#84: Kassidi Jones: Antiracism in Animal Welfare

[00:00:00] Kassidi: I remember one that caught a lot of attention was from Benedicte Boisseron’s Afro Dog, where she writes that canine companionship is a white privilege. People were upset about that, defensive, like we just talked about.

But I think if you’re willing to engage with that idea seriously, just even for a moment, you get to uncover certain things about the ways that People of Color and Black people in particular are blocked from having the love and affection of a companion animal.

So, that’s where it started. I was accidentally posting incendiary things on the internet. I did not mean to and I did not think anybody was going to see it because nobody was seeing anything else. But it started getting a lot of attention and a lot of that attention was good. I have come across a lot of people who were looking for language to start these conversations, or to explain the things they had been feeling, if they come from a marginalized group and had worked in rescue for a long time. So I’m glad to be able to give language to things like that.

[00:00:59] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:01:16] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:01:18] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Kassidi Jones. Kassidi Jones is a sixth year Ph. D. candidate in African American Studies and English at Yale. She is also the content creator behind the Instagram account, at Gingers underscore Naps, which explores the relationship and history between Black Americans and animals.

After seeing the success of the account, she founded Gingers Naps LLC, a corporation that offers DE& I consulting for pet businesses, content creation services, and merchandise. She currently resides in the Hartford area with the light of her life, her dog Ginger.

Y’all, I am so excited that we were able to get Kassidi on the podcast as someone who is not only a voice for anti-racism, but who is a voice for anti-racism within the animal welfare community. So cool. The animal welfare community is notoriously non-melanated, and so I’m really excited for the work that Kassidi is doing. We absolutely need more diverse voices within this field, and she is making active strides towards that goal. In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Kassidi talk about: 

  • education is empowering

  • what on earth are eco poetics

  • abolition in the 21st century

  • how we can do a better job of integrating multiple cultural views of animal care

  • and how to find mentorship in anti-racist work. 

Alright, here it is, today’s episode, Kassidi Jones, Anti-Racism and Animal Welfare.

[00:03:06] Emily: Okay, tell us your name, pronouns, and pets.

[00:03:10] Kassidi: My name is Kassidi Jones. My pronouns are she, her, hers. My only pet is Ginger, but I am dog sitting Ginger’s best friend and my neighbor, Chloe.

[00:03:20] Emily: Aw, that’s cute. Chloe’s a temporary pet. She’s hanging out. I love that. I love that Ginger has a friend over.

[00:03:27] Kassidi: She has sleepovers all the time. Her social life is way more poppin than mine.

[00:03:31] Emily: That’s amazing. All right. So, tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:03:35] Kassidi: Ooh, my story and how I got to where I am. I am currently toward the end of a PhD program in African American Studies and English at Yale, where I work on 19th century African American ecopoetics. It’s a project I started because I noticed that a lot of people were conflating Black Americans’ relationships with nature with enslavement, which makes sense because interactions with the earth were forced, and lynching was a thing. And dogs, police, not police dogs at that time, but basically the predecessor for police dogs were a thing. But my dissertation is basically saying that that’s not the only relationship that was had, that there were positive things happening, a mutualism happening between Black Americans and the environment in the 19th century.

I started my Instagram account about two weeks after I got my dog toward the end of 2020, 2020, yeah, right after I finished my comprehensive exams for the program, and it started as a regular account where I posted pictures of my dog, who is the cutest dog in the world, because everybody’s dog is the cutest dog in the world.

And because I, I really couldn’t hold in the fact that I’m a nerd long enough, I started posting like book reviews, basically, in quotes from academic articles, I was reading about the relationships between Black folks and dogs historically, and sharing what I had learned on the internet and 30,000 followers later here we are doing anti-racist animal advocacy work online.

[00:05:02] Emily: I, I love that. And also for those of you who are listening and don’t know, Kassidi has merchandise on her website that is so cool. And I bought a hoodie and I wear it and it’s definitely started multiple conversations about– The hoodie that I got was– says “Pro-animal Anti-racist”. And I’ve had, I’ve had a couple of people just come up to me and be like, “What is your– What does your sweatshirt mean?”

And I’m like, “Well, how much time do you have?”

It is working, so just for those of you who are listening, you can always go to her site and check that out.

So before we get started. I’m going to ask our listeners to do the labor of learning and either watch or listen to the free webinar that Kassidi made a couple of years ago for Every Dog Austin, which we, we do have linked in the show notes for you.

And the reason I’m recommending this is because Kassidi teaches a lot of foundational concepts in that webinar that we’re going to be building on in this conversation. So if the concept of racism in the pet industry is new to you, you might find it helpful to learn the basics first, because we’re not going to really be spending a lot of time rehashing things that have already discussed in that webinar.

Additionally, I want to take some time to talk about mindset, because when first learning about the ways in which we are privileged, it’s perfectly natural to feel a kind of knee jerk reaction of defensiveness and like, “Well, I’ve had to work hard and I’ve had things against me,” and all of that and, and yes, that, that is true.

You can be privileged in some ways and marginalized in some ways. And being privileged doesn’t mean that you haven’t had to work hard to get where you are. So I, there’s like little reasonable reasons to feel defensive. However, it is also important for us to move past that defensiveness and be able to hear the message with open hearts and minds.

So also in the show notes, you will find some resources that will define terms and help you to better understand power dynamics between privilege and marginalization, and the responsibility that we who are privileged carry. So, having laid that foundation, I want to start by hearing about your work that you’ve been doing on social media and particularly on Instagram and some of the experiences that you’ve had while doing that work.

[00:07:23] Kassidi: Yeah where do I start with that? Like I said, it started kind of with these book quotes and article quotes that I found really interesting. I remember one that caught a lot of attention was from Benedicte Boisseron’s Afro Dog, where she writes that canine companionship is a white privilege. People were upset about that, defensive, like we just talked about.

But I think if you’re willing to engage with that idea seriously, just even for a moment, you get to uncover certain things about the ways that People of Color and Black people in particular are blocked from having the love and affection of a companion animal.

So, that’s where it started. I was accidentally posting incendiary things on the internet. I did not mean to and I did not think anybody was going to see it because nobody was seeing anything else. But it started getting a lot of attention and a lot of that attention was good. I have come across a lot of people who were looking for language to start these conversations, or to explain the things they had been feeling, if they come from a marginalized group and had worked in rescue for a long time. So, I’m glad to be able to give language to things like that. But then, of course, when you leave your little niche and things go viral, especially for us, it’s– February 1st and June 19th are the biggest engagement days for the account, and that means that our content is reaching people who did not ask to see it.

That, that’s when I, I used to argue a lot. I used to be very defensive, defending my ideas, but now I think I approach the Instagram as a take it or leave it kind of thing. I’m presenting this information as one perspective, I am never coming online and saying, this is the only way to think about things.

I’m just saying, here’s a new way to maybe think about things, a new way to approach things, a perspective to consider that you may not have considered before. And if you like it, great. And if you don’t like it, you have the chance to figure out why it’s rubbing you the wrong way, or you can be a jerk in my comments and try to make me feel stupid and small. But I can tell you that that, that last one is probably not going to work out.

[00:09:28] Emily: Yeah, I, yes, I think that is a beautiful way to model how to approach social media, like content creation, because there are, there’s definitely a learning curve for like how to post something and then set expectations for like how you engage with the comments because yeah, there are so many comments that it’s like, you’re not even why are you here? Because you’re not here to learn, you don’t actually want a response, you just want to, you want to lash out. And, cool, that’s, you know, however many minutes of your life that you’re never going to get back. And you’re not going to get anything from me. So I guess, good for you for wasting your time that way. But that’s definitely a healthier, healthier way to engage because past me was definitely a debater, and I had to learn how to do emotional budgeting, and not waste time and emotional labor on, on people who weren’t going to utilize it.

[00:10:27] Kassidi: Very real. Yeah, I think the reason I– this is gonna be my fourth degree in Black Studies. I think the reason why it’s gotten as far as because when I was younger in school, before people cared about D– like, when I was in high school, Trayvon Martin was still alive. So, people were really not trying to hear me out, or teach me about these things that I needed to know. And so, often when I raise questions like the ones that I’m raising on the Internet now, it was met with a lot of pushback, especially from adults who just kind of wanted me to be quiet. And so, I think I went and got all these degrees to prove to myself and other people that I know what I’m talking about and give language to myself about the things that I’m experiencing. So I’m at a point where, yes, when I first got on Instagram, I was feeling that particular trigger from my past feeling like I need to prove that I’m not crazy. I’m not making this stuff up. But now, I’m almost at the end of the degree. I have enough of them, and I’m pretty confident about my ability to read, there’s not much for me to fight with y’all about.

[00:11:29] Emily: Right, right. Yeah, I mean, I think that is one of the benefits of, of getting an education. However, however you get your education, either through academia or other ways, I think there’s definitely something to be said for people who have been silenced, or marginalized, or trivialized in some way throughout their lives, being able to better articulate what they know and their own experience and also the experience of the communities that they’re a part of, and also feel more secure in their ability to sort of push back. That, to me, I’m seeing is like really valuable because when you have a history of just being, you know, you know, silenced and sort of like bulldozed over and over and over again, it can really mess with– you start to gaslight yourself.

Like it can really mess with your ability to, to believe yourself. So I love that. I love that that was your road. And the outcome is that you’re like, no, this is true. This is, I’m going to, I’m going to cite my sources, and then let you engage with that however you want. But it’s facts.

[00:12:36] Kassidi: That reminds me, I was just thinking about this the other day, where somebody commented on one of my carousels and was like, what is your source for this information? And I was like, it’s under the whole slide labeled sources. And she said, those aren’t sources, those are books. I’m not really sure what she was looking for from me in that moment. But, yeah, good time. That’s, that’s what I was up against on the internet. So I’m like, why am I even, why am I going to ruin my day arguing with people that don’t think books are real? Okay. All right.

[00:13:08] Emily: Right. You know, I don’t have time and you’re not paying me to explain epistemology to you, so you do you and I’m gonna live my life. I, I, I enjoy that. Okay, beautiful. So I would like to circle back to something you mentioned when you were telling us how you got to where you are. You mentioned that your primary study is ecopoetics. Can you define that term and talk to us about what that means? What, what is, what is that field of study?

[00:13:37] Kassidi: It basically boils down to nature poetry and how nature poetry is created. So my dissertation is looking at how Black poets in the 1800s engage with different pieces of the environment, whether that be dirt – I have a whole chapter on dirt – or trees or water or animals or rocks or anything, wind, because I think a poem is well, it can be such a small thing. So the choice to include a pebble in your poem, when you only have a certain amount of words, a certain amount of lines, I think is really significant. And it’s really beautiful to me how these folks were visualizing freedom through the, through the elements being as free as the ocean, or being as free as a buck, or being as free as the things that they saw around them, and the kind of relationship it fosters to be inspired by the environment in the way that these poets were. So that’s what I’m working on.

[00:14:32] Emily: I love that so much for so many reasons, but, but here’s the thing that really kind of lights me up about this, is that it’s not just highlighting people who have been just completely erased, right? It’s also giving, it’s also supporting art because I think there is a, a general idea that art and especially poetry is something that only happens because of privilege.

If you have enough money to just lounge around and wax poetic, and so I think art in general, but poetry as a specific art form sort of gets Ignored as being a valid way of, of meeting human needs. And that’s what our podcast is about. Enrichment: meeting needs of all species, including humans.

And one of the things that we need as a species is the ability to express ourselves and create and engage in a thoughtful and mindful way. And that’s really what art is. And so getting to focus on ecopoetics of 19th century Black Americans is a way of, of really standing up for both poetry and 19th century Black Americans.

So I love that. That’s, that’s an incredible thing to study. Do you have resources that you can share with our listeners in the show notes?

Awesome. I would love that. That’s, that’s excellent. So circling back to the animal welfare side of what you do, you had mentioned that part of your work is about really sort of helping to foster and cultivate the, the community– the relationship between Black Americans and pets.

And I, I really love that. My mom is Mexican, so I have, I have a similar experience with the Mexican side of my family and some Latinx people that I’ve been in relationship with and getting to see the ways in which they’re particularly targeted for intervention and in terms of their pet care.

And the, the most kind of striking example of this actually wasn’t one of my family members, but it was a neighbor of mine who had a perfectly lovely dog. Healthy, happy boy. But they had just recently immigrated from Mexico and the culture there is to let your dog wander around. You don’t keep them confined in a house.

And so even though he was well cared for, he wandered around and, and the– everybody on the street that I knew really loved that and loved him. And I loved when he would come to visit. He would like come to the front door and wait, and then he’d just come hang in my out in my house. And then when he was done, he would leave.

And his name was Timo. And one day Timo just disappeared. And I asked my neighbor you know, “Where did Timo go?” And she said, “Oh, animal control came and took him.” And I don’t know who reported him as being a stray, but like I said, all the neighbors that I know knew him and loved him and were fine with him being out like that.

So I, I suspect it was not somebody who actually lived on our street who reported him. But I thought that was a really powerful example of how there’s a culture clash in terms of how white Americans think that it’s acceptable to take care of and keep pets and other cultures and other, other backgrounds.

So I know that, that you are primarily focusing on African-American studies. Can you kind of speak to how we can better think about and accept and integrate these different kind of cultural attitudes towards pets, looking at it from the larger framework of meeting needs? Like Timo’s needs were really well met.

He just, maybe it was a little less safe? But he was smart enough, he was savvy enough to like avoid cars, but the perception was that he was not safe or that he was a danger to the community. So can you speak more to, to how we can kind of integrate better?

[00:18:22] Kassidi: Absolutely. I think the idea of safety is really contentious because it’s so personal. And I think one’s perception of safety heavily depends on one’s own identities and communities. I love that Timo was a community dog and kind of speaks to what I, what I think about when I see a lot of calls for increased policing or harsher sentencing or increased fines for particular animal based infractions. Sorry, can you hear Chloe Chloe-ing around?

[00:18:55] Emily: This is an animal, animal podcast. So we’re used to having animal noises in the background. It’s, it’s not a big deal. She can, she can be a part of the program.

[00:19:03] Kassidi: Perfect. So it sounds like to me, your community had this agreement or understanding. And then that was externally interrupted. Even if the call didn’t come from someone who doesn’t live on your street – which, I would agree with you. That’s what I would suspect as well – the fact that this external institution in the form of animal control came in and took Timo out of the community, I think is still an example of that clash that you’re talking about.

And I believe in, well, I’m an abolitionist, so I don’t, I don’t find cops and jails that helpful. I, I want to think of communities that keep each other safe. And it sounds like that’s what you’re community was doing for Timo. And even if it wasn’t the pinnacle of safety or this, this basically middle class white family suburban idea of what safe is, y’all had an agreement. And if you didn’t have an agreement, y’all were close enough to be able to talk about it. It sounds like you reach out to your neighbor because you notice that Timo wasn’t there, and that means that there were conversations to be had. If you weren’t feeling safe, if you were feeling like Timo was maybe a danger to you, it sounds the door was open for you to have that conversation with somebody instead of calling cops to come remove him. So that’s really sad, man. That is a bummer.

So on the one hand, you have learning about different cultures and leading with curiosity, instead of trying to interrogate somebody or imposing your own beliefs on somebody else. If you just take a second to realize where these practices may have come from. I know I can’t speak for the Mexican community, but I know with Black Americans, a lot of the first dogs that we were allowed to have were working dogs. And those dogs were outside for protecting livestock or for protecting families. And so a lot of Black folks that have dogs, especially in southern communities, and especially in poor southern communities will still keep their dogs outside because that’s what the tradition has always been. And to suggest that those dogs aren’t loved just because that relationship looks different from yours is really selling folks short because love for animals looks a lot of different ways. And I do think we could, the pet community could stand to be a little more tolerant of that, that love can look like a lot of different things. But also, if there are things that we know are objectively unsafe now, that are still community– there are still traditions in certain communities, again, imposing our own beliefs on those communities is not going to be the way that the change you want to see takes hold. I think offering resources and alternatives is one way to make more long lasting change.

I know for one of my neighbors down the street, he always let his dog outside without a leash and, you know, the dog was itty bitty. Again, was not scared, but was not savvy enough to avoid cars, for sure. Instead of calling the cops, I brought over a long line that, that was in my garage that I hadn’t been using because I got another one and I talked to him about using the long line, and maybe still allowing the dog to have a good sense of freedom, especially for a tiny dog, it was a long, long, long line.

But yeah, he would still be outside during the day, but he’d be tethered to the front porch and it was fine. The change was adopted smoothly, no cops were necessary, and I feel like that’s something that he’d be willing to carry forward, my neighbor would be willing to carry forward, more than my calling the cops on him, having the dog removed, and nothing being learned by anybody. So, I think there are opportunities for education, opportunities for community aid that will turn the tide in the direction that we want them to for longer. Because policing and prisons are short term solutions.

[00:22:41] Emily: Yes. Yes, absolutely agree. And I want to just kind of sidebar for the sake of our listeners. If the, the concept of abolitionist movement in the 21st century is blowing your mind a little bit, there will be resources in the show notes on the Restorative Justice Movement and the Transformative Justice Movement. And I’m going to kind of plug an organization that I’m on the board of, which is the Reclaim Justice Movement.

 As the time of this recording, we’ve had to temporarily suspend our meetings because the, the leaders of, of the group are– moved– have moved to Italy. However, we typically have free monthly sessions to talk about abolition and what that means in the 21st century. They’re called Imagine Abolition sessions. And if you go to that website, you can sign up for the mailing list and we’ll let you know when we resume those sessions. But yes, it is– I am also an abolitionist. I think it’s important to continue that work in the 21st century. So we’ll have resources for people to, to educate yourself about what that means.

[00:23:51] Kassidi: I have some resources as well. I taught a class on abolition, a first year class on abolition. So I’m happy to send over the syllabus for that.

[00:23:59] Emily: Please do. Yes, we will, we will include that in the resources because we can definitely use more. Back on topic of the, of the dogs. I love that idea of approaching with curiosity and, and trying to kind of create a collaboration with that person instead of trying to impose your beliefs or your lifestyle on somebody else.

One conversation that I had with a a gentleman– So, I was in Utah for several years. And several of the people who live in rural Utah, also let their dogs kind of roam, even though it’s almost entirely white communities, they have a different culture, and so they, they do let their dogs roam. And for the most part, those dogs handle that really well, because just as in other communities, the dogs are born into and are socialized into that free roaming lifestyle.

And so they have the skills they need to navigate. Where that becomes problematic is either when people who are from a rural area bring their free roaming dog into an urban area, or they adopt a dog who is raised in an urban area and then try to let that dog live a rural life, and not realizing that dogs need to be socialized into that life. They need to learn those skills. You can’t just let a city dog suddenly roam and expect them to be successful and safe. And a conversation that I had with a gentleman about that was, “I totally get it. And I agree with you that we should ideally be letting dogs roam. However, your dog doesn’t have those skills. So what can we do to either provide those skills or find a compromise that will help keep everybody safe?” 

I was actually giving him options and letting him choose. And that was the best received conversation I had in that situation because I’ve had a lot to learn about having those conversations with people as well.

And so I realized that part of what was helpful was giving him an op– like, “These are your options. Either we can do this or we can do this. Which would you prefer?” So I wanted to kind of add that to the conversation. Is there anything else that you would recommend, like kind of real world tangible things that people can do, to more like proactively um, support other communities and how they take care of pets?

[00:26:19] Kassidi: That’s a good question. I’ve been trying to push my town to offer free or low cost training, like public events, or online events, for a long time. They are ignoring me. But again, I, I think community is going to be the thing that saves us. Whatever we can do to just push as many resources into communities evenly I think that’s going to be the change. I, I see people advertising low cost or free training resources, but advertising it to a select group. You’re not putting those flyers up in the hood, so nobody there knows where to go to find your food pantry, or to find the group classes that you’re offering. Diversifying with marketing is helpful. I think supporting trainers that come from different communities is also helpful, whether you purchase services from them, or just promote them on your socials, or advocate for them when it comes to events you see being held or, or organizations that are looking for trainers or anything, any sort of opportunity.

One, because people need to see that Black and Brown folks do dog training and do it well. Also, side note, historically have been great at it, for centuries have been great at it. But also I think it might be easier for members of those communities to trust those trainers that come from their communities.

I’m saying communities a lot. I’m just going to go into what I’m talking about. It might be easier for Black folks to trust Black trainers: one, because they don’t think they’re going to be judged the way Black dog parents might be judged in certain, exclusively or almost exclusively white spaces, because of the things you’re talking about with these cultural differences. And because those trainers are– might be more willing to work with them on those very same issues, kind of finding the compromise between what is culturally canon and what updated techniques and tools we might adopt now. That’s all I can think of at the moment.

[00:28:20] Emily: I absolutely love that. And I think that was one of the things that I really loved about your webinar for Every Dog Austin was talking about how a lot of time – because for a long time, I’ve felt icky about the fact that this is a predominantly affluent white woman field, but I didn’t really have the language or the understanding of, of why that was – and then your, your webinar really gave me a lot of aha moments of, “Oh, okay. So, I understand now,” because I have friends who are BIPOC trainers and I’ve seen the kind of, you know, microaggressions and the way that they get kind of frozen out of communities or the ways that they get tokenized in really kind of alarmingly overt ways, right. And, and so that really helped me to understand if we want that to go away, we have to actively encourage including more diversity so that it becomes normalized, and it’s not as, when a Black person does show up, it’s, it’s not, “Oh my God, there’s like a Black person here!” That’s the reaction that I’ve seen many times unfortunately.

[00:29:37] Kassidi: And the event photographer is going to follow that one person around the whole time.

[00:29:42] Emily: What a novelty!

[00:29:43] Kassidi: To see yourself on the promotional material for an event you attended a year ago, knowing you’re the only one, but for some reason you’re on the cover.

[00:29:52] Emily: Yeah. I mean, I’m sorry that that happened to you, and also maybe I shouldn’t be laughing about it, but it is, it’s it’s just almost– it’s astonishing how just overt it is, there’s no awareness. Yeah, we, we need to, we need to change that. That’s, that’s not okay. That does not meet needs. We can do better.

Yes. Speaking of doing better, for those of us who are white or white presenting in this field, what are some things that we can do to be better actors in dismantling white supremacy and making the pet community a more equitable and inclusive space?

[00:30:28] Kassidi: Great question. I think the number one thing you can do as an ally is to take education into your own hands. There are a lot of resources available on the internet. More and more every day. More and more people are posting about this stuff every day. So, you can find them on social media, you can find them through my website, I have reading lists. I have directories of Black folks doing all sorts of work in the pet world for you to follow.

But I think not sitting and waiting for someone to present you with the knowledge that you’re looking for, but actively going out and seeking it is– One, it builds a lot of trust to me, seeing that somebody isn’t just doing this to perform for me, or isn’t just looking for free labor from me, but actively and actually wants to know better and do better, and therefore is going and investing their time and sometimes their money into knowing better and doing better. That means a lot. I also think being willing to step aside or pass the mic can be really influential. If you get asked to be on a panel, and you notice that that panel is all white women, perhaps suggest adding another seat, or removing yourself from the table. That kind of advocacy goes a long way, I think.

What else? Buying from Black owned businesses and services keeps them in business and keeps the pet world more diverse. So the more options, the better. And a lot of the things that you’re looking to buy are being sold by, made by and sold by a Black person somewhere, so it doesn’t hurt to just check before you make the purchase.

What else? I think engaging with the anti-racist animal content that you do see is very important especially now that Instagram has this, what is it, political content filter? Something like that, where you have to actively go into your settings and turn it off. And if you haven’t done it, that means it is on. Where Instagram is screening things that could potentially be seen as quote unquote political, which usually just means advocating for someone to live, so actively seeking out content like that and making sure you share it. Likes and comments are helpful, but shares are the most helpful because Instagram is not sharing it to the best of their ability. They don’t want anybody to see it. So, help people be seen. What else? I think, I think those are the big three. Was that three things?

[00:32:44] Emily: It was. So to recap let me see if I remember the three things. So one is well, the one that I remember the most because you mentioned the panel is advocate, so make sure to, to lift BIPOC voices. And even if that means kind of stepping aside to make space for somebody else, I love that. And then the last one was: consume BIPOC content, and, and goods, right. Support, support BIPOC businesses. And then the first one was…

[00:33:14] Kassidi: Educating yourself.

[00:33:15] Emily: Taking your education into your own hands. Yes. Yeah. I love that. Okay. So the, all of that is, is lovely and, and really helpful. One of the things that I’m finding an interesting pattern is that when we create communities, even if those communities are somewhat diverse, the diversity tends to be invisible. Like I’ve noticed that in communities that I’m in that are relatively diverse for this profession, the, the people who are marginalized, for the most part, tend to like become wallflowers and it’s the white voices that end up being really active.

And I understand why that is, and I’m not, I don’t want to drag anybody out of the corner that they’re kind of hiding in and being like, “Let’s get more engaged!”, right? So what I, what I’m seeing this as somebody who is responsible for some of those communities or at least a participant in the rest of them, what can I do to kind of encourage people who are maybe being a wallflower because they don’t feel comfortable in a predominantly white space. What can I do to encourage them to feel safe enough to engage more actively in the community without it being, without it feeling like tokenism, right?

Like I’m trying to like, to walk that tightrope of like, I’m not trying to get you to engage because I want to be like, see, there’s a BIPOC person in this community, but I legitimately want you to feel safe enough to, to engage and interact. So how can I do that as a white presenting person without doing any gross tokenism stuff?

[00:34:55] Kassidi: That’s real. I think privately, you can let folks know that you’re there to support, not that you’re waiting for them to talk, not tapping on your watch saying it’s your turn, but just saying if you do speak up about something, I’m behind you that definitely would make me feel more confident in spaces I’m uncomfortable in. Just sometimes it feels like when you step out, you’re stepping out alone, and so just knowing that you’re not alone, helpful. Not– it doesn’t feel like pressure, it just feels like backup. And then I would also say clearing the floor, creating opportunities for people who aren’t the usual people to speak. Again, it’s not, it’s not like an imperative, you’re not giving a direction, you’re just saying, “If anybody who we haven’t heard from yet wants to talk,” or, “Thank you so much for your opinion again, that we’ve been hearing all night, why don’t we pipe down for a second and see if anybody else wants to join in,” or, “If anybody else has a response,” or, “If anybody else agrees…” obviously not like that, you could say it nicer [laughs], but that’s the idea.

And I think number one for me aside from these private conversations, in public if you hear something wrong or off, nipping it in the bud. Again, that speaks to knowing that somebody else in the room is thinking what you’re thinking, and not feeling alone does encourage people to speak up. But it also shows that you can be trusted with this kind of work, this kind of discourse because you’re not waiting for me to do all the labor. This is labor you’re willing to do yourself, and if I contribute, it’s just a contribution. It’s not an expectation. This isn’t my job to do D. E. I. here because somebody else is willing to do it for me or with me.

[00:36:43] Emily: I love that. Thank you. That is so helpful because I’ve been observing this as a pattern that like I belong to several communities that have been actively trying to, to create and foster a diverse space. And I’m not even speaking solely of racial diversity, but like a diversity on, on every intersectionality, right? And, and still, even though we are improving diversity, there still ends up being this imbalance, and so it’s really helpful. I’m, I’m really grateful to you for, for that advice. Cause I was like, okay, this is, it’s great that this is the next challenge, but now… [laughs]

[00:37:18] Kassidi: I would also say something that I do in my classrooms, especially toward the beginning of the semester, people aren’t always ready to attach their name to things yet, but having some sort of way to provide anonymous feedback can really, get the conversation started, get the ball rolling without making people feel too unsafe.

[00:37:37] Emily: In fact, in our own community, we do have anonymous feedback and I, and I now know what question I can ask in that, I can add to that to sort of cultivate that, so thank you so much. That’s very helpful.

All right. So in all aspects of life, learning is a lifelong journey. I feel like this is particularly true when talking about matters of social justice, because if you are privileged in any regard, you can be a dedicated student and learn forever, but you’ll never get to a point where you can fully understand on a real and personal level what it is to be marginalized in that specific way.

And, you know, as in any learning journey, when you lack fluency, you’re going to miss the mark sometimes, but without guidance, it can be hard to tell, or, either how or how much you missed the mark and how to do better.

For example, I want to share a story that happened a few years ago, and it left such a deep impression on me because it left me with so many questions about how to navigate experiences like this.

I learned from that experience that I’m not going– I’m going to speak more broadly about it because the words and the slogans that were used were so incendiary that people sort of like lost the forest for the trees. So I’m going to speak more broadly about this interaction. But essentially I had posted, back when I was still on Facebook, I had seen some really kind of gross behavior from people of privilege.

And, and so I, I posted: “If marginalized people choose to work within a system of oppression to try to affect change, should people of privilege be shouting the marginalized slogans at the marginalized people as a way of criticizing the work that they’re doing? That just feels gross to me. That’s, I feel like that’s not the best way to use that slogan, to be shouting it at the people who, who created the slogan,” and I was, I was taken aback by the, the backlash that I received from that, from people that I thought would be, would be alig– in alignment with me philosophically.

And some people just shouted the slogan back at me and I was like, that’s not helpful at all.

And some people were like, trying to educate me about how that system of oppression is a system of oppression, and I’m like, I, I know. That’s not the conversation that we’re having. And, you know, and some people were saying, “Well, I have the right to do that because I’m marginalized in another way.”

And I didn’t handle it well, either. Because I was so taken aback by the, the kind of pushback that I got, I did not respond in ways that I think were productive. If I could go back in time, I would have responded to those comments differently. The hardest thing about that conversation, and one of the reasons that it has stuck with me for so long, is because among everyone in that conversation, we all wanted the same thing. We all want to be actors to help dismantle white supremacy and other forms of oppression, we all want to affect change towards a more equitable society, but that whole conversation just felt like an elementary school where all the adults had left the building and it was just children bickering about how to run the place. And I was like, wow, like I, I just ended up taking the post down because I was like, we, none of us are in a position to be like educating each other about this, and this is going nowhere. This is not a productive conversation.

So how do we, as imperfect learners who are going to make well intentioned mistakes along the way, find that accountability and get feedback? Because in a professional learning environment, like in, in my profession, there are mentorships, right? And we have a mentorship program where we teach people the concepts, and then we create the space for them to practice those concepts. And we give them feedback on their attempts to apply those concepts in real life. 

But when it comes to social justice issues, there are a lot of resources that discuss the concepts. But there’s not really that mentorship element, and sometimes I just really want a mentor who can be like, “No, Emily, this is not what social justice looks like in real life application. Do it differently because that ain’t it,” right? So what do you recommend? Because, yes, there are tons of resources out there for learning the concepts, but that conversation was a train wreck because it was newbies trying to apply the concepts in a newbie kind of way, right?

So help. What, what is your advice for us?

[00:41:59] Kassidi: I would say at the, actually, I’m just going to plug myself first. At the business level, I do do consultations for pet businesses who are looking to do the right thing and need a little help or feedback. As well as on my Patreon, you can hit me up for a one on one difficult conversation. If there’s a train wreck happening on a Facebook post and you need backup ASAP we can talk about it. I think the, the main issue comes from the fact that– I don’t know if you saw this slide in a post I did during Black History Month, but roughly two thirds of white Americans have exclusively white friend groups. So there’s no one, there’s no one there who really loves and cares for them, who can pull them aside and be like, “You’re messing up, man, and here’s how.”

So I want to say, develop relationships with people outside of your, any of your identity groups. But not for the purpose of having a free mentor, but because there’s a lot that other people can offer to your life and a lot that you could offer to their lives through genuine community and being in community with people that don’t look like you, or think like you. I think it is really critical to building and then maintaining a society that’s hospitable for everyone.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s not great to send Instagram DMs to random Black people that you follow asking for advice about your personal situation, and I get a lot of those DMs, and I do try to respond as much as I can, but that’s really tiring, and it’s a lot of labor for people that I don’t have relationships with. What makes it a relationship is that people are feeding each other, and if this is just a free mentor thing, I do feel a little bit taken advantage of in those cases. But I think doing the work of building community, building diverse community, and taking care of that community is the first and foremost, free way to get the kind of guidance that folks are looking for. And then, if that doesn’t work, subscribe to my Patreon, or book me for a consult. I’m happy to help.

[00:44:04] Emily: Because I, I do have a pretty diverse friend group, and I will sometimes talk to them about situations like this, but I also really hesitate to do so because I don’t want to exploit our friendship and be like, “Hey, I know you didn’t ask for this, but I’m going to just trauma dump on you and make you do all this emotional labor.” So navigating that, balancing, like how to really cultivate and foster and, and take care of my friendships, and not exploit them, while also like getting feedback has also been a little bit of a balancing act and I, I’m sure I missed the mark sometimes and I, I crossed the line, you know.

[00:44:45] Kassidi: Well, it is balancing. If y’all are only friends when you need help with Facebook posts, then yeah, maybe that’s not great. But I know there are people that reach out to me with questions like this, who are people that also reach out to ask me how I’m doing, or people that I exchange memes with, or people that I’ve asked for help with something before so they feel comfortable asking me for help because we’re friends who help each other. And just making sure the relationship is mutualistic. I think you’re in a good place.

[00:45:13] Emily: Absolutely. Thank you for saying that. It is important. And also, that is also how I treat friendships. I also believe in friendships, the definition of friendship, is being mutualistic. So yes, I, I’m on board with that. But I think I’m just going to say, you know, skip to the end and pay somebody, pay Kassidi to, to get that help and advice because while it is great to, to lean on friends, also you’re asking your friends for emotional labor about topics that can be incredibly triggering to them.

[00:45:45] Kassidi: Oh man, there was this person that was trying to be my friend and would like, send me text messages early in the morning about dead Black children. And not even to ask for advice, just like, “Here, we’re relating on this thing, isn’t this sad?” “Yeah, bro, I have to go be Black now. Like, why would you, why would you send this to me?” So not that.

[00:46:10] Emily: Not that. That’s not what friendship looks like.

[00:46:13] Kassidi: Not really what I’m looking for.

[00:46:15] Emily: Yeah, I have, I have similar, I’ve had similar people, you know, try to, to develop a friendship and they really just want like free animal care advice or free advice on different things about my identity. And it’s like, “Uh, no, I don’t know how to explain to you that I’m even less inclined to be your friend now than I was when we first met, because clearly for you, this is just a commodification of, of a relationship.”

[00:46:42] Kassidi: I mean, we can talk about the fact that most people don’t know how to be friends. This is not, this is not the purpose of this episode, but it is a real conversation that needs to be had, because there are people out here thinking that friendship is just taking from somebody over and over again, and that makes you friends, or even if y’all are taking from each other over and over again, and that’s what makes you friends and that’s not what I think friendship is.

[00:47:04] Emily: I agree, another thing I see a lot is friendships being treated as collections. Collect–, collecting people, which is equally disturbing.

[00:47:13] Kassidi: Agreed.

[00:47:13] Emily: You know that these are like full ass humans, right? With their own thoughts and feelings and motivations and intentions and health and goals and dreams. And they’re not, they’re not like a little chachki to sit on your shelf. Like these are sentient beings. Yeah, so that’s fun.

[00:47:28] Kassidi: Same with your dogs, low key.

[00:47:30] Emily: Yes, that’s our whole deal about enrichment is these are sentient beings and they have needs and we should be meeting needs. Okay. Thank you so much for all of that. At the end of every episode, I like to ask everybody the same set of questions because I, I like to hear how people answer them.

The first of those questions is what are our observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this discussion?

[00:47:56] Kassidi: I think you can start the process of taking your education into your own hands very easily. I’ve made it so easy if you go to my website and go to the resources tab, there’s a book list, a reading list, there are book titles, there are hyperlinked articles to get you started on that process, and it costs zero dollars, it just costs some of your time, and your willingness to be open. I think that’s it.

[00:48:20] Emily: I love it. Okay. What is one thing you wish people knew about either this topic, your profession, or enrichment? Your choice.

[00:48:27] Kassidi: Ooh, what do I wish people knew? Hmm. Okay. Yes, I have one. And it’s that, no one is completely safe from doing anti-Blackness. Everybody can do anti-Blackness, including Black people because anti-Blackness is like a set of behaviors, and beliefs, and it’s not always conscious and it’s not about an identity. It’s just a thing that is violent toward Black people and anybody can be violent toward Black people in some way.

Which is to say, when Instagram post about how something affects me, listing your various intersections of identities in my comments is unhelpful to both of us. I don’t think it furthers the conversation whatsoever. Also, people can be multiple things. I am also queer, and I am also neurodivergent, and that doesn’t negate anti-Blackness when I see it.

That’s it. I had a visceral reaction when you said that earlier about people hiding behind other identities, and it really grinds my gears. But especially lately, very recently I had that post about empathy for people and a lot of people were talking about neurodivergence in my comments. And yes, wonderful. It’s a big neurodivergent world and I’m in it as well. I’m not just Black. Surprise. But I didn’t see any of those people talking about Ryan Gaynor afterwards. Very shortly afterwards, Ryan Gaynor, an autistic 15 year old Black boy, was murdered by police. And if you’re neurodivergent when it’s convenient, but not when there’s real work to do, I don’t know why you told me that. I don’t know why you told me that.

[00:50:05] Emily: As a fellow queer neurodivergent person, I am 100 percent in agreement with you about that. And I think that is such a, an important thing to point out that internalized bigotry is a thing, and that people can be socially conditioned to believe to their core that one aspect of identity legitimately does make them inferior, and that people who share their identity are also inferior, and we see this over and over and over again. And BTWs for me personally, I can’t speak for you, but it’s more triggering for me when somebody who shares my identity is, is, is embodying oppression and, and supporting systems of oppression than when it’s somebody who doesn’t share that identity, who has a privilege that I don’t have. So yes, that’s a good one. That’s a good one. All right. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[00:50:55] Kassidi: I’d love to see people sharing the floor more. It makes me a little sad to see the same people getting the same opportunities year after year when they’re, I, I just know so many incredibly qualified, maybe even overqualified Black and Brown folks doing work in the dog world who are just not given the opportunity to show that brilliance. So, I’d like to see more of that. When Aaron from Sweetie Gigi shouts people out every day, all day – Aaron is a Black man with a pit bull, and he’s constantly using his platform to make space for others, especially women, especially Black women. And I, I, I just think somebody that has so much to lose because as Black content creators, we’re not given as many chances are offered as many details, and yet he’s still willing to do that. And the people with the millions of followers, or even the hundreds of thousands of followers, are not really willing to create that space because it might affect their following, or might affect their brand deal, that’s really disappointing. Just share the floor.

[00:51:59] Emily: Yeah. I love that. What do you love about what you do?

[00:52:02] Kassidi: I really love when Black folks hit me up to tell me that they have experienced the thing that I am writing about, but they didn’t know why it made them feel icky, or they didn’t know how to explain to somebody else why it made them feel icky and that I’ve helped them put a name to it. That makes me feel so good because that’s what I needed when I was younger.

[00:52:22] Emily: I love that. And yes, that it’s, it’s one of those. It’s, it’s, sorry. It’s one of the best feelings in the world when you get to be the person for somebody else that you wish you had had when you were younger. I agree. Oh, that’s delightful.

[00:52:36] Kassidi: It is.

[00:52:37] Emily: What are you currently working on? If people want to work more with or learn from you, where can they find you?

[00:52:43] Kassidi: Yep, I’m always available via, well I shouldn’t say always available, via Instagram. I’d be a little wishy washy on Instagram. I’m very sorry. I find the DMs and comments overwhelming. But, there is an email address on my profile, so if there’s something very important, I do see those. I have a Patreon account, I see those messages. I have merch you can buy to support me on my website. I have a website with stuff on it, resources that are free and merch to buy, whatever you like. What else am I working on? Just trying to finish the dissertation so I can leave Connecticut. That’s the main thing I’m working on.

[00:53:16] Emily: Oh yeah. All right. Well, thank you so much for joining me today, Kassidi, I have really enjoyed this conversation and I appreciate all of the wisdom, and help, and advice that you’ve given not only today in this interview, but that you continue to provide for this field and, and, and people in general, just humans and non humans, everybody, essentially. Thank you so much.

[00:53:38] Kassidi: Oh, this was a pleasure, thank you for having me.

[00:53:40] Allie: What did I tell you? I’m so excited we got Kassidi on the podcast! She does such a beautiful job of teaching people how to do better without making anyone feel shamed, while also modeling what self care looks like when having hard conversations.

That is absolutely a skill that we could all take pointers from Kassidi on. Next week, we’ll be talking about building safe spaces for humans.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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