Sep 14, 2023
"There's a lot of fear wrapped around race on my side as a white person. The fear for me is about just saying wrong things, not understanding that there are things I might say, unintentionally that hurt and offend and cause harm. And so it's easier to just stay silent, stay in the background and not, I would say, pursue growth around that.” —Tiffany
Joining Tiffany is San Pathak, Chief Operations Officer of Element Three, as they take on the topic of fear and race. We ask you to come into the conversation open. This episode is about building human bridges, not political ones.
After listening, ask yourself, are you activating around your fear? Are you stepping into the discomfort? Instead of trying to convince other people of what you do or don't believe, are you stepping into the messiness of a relationship? From Tiffany’s perspective, as you’ll hear, that's where change actually takes place.
I am listening with San Pathak
San: I kind of hit my breaking point to where I was like, you know, I'm, I'm almost feeling emotionally unstable right now. And I needed you guys to know that cause I'm in a position where I'm always having to make decisions and all sorts of things. And when something like that happens, all of a sudden, you're just like, what.
What am I doing? Like you have to remember why, what you're doing at work even matters.
Tiffany: I'm your host, Tiffany Sauder. And this is Scared Confident.
There's a lot of fear wrapped around right on my side as a white person. The fear for me is about just saying wrong things. There are things I might say, unintentionally that hurt and offend and cause harm like that's horrifying. And so it's easier to just. Stay silent, stay in the background and not, I would say pursue growth around that.
And as I better understand, I think fear on the other side of it. And I'm not speaking for, you know, a population, but there's fear and vulnerability and showing all of who you are in fear and potentially who you completely are not being accepted. And I think that those topics are certainly tightly wound around race.
But if we're honest with ourselves, I think that that's secretly a question on all of our hearts, right? Is all of me everything that you could know about me, will it be accepted? And the parts that we don't think are going to be accepted, we hide and we keep inside and. Fear makes it so that we don't step out completely in vulnerability.
And I think that in, in this place too, in this conversation of race, we have to have the courage to sort of walk through the clumsiness so that we can work it out and get into a place where we better understand our individual fears so that we can step more authentically into a relationship. You're going to hear Santa and I talk.
You know, kind of from both sides of the shared journey of getting into a deep relationship where we had moments along the journey where we could step through the discomfort and trust the other person with the vulnerability of our reality, or we could stand in our comfort, which was also choosing to stay in our ignorance.
And I hope you listen in and understand that. We have to, we have to build bridges. We have to build bridges. And the only thing that is going to do that is a grace-filled relationship. As we unpack fear and race. I have asked sand pathic to join me in the conversation. San is a father of four and he is a husband to Ebony.
And Santa came into element three over four years ago, really to help us with some technical development. Sort of web stuff that we were working through and he's held, I joke, you know, almost every role in the company and currently sits as my chief operations officer. He runs the day-to-day of the business.
He has primary ownership over our PNL or business performance. So it's a very high trust relationship. And his job is basically to make true, to make happen. The vision that I have for element three. So San, I'm going to start by going back to, uh, perhaps a fear moment that you had, and I don't want to put words in your mouth that I was not even aware of when you said yes to working at Element Three and just go back to that place in your mind.
San: During that interview, I specifically remember, uh, sitting there with our VP of talent and, um, we were sitting in a conference room. She was interviewing me and she was asking me questions about, what do you think about. Our culture. And we were sitting in there in this, in a conference room that's made of the glass walls and I was kind of looking out and it was clear like, yeah, I'm going to be the only black person that's working at this company.
And I kinda, I kind of read that cue from her when she was asking the question, what do you think of our culture? She asked me twice the first time. I was just like, I mean, it's pretty laid back. Seems pretty nice. I, I really like it. It's. You know, it feels like a, you know, a real family atmosphere. And then she asked me again, like, what do you think about our culture?
But what's interesting is that, you know, as a black person, in like a professional setting, most of the time, many times you're one of the few people that are a person of color in the setting. Right? So as a person of color, you're kind of always walking into. An environment where you're one of the onlys, but for me personally, it was a blessing because I was looking for employment and I found a place that I thought was very special and would use my talents and gifts.
So it's something that, you know, we impact over time, Tiffany, but initially, it wasn't, it's not too different. It's not too different because it's typically the experience for people of color and in corporate settings.
Tiffany: It feels sometimes like a mountain to climb. When you look outside at your company and realize I don't have as diverse up sort of footprint as I'd like to.
And so you have to start with one, right? You have to have someone who's courageous enough to step into that and to kind of break it open. And so how do you. Ask courageously. And how do you create? Cause it's a vulnerable moment for you to even say like, so are you asking, am I cool being the only black person here?
Like, is that actually what you want? What we want to talk about? Like, is that not a conversation that we should have? Should we, I don't know. But what do you think of that?
San: I mean, I think it's like anything else and it's something I probably learned from you that I've always appreciated is that you kind of run into the.
Like the tough conversations to just be transparent and open about it. And I think that's really important even in this situation, but something that you have to also understand what this particular situation of like black folks in corporate settings is that. We experience things that are unintended, that are like microaggressions and things like that.
So it causes you to just keep a wall up and it kind of just protects you. Like, let's just keep professional. Let's keep personal, personal in that way. I don't have to, you know, be vulnerable, but it also doesn't allow for you to actually form any real like relationships.
Tiffany: So San, let's go back to this whole, like professional bucket, you know, pocket of sand and personal. I sense that our culture sort of mess that game plan up for you a little bit .
San: This is that it really did. And, um, I mean, fast forward, like I'm super happy that it did mess it up. Right. Cause I feel like I've been able to foster like some relationships at work that I'm like.
Really happy, genuinely happy that I've been able to, but going all the way back to 2017, this is the first job that I've been at. That's like that I've just never been at a job like that. But the position that you brought me in at the executive level here at element three, it took all of my energy to, to like to do the job.
So I had no energy left over to try to split my personality into professional and personal. You know, when you're tired or you're stressed, you just go, you're just gonna be yourself, you know? And the way you talk, your flavor, everything just comes out when you're tired and stressed and you can't always be buttoned up.
And so that's what I, I like literally made a decision one day where I was like, all right, I gotta stop, man. I can't. I can't be professional and personal Santa has gotta be one person at work and at home and wherever else I go. And it's either people that accept me or they don't, when I made that decision.
That's when you saw, you saw me kind of show up in, uh, you know, even the jokes and stuff that I do at biz review stuff, that was just my full personality.
Tiffany: So I want to move the conversation a little bit too. I would say that the journey that we've had. Of learning to trust each other. So for me, I needed to learn to trust you because I was really stepping out of running the day-to-day of the company, which meant I needed to step aside and let San really run the day-to-day make decisions.
And he'd never done that job before I sucked at that job. So I knew I couldn't teach him the job. And so the only thing I could really do was step aside and. Figure out, do I trust him? And while our backgrounds are very different, at least I learned there was a lot of similarities in the sense of, we both had responsibility, young, we both developed work ethics, really young.
We both dream of a really vivid future for our families. Like we both bonded over having the Sane faith. Like those were things where I think we found. There's a lot different about us, but there's also a lot of commonalities. And then we, we read some, I read some books that helped me better learn the vocabulary of, of your culture, and it helped me learn. And I think it just created some different conversations.
San: I remember we read the book Just Mercy. You had mentioned that book to me. And when we read it, we had an opportunity to talk through it. And it was kind of during that time that. It definitely evolved into like the next level of, Hey, I'm gonna let you in to some more things about saying, right?
You see my personality, see you see my, the things that I can do. And then in that moment, you're like, like I gotta know, I gotta know more. I gotta know who you are. Cause I'm about to entrust you with the thing that I've been building for all of these years. And I think that was when we really did take it up to another level because I'm talking to you about.
My, my experiences in this country and systematic racism and how that affects black folks in all of these different sectors. And it was really during that time too, where I was like, it is, it is getting to me like I am getting lonely here. Uh, we had a conversation about that, where I was like, I'm getting lonely and it is.
And it is getting to me, there's a, there's a point. Yeah, it's on where you want to be around other folks like yourself, because there are things happening out here in society and it is heartbreaking. And then I have to come into work and I don't have anybody to turn to. That feels the Sane heartbreak I do to just have a moment in the morning so that I can get my day started. It was another level of vulnerability that I had to make a choice. To, to step into. I'm glad that we did that.
Tiffany: I remember you saying to me, like, I don't hang out with white people, Tiffany. Like when I go home, I don't hang out with white people. And I was like, Oh, that's shocking to me. I was like, Oh, that's it. I am foreign. Like, it was interesting, you know? Cause you're the most regular thing to yourself. You know what I'm saying?
San: Like other folks you don't, if you don't think about it, It's true. Like, uh, it's a big switch. I mean, you, you mentioned a term earlier that audience may not be familiar with called code-switching.
And that is, that is a, like a technical term. That really it's what we've been talking about being professional in one setting, and then being able to kind of let your hair down in another setting that is code-switching, right. You're switching to assimilate, assimilate to this setting so that everybody else around you can feel more comfortable.
It's unfortunate that that has to be a thing. But I think that everybody, to a certain extent experience, the, I guess, the pressure to have to code switch, and then like in professional settings, they call like imposter syndrome. So now you're trying to like switch into something that you feel like people need to see to trust you and feel more empowered by your presence and stuff like that.
But for folks that are over different culture, not just like black, but even being a woman in an all-male, you know, environment or something like that, that's, that is what that term code-switching means.
Tiffany: I think, see, and over time there have been things that you've led me into. And as people listen, what are, what are some of the specific decisions that you made a sort of like test the boundaries of how far you could back off of this idea of code-switching?
San: Yeah. It's, it's interesting that, um, I mean, I feel like I had really shown up to the job, right. Like I feel like I. Instilled confidence in you in the exec team that I'm going to knock the job out. And now I'm like, all right, I'm going to be myself. So there was, there was literally decisions I made to be like, I'm just going to address today.
W chain you know, black shirt in high tops. And the next day I just wear a button up in, in a collared shirt. And I just like, and people would notice it, cause folks would say, you know, San, do you have like the most versatile, you know, wardrobe? So, and another thing was just hairstyles too. It's like, um, you know, braids wearing braids to work, but I'm going to be, you know, just also honest on this too, is that I was, I'm always very careful about business because I, I mean, I've been in.
I've walked out of the bank with a button-up in my shirt, tucked in, and there'll be somebody sitting in the car, older, white men that would lock their doors when I walked by. I mean, I'm very, I know that racism exists. And, and so like, I'm just very careful about showing up on business calls. You know, like, I, I hate that I have to do that, but I still think about that.
It comes to my mind. I got a, I got a business call today. I got a client called day. I know that I'm supported at my company. I don't know how anybody else feels. So what's interesting, you know, about making those decisions about even just like little things, like how do you dress when you go to work?
And we just, we just know that like the flavor of the style is different. Right? So during that time I did not have fear about it. I was, I was literally just like, my mentality was like, I hope that you do say something about it, right? Because then I kind of know who you are. And how you respond to that.
But every single time I opened up a little bit more with another dimension of myself. I felt like it was always received with support. So it just, it allowed me to continue, you know, just being me more and more as you're talking.
Tiffany: You know, there is much to do in our culture and country right now. In this topic of race relations has been politicized in nearly every way. And that is not my expertise. I don't know what policies are going to change it. I don't know. You know, what about our history goddess here? I don't know. I'm not a scholarly expert on those things.
I'm not an expert on race relations. I'm not an expert on any of that. I am simply speaking from. My experience of understanding that relationship trumps all. And, and we only change the face of our country, changed the face of this topic when we're willing to get in a relationship, like really understanding and really knowing, and really caring and really loving people who aren't exactly like us.
So we're talking about that under the banner of race in this conversation, but you know, there's enough people that talk about the political aspects of it. That's not what I want to talk about today. This is about building human bridges, not political ones.
San: Last year, it was like a collective breaking point for African-Americans across this country simultaneously. All at once emails from anybody who was willing to send an email in their company, to their leadership, to other employees. Uh, I've talked to me, friends about it. It's like we all hit send on the email at the Sane time.
And so I sent an email to you guys, the, the exec team, because I kind of hit my breaking point to where I was like, You know, I just, I need, I'm like, I'm, I'm almost feeling emotionally unstable right now. And I needed you guys to know that cause I'm in a position where I'm always having to make decisions and all sorts of things.
And when something like that happens, all of a sudden, you're just like, what. What am I doing? Like, it, it, it, you have to remember why, what you're doing at work even matters. And all of a sudden you're like, I don't care about bringing on a new it vendor or something, you know, like I just don't care about that.
And so I needed you guys to know. So I sent the email about everything that was going on in my mind. And again, like met with that was a moment too, where I was like, man, if I don't, if I don't see a certain response like it could have been curtained. But you guys again, like gave me massive amounts of support in that moment.
Um, you guys texted me back, called me, met with me. I really appreciated that. And then gave me an opportunity to speak to the entire company, um, about systemic racism, because I mean, everybody, it was undeniable. Everybody was, everybody could see what happened there to George Floyd and it opened a world for them.
Um, and. I'll say this and then I'll kind of pause, but like most people have a specific like, uh, experience of, of police in this country and that's all they know, but yeah. So when you tell them your experiences, they're like, yeah, you're lying. Like I I've told people, like when we had conversations with, uh, white brothers and sisters in the church that came to our church, which is predominantly black on Baltimore Avenue.
Um, and I would tell them my experiences and my friend's experiences. They'd be like, if you were not, if I didn't know you in didn't know, you are a person of faith, I would say you were lying. So that's how massively different it is.
Tiffany: For a much, much of 2020. I was back in the seat of saying, I don't understand.
And I don't know how to support you, but I'm going to stand here because I want to, and I think I want people also to hear like, While it feels so trite in the moment. Like it was enough because it's what I could give you. And again, I think your courage of stepping in, once again, given the option to lean out or lean in, you had the courage to lean in yet again, in a moment of sort of pain and already feeling really depleted you leaned into our relationships with the rest of the leadership team, but you also leaned in.
To the company and you know, my, I feel like my voice back to you. Cause you was like, I feel so alone. I'm like, do not despise your impact right now. Like I know you're so tired and now you're being asked to lead even more and that's so unfair. Because you should be able to go rest, but that's not how life works.
I think I'll look back at 2020 for so many things, but because at that point, like, I feel like you were already my friend to go through that with someone who you view as a friend, and to feel the heaviness of what was going on in your heart and to like, love your kids and your wife by extension of you, and to understand all that you dream of for them.
And. It, it just put a totally different lens on what was going on, because I think it's easy to look at it through the lens of headlines and things and people far away, instead of understanding like, no, this is, this is close, this is personal. And so for me that it really, I think changed the experience of 2020 from.
You know, the riots downtown and those things going on over there too, bringing it very much inside of a, an experience though. Definitely changed. No, a lot of, a lot of me.
San: Yeah. And when you asked me to have this conversation with the company, that was a, definitely a fear moment for me, because I was like, man, I mean, you have to protect your energy, right?
I mean, you know this as a leader and the Sane thing for anybody going through anything traumatic, you got to protect your energy. Cause you, you won't be able to continue to pace yourself basically. So you are having a conversation of, do I need to pace myself or am I. Making that an excuse, right? Cause you can make pacing yourself.
Like I'm protecting my energy and excuse too, or you just need to step up to the plate and be like, all right, this is an opportunity for me to speak about something and maybe change some folks minds and give them new perspectives. And so I took it and you know, it was, it was good. And I've had really great conversations with people across the whole company as a result of that.
Tiffany: What was fear saying to you as you were getting ready to address the company? What was loud in your head at that moment?
San: You know, it's so immature and stupid, but the biggest thing was like, man, I just don't want to have to like have a breakdown in front of the company because this is the most like untrue, dumb thing.
But that whole thing about like, you know, in order to show strength, you don't show emotion. That is hard to be, it's a hard thing to beat when it's just kind of the thing that you grew up with. And it's a thing that protects you growing up, you know, whatever, all of my, my childhood things, just like, it just protects you, you can't relinquish that.
It's always there. You just have to fight it. So I walked outside and I had to just like before I jumped on the zoom and I was like, all right, you know, who cares if I do, you know?
Tiffany: So what, what does fear say to you today?
San: I mean, it's, it says, it says saying you. You need to seek after comfort and the things that you want to do next in life will disrupt that comfort.
So you should stay where you're. You should just, just keep doing, keep, keep maintaining the status quo. That's what it says.
Tiffany: San talking about 2020. I was taken aback, frankly, at how deeply personal, the expense your answer was for him, which now, you know, my 20, 21 self can't even believe that my early 20, 20 self, that, that was a real thing, but I was literally taken aback. I didn't understand it. I didn't understand the connection of these strangers essentially to him, how that.
Impact came all the way to like a soul gripping experience for him. And, and so working through my own surprise, frankly, and again, it's, it's bizarre to say that, but it was surprising to me. I didn't understand the connection and to be able to quickly be there for him. Certainly not as a central part of his support system, cause he has great family and friends, but as a part of his support system now for him to understand that we were there for him, um, it was a great learning experience for me and I hope others can learn from what I did and learn a little bit more from our conversation here.
So Sandra people listening that may. Not be as genetically courageous as you are. Um, I think some of it's practice, I think some of it's genetic and, and they're being invited into these race conversations and don't feel as comfortable doing it. What advice do you have for them?
San: Actually, I think you should answer the question too because I can speak from the side of the person who is in the minority.
I think you should maybe speak to the other side, but I will say this, although the examples that I'm giving on this, uh, on this interview have ended well, you know, like ended in support every time it does, it does not gonna end in support. And that's the part that you are worried about. The part that you're concerned about.
It's like, man, And it's happened to me. Like it's happened to the folks that are listening. Like it has not ended in support. I've been vulnerable. It's like a relationship. Like you open your heart up to somebody. That's why relationships are risky and they can stab you. And then all of a sudden you're the one trying to heal, right?
So that's the concern that it's not going to end in support, but the only thing that you can do, and I think you have to be wise, you gotta be wise to understand if the person that you're speaking to. Has all of those telltale signs that it's gonna, it's gonna end in support is gonna end in a good place, because if it's not, it's probably not worth having the conversation.
But if you want to make change, if you really want to make change and even go deeper and your relationship with the person or the company, or make change in your company, you have to move past the fear, the concern, and just have the conversations you have to do it. The only other option that you'll have is to.
Either you have to live with whatever it is that you're the environment that you're in or you're going to have to leave. You only have three options. You try to change it. You have to live with it, or you have to leave.
Tiffany: I think if I were to answer the question, I would say. That you have to understand that, like, I think Sandy kind of came with a hard candy shell, and so I had to be patient for you to let me through that. And I also would say like pursue knowledge. Like we were pretty intentional of saying like, I'm going to seek to understand you, and that might be irritating to you, but I'm, that's what I'm going to do. And so you were like, okay, I guess so. And like, even like the books I read, I might read them and come back and you'd be like, those are the wrong dumb books, which is fine.
But I think the effort that I put into it made you believe it wasn't just something I was giving. You know, politically correct lip service to, it was like I was spending my time. I was really investing, cause I really did want to understand and going out and educating myself gave us different starting points for conversation.
And you didn't feel like you had to be the library for me. And I just think shared experiences is so important. We had the advantage of working together, but you can't be, you can't get to know someone if you don't have a shared experience, you know, even at church, I find when I'm like. You know, helping in the kitchen, you get to know people better cause you're working together.
And so if you want to be in relationship with somebody who looks different than you, you have to find a way to have a shared experience. Otherwise, it's just like you're shipping back and forth. Things you know about, but it's not like you had something that made you both laugh. And I think that's also where you get a chance to see people's character play out, you know, like what they're really about and sort of those micro-decisions.
And we got a chance to really watch each other, I think for a while too. Is there anything that comes to mind to you, San, where I have, where I have hurt you unknowingly?
San: So, I mean, you w and we've talked about it. I told you about it, but we were preparing for a summer slam, which is like a really cool summer party that we do again, a new thing, but I love it.
I just love summer slam. But anyway, I was in charge of the music and, um, there, we were having a little meeting and I was like, Hey, Tiffany, like who, what, what artists do you like? So I can make sure it makes the playlist. And you said, I can't even remember the name of the artist pad Bennet's our benefits are.
And as matter of fact, I remember saying Pat Bennington, so I wrote down Pat Bennington. Right. Then we leave. And, um, I walk over to another employee's desk who is going to help with the music. And I was like, Hey, do you know who Pat Bennington is? And he was like, you mean. Uh, of course, he's, you know, he's white and this is probably not a, I think it might be a cultural thing.
Like I'm just not a popular artist right. In my life. Yeah.
Tiffany: Well, I don't know that pet van guitars that famous either, but anyways.
San: Yeah. Yeah. So I was like, Hey, do you know what Pat Bennington wasn't he's like pet bending tar, you mean? And I was like, yeah. And, uh, you had walked out and heard the conversation and you was like, Oh man, I knew you didn't know who that was because I saw you writing it down and then two other execs come over there laughing too.
And then you call me Mr. Hip hop. You're like, you know, Mr. Hip hop. And I was like, yo, that, that wasn't cool. You know, I got very angry because I mean the, the rest of the list, like you, you don't know about the kind of music I grew up listening to, like I played in a band, I listened to Nirvana Oasis green day.
I can go on and on. And I was so heated. I had a meeting with that Sane employee right afterward. And I got in the elevator and I was just, I was so angry and he was kind of still laughing and I was like, you think it's funny? I was like, what's funny about being called Mr. Hip hop. You know what I'm saying?
Like, why, why do I gotta be stereotyped like that? And then he apologized and I've met with them. I talked to him for like 10 minutes. I was like, Oh, I gotta, I gotta just cool down. So I just let it go. But we talked about that, you know, I told you about it. Yeah.
Tiffany: I think it's, I think it's important that we.
Have the courage to talk about these things. It's okay. It's uncomfortable to hear it. Cause those are like, your subconscious is reacting in that moment, not your conscious self. And that's probably part of what was hurtful, right? It was like your subconscious just came out and that is, is that how you see me potentially?
San: I think that that's the great thing about being able to build stronger relationships because I remember a pastor preaching a sermon once I'm about relationships being like a bridge of grace and the more you give into the relationship, the stronger that bridge gets. But our bridge has, was not super-duper strong at that point.
You know what I mean? It's harder at that moment, but that's the thing, like I've experienced other microaggressions that have gotten me so angry, but I'm like, man, I just know people's hearts and that I have worked with them. Like we've talked, we joke, we go hang out because we hang out and do those. Out of work things like I just know him better. I'm like, yeah, they don't mean it like that.
Tiffany: Whenever I hear San replay the story of where I would say my actions and words just disappointed him and hurt him. I just feel like a jerk. That's the first thing. And the second thing I feel is thankful that he. Chose is respond through grace and like reading my intentions and not my impact. I just feel really thankful for that.
But I think the other piece that I reflect on is the truth of the environment that I grew up in, in the Sane way that it is like is that I did have the stereotype that came out of me. It's like, if somebody would have asked me, do I have that stereotype? I would have said in my. In my, uh, thinky head part of my brain.
Uh, no, I do not have that stereotype. I understand that, you know, there's, you know, people of color do all kinds of amazing things, some of which are, you know, in the hip hop world, not all, but clearly my instinct, my like subconscious. That was very connected. And so I have to own that and understand that that's clearly something in my feel part of my body, that my reaction was it, that it came out.
And so I have to own that, that clearly was in my head, my, my body somewhere. And I. Living in small-town, Indiana. I didn't experience professional black people like SANAS today. And so I have to own it. That's part of my own story and that's part of my own growth and it just is true. I have to own that.
And. I think the next chapter is we have to put people of all types and races in positions of influence and to the extent that I can help perpetuate that for Sans and people that he knows and are smart and intelligent and love, like I want to use my, I don't know, influence, which even seems like. Who am I, but my influence to be able to do that.
And I think that San would say there's people I brought into his world that have really helped him shape his dreams in ways that are gonna really play out well for him and his family. And so I think that's the next chapter is that we aren't just shuttling back and forth on the bridge, but that we're like literally building the bridge together.
Around fear is a messy one. When we leave it to spoken words only, I think that challenge to all of you listening here is like, are you activating around your fear? Are you stepping into the discomfort? Not in. Trying to convince other people of what you do or don't believe, but are you stepping into the messiness of relationship? In my experience, that's where change actually takes place.
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