In this episode of Rule Breaker Investing: Uncomfortable Conversations Vol. 1, Motley Fool co-founder David Gardner is joined by Vennard Wright, CIO and VP of operations at Iron Bow Technologies; Stephen Baldi, founder and president of Baldi Management Group; and Dan Simons, board member of Conscious Capitalism DC and co-founder and co-owner of Founding Farmers and Farmers Restaurant Group, to talk about racial justice, Black tax, and white privilege, among other things. The guests share some of their experiences and talk about how we can combat racial injustice together.
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This video was recorded on July 14, 2020.
David Gardner: On this week's podcast, I'm joined by three friends who have graciously agreed to discuss topics that make many people, us included, uncomfortable. In particular, we'll be talking about race and justice and the Black tax and white privilege and probably a host of other things I can't tell you in advance, because I don't know where we're headed. This is unscripted; just a meeting of friends.
But I've wanted to do a podcast like this for weeks now. And having recently watched a video or two with Emmanuel Acho, the former NFL linebacker who's done some interesting work with his YouTube series Uncomfortable Conversations With a Black Man, I'm emboldened to think we can make some contributions here too with our own uncomfortable conversation.
Uncomfortable Conversations Vol. 1, only on this week's Rule Breaker Investing.
The musical Avenue Q, a tour-de-force hit that brought Muppets to the center of the Broadway stage and won the Tony for Best Musical in 2004, had a lot of great lyrics. They were penned by two remarkable people, one a Motley Fool longtime member, Jeff Marks, and another Robert Lopez, who went on with his wife to write the music for Frozen. But about 15 years ago, I attended Avenue Q, and there was a song called "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist."
The exchange is between two Muppet characters, Princeton and Kate Monster. Princeton is a traditional Muppet like Ernie or Bert. Kate Monster is a monster Muppet more along the lines of the Cookie Monster. And their song starts like this:
Princeton: Say, Kate, can I ask you a question?
Kate Monster: Sure.
Princeton: Well, you know Truckee Monster upstairs?
Kate Monster: Uh-huh.
Princeton: Well, he's Truckee Monster and you are Kate Monster.
Kate Monster: Right.
Princeton: You're both monsters.
Kate Monster: Yeah.
Princeton: Are you two related?
Kate Monster: What? Princeton, I'm surprised at you, I find that racist.
Princeton: I'm sorry, I was just asking.
Kate Monster: Well, it's a touchy subject. No, not all monsters are related. What are you trying to say, huh, that we all look the same to you, huh! huh! huh?
Princeton: No, no, no, not at all. I'm sorry, I guess that was a little racist.
Kate Monster: Well, I should say so. You should be much more careful when you're talking about the sensitive subject of race.
Princeton: Well, look who's talking.
Kate Monster: What do you mean?
Princeton: Well, what about that special monster school you told me about?
Kate Monster: What about it?
Princeton: Could someone like me go there?
Kate Monster: No, we don't want people like you.
Princeton: You see, you're a little bit racist.
Kate Monster: Well, you're a little bit too.
Princeton: I guess we're both a little bit racist.
Kate Monster: Admitting it is not an easy thing to do.
Princeton: But I guess it's true.
And then the song goes from there.
And I think that's as good an intro as any for what we want to bring you today. I'm joined by three friends, and we're going to have what I expect will be an important, helpful, loving, challenging, uncomfortable conversation. It's not scripted, unlike Kate Monster and Princeton, [laughs] so I can't tell you at the outset where we're headed or where we'll end up. But I do want to say two things about it. First, it takes guts for my friends Stephen and Dan and Vennard to do what they're about to do, to be vulnerable and say things in a public place that may make them or you uncomfortable.
Stephen Covey, author of the book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, once asserted that "People will not do what's in their own best interests if it makes them uncomfortable." Which is amazing, and I think it's true. It means that change can be difficult to achieve, needed and beneficial changes in your life [laughs] and mine, with the simple root cause being it makes us uncomfortable. I'm sure we can all relate and I'm sure you can join me in your approbation and respect for my guests this week that they're coming on to be this raw and real with you and me.
And second, each of my guests comes from business, an entrepreneurial mindset. I often think the business people and entrepreneurs are maybe the best position in our society to effect positive change, not only through the jobs they create, though that's so important, especially these days. But more so, because I think the entrepreneurial mindset conditions you to take risks by its very nature, to start new enterprises. And so Stephen and Dan and Vennard, whom I'm about to introduce, are each seasoned risk takers. And I bet if you're an entrepreneur yourself, you're probably nodding your head right now saying, "I get this, and I can do this too." Which we hope you will.
Following this week's show, maybe take some risks, maybe open up some uncomfortable conversations, maybe encourage some healing and some unity in your community. Help out our world.
All right. Stephen Baldi, Dan Simons, and Vennard Wright are my guests this week for this episode of Rule Breaker Investing. I'm going to introduce each in turn and ask each a question.
Vennard, I'm going to start with you. Vennard Wright is currently the chief information officer and VP of operations for Iron Bow Technologies. Among the roles he held prior to joining Iron Bow, he was CIO for WSSC Water; CIO for Prince George's County, Maryland; and director of technology for Hillary Clinton's 2008 political campaign. A sought-after speaker, Vennard also serves on a number of boards that help to widen his perspective on the latest methods for effectively applying digital technologies and best practices to solve common enterprise-level problems. Vennard, welcome.
Vennard Wright: Thank you, David.
Gardner: You know, as we've become friends, the past couple of years, I've learned a lot from you. You've deepened my awareness and my empathy, and I'm today smarter, happier, and richer for our friendship. Vennard, you once said to me, "We assign designations and differentiators, Muslim/Christian; American/Mexican; Black/white; etc., based on human nature and our conscious minds, but when the layers are stripped away and true character is revealed, that's where real connections are forged." That's something you wrote to me.
I remember you telling me at the outset of our friendship that you felt a kind of pressure that I hadn't thought about, that made sense to me as you began to explain it. It included the pressure to dress really well, for instance; which you do. And later you explained to me the concept of a Black tax. Vennard, can you share your perspective and some of your story?
Wright: Sure. So you gave a great analogy earlier with the two monsters. So there is the assumption that Blacks are a monolithic race. So we're going to respond to the same things. We like the same music. We like the same food. But the reality is we are just as complex as any other people.
So Black tax means different things to different people. So I'll preface this by saying, this is just Vennard Wright's explanation but not anyone else's.
So for some people, the Black tax means that as you become more successful, there is an expectation that you're going to take care of family members, you're going to take care of your community, you're going to take care of any other Black person that comes up and asks for a favor. And that expectation is not just internal to Black people it's also for other Black people. And you see it when you have a business, so say, for instance, I had a hair salon years ago. There was the expectation that when people came into the hair salon, they were going to pay less because it was a Black-owned business, whereas you would go into another business that wasn't Black owned and be willing to pay more. So that's one aspect of paying the Black tax, just the financial ramifications that come along with being Black and running a business or becoming successful.
In addition to that, there are other things that go along with being Black. And there is, for me -- and this goes back to what you were saying before -- there's always the pressure to look good, to speak well, to come across as intelligent as possible. And for me, that meant that I was always an ambassador for the Black race. I can never relax. And that's a tough position to be in, but the flip side of that is, when you come across a successful, intelligent, well-spoken Black man, that person is an anomaly because that person is not indicative of the entire Black race.
Barack Obama was a good example of that. I remember hearing that when he spoke, someone said, "Well, he is so eloquent, he is so well-spoken, he's so intelligent." As if that was some sort of unusual occurrence, and that's the position that I feel myself being at. So I always feel the pressure to be the best I can possibly be in all situations.
And going to the conversation that we had before. I always feel the pressure to wear a college shirt in certain situations, I always feel the pressure to wear a tie, a nice watch, and have a nice pen because of the way that I'm viewed.
So I'll give you a real-world example of this. So I remember some years ago, my wife Janelle and I went up to Atlantic City. And we were just up there to hang out, no real reason to be there except to just have fun. So I had on a T-shirt and some jeans, and you know, I'm a 220-pound Black man with a bald head. So let the stereotypes go in. And as I was walking through the casino, you know, for me, it's normal, but my wife started to point out, hey, why is everyone moving away? And she told me at that time -- and this really hurt -- "I never experienced racism until I married you."
And what she meant by that is, because she's a more fair-skinned Black person, she never came across as threatening to anyone. But me, I was so used to it, that I didn't even see it, to the point where I did become aware of it when I went into a restaurant and sat down and waited for service in the same casino and the server never came over to our table, but I noticed that the server was going to everyone's table around us. And, you know, then it occurred to me, me and Janelle were the only two Black people in the restaurant. And I can't explain how that made me feel, but what made me feel even worse is that my wife was there to witness it with me.
So that's part of the Black experience, but part of the Black tax is you're used to living that experience on a day-to-day basis and also the pressure of having to operate at a certain level, to dress your best, to speak your best, and to never really be able to relax. And that is the pressure that I carry around every day, and for me, that really is what it means to pay the Black tax.
Gardner: Wow! Thank you for that, Vennard.
Wright: Thank you.
Gardner: Okay, the next voice I want to bring you is Stephen Baldi. Stephen is the founder and president of Baldi Management Group, a food and beverage company operating exclusively in airports since 2008, including national franchise brands Dunkin' Donuts, Potbelly, and Smashburger. After graduating from Georgetown University in 1999, Stephen spent two years working full time as a DJ and doorman for Washington DC Club Destinations, Felix, Blue Room, and 18th Street Lounge. And so, his journey, he tells me, to entrepreneurship has been as nontraditional as the locations that BMG owns and operates.
Now, I first got to meet Stephen just a few weeks ago -- virtually of course, because that's how I seem to be meeting people these days. Stephen and his friend and business partner, Dan Simons, did an event very much like this, when a Black guy and a white guy came together for an uncomfortable conversation for the benefit, in this case, of Conscious Capitalism Washington DC. And I so admired what Stephen and Dan did that I said, "Come on my podcast, let's do it again." So Stephen, welcome.
And I want to say, you drop me a note about what you wanted to say at the start of things for us this week. And you said, "Hello! My name is Stephen. Okay, now we can work on solving racial injustice together. Focus, don't let your circle of concern take priority over your circle of influence." So I would love for you to explain those two circles, Stephen, as well as I'm also wondering how you relate to what Vennard shared as well, any similarities and/or differences.
Stephen Baldi: Listen, David, thank you. You know, I'm 44 years old at this point in life. And many occasions, I've been called the fool, but who knew that they were foreshadowing to today. So for all those people who I've come across prior to this, you were right.
So let me talk about the circle of influence and the circle of concern. Basically, the way that I view the circles is that your circle of influence is that which is immediately available to you in whatever day-to-day life you may happen to be walking in. Either it's a parent or a coach or a business owner or an employee, but all of us have circles that we can immediately influence on our position and where we stand today.
Obviously, in the last few months, most people's circle of concern has expanded, and what's been driving are the images we've seen on television, the voices we've been hearing across podcasts, and they include things like coronavirus, Black Lives Matter movement, the ending of systematic racial injustice. And the circle of concern gets larger and larger and larger. And if you focus exclusively on your circle of concern, it may become overwhelming. I will tell you that in my opinion, what all of us have the ability to do, and I would argue the obligation to do, is if any of these things are of a high priority to you, start with your circle of influence first. I guarantee you, in your day-to-day life, there are ways for you to become part of this moment and turn it into a movement.
I will give a very personal experience that's playing itself out right now as we're speaking. When Dan Simons, who is my business partner under Founding Farmers, reached out to me about four weeks ago and asked me to participate in the Conscious Capitalist webinar, I don't believe neither he or I would expect that two or three weeks later, we would be talking and having the opportunity to share our opinions with a viewership or a group in audience 100 times of what we initially presented for. But what was available to us, within our circle of influence, we took advantage of. And so, if you start there, I believe very authentically that you don't realize the ripples in the water you could create just by dropping your stone where you're standing.
And for me, the "Hello, my name is Stephen," what I meant to highlight there is, there are a lot of people, obviously and understandably, who now racial injustice has become a priority for you. And you're looking around at your friends and family or maybe people you've never spoken to before, and you want to help.
I would first start with an introduction. Start there. Get to know the person, get to understand them, their background, their family, their experience. Do a lot more listening than you actually do speaking. Once you build that relationship and that trust, it will lend itself to outcomes of uncomfortable conversations that will leave you believing you're now becoming part of this movement.
I would tell you that Dan and I only were able to have the conversation that we did a few weeks ago because it was not our first, it may have been our 12th or 13th. And I can tell you that in those conversations prior to the webinar, there were some uncomfortable moments, there were some things that I thought to say to him that -- and even thinking about them my heart rate would elevate, my hands will become sweaty. But because we put in the work of getting to know each other first, I knew that even if I was about to say something that was stupid or harmful or just flat ignorant, that we had established a foundation of trust that we will work through it.
And so if I could offer any advice to anyone who now was making this moment a priority, I would ask you, I would try to inspire you, find others to think with, to cry with, to feel uncomfortable with, and to work with, and we'll move this forward.
Gardner: Wow! Thank you so much, Stephen, what a wonderful way to introduce yourself to our audience and to reflect on this moment in time. And I especially appreciate you pointing out that that circle of concern, if you follow the news headlines -- and I try not to too much, because I think it can drive you crazy -- but it can feel very overwhelming. And so that circle of influence and starting with what we can do locally, whatever locally means for every one of us, is so comforting and inspiring. And I think that really does catapult action. So thank you very much.
And now I want to introduce a very patient, and I'm going to call him the other half of the dynamic duo, so if you will, I'm going to say he's the Paul McCartney to Stephen's Stevie Wonder, [laughs] Ebony and Ivory here guys, I think we're old enough to remember that song. And am I allowed to make that joke? [laughs]
Baldi: You are, you are. I might play some myself.
Gardner: [laughs] Okay. Good. It's Dan Simons now. With me, Dan sits on the Board of Conscious Capitalism DC. Dan is a restaurateur, a team builder, and elected town council member, and a family guy. And as one of the Founders and Owners of Founding Farmers and Farmers Restaurant Group here in Washington, DC. Dan leads a team of over 1,000 employees, though he does remark somewhat humbly right now, making that about 500 during COVID times.
He finds innovative ways to thrill diners while advocating on issues ranging from American family farmers to the environment and mental health in the workplace.
Now, if Dan will allow me to brag for him for one minute, OpenTable, where I do my restaurant booking, that includes my 30th wedding anniversary supper this week -- OpenTable announced earlier this year a list of the most active and popular restaurants across America that do the most business on OpenTable, and sitting at No. 1, nationwide, was your restaurant Dan, Founding Farmers right here in Washington DC. Amazing!
Now, you jotted me a couple of sentences yesterday that made me think a lot about what Vennard just shared earlier. You said, Dan, and I quote, "If I'm rarely forced to notice that I'm white, isn't that in itself a privilege, because I don't need to use any of my mental energy to be processing my minute-to-minute, day-to-day thoughts about my race or about how those I interact with are thinking about my race?"
Dan Simons: Thanks for having me, David, it's -- huh! You know, I have so much going through my mind right now. Hearing Vennard's comments, Stephen's comments, your insights, you know, it's a human issue. And I know right now it seems effective to push people to want to have or need to have uncomfortable conversations, but I'm actually trying to see beyond that. It's only uncomfortable when you don't do it a lot, right? And so I also want to encourage people to say, you know, nobody loves uncomfortable conversations, but if you believe the outcomes are important, the good news is, the more you have uncomfortable conversations, the more comfortable they become.
And so we all know that probably the best relationships we have in our lives, whether that's with a spouse, a child, an elderly parent, you know, when you can talk or disagree about money or sex or, like, as kids become adults, the decisions that they make and go through, and you can have those conversations effectively, relationships deepen, and you gain more insight. And so, while, yes, it's currently uncomfortable, it's only uncomfortable because we're not good at it and we don't do it a lot.
But the good news is the more you do it -- like, frankly, I know it's good to help people frame it out for me to have said these conversations are uncomfortable. But they're really not that uncomfortable for me, because I went through years of uncomfortable conversations, and I sought out mentors, and I got comfortable accepting that I'm going to be ignorant. And so, OK, there is stuff I won't know, there are people's eyes I can't see through, but if I'm genuinely trying and I build genuine relationships, when I say something that might otherwise be offensive, whoever I'm saying it to can simply view it as ignorant. And ignorant person doesn't have to have some big label, it can -- you know, I often instead of ignorant, just say clueless, "Oh, wow! I was totally clueless; I had no idea."
And so, you know, I've thought quite a bit about how to help folks who want to move through these conversations, because it's a mental health issue for all of us. And whether it's our investing decisions, our day-to-day decisions, the food we're going to choose to eat, anything, we are run by our brain. It is the computer upstairs in our skull that makes us who we are and determines everything we do. And so to put a Black tax on our computer; to put a damp, heavy cloth on the operating system that weighs it down so we have to fight through that; it's a whole bunch of sad, ineffective, damaging adjectives. You know, I'm sure I can come up with a list, but I'll stick with those.
And so, we should be inspired and have the courage to get good at these conversations. Whether our motivation is increased productivity at work, better relationships at home or just having a better brain and operating system for ourselves or our team or those we're leading or those that we're collaborating with -- because if we can free our minds up to operate in the most effective way, every other goal we are trying to accomplish, we have better odds of doing it.
So those are some of the things going through my mind now, but that was why I brought up mental health, and I brought up a clear burden that I don't have, as a white guy, compared to what some people of color -- because as Vennard said, there's not one person of color that represents all people of color, right?
And so, you know, I can't defend this privilege thing. I've had a lot of folks reach out to me over the last few months because of some of the positions I've taken and want to challenge me or actually ask for some guidance. And some folks are defensive about privilege. Baldi and I had an email correspondence with someone who reached out to us. And my message was stop trying to hold on to it, stop trying to defend it, just understand how it can exist. Understand you might have missed it. And now, as Baldi said, why don't you introduce yourself and have a conversation and learn how somebody else feels? So that's some of what's going through my mind.
Wright: I appreciate Dan's commentary. So there is, for some people, the perception that white privilege doesn't exist or that the Black tax is imagined, but I'll give you another example. So growing up, my parents always put into my head, I could be whatever I wanted to be, the sky was the limit, I could be president if I wanted to. But they also, at the same time, said that, with you being a Black man, you're going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else to be successful. So that was always in the back of my mind. It's something I carry with me now.
And I believe that there is some truth to it, because I'm in my fourth C-level job now. The first C-level job I had was as CTO for EDS, Electronic Data Systems, which was later acquired by HP. For that position, I was there originally as a senior systems engineer and there was a guy, Rob Holder, who came over and said, hey, Vennard, would you be interested in being CTO for our ATF account? I said, sure. Rob Holder was Black. So that was the first position I had.
Second C-level position I had was as CIO for Prince George's County, Maryland. Prince George's County is the second-largest county in Maryland, and the person who gave me that job was the former county executive, Rushern L. Baker, III; another Black man.
Third C-level position I had was as CIO for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, which is now WSSC Water. The CEO for WSSC Water is Carla Reid, a Black woman.
So let's fast-forward to my current position as CIO and VP of operations for Iron Bow Technologies. The CEO for Iron Bow Technologies is a Black man.
So it makes me wonder, would I ever had any C-level position if there was not a Black person in charge at each one of those organizations? So that's a question that I'm going to leave unanswered, but it's always something that I carry around.
And I'll give another perspective. It also makes me feel the pressure to make sure that there's a healthy career pipeline behind me; that the same way people opened doors for me, I'm opening the doors for other people as well. But it really leads to a much larger issue and that is that there is a certain perception that's out there that Black people are not capable of doing the job. And that when we get into a position, we're not going to be as successful as someone else. So that's always bouncing around in the back of my head, and part of the reason I feel such pressure to be good at everything that I do -- to the point where, David you've seen this, where I'm working 12 hours every day, I'm writing articles, I'm giving speeches, I'm up for awards all the time. And it's simply because I drive myself so hard because I know that I cannot afford to fail.
And that is part of the experience of being Black in a world that doesn't always feel welcoming. And it's not a complaint. I'm not asking anyone to feel sorry for me, because my life is good. I enjoy my life, I have a beautiful family, I've done very well by any measure. But at the same time, there's always this pressure to succeed and to perform at a high level, no matter what.
Baldi: And if I could just add on to what Vennard just shared very vulnerably, and I appreciate you, brother, for doing so. If people can't tell by my voice, because they can't see my face, I am also African American, and I will tell you that the tax is not necessarily something that you deal with day to day, at least not for me. It may not even be something that I deal with week to week, but without question, I know that there is always the potential, regardless of being Georgetown educated, a business owner for 12 years, a loving father, a caring friend and family member, there are moments some small, some more significant, where consistently, the world reminds me of my place. And unfortunately, that place is often not in unison with "created equal." We are often reminded, even in the absence or excluding the work that we've put in, that our place is our place, and it's often not equal.
I would tell you [laughs] a really funny story. And I say it's funny because I know it was just a genuinely honest mistake. I was away this weekend -- and I won't name the place, because I don't want any harm to come to this business, but I was at a five-star resort just trying to get away. And because of coronavirus, there's restrictions that are happening at hotels and resorts and just in many places.
And so the family pool, instead of the spa pool, is what was available. And so I walked up to see if there were any chairs available, because social distancing-wise, the capacity for the pool was less than what it would be in a normal case. And the person welcoming said, hello, sir. If you're looking for a chair, I have a spot right back here that I can put you next to your family.
Well, I wasn't there with anybody, except for my girlfriend, who was probably five feet behind me, but the person assumed that because there was a large Black family already at the pool that we were together. And as innocent of a mistake as that was, and as quickly as I communicated to them that, Sir, I'm not with that group, I could immediately see his response and his regret for making that assumption.
To have to think along those lines in something so routine, you can imagine, then, how it extrapolates over more significant occurrences in your life, whether it be police or going to the hospital or as a business owner applying for a loan with a bank.
At times, it is overwhelming. But I will also add, that in order to have the conversation, I am being very deliberate and understanding that we are all imperfect people. I have had moments in my life where I have held positions about others that I'm not very proud of. And that it's only when I was exposed to new information, in-person experiences, over time was I able to evolve in my opinions.
And so, if I believe everyone approaches the conversation with that reality and that honesty and that integrity that we are all imperfect, and that we have an ability to evolve, I think as Dan mentioned, these conversations become easier, less uncomfortable. But you've got to, in my opinion, just be honest with your own journey and meet people where they are and try to inspire them to embark on a journey of their own if that's what they're seeking.
Gardner: You're reminding me, Stephen, of a line that I presented, somebody else's line, in my Great Quotes podcast a couple of weeks ago: "People are lonely, because they build walls instead of bridges." And I think I'm hearing from you guys a lot that that's what we're trying to do, that's what we're trying to do on this podcast this week, but more importantly, out there in the world, having those conversations. As Dan so eloquently said earlier, it's about getting the reps in, in so many words, right. It's actually making it, so that it's common and commonplace for you.
And, Dan, I mean, you've overseen hundreds of employees, you are in the hospitality business yourself. What is your perspective on the ease or difficulty of training people, including yourself, to be truly hospitable?
Simons: You know, on one hand, I would tell you, it's actually really easy, but I'll have to reveal my worldview when I say why it's easy. I think the vast majority of people have goodness in their heart. I think the vast majority of people have a propensity toward enjoying smiling and what it does in their brain and seeing a smile and what it does in their brain. And so when you're training hospitality or you're training building bridges, when you can show people it's about the joy it creates in you and the joy you get from joy in others, you know, it's not hard to get people on board not only with "no hate" but with spreading the joy.
And you know, one of the things I'm thinking as I hear this is, it's clear to me that most complex, deep problems you can't fix today, or you know, necessarily tomorrow. So we all need to play the long game here, and so we got to control the schools; control the schools, control the future. Why am I learning about the Tulsa massacre from Watchmen? Like, I didn't know about the Tulsa massacre, including when I saw the first couple of episodes of Watchmen, I still am like, what am I seeing? I figured it was made up. That would never happen, would it? And then, I was like, wait, it really happened, wait, it happened and I wasn't educated on it? Wait, it happened, like, within 100 years of my lifetime, within 50 years of my birth, and I wasn't educated on it?
That's a problem there. How can I empathize or want to share joy or understand the feelings when I don't even know what's happened? And so, I'm getting my education, sure, from brilliant scholars like Ibram Kendi, when I read his book last year, but apparently, I'm getting it from Dear White People on Netflix and I'm getting it from Watchmen on HBO. And I hope there are Black writers in the room, I don't know, I didn't even know about these things.
And so if my kids, who are 16, 14, 11, are going to be having different conversations than we're having right now, it's going to be because in the school, not just at home, schools are where we can actually homogenize some learning and equalize some learning and teach about race and culture and differences. And so, for me, as sort of furious and baffled as I am by how uneducated I've been and how crazy it is that pop culture is educating me, I think Dear White People on Netflix is teaching me some good stuff. And so, if we bring that into the schools, I think our kids have a way better shot at it.
You know, one of my kids' first, like, early years -- I mean, he's still only 14, but his first girlfriend was Black. I swear it was so irrelevant to him. I happen to be white; my son is white. The race of his girlfriend was irrelevant, and he knew, he didn't even think it would be relevant to us, as his parents, and it wasn't. But it's remarkable what we can change generationally, and the only way we'll do that is if we harness some of our passion to take these conversations and influence the curriculum. So as I'm hearing this, my mind went to like, OK, what do we do? Yes, we need more conversations, but we have to get in power.
And I just want to add one more thought.
You know, when Vennard said or Stephen said that the world often or sometimes reminds them or makes them feel like they don't belong or where their place is, it is interesting, because I see that. When I walk on an airplane and the pilot is Black -- and whether that pilot identifies he's Black or African-American or not another word I don't know -- but I see that pilot as a person of color. I am psyched, because I know that he, and even more so she, had to be twice as good and work twice as hard.
So Vennard, I just want to say, thank you for the hardship and the efforts, because the talent, right, the first Black female fighter pilot in our armed forces, she will be an ass kicker, and she will be better than the pilot she battles against and she teams with. So there is a silver lining there on some talent. And every time we allow equality, you get women in power or people of color in power and an equality at the top of their field from which all of us in society benefit.
Wright: So Dan, I'd like to chime in on what you just said. So there is the weight that I carry around, and there is all of the pressure of being great, but the beauty of where we are right now and with the next generation, is they, from my perspective, don't have that weight. And I'll use my youngest daughter, who is 17.
So when she was born in 2003, by the time she paid attention to politics, there was a Black president. So even though my parents told me I could be president, there had never in the history of our country been a Black president, so at a certain point, I started to believe that wasn't true. But for her, it was perfectly normal to have a Black president. It was perfectly normal for her to see multiple Black billionaires. So for her, there are no limits.
And that's part of the reason we're at such an important part of our history, because we have to make sure that those attitudes continue. We have to make sure that people believe that they can achieve, based on their virtue, based on their skill, based on their intelligence, and not based on their race. So that's a beautiful part of what's happening right now.
Gardner: I just find myself wanting to ask a quick really sloppy, stupid question here. Let me ask you guys, do I say Black or African American? I mean, I predominately say African American, because I was taught that that's a more respectful way, though that doesn't seem to work for immigrant friends who came from other places. So for example, a friend who actually grew up in Africa, they don't necessarily [laughs] identify as African Americans, so then I say Black. Should I think about that, care about that, is there a third term I should be using? What do you guys think about that?
Baldi: David, this is Stephen. Just pick one. And if you've developed a relationship with someone and they prefer to be identified in another way, they'll tell you. I often go back and forth myself, and I have to, sometimes I think about, am I doing this because of who's receiving it or who I'm talking to? But I interchange between Black and African American all the time. If I were to be honest with myself, I probably use African American in more shirt-and-tie professional environments. And when I'm with family, you know, I'm Black. But, yeah, just pick one and someone will tell you if they prefer something differently.
Baldi: So Dan, I agree 100%, in that, we have to move past conversation and turn emotion into action. A lot of conversations that I've had with people, one of the challenges is, they don't know where to start. They don't know what to do. The work seems so large. And I will quote Chris Rock, who is a well-known comedian, and he did a special a few years ago. And he said, where he failed in his marriage is that he didn't learn how to play the tambourine.
And a tambourine is an instrument that often, you know, supports a mass choir, and it's a small little thing, you can hold in your hand and if you weren't looking for it, you probably even wouldn't see it. But it's important. And what I feel like people need to learn to be comfortable with is, you don't necessarily have to be the soloist. You don't have to be the person directing the choir. Just get comfortable playing the tambourine, like, just support people who maybe have been doing this as their lifework. Seek them out and either learn from them or figure out ways that you can support them.
In partnership with 10 local families here in Washington, DC, in August, we're going to be announcing the launch of an organization that's going to be doing just that: We're going to be playing the tambourine but just really loudly. And our goal is to unite families from different backgrounds, of diverse economic backgrounds, across the country to do just that, support people who've been doing this as a lifework, because I'm not an expert. I'm really passionate about this, but I don't know the direct path forward. And so, if we all get comfortable playing the tambourine, there's going to be a lot of noise out there.
Gardner: I really appreciate you saying that, Stephen, because my question coming in for our podcast this week was, what can I do? [laughs] And you guys have already said it a number of times. Everyone was asking that question, and you know, when I'm speaking to you, in this case as a white man, what's the best thing I can say? What would you love to hear from me? What would you love to see me do? And, Stephen, you reminded me that it's about that circle of influence that you led off with earlier, and about what we can do, but especially reaching out to people who have done this [laughs] their whole life, that this is their job. We can listen to and learn from them and know what the right things to do and to say are.
Baldi: I would also just like to input that, in the same email discussion, again, and I had with someone who witnessed our webinar, one of the things that came out is that there was fear and anxiety around having to give something up. And I think what people also need to realize is that the equation we are working on is addition, it's not subtraction. If we have the ability to look at each other equally, you actually don't have to give up anything in order to make that happen. You simply have to give someone an opportunity equal to that that you already have.
And so if we can collectively agree that no one is asking to give anyone anything up, we're just asking to be viewed equally and to understand that we love our kids the same way you love your kids, and we go to work the way that you go to work. And if we start focusing on adding and not subtracting, I think this also becomes a much easier conversation, and a moment with a lot more momentum.
Wright: And, David, something else you can do is to tell your story. There is power in your story. And even though we come from different backgrounds, it does resonate. So when you told me how you got the revenue to start Motley Fool, that was something that I realized I needed to make sure was in place for my children.
So for those that don't know -- and David, I'll let you tell the full story -- but your father, at a certain point said, here's what I've saved up and this is pretty much what I'm going to give you. And based on that you were able to move forward and to take a lot further.
So from that point, and this is when I got to know you, I made sure I did the same for my children. So for birthdays and for Christmas, they're not getting gifts anymore, they're getting stock, and that's what I'm going to give them, period, moving forward. And that's an important lesson for Black people that we do need to think about investing, we do need to think about wealth, we do need to think about generational wealth and the importance of it.
So just telling that story, reminding people that stocks and investing and all of those different things are not as intimidating as we make them out to be, because there are apps where you can jump in and start playing immediately if you have $50, you don't have to have thousands of dollars, just start somewhere. And that's an important story to tell.
Gardner: You know, one of my reflections, guys -- and this comes from a moment I had last Summer. So last Summer I traveled to China for the first time, age 53 back then, I'm 54 today. And there was a moment when I was in the city of Xi'an, where the Terracotta Warriors are, a lot of tourists go there, a lot of touristy shops. And I'm walking down a nondescript street in Xi'an and a sign caught my eye. And I iPhone photographed it right then, and it was chilling, it said "No Japanese welcome here."
There's been a lot of strife over history between China and Japan. It reminded me of signs I had seen only in textbooks as a schoolboy that said, "No Blacks welcome here." And it started reminding me that the conversation that we're having, which is certainly somewhat American and very much understandably a Black-white conversation. This is the sort of thing that's happened for centuries. It happens today in many, many places all around the world. It's not about Black guys and white guys, it's about Chinese guys and Japanese guys. And, of course, I'm saying "guys," and we're all guys and I'm conscious that the female voices we don't have for this particular episode, but for me, "guy" is always an inclusive term, right? So we're all human, as Stephen said earlier.
And so, I'm reminded of how common it is to be racist. We're all a little bit racist. So I guess my question to the group is just, why? What is it, why is it, that we are all a little bit, in some cases not a little bit, racist? What is going on in our psychology and in humanity that makes us, "No Japanese welcome here?"
Wright: So I'll start off. And I do believe that a lot of it is just based on human nature. I read a book recently called Homo Sapiens, which does an incredible job of breaking down how we came to be. And a big part of being human means that we do make associations a lot of times based on artificial titles. And, David, as you mentioned earlier, this is something that you and I talked about, just the difference between being a Muslim and Christian, between being an American and a Mexican, but also being Black and white. These are artificial titles that, at the end of the day, don't mean anything.
But I think that also, there is a certain level of laziness with being racist, because there is an assumption that because a person appears to be a certain way on the outside, you make stereotypes based on what you see. So there is ignorance and laziness associated with being racist, but also there is a certain sense of insecurity, because you feel that if you do allow a person who looks or appears to be different from you get ahead that somehow that's going to impact you adversely.
So there are a number of different things that go on to racism, but I think that at the end of the day, it really is up to us to remind ourselves that we need to work a little harder to get to know a person. And Stephen did a very good job of saying that earlier, we do need to go the extra mile, we do need to get to know a person. And based on your connections to that person, not based on the way they look, I think that we would do ourselves a lot better and have a lot more rewarding lives as a result of that.
Baldi: So David, a little outside of your question, but relevant. I think people are where they are. It depends on where you grow up, it depends on what your family structure is, it depends on what you have access to. You know, there was a time in my life where I would often make the statement, "It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." And I wasn't very young when I held on to that opinion, and probably was into my early 20s before I started to pivot away from that type of thinking. And I'm not proud of it, but it is my reality, and it is things that I said, and there's people who remember me saying it. But I'm not that person now, and the way that I was able to evolve in my thinking and my feeling and my empathizing and for me caring for others is just through experience.
When I was at Georgetown University, I worked in residence life as a resident assistant, the person who would sit on the dorm floor and just watch over other students. And there was a person in residence life of significant influence, and he didn't even realize that I was carrying this opinion about homosexual people. And just by living his life, not even trying to consciously move me off of that harmful opinion, I learned. I was presented with new information, and I learned and evolved. And I really believe this, and I said it before: If we just accept people for where they are and try to inspire them by presenting new information to them, we will move more people toward us than away from us.
And I have to admit, in my own life, that I've had opinions that I've had to move away from. And so, who am I? I don't own a heaven or hell to put anybody in, to judge someone else. As long as you haven't caused physical harm to someone, I am open to a conversation. And so if we all start there, I think we'll get some really positive and transformational outcomes.
Simons: So why are we racists? I think we're racist because we're scared, I think we're racists because we're weak, and I think we're racist because we're ignorant. And maybe a path to resolve fear and weakness and ignorance is to start by just admitting it. Admit how we feel when somebody says or does something that hurts our feelings. Admit that we can cover that up sometimes by hurting somebody else's feelings. Admit that when we're insecure about something about ourselves, we think we can grasp some power or some confidence by making somebody else feel small.
And maybe when we start to admit those things, we can also make admissions like Baldi made, and he said, "I admit that I used to think this way and that I said harmful things, but you know what, I've learned and I've grown and through new information, and I'm not proud of who I was, but I'm proud of who I am. And by admitting where I was or where I am, I have a higher likelihood of going somewhere I can be proud of."
So I like to take that construct of "just admit it" and grab a mirror and do some work right there, and then translate that into some actions at home or at work. Grab a metric and measure it? What do you want to change, what would you like to be different? And I'm a fan of measurement, and I'm a fan of human relations, and I think if you put those two things together, we can all end up in a really, really improved place.
Gardner: Well, you guys have certainly improved me this week. I am so grateful for each of your contributions. You know, there's an old professor at University of Virginia, no longer living, his name was Gib Akin, he once said, "Learning is experience, is a personal transformation. A person does not gather learnings as possessions, but rather becomes a new person. To learn is not to have, it is to be."
So I want to say at the close, thank you, again, to each of you three gentlemen, who took on some personal and professional risk joining this conversation. I appreciate you for it. It's my hope that we forge stronger connections.
And I'm not just talking about our own here, which I think was inevitable, I'm very specifically talking about connections that I hope will start or deepen across tens of thousands of people who've heard us this week, who've just heard us be vulnerable, sloppy, but real, real with each other, hoping very much that every single person listening will be willing to follow our example and forge stronger connections in their communities.
You know, Marcel Proust once said -- this was in French, of course, not in English -- but it's a beautiful line: "The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."
Vennard, Stephen, Dan, thank you.