight 4.0 in those classes. This is high school. Those grades determine where I can go to college. It was just one racist teacher in high school, but then what does that actually have to say when I'm actually trying to get into a good school to get a good job to make that change. It was like some Greek and Roman mythology summer work I did. I was a major Greek Roman mythology nerd.

Joe Alterio:

[inaudible 00:17:12] Me too.

Bekah Marcum:

My mom had taught us to read, and then she let us go for years and was like, "Do whatever you want." As a six-year old, I was just reading encyclopedias about Greek and Roman mythology. Then getting to high school, I was like, "Oh, my gosh. This is what the topic is." I was so excited. It did way too much work than I should have done. I also have to recognize the privilege that I have as a light skinned black woman from a very privileged family. My mom's side of the family, they were very heavy in the Civil Rights movement.

Joe Alterio:

Wow.

Bekah Marcum:

They were a lot. Coming from a massive family like that, to then have to still deal with someone saying that I am incapable of doing the work that I did.

Joe Alterio:

It's [crosstalk 00:18:06].

Bekah Marcum:

Even other students around me, one of my friends, she'd read my paper and then read hers and she's like, "There's no reason why your grade's lower. Your grades should not be lower." There's so much of it. I guess that is the parts that make me less hopeful. I think honestly the wanna-be woke people are sometimes the scariest too, because they come from the mindset, "Okay, I'm such an ally. I am totally not racist." They just excuse their behavior and they do not address their own biases. Some of the most traumatic things I've experienced, that we talked about in the last episode, while being in corporate America, tech America, everything else has been from these "woke" white people.

Brian Fling:

Yeah.

Joe Alterio:

I feel like we talked about this last time but it just feels different now. How are you processing all of this? I mean, it feels fucking impossible. I don't even know.

Bekah Marcum:

I don't either. Processing has been me sitting, having to detach, sitting in the dark of my room with a margarita, and let's binge on some really shitty SciFi audio book. At this point for me and a lot of people in my community, we're in survival mode.

Joe Alterio:

Totally.

Bekah Marcum:

There's people who are trying to wake up. I was barely getting out of bed over the weekend. It was just randomly crying. It's something that is just constant, and I'm not a crier. I'm definitely not a crier. It's just something that is all consuming because it's something that black people can relate to. It's seeing that, but then also being bombarded with all these images, and just having to revisit the trauma that not only we've seen-

Joe Alterio:

Right.

[crosstalk 00:20:23]

Bekah Marcum:

... but then also what we've experienced is a lot. For me, I tried to get through the first few days of work, but then on Wednesday I was declining every meeting this week. I just could not do that. I was doing the bare minimum of what I had to get out. On Wednesday I was like, "You know what?" Wednesday was a little bit of a higher moment. I was like, "I'm processing." I was [inaudible 00:20:59] with her to cancel one call. I was like, "It'll be quick. That'll be fine." Person on the call, it was just one other person. She did not expect me to be fine. It was a good productive meeting. It was only 15 minutes. I got off it.

Bekah Marcum:

Immediately after I hit the end call, I just started crying, because the amount of professionalism that black people are feeling they need to put on, amidst all of this just chaos and trauma that's happening, it just hurt. It was a thing where I had to turn that on. It's like code switching, except for trauma switching. I'm going to pretend I'm okay, that I'm all right. Get through this. And at the end of it, it's still there. Even having to, in our minds, escape it or pretend we're okay, honestly after that call on Wednesday, again, a great call. It was totally fine. But I just started crying. I was like, "Well, that was my Wednesday cry."

Bekah Marcum:

Right now my acting manager is a white dude. And right after the call, I messaged him. I was like, "I can't." I was like, "Next two days, I can't." For me, coping was also pulling the plug on even having to make pretend to show up to work, where just talking with designers yesterday. A lot of them are having to deal with deadlines and all this other stuff or everything else. I was like, "I don't get that." Yes, this is great for me, but I think the best way for folks to show up was in ways that my white male manager did.

Bekah Marcum:

Last week, even on Thursday, I was like, "I need to take Friday off because already I just cannot be in the space." Last week I was having a hard time working and that was even before the protests started. Being in my head in that moment, I fully missed our one-on-one. I was like, "Crap. I totally missed that." He was busy all day, but he's like, "I don't care about the check-ins and deadlines. How are you doing? What do you need? Take the time that you want. I'm happy you're taking Friday off."

Bekah Marcum:

Then on Monday, he did a Slack message for the whole team, not just our smaller team, but then also the bigger design team. It was just like, "Hey, what's going on?" He's like, "I'm enraged. This is terrible for my black and brown employees. Let me know what I can do. I'm encouraging you, take the time that you need, do this. If you need to change deliverables, just let me know what I can do." Offering support is great, but then he said. He was like, "I'm a white guy in a place of privilege and power. We should also not be expecting for our black and brown folk to be educating ourselves. Instead," he was like, "Here's a resource for all my allies, for you to go educate yourself on what is happening, what privileges, what institutionalized racism is. Here is something for you to go learn."

Bekah Marcum:

Because honestly, there's all these stages people go through as far as how much they're teaching, but for me, I am not going to have a big conversation with a friend who reaches out, unless they've actually done the work and read a book and done something else because if they don't, they're saying that drudging up my trauma is less important than the 30 minutes to an hour that it would take them to do some research, to actually do it and talk about it.

Joe Alterio:

Still looking for the Cliff Notes.

Bekah Marcum:

Yeah. Right.

Bekah Marcum:

Yeah. I have to say, I absolutely am not an expert on institutionalized racism. I can talk about my experiences, what I've heard, but there's so many people who have studied it, made it their life's work, in order to cut these materials out. I think JSTOR, the university library thing, created a whole syllabus of institutionalized racism that I posted a few days ago on social media. There's a lot of stuff. I think it's also not expecting in the same way for black people to be the spokesperson of all this black [inaudible 00:26:21], it's also not expecting them to know all the dates as well.

Brian Fling:

Right. Yeah. Just for our listeners, we'll post a bunch of these resources in the show notes. There's some really awesome resources out there. Definitely read up.

Bekah Marcum:

I've been happy that there's been a lot that I ever shared. I shared the JSTOR example, and then that just got shared out many, many more times.

Brian Fling:

Great.

Bekah Marcum:

And then, I started seeing people actually say, "Hey, I just read this part of the article for this university scholarly paper." Then they started having discussions.

[crosstalk 00:00:26:53].

Bekah Marcum:

Like I said before, I think with all of this, it's how do you have these conversations in your circle of influence and then how do you drive change and also support in your circles of influence?

Brian Fling:

Joe shared out this great interview with Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Ezra Klein Show. It was so amazing. I mean, that guy's brilliant, just the way he talked about just systemic racism and just how prevalent it is in our culture, and how much we as a society have adopted it, and how the state has institutionalized it. With the police right now, they're the militaristical arm of this system. You know what I mean?

Bekah Marcum:

Yeah.

Brian Fling:

It's just the way he was describing it. It's so helpful to hear your stories and his stories of just what that experience is like. I apologize you have to do it, but it is really beneficial to just hear that because then I think we can come to it, that those articles and resources don't always provide. I hate that that's on you, but it is fantastic to hear.

Bekah Marcum:

Yeah. As someone who, especially in the last year and a half, I have made that, "I talk about race" a thing.

[crosstalk 00:28:25].

Bekah Marcum:

It's because I'm black and a designer, and it's a thing. There is some more foundation, as far as going to school for part of that. That amounts to a few classes 10 years ago, definitely, even me wanting to do this podcast. Again, thanks for lending this platform. It's because even for me, being able to put this all in a podcast format so people freaking keep on blowing up [crosstalk 00:29:07].

Joe Alterio:

Go listen to this.

Bekah Marcum:

Like, "I'm not going to talk to you. Go do some work. Go listen to it." Also, just talking with the group, the black designers group yesterday, I was just like, "You're being expected to educate people and you've not signed up for this. I have signed up for this." How can I then also help them to tell these hard stories or this stuff to their managers, to their coworkers, without them having to be the guru? I think there also needs to be some distancing between that. I think there are fantastic resources, like the book So You Want to Talk About Race, and books like, White Fragility, and stuff like that, where it's like, "Just go read that." Even if you only read the Cliff Notes, that will probably be better than not.

Brian Fling:

Well, it sounds that even Ijeoma, who wrote So You Want to Talk About Race, she expressed a lot of the same feelings that you have expressed to us too, where it's just like, "I am going through this myself right now. I can't do that for everyone."

Bekah Marcum:

At that point, if someone who has been a major [inaudible 00:30:23] was saying, "Do not come to me for this," it's definitely a thing. If I was going to leave my plea for this is, be very cognizant of how people are approaching this with the black friends and family that they care about, that they're coming at it not from a, "I'm just sorry for this." It's like, "No, I'm enraged. And I, as an authentic ally, am taking these steps." Part of that being, having these conversations not with black people. Black people don't need to learn any more about race and racism. It's having these discussions with friends and family who might not recognize it. I've heard time and time again that the term white privilege is so triggering for white people.

Bekah Marcum:

It's like, "You're saying I have privilege and I haven't earned what I've gotten." It's not necessarily saying that. It's saying that your skin color isn't going to be the reason why you're failing at something. If you walk into a hair salon, they're going to know how to do your hair. If you do speak, you are not speaking as a spokesperson of your race. There's so many things that come with that. I think it's conversations that at a certain point I can not have. It's really up to those authentic allies, as co-conspirators, to have those conversations and then to also educate themselves to have those talks.

Joe Alterio:

Yeah. I'm sorry to say, I forget where I read it, somewhere on social media. Somewhere on social media I read that essentially racism is basically just symptomatic, that this is a problem that us, white people, have to talk to other white people about because that is where we have [inaudible 00:32:19]. We need to clean up our own fucking house before we start telling other people how to think about things. That is a huge thing. Like Bekah says, that is something that sometimes those conversations are awkward, and fucking deal. Sorry. That's the way it is. Well, Bekah Marcum, thank you so much for taking the time to in fact educate us [crosstalk 00:32:41]. I appreciate that you took one for the team.

Bekah Marcum:

Definitely. It's one of those things where I'm like, "Well, at the very least you guys were great rant buddies [crosstalk 00:32:56]."

Joe Alterio:

Can we use that as a tagline? 

Brian Fling:

I wish we could give you a big hug right now too. It looks you need it.

Joe Alterio:

Please, you take care of yourself. We're thinking about you.

Brian Fling:

Have a margarita on us.

Joe Alterio:

And have a margarita on us. That's right.

Bekah Marcum:

Sounds good. Bye, guys.

Joe Alterio:

See you.

Brian Fling:

Bye. 

Brian Fling:

Thank you so much to Bekah Marcum for sharing her thoughts and views and everything that she's going through right now. We are going to put a ton of different resources on how to talk about race and everything that's going on right now in the show notes.

Joe Alterio:

As always, you can always email us at designer.fm. Thank you for listening, and Black Lives Matter!