S1E22 Social Inequities

2020 has been identified as a year to remember; global pandemic, wild fires, racial tensions at an all time high, earthquakes, and political unrest. In this episode, Dr. Pete and Dr. Rubin address the science of social inequities, as well as identify how the Buddhist concept of equanimity may help us understand how to begin to address these problems in small ways.

In this episode Dr. Rubin and Dr. Pete recommend researching: Mindfulness for the People and the Harvard Implicit Bias Test.




Pete: In today's world, we're thinking a lot about social inequity and the impact that that has, and over the time and yours today, Nikki and I are discussing the systemic racism and the issues that are alive today. Hey, Nikki, this is another one of those really challenging tech conversations where I'm almost like thankful to have a PhD, where we're expected to know how to talk about this.

Nikki: Right, absolutely. And, I think one thing that you and I committed to when we decided we were going to do this podcast that we wanted to make sure we returned back to these topics, that we spoke about this first in our third episode, and race and power. And this is not a one time discussion, but that's one thing we want to model for listeners, we want to continue to return to these really difficult conversations, because they're important, and we can't expect any kind of movement in them if we're not willing to step into the discomfort and get curious, and honestly just begin to talk about it.

Pete: Yeah. And just to clarify, it was Episode Four with race and power.

Nikki: Oh, my apologies.

Pete: For listeners who want to go...

Nikki: My memory is good, but not perfect.

Pete: You were close,

Nikki: I was close.

Pete: Yeah, you're right, we're going to have to keep returning to this. And I think today, we're going to look at just three groups. And so I think in terms of our episode three with recent power, we didn't talk a lot about D'Angelo's 'White Fragility'. But I think it's a lot of what we're saying is like, 'here we are, again, to privilege white folk that are having this conversation about what social equity looks like, when, on some level, I've had a silver spoon', so yes, I've worked hard, and I've had a silver spoon.

Nikki: Absolutely. And I think acknowledging, concretely again, yeah, that we are white, we do experience and benefit from white privilege, even, particularly in our field, which we talked about in that episode. And so, that doesn't mean then, that we were, as I think this is part of recognizing white privilege, that doesn't mean that we're exempt from having these conversations. In fact, it's extremely important that we do continue to acknowledge that, and step into it.

Pete: We're leaning into that vulnerability. Hey, Nikki.

Nikki: We are.

Pete: Yeah, because a lot of times you feel uncomfortable, and you just feel like you're putting your foot in your mouth. And I know that sometimes that in my work, especially with people of color in the sports world, I feel both empowered, and also really vulnerable to be able to be an ally. So I was telling you, as we were thinking about this episode that I just read in New Jersey, there is a group for black coaches. And so I've reached out to them once I learned about them, to see if I could be a part as an ally. And maybe today, we'll talk a little bit about ally ship. But for the purpose of this episode, our other motivation is that we're recording this the day after the announcement of the Breonna Taylor murder. And so some of this, issues related to police brutality, and Louisville, kind of with them in that state and in that city in our hearts right now, because it's really a challenging time.

Nikki: And a painful time.

Pete: Really painful time. You're really good about that, that's part of the ally ship is being able to try and at least walk with that pain.

Nikki: Yeah, and not turn away from it. And that's a lot of what we do in both, mindfulness practice, what we teach in cognitive behavioral therapies, is this willingness to step into discomfort, and when other humans are suffering. Pete and I operate from the perspective that not just a psychologist, as humans ourselves, first and foremost, it is part of our value system to choose to be present to the pain and suffering of others.

Pete: Yeah. And so there's lots of other others. So I think, for us to identify that there are several definitions for what diversity is, and that includes lots of groups like race, ethnicity, gender, religion, class, abilities, socioeconomic status which is class, sexual orientation, gender identity, some of which are under attack. And so I think that's also part of the systemic social issues, in particular. But for this episode, we're going to just highlight race, ethnicity, gender, and class. And so maybe those are the points that we'll take as we really try and break down a little bit about the psychology of social inequity, and how that has really led to this century long or just since they established,

Nikki: I was just going to say, honestly, we can say...

Pete: For all times,

Nikki: For all times, we've been talking about recently, beginning to at least... the white people recognizing more accurately that in the United States, this has been going on for 400 years, since people came over to... since the first European white settlers came over, colonized, frankly, the land that we live on now, that this is an inherent part of the systems that we operate within. And so social inequity is built into our systems. And I think that's been something that a lot of folks, particularly white folks have had a hard time acknowledging, frankly.

Pete: Yeah, we have. And if I think about this developmentally, so thinking about developmental psychology, it's interesting, because I think that there's a change or just a different opinion for when this starts, I don't know if you're familiar with any of that research, but I think they say that infants can be categorized by race starting around like three to six months old.

Nikki: Yes. I'm familiar with some of this.

Pete: But then I was... because as I read that, I'm like, 'yeah', but I think gender identity is like later. So that's sort of interesting too, to think about how our brains interact with some of these categorizations and developmentally, how that's even happening.

Nikki: Yes, I think it's important what you're saying, because you're weaving in there is, it is important to acknowledge that, we've talked about this before on the podcast, brains do categorize, we chunk information. This is why we, unfortunately stereotype, because it's in the short term, an easier way to process information, there's less data. And, hopefully most people will recognize and agree with, stereotypes are not accurate, you can't capture the complexity of,

Pete: [inaudible 7:21]

Nikki: No, and a complexity of human beings with, let's say, like three pieces of information, nobody's that simple at all. So the brain is hardwired to err on that side, and of course, since we live in a society of human beings, that all err on the side, of course, society is going to, unfortunately, not necessarily intentionally, though sometimes it is intentional, sometimes it is intentional to structure inequity into the system. But I guess we should bring in hierarchy here too, like brains also like hierarchy. It's like, 'this is good, this is bad. This is better, this is worse'. And we're a society made of humans.

Pete: One of the things you just brought up to me was implicit bias. Because what you're saying, brains like categories, they're like hierarchy. And what is another piece of the brain is this implicit bias of whether what level do these occur. So for kids developmentally, we see around six months to one year is when they start to recognize skin color, between ages two to three, they start to vocalize the differences. And then this is really where the key comes in, that from between ages four to six, they start to attribute positive traits to people of their own ethnic group band negative traits to people that look different. And so I think that that's really critical as you think about this developmentally, because also, that's just the brain developing. But then if you think about it,

Nikki: It's the social component,

Pete: The social component, right.

Nikki: And I think it's important to mention, and some of our listeners may be familiar with this, but there's actually something called the implicit bias test, that you can take it online at Harvard, and the website is actually

Pete: Okay.

Nikki: And you can actually assess your implicit bias. So a lot of people like to, I would say, believe a story about themselves that they don't have any biases, especially somebody, let's say that values equity, right, that values social and racial justice. What I hear from a lot of people, and they'll say, "I don't have bias", or, "I really work on my bias". You may work on your bias, and you may value equity and racial and social justice. And...

Pete: And you're still biased.

Nikki: Yes, correct. And you're still biased. And I think that's really important, that part of what Pete and I do in general, and we of course, do it in terms of acknowledging our limitations and biases and struggles when it comes to racism, sexism, all the isms here, is that we have to first be able to acknowledge that this is something that we're all struggling with, we have to be aware of it, to work on it.

Pete: And I think we need to define it too,

Nikki: Yes, fair.

Pete: So implicit bias is a lack of awareness of our biases that, frankly, if I'm saying I'm not biased, and I said this to a class the other day, and I don't know if you were trained this way, but when I was trained, it was like you don't bring yourself in the room, you leave yourself at the door. And now knowing what I know today, and especially just for the work we do, in terms of we teach, all of me is in the room.

Nikki: That's right. Well, when I said that, I wasn't trained as much that way. I would say that that comes from a psychoanalytic tradition, which is Freud, everybody knows Freud.

Pete: We still haven't gotten to that episode.

Nikki: Yeah, we will get to that episode, I have loads to say about it, as you might imagine. That was part of that you're supposed to be like a blank slate in the room. And that sort of trickled down into psychology and in third wave CBT, we really do not emphasize that, because we say you're a human in the room. You have all of your contexts, all of your socio cultural factors and aspects and experiences are just as much present as your patients.

Pete: Yeah. And so the implicit bias is something that we all have. And so we're trying to raise it to a conscious level. And so I think that's part of where D'Angelo talked about White Fragility, because it's hard for people to embrace that. And I noticed this often, if I see someone who doesn't look like me speaking without an accent, there's a part of me, that in my head, I'm like, "oh, wow, they speak really great English". And so that's a micro-aggression. I don't say it out loud. I notice it that myself, because I realize that I still hold these beliefs.

Nikki:  Yes, absolutely. And I think it's important to, again, coming back to this willingness to be uncomfortable, if you are willing to first recognize you're going to have either overt or implicit biases, based on this biased system that we all operate within. When that shows up, and I like your example, Pete of noticing when you have that thought, like, 'oh, that person speaks really good English'. Okay, that might make you uncomfortable that you have that thought, but you're not running away from it, you're curious about like, "oh, there's Okay, like, that don't..."

Pete: "They don't look like me,"

Nikki: "They don't look like me. Okay, let me understand why might I have that thought?" And I, myself have had similar thoughts.

Pete: I talked about that with my brother recently, where part of why I had that thought was because my grandparents, when they migrated to the US, said very many racist things. And so I grew up in an environment where there were racist things said, and I remember them, I remember them clearly. And I don't, I'm thankful that I've done this training, and that, especially within my current family system that we can have these conversations, in particular, a conversation we had recently was, why aren't there more black coaches?

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: In professional sports?

Nikki: Well, and we can say that then, we said this in our race and power episode, Why aren't there more black psychologists?

Pete: That's right,

Nikki: Why aren't there more mindfulness practitioners that are that are black. And I do want to mention, as we've talked about this, there's a wonderful organization called Mindfulness for the People. That's a black owned social change agency,

Pete: Amazing.

Nikki: That is, from their website, dedicated to disrupting systemic whiteness, and the mindfulness movement. These are just important things to be aware of

Pete: What's their name again?

Nikki: Mindfulness for the People, so,

Pete: Check out our description to get their links to them.

Nikki: Yes, absolutely. That this is pervasive, that a white experience or white lens dominates all of these aspects and if we're not willing to notice that and be aware of it, there's no way to change it. And this is true about anything, if you're not aware of your anxiety, how are you going to work on regulating your anxiety? We have to be aware first.

Pete: You got to be aware, and oftentimes, they're linked. So I mentioned all those categories earlier today. And it's not just these discrete categories. I think that's one of the challenges with Breonna Taylor. It's not just her blackness,

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: With...

Nikki: Gender,

Pete: Gender, class, there's a lot that goes into that dynamic. And it's a tough conversation to have. And I'm not going to go into this, but I had a guest speaker, King Mott who is a scholar in gender, and queer and women's studies. And so really, his whole life and publish occasions have been about the sort of inequities related to LGBTQ but also gender studies. And in particular what he says of Black Lives movements, one of the really key components was when these things get sexualized people run away from them. And so that was the secondary movement that was built out for blacks transgender Lives Matter. But then the BLM movement really was uncomfortable because of the sexualization of things. So I think the key there is these are really complex conversations. And again, we've had the episode on communication, which is also again, really challenging for people. But when I talk to somebody, it's not about like, 'Hey, I'm right or wrong. Let me teach you', it's 'let me understand your belief'.

Nikki: Absolutely.

Pete: So I think, episode nine, we talked about communication. And that was about like, open ended questions. Can I ask with curiosity?

Nikki: You know I love curiosity. I do, because it's so foundational to taking in more information. So, this Western piece here that helps us understand some of these inequities is that, the brain isn't always that curious.

Pete: That's right.

Nikki: Well, I think as humans, we think of ourselves as very curious. And we certainly are, to some degree. Though, there's this contradictory component to how we're wired, which is like, 'well, we also want to be comfortable, and we want to stick to what we know, and what's familiar, we want to categorize', and that shuts down curiosity. And when our curiosity is shut down, we're not able to take in more information, and when we can't do that we don't understand. And that actually moves us away from empathy for others.

Pete: I was also thinking about that, curiosity is also about maybe intellect a little bit, I know it's not going to be a really wise sort of accepted thing. But if I think about the spectrum in which people present intellectually, probably the more intellectual people, like average to above average are going to be more curious, potentially, because they're...

Nikki: That's probably true.

Pete: I want to link that to class, because part of IQ is about access to education.

Nikki: Yeah.

Pete: Which is all based on class.

Nikki: Well, and this is probably another episode. A lot of big topics we're addressing today.

Pete: Yeah,

Nikki: IQ isn't the same thing as intelligence. IQ is this construct that...

Pete: That were coined by white psychology?

Nikki: Correct. So we can cultivate curiosity as a behavior,

Pete: Oh totally.

Nikki: Pete, I'm thinking, as we're talking about this, I'm really, very curious to know what Buddhism would say about equity here, because I'm imagining that there's probably quite a lot there.

Pete: Well, the bottom, sort of foundational thing is that everyone's equal, because our suffering is equal, but there's some really good definitions around it, whereby you really focus on equanimity, which tends to be more like a spiritual.

Nikki: Equanimity?

Pete: Yes. It's like spiritual concept,

Nikki: Yeah, I like that word.

Pete: Yeah. And it is one of the four sublime attitudes. So within Buddhism there are these attitudes in which people study, but equanimity is this idea that, and I know you've referenced this about spiritual equality, and we'll get to that in a second. But it is the ground for wisdom and freedom, and the protector of compassion and love, which I really, really love.

Nikki: I really like that.

Pete: Yeah. So the idea is like, the Buddha describes a mind filled with equanimity as abundant, exalted and measurable without hostility and without ill will. So who doesn't want that? I going to say that again.

Nikki: Yeah, I would like you to say it again. Yeah.

Pete: Abundant, exalted and measurable, and here's the key, without hostility and without ill will, because I feel like that's what I'm responding to the most. You and I, pre production, we talked about how really, everyone we're encountering clinically is bringing this up,

Nikki: They are.

Pete: No matter what race, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation. This is affecting everybody, because there's so much ill will and hostility right now.

Nikki: Yes.

Pete: And that's what we're responding to. And so whether it's George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, whether it is here at Rutgers, we're about to celebrate 10 years of Tyler Clemente, was a gay student who killed himself after his sexuality was put on social media by his roommate. So there's all these things that still keep happening. And so equanimity within the Buddhist world, which I find through stillness, I also gain it through wisdom and compassion, really creates abundance and eliminates hostility and ill will, so I don't know, sign me up for that.

Nikki: Yeah, and I think that's very beautifully defined. And what I like is that this, again, lack of ill will is tied to abundance and exaltation.

Pete: That right.

Nikki: The other word that actually was going through my mind as you're reading that, there's such an expansiveness and an openness, and hopefully this doesn't come off as cheesy to listeners,

Pete: Oh do it.

Nikki: Though, if we think about love, love is expensive. Sometimes I say to patients, "it's like a bottomless well",

Pete: You and I have so much love for each other.

Nikki: We do, we really do,

Pete: I like the bottomless as well.

Nikki: It's like a bottomless well, there's not a limited amount of love in the world, that we can always have more of it. And yet it can be very hard to access when we fall into these very human patterns of narrowness and simplicity, maybe as a way to say it. And so just to kind of follow up on what you're saying about being spiritual equals, this of course, going to really overlap with mindfulness and behaviorism. But a former supervisor of mine, when we would talk about hierarchies that existed the world included, and tat there are therapeutic relationship, we would talk about acknowledging, and this is kind of what Pete and I are talking about, we want to first be aware of where there's inequity. So in therapy, if I'm sitting in the room, it's like there's the doctor and the patient, there's an inherent hierarchy in that. And what my supervisor would say is, "we can't ignore that, we can't ignore that that exists". And yet, we also want to simultaneously acknowledge that we are spiritual equals that she would say, "when I go to my dentist, there's a hierarchy there. I'm not a dentist, my dentist, she's the one that is doing the teeth cleaning. And yet, she's not worth more than me, because she's my dentist,"

Pete: That's right.

Nikki: "We're spiritual equals", and I always think about that, that's something that we want to come back to when we find ourselves pulled into whatever hierarchy our brain is attaching to remembering. And we're all human here.

Pete: That's right, yeah. That was beautiful. That's a great supervisor.

Nikki: She is an excellent supervisor, yes. And it stuck with me all these years.
Pete: Well, Nikki, you and I could keep going on, I think we'll have to... And like we said, that's our commitment in this podcast. And so we will have others, I know we didn't get to gender. And so maybe we'll just do... our next episode can be on that. And frankly, there can be many listeners that feel like we didn't do justice to Black Lives Matter, to Breonna Taylor, to class issues. But again, I'm hopeful that you were able to take something away from this, where just think about your implicit biases, recognize them, we do not eliminate them. And if you think about creating just equanimity, you'll find psychological stability.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West. I'm Dr. Pete Economou.

Nikki: And I'm Dr. Nikki Rubin. Be present. Be brave.

Pete: This has been When East Meets West all material is based on opinion and educational training of doctors Pete Economou, and Nikki Rubin.

Nikki: Content is for informational and educational purposes only.