My Top 5 Books of 2021: Right Within

Career development guru Minda Harts asks three driving questions in this book:

  1. What does healing mean to you?
  2. Do you believe you’ve ever experienced workplace trauma due to racism?
  3. Are you open to exploring various tools to help you achieve healing?

I will admit that this post might make me a little sad. When I first got this book, I was so happy to have something to guide me on a journey I had just started: acknowledging and healing from the trauma of racism in the workplace. Over the summer I needed a moment to voice my experiences with racism as I built a career in higher education in Western Pennsylvania and the panhandle of West Virginia. I was fortunate to have the team at Public Source read my entry for a personal essay and decide to publish it. The essay was also picked up by The New Pittsburgh Courier to my surprise. It was one of the proudest moments of my life when I saw my face on the cover of one of our country’s first African American led newspapers. A newspaper that had a legacy of documenting Black life since the early part of the 20th century, The Pittsburgh Courier and its new iteration was to me a beacon of writers demanding justice and bearing witness to racism in high (and low) places. I put that paper on my bookshelf next to my copy of Right Within: How to Heal from Racial Trauma in the Workplace.

I was already a fan of Harts’ first work, The Memo. I had applied the tools in that work to my work life and shared the stories with my workplace homegirls. So Right Within was highly anticipated by me and others in my circle. I started leafing through the pages noticing the calls to our music and culture. Noticing Harts’ signature application of hip hop and r&b lessons to the corporate world. I kept saying to myself “you can win but keep reading and get right within.”

One of the hallmarks of this book is the recognition that what happens to you on the job has a seriously profound impact on the way you move in the rest of your life. I had never had the luxury of saying I didn’t take my work home. I took my work home when I avoided certain hairdos because a colleague had stared at it too long the last time I wore it. I took it home when I spent hours unpacking incidents with my husband. I took it home when I carefully asked why my child wasn’t getting the same consideration for workplace benefits as my white coworkers. Yes that happened! And it took me a while to accept the woman’s apology when she admitted that she had merely forgotten to process the form that would allow my daughter to take advantage of a benefit she was owed. I took my work home when I borrowed against my retirement account to help a very gifted young Black student pay the remaining balance of her tuition. I’m not looking for a virtue flower with that admission. That was not a smart thing to do and I wish I had known better. I wish I had known enough to ask a rich university to come up to the mark of its lofty DEI statements. I learned better and did better. But not before many years of taking on way too much – many years of thinking I was just being too sensitive.

By the time I made it to management and cabinet level positions, I was trying to feed from an empty plate. I had more anger and depression than hope and fulfillment. And as Harts describes several times in this book, I actually had trouble admitting that racism was a key component of why I was so exhausted. I participated in my own gaslighting and probably participated in others’ too. I remember one time a white woman mentor/boss saw someone abuse his authority to do some racist stuff to me and my program. I talked to her about it and asked “why did he do that?!” She looked me right in the eye and broke it down “Because he’s a racist.” She had years of receipts. I felt sickened by the fact that not only had I missed this but that I had actually been trying to gain this man’s favor.

Right Within took me on a journey like so many other great reads in my life this past year. It allowed me to look in the mirror. The same mirror that I had used to pick apart my appearance wondering if my Black woman body would draw too much attention at work or my lipstick was too loud or if my name tag should have PhD on it to garner more respect. I was able to say nah girl it ain’t you and it’s not your imagination. I was also able to say all these health issues (a surgeon had just run a stent through my jugular vein to open a blockage in the iliac one) weren’t just about stress in my personal life. They were absolutely related to my workplace trauma (I read Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, too so I know about telomeres getting shortened by workplace racial trauma). I had been talking to my therapist about work beeeeee esssssss for session after session. And here I thought I needed to stop and make room in those hours for the “real” issues in my life. Tuh. Right Within taught me that this was indeed a real issue and therapy was a central asset in my healing. Shout out to my therapist for telling me these things for years before I picked up Right Within and keeping it going now that I have it. I stopped feeling like I was taking away from the purpose of these sessions and embraced what my whole body was telling me I had a right to: healing.

But wait…there’s more.

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