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Aditi: She said, "I try to get rid of the blame and the shame and kind of explain that, being born white is like being born with access to a country club. Like, it's not that you did anything to deserve it; you just kind of have it. But, by having it that means you have access to certain things that other people don't."
Intro: Welcome to The Resilient Lawyer podcast. In this podcast we have meaningful, in-depth conversations with lawyers, entrepreneurs and change agents. We offer tools and strategies for creating a more joyful and satisfying life. And now your host, Jeena Cho.
Aditi: I am Aditi Juneja. I am the creator and the host of the Self-Care Sunday’s podcast, and I co-created The Resistance Manual and OurStates.org as well.
Jeena: Wow, that's quite a list. Well, tell me about Self-Care Sunday. Where did that idea come from and tell the listeners a little bit about the project.
Aditi: So the Self-Care Sunday's podcast came out of the activist work that I was doing and realizing that I was really just tired and exhausted and feeling like I didn't know how to do this work in a sustainable way. And I thought that I should probably figure that out in order to try to avoid burn-out and to make sure that I was being as effective as I could be. So I thought, you know, the way I would learn was to talk to activists, lawyers, entrepreneurs, artists, all kinds of folks about how they did self-care and how they sustain their work. And then it occurred to me that if I was having this problem that others must be too. So if I recorded the conversations I was having in the form of a podcast and I shared them that perhaps that would have some utility. So that was how that podcast was born.
Jeena: Tell me about the activist work that you are doing.
Aditi: So I had been, I was in my third year of law school. I had been interested in criminal justice reform, I had worked at a DA's office for a couple of years prior to law school. In law school, I had focused mostly on criminal justice reform work. I had written a note on that topic and particularly on prosecutorial reform. But after the election, it seemed like the shift needed, that there need to be a shift, I needed to broaden my focus a little bit. So I started just kind of collecting, tracking information trying to understand the various policies that were being proposed by the incoming administration and the processes to enact them, so I didn't know how budget reconciliation worked for example, so I was trying to understand that, understand where the opportunities were for activism, and I shared that with Stay Woke, which is an organization that was born out of the movement for Black Lives, and they thought that that what I was collecting that information would be really useful and that if we could create a crowd-sourced platform that might serve as a useful resource for other folks who were joining what was the nascent resistance movement. So that rather than everyone researching every individual policy themselves, we could have a collective, you know, a shared space for that information and that we could kind of build on the work of each other instead of duplicating efforts.
Jeena: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. What got you interested in criminal justice reform?
Aditi: I think I...so I had it, I was always interested in criminal justice generally, but I don't know why. I look back through high school; maybe it was like mock trial, I don't know, it was a lot of different things. But I had always had that interest. But in college I had the opportunity after my junior year to intern with a superior court judge in New Jersey who was in the criminal court system. And during that time I was sitting in chambers and then talking to prosecutors and defense attorneys. And I got to hear their opinions about how the system was working, and also importantly how it was not working. And so after I left college I spent my first two years as a paralegal in the Manhattan DA's office in the Early Case Assessment Bureau, so I was writing up complaints for the cases that everyone hates. You know, the fair-beating cases, the shoplifting cases, the "feet on the seats" cases and all that. And even when I was there it felt to me like, you know, we were enforcing the law. I didn't feel like I was doing anything wrong. I didn't feel guilty about it. But after I left and started law school, with the perspective of distance and time and then also just the legal education, the opportunity to consider why do we have laws? What is the purpose of the criminal law? Like what is mens rea? What is actus reus? What is the point of all of this? You know, kind of having that framework made me think about it more critically and, particularly, be able to apply it not just, I wasn't just learning about it in a theoretical sense, I was able to then take that framework and that theory I was learning in law school and apply it to what I had seen working in the DA's office and I realized that there was quite a large disconnect between the purposes and the aims of criminal law. And what I had seen actually happen, so I was very quickly interested in reform work and trying to understand what the issues were in the system and how it might be improved.
Jeena: Saying more about the disconnect, can you give a concrete example of how the law should work versus how it was actually being implemented?
So a lot of the cases I was writing up as a paralegal, it was non-victim misdemeanors, so it was what we would consider or what was called broken windows, policing quality of life crimes and the idea, at least in my understanding, was that by lowering the rates of quality of life, crimes in New York City were just, where I was working, that it would then reduce violent crime overall. But there was no nexus between those two things, there is no provable nexus between those two things. And so, for me it felt like a lot of times I would see cases right, where for example, in New York State there's a law about gravity knives, which are the kinds of knives that if you flip out the blade, the blade just flips out, like you don't have to push a button or anything it just flips out. And there's a law against possession of them, but half of the people who possess them said, "I was like coming home from work. I work as a construction worker. I have this job." And of course, one could think that people are lying about it, but it often felt like you're arresting people who have these as tools for their jobs. Thinking that, you're thinking that, you know that this law was written at a time or with the idea and understanding that you're going to prevent violence, but most of these people are literally just possessing them for the purpose of their job. And the way that you're stopping them and noticing that people have them is because you're seeing the clip in their pant pocket.
And so it's not that someone is like, holding it out or doing something with it. You're stopping them and so, you know, I would hear police officers talk about pressure to have a certain number of arrests per month. An unspoken pressure, it's not a quota but a pressure that they felt to have a certain number of arrests per month. And to me, I was like, wouldn't the goal of the criminal justice system be that we have fewer arrests, like isn't that supposed to be a good thing? Because that means that less crime is happening or that you were able to resolve an issue without making an arrest, without it escalating to the point of an arrest, you know. And so the measures of success, the metrics that we use to understand how safe or unsafe a community is, and how issues are being resolved, to me just all felt flawed. And it was never an issue of an, I mean it was most often not the issue of an individual, right? It was, the police officer's following the law as he understands it, the prosecutor, or in my case, the paralegal is writing up a complaint based on their understanding of the policies and procedures of the office and what the law says. But somehow the people who are being arrested are not the people that I'm most concerned about. You know, in in our society it's often, it felt like it was often those who, you know, happen to be out in public didn't have the privacy of their own homes, didn't have the money to make bail. And that to me felt like something was just off.
Jeena: Yeah. I definitely feel like I saw a lot of that when I was an Assistant State Attorney, where I was like I don't think that's what the law was actually intended to do.
Like for example, in Florida there is a crime. It was a misdemeanor for driving without a valid license which, you know from a majority of us just might get your driver's license expired and you have to go and get it fixed. But often how it was actually used was to punish undocumented workers who, of course, can't legally get driver's licenses. So these people ended up with very, very long jail sentences. Whereas for everybody else, all they had to do was just go and get their driver's license renewed and then come back and just show the proof. But that wasn't the intent of the law, right? The intent of the law was not to prosecute or to criminalize people that are there as an undocumented worker. And in Florida there are lots of them. So yeah.
Aditi: Yeah and there's just this feeling too of you know, I'm a citizen obviously as well of the state that I'm living and working in, and so you know I would you know I would see the kinds of cases that I was writing about, but I was like, "This is how police officers are spending their time?" This is not like, this does not make me feel safer as I walk home at night. You know like, I'm not I'm like you know I would sometimes be a little bit sarcastic with police officers. I'd be like, "Really? Like, I feel so much safer knowing you're on the street arresting people for this. Like what, what are you doing?" And of course, it was often not the individual's fault. It was really the policy and the incentives of the systems.
And so I started kind of, you know getting really interested in what are the incentive structures and what are the systems that are at play here that are leading these to these kind of absurd results.
Jeena: Yeah, yeah. So let's go back to self-care. Was there any particular aspects of doing the advocacy job where you kind of felt like you needed to practice self-care? Like what was the impetus for you kind of recognizing that? Like, "Hey I need some additional tools to be able to continue to do the work that I'm doing effectively."
Aditi: We've co-founded The Resistance Manual and it launched right around inauguration, so it was like January 20th. So I was a third semester law student running an organization of 300 people. And I was just overwhelmed. It was really a time thing that I was like, I just don't have the time to be attending whatever it was, four or five classes, writing papers, and like all of that while supervising, facilitating, coordinating the work of 300 volunteers for this monster of a project that I created. And I was just very, it was really a time crunch and I felt like because I was the person who had created it, it was the vision, it was new. You know, there was no internal infrastructure; there was no like HR to refer people to. Right? Like I was the person with all, you know who had answering all the questions and I was kind of perpetually on call. And especially in the early months of the administration, now we've almost gotten used to it. But like, the fact that there was a crisis every day was like...now we're kind of like, "Well there's a crisis every day." That has somehow become normal but like, when we first started that was definitely not normal. We were like, "What the hell?" Every moment you're just on, and first the Muslim ban, Paris agreement, and it was just always something. And there were lots of leaks early on of proposed executive orders.
And so I was fortunately kind of, I'm a systems thinker so I was really trying to like figure out like how do I create systems to handle these things. You know, building teams, creating like a layer of team leaders, an FAQ document, a principles and guidelines document, like really trying to create process to kind of absorb some of the questions and confusion that was existing in the organization I was building but it was still just a lot. And it was this feeling of, you think you're doing work that's important and matters. But at the same time, no one had done what I was doing before. Lots of people had done organizing before, but no one had created like a policy platform before in the way that The Resistance Manual existed, and with the purpose of being targeted to the general public. So of course you have think tanks that issue reports and stuff, but no one had created what we were trying to do. So I was just in this constant state of like, I have no idea what I'm doing. And it's not as though, I can ask others who have built new things, but it's not as though I can ask someone who has done this before, because no one has done this before. And so, I was like looking for ways to keep myself calm, keep myself focused, not to feel guilty. You know, just to just kind of get through. It was very overwhelming. And so I was trying to, and also the first time I had ever led anything, it was the first time I was doing press. That was the first time that had happened, I was talking to political directors of huge national organizations and I was like, I don't know what the hell is even happening in my life right now. So it was like you know, it wasn't just work, it was also you know, suddenly I'm in the paper, suddenly my Twitter profile's verified, people care what I have to say, like it was a lot at once and I was looking for just a way to get through.
Jeena: Yeah, yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Maybe we can back up, like way, way, way, way back and kind of talk about, you know when you talk about self-care, like what does self-care mean to you?
Aditi: So to me, self-care is about having the tools, the resources, the time, the practices that allow you to thrive in this world. And that was another big impetus of the podcast, was whenever I would see people talking about self-care and how you thrive and kind of are calm. It was often like stuff that required money, like go get a massage, go do a manicure. Like you know, or and it was like, and the pictures were always of like, white women with blond hair doing yoga. And I was like I don't know, I'm a law student I don't have the money to get a massage every day. And I just, I didn't feel like the resources that were available were speaking to someone like me.
And particularly because of the work that I was doing, it was really about elevating the voices of those most marginalized and vulnerable. I was like, I still have a fair amount of privilege, right? Like I was in law school, I had access, I had resources, there's a meditation space at NYU Law. Like you know, I had tools at my disposal. But I was like what happens to, you know I was working closely with Fight for $15 on some things; I was like what happens to the fast food worker? How do they do self-care? Who's asking that question, you know?
And so I wanted to, I wanted to have a space where we could talk about self-care not just for people like me but also for people with less privilege than me. Because I was like, how are we expecting people to participate in this work long-term in a sustainable way without giving them kind of resiliency tools?
Jeena: Yeah, so you have done a lot of different interviews. You know, what were some of the highlights? What were some things that people shared with you where you were like, "That is such a great idea!" Or something that you know, really is accessible to everyone.
So I didn't have really any framework for this going in. So for me everything was mind blowing, so you can definitely see the trajectory of my growth in the episodes because my questions get deeper. Because when they started I'm like, "So what does this mean to you?" Like it was very, very basic and then it got deeper and it wasn't fake it was very real. But I realized that a lot of people's ideas about self-care and who's allowed to do self-care and how you're allowed to do self-care comes from their families, so a lot of the people early on would talk about their mothers a lot, like people like the first five episodes. Everyone was saying like, "I saw my mom do this," or, "I saw my mom not do this and I had to learn that I could do that even though my mom didn't." So then for episode six I interviewed my mom because I was like if I was talking about their mom let's find out what my mom has to say about this stuff.
And so I realized that you know what you see growing up really informs the way that you kind of create your baseline for how you think about this. And especially I think it's quite gendered, like labor itself is gendered. But then also spaces for care or not who is expected to do emotional labor, who's expected to do different types of work, it's highly gendered so I thought it was interesting to talk my mom. But then I realized I was interviewing mostly women. And then I was like, well then I think if gender is playing a large component in this than I should probably talk to someone about masculinity, right? So then I had someone from The Love Army on and we talked about masculinity and how you know, how the concept of masculinity obviously affects women too but it's just about how having emotions is frowned upon, how you're not taken seriously if you have feelings, right?
And so if you don't have space to deal with your feelings, that tends not to end well for people. People you know, then they have breakdowns, they lash out, they get angry, they get violent. I mean their feelings go somewhere, they don't just disappear. And so that became an inquiry. And then we were talking to a lot of people of color early on. And so then a lot of it was about like a lot of the conversation had to do with race and how again, there are tropes about you know, model minorities, the strong black woman, like the feisty Latina, like they're all these kind of racial tropes. So then I interviewed a white person about white privilege and white guilt and I was like, "So what is this thing of white guilt? Because it seems to be very unproductive, like how does that work?" And so it became, it was about self-care but it was about self-care for all people...which means that you're doing these kind of social justice inquiries about like, how do our identities shape the way that we think about self-care, and what we feel like we're allowed to do or not allowed.
So later on we did an episode with someone talking about representation in media and like, how often do you see people seeing therapists on TV and who are the people who are seeing therapists on TV, and who are the people who are therapists on TV and what does that teach us about what self-care can look like or not look like for different types of people.
Jeena: Right. And I think that's a huge issue just the, from the whiteness. Well not only white, but also just white females or I think makes up a huge bulk of people that become therapists, right. So I think that then there is like this implicit message that says, well if you're a person of color then maybe you're not welcome in that space or that you're not entitled to getting that help. I don't know, I do think that there is some sort of like an underlying message that goes along with just so many therapists being white female.
Aditi: Yeah, I definitely agree and I think also just that you know on tv shows I think like sometimes you see white people do like see a therapist. Like I was re-watching The West Wing, like the President and his you know, Deputy Chief of Staff on that tv show. Got to, they brought someone in from ATVA you know, after a trauma and they were men but they got to have therapy. But it was very rare and very recent that you started seeing people of color on tv seeking out therapy when they're not in crisis, right. Like I'm not I'm not drug rehabilitation, talking about just like, "I could you know, my life could be better. Maybe I should talk to someone." You know, and there is a good kind of plot-line on the TV show Insecure which is by Issa Rae. And it was her best friend on the show Molly, who's a black woman, and kind-of this whole thing about like therapy is not for me. And they really kind of contended and wrestled with like, who is therapy for? Is it weird that I'm doing therapy? Like, you only do therapy if you're all screwed up. And like, kind of these tropes and these stereotypes and these impressions of that.
And so I think you know, the nice thing on the Self-Care Sundays podcast was because it was really just me and my microphone and whoever would be willing to join me, I really had the freedom to seek out the conversations that felt salient and kind of allow it to guide itself and see you know, well we haven't talked to this kind of person or this person brought this up and that was really interesting and I wonder what you know, someone else would say about that. And so I think that was, my understanding evolved and then I kind of sought out guests that I thought would further the conversation and kind of keep the ball rolling forward.
Jeena: What does your self-care practice look like?
Aditi: I think my self-care practice is constantly evolving. I try to set new goals. I'm not the best and especially because I just graduated law school so now I'm starting to work. So I think it's kind of like, re-visiting you know what I want it to look like.
I meditate, which I find helpful I write, which helps me to think kind of clearly. If I'm trying to go through thoughts in my head, it doesn't work well. I've done therapy, which helped me to be less fixated on things, helped me to realize like there are things that I can't control and I need to let stuff go because I have lawyer type-A personality of everything must be done you know, the way that I can do anything, I can fix anything like and realizing that that's not true. I think, realizing through the podcast and the activist work was just that boundaries are really important, so like there are just some things that you can't do.
I started making frequent use of the word "unsolicited" much to my parents chagrin, where I'm just like, "That was unsolicited, I did not ask for your advice on that. I do not want your advice. No thank you." And I think you know, because I actually was a few years ago I think my therapist and I were talking and I said something. And I said, "I don't know, it's like men just feel that they can just tell us stuff.” And she's like, "Yeah. But we also allow them to tell us stuff." And I was like, "You're right. We should just start telling them that their opinions are unsolicited." And so that just became like my favorite word that I would just tell them, like, "I did not ask you that, please go away."
And I think for me, the boundary component of it, the meditation, the kind of quiet time because I'm like often really just going, go go go mode. So learning to sit in quiet for me has been a big change. And then writing to kind of get some clarity of thought.
And I had noticed that in my journals I would often only be writing when something bad happened, and so I kind of made a commitment just like this month that I wanted to start writing every day, regardless of what was happening. Because I didn't want to just be writing to baseline, I wanted to be writing also to allow myself to reflect and grow and pushing myself.
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Jeena: You know, maybe we can go back a little bit and talk about privilege. Because you talked about self-care and you know, different privileges that certain people have or don't have that allows them to practice certain types of self-care. When you talk about privilege, what does that mean to you?
So I think privilege is tied to power, so privilege is power and ability to have agency over your life to make your own decisions. But then there's also just privilege in regards to you know, having the ability to make decisions that impact others. So it's really, I think what I think about privilege in the self-care context I'm often thinking about control and access.
Jeena: And then the self-care space, in what ways does privilege play out?
Aditi: So I think there has been, you know we've taken care of ourselves and each other like through human history, like that's just always been true. But there has been a real co-modification of self-care and industry built around it. When I was you know, five or six, people used to make fun of me for being Indian. Now like, everyone does yoga and I'm like, y'all do know where it came from? There's lots of appropriation. People say "namaste" and most don't know that it's a Hindi word. It's kind of strange to me. You know, living my immigrant experience, seeing the ways, it's been kind-of you know, those self-care practices have been co-opted by and then monetized.
So I think you know, there's privilege about access to those practices but also just about you know, when we're talking about representation, about how people think about who gets to do self-care. So what's interesting to me is that, in my podcast when I was interviewing people, it was often those who you would imagine had less privilege who would say you don't need a lot of privilege to practice self-care, that you can you know, go outside for five minutes, you can take a walk, you can make a mug of tea. And they would really push back on the notion that you need privilege to practice self-care, but would concede that oftentimes there's an issue of time, but also just of mentality that you don't feel that you are allowed to practice self-care, because the way it's marketed, the way it's discussed, really requires resources. That people say, "Oh you know, here you know, enjoy your self-care with this bubble bath, enjoy your self-care with this manicure."
Like it though, it's marketed, the language of self-care has been marketed and is often tied to a product or a service that you buy. And so people have you know, people feel like they don't have access to it when oftentimes you know, religious services for a lot of people for very long time have served as a form of fortification and self-care and renewal and replenishment of the soul. You know and so there's, but because there's like this now market and this language and this industry around self-care, people sometimes with less privilege don't feel like their ways of practicing self-care are not valuable not valid, they don't count. And so I wanted to create a space where all self-care counts and you work with what you have and that's valid and that's valuable.
And I wanted and I intentionally made sure that I was trying to speak to people across different types of privilege or lack of privilege so that there was really an array of practices being shared and discussed so people felt like, the hope was that people would be able to find an entry point, that they would hear something that resonated with them. Whether that's about like, making art or getting a massage or taking a walk or being outside or a cup of tea or you know, whatever it is, that something would click with them where they would say, "Oh yeah, I do that," or, "Yeah I could do that." You know, and that would kind of help begin someone's journey into thinking about self-care.
Jeena: Yeah so, I don't know if you get the sense too, like there is this sense that now like, you need somebody else to tell you how to do self-care. Like someone has this magical list of like, proper or correct ways to do self-care and you better like check against that list before you venture on this thing called self-care, because what if you're not doing it correctly.
Aditi: Yeah that's weird. That's definitely a weird thing that has, I think, I don't know if it's related to but at least feels related to the performative digital media culture that we live in. Which is like, you know it's like, you couldn't have made. like it's like my sister for example, when she cooks she takes pictures so my parents think I don't cook because I don't send them pictures when I cook.
There's like a phrase like "pictures or it didn't happen." And it's like no, it still happened. Like life does not work in accordance to what's on my Instagram, right? But I think that if you live in a world, as I think a lot of particularly young people do, where that like, you know I'm 26. So for me I at least remember a time before we had internet. I remember when AIM came out and when AOL was new. But like, for people even three years younger than me, my sister's age, she doesn't remember when we used actual maps she always remembers MapQuest. So for her, you know for people who are digital natives, I'm just on the brink of that, where I remember not having it. But for people who are true digital natives, there really is this feeling of that there's a pressure, like the peer pressure is different than I think what it was even just for me even just being a few years older. Where it's like, you know when we learned about peer pressure it was about like, don't let someone force you into drinking, just saying no to drugs, right? When my sister learned about peer pressure, it was about cyber-bullying after a horrific incident on the Rutgers campus where someone videotaped one of their roommates. You know, and engaging in a sex act with a gay person. It was just like a whole thing, like there was like this whole big push around cyber-bullying and the way people dox each other. Like that wasn't a thing when I was, you know when I was in middle school r high school. Facebook, I got access to Facebook when I was 16. We weren't allowed before then; it was just for college students. So I just missed it. You know, I didn't go to high school with social media. But if you did it would be a thing of like, oh you're not at this party. There's a feeling of missing out right, you're not at this party, you didn't get invited to this thing. And so similarly I think for self-care it's like, you're not using the right face mask, you're not using the right meditation app, you're not drinking the right kind of flavored water. I don't know.
I don't know what the things are, but it feels like it is part of this kind of performative "Keeping up with the Joneses" culture that our social media has exacerbated. But it doesn't need to.
Jeena: Yeah, right. And I think it's important to emphasize that self-care can look very, very different for you then like, everybody else and that there's no norms for practicing self-care. I mean there may be certain themes that run through it, right? Or there may be some similarities, but that you don't need somebody else's permission to be able to practice self-care.
Aditi: And also, what is self-care for you might actually be harmful to me and vice versa, right? Like so like for something real simple, like some people will say like for them self-care, we can thanks Shonda Rimes for this, is like you know, drinking a bottle of wine and watching Scandal, right? Like that could be your self-care, right? It's just like a little bit of an escapism and relaxing. For me, as a person with a seizure disorder, if I'm drinking a bottle of red wine, my body is not going to react well to that. That is the exact opposite of self-care to me. I mean my body's going to freak out if I do that. And so, like there are these kind-of really simple things that it's like, for you that's totally self-care and for me that's a disaster. That's the exact opposite of self-care. Me, self-care was when I stopped drinking. Like I stopped drinking a few years ago and I have like, maybe one drink every now and then. And that was great self-care to me. But for other people you know, having a bottle of wine with a friend or while watching a tv show or a movie, that's self-care to them. And so I like that as an example because you can really see the starkness of how what works for someone just doesn't work for somebody else. And I think that was another benefit of really trying to have a diversity of guests on my podcast and as I was doing that inquiry was also to try to demonstrate and to represent the variety of life experiences and even other simple things like, you know artists will talk about self-care, I was like, if you ask me to paint that will not be self-care, that would be very stressful. I would be like, "I don't know how to do this. What do you mean? What are colors? Like what?" It would be stressful to me to paint, but for other people their art is their self-care. And conversely, for someone you know, writing might be very stressful but for me that's great self-care.
And so I think that's, you know, I wasn't just trying to have representation across demographics or identities, but also just across practices and experiences because I thought you know, wouldn't it be great if I had a guest one week who said this was their self-care and the next week someone said when I stopped doing that, that was my self-care. Like, and for people to really realize you get to decide for yourself. I wanted to show that.
Jeena: Yeah, and I think that's such an important message. What led to the decision to quit drinking?
Aditi: It was just really bad for my epilepsy, it was like every time...I'm generally in life not good at moderation. And that's how you end up in your last semester of law school running an organization like that. I'm just not good at moderation. You know, you're not like, "Oh I know I'll join," you're like, "No I'll start." So for me moderation has never been great, and I just realized that if I wanted to be healthy...it was my second year of law school. I had two seizures my first year of school. I was a class behind and I was like, if I want to graduate in time, this needs to not be a part of my life.
And now that it's been almost two years, like this summer I went on vacation with my mom and I had like one drink on two different nights, so now I feel like I can like moderate up. And it wasn't that I was drinking excessively. It was just that it, was just not worth it. It just wasn't like, there was very little joy in drinking for me. It wasn't that much fun. You wake up with a hangover, it's quite expensive. And for me there were these real health risks where if I was drinking in excess I could potentially have a seizure and it was just, it just wasn't worth it.
Jeena: Yeah. Well we can spend a little bit of time chatting about...I mean, one of the things that I am struggling with and what I think a lot of people struggle with this too, is you know like how to even have productive conversations about privilege, right? And it's a really hard conversation. And you know of course you've done a lot of activist work and you've thought a lot about this. You know, thoughts on how to like actually engage in this conversation about privilege in a way that's productive.
So it's a couple of things. One is like boundaries, right? So there are people who will engage in the conversation with and people who I won't engage in conversation with is just like, a good place to start. So for me, I think that these days I don't really engage in conversations on privilege with white folks but I think it's really important for me to engage in conversations on privilege with other Asian-Americans, particularly Indian-Americans. I feel like that in-group dialogue is important because there's a connection there and I think I can be more impactful there. So just, and that's different for different people. I'm not saying that people need to set the same boundary, but I think having a boundary of when you will engage, when you won't engage...because you can't be fighting with every stranger on the Internet. You will be tired. You just can't do that. Like it doesn't work. I think first, in order to even be able to engage in the conversation, you have to have the emotional resources to engage. Which means you have to decide that you're not going to engage some of the time. Right? Like, so in order to have the same conversation for the 801st time, I need to replenish myself enough and that means that I need to know that there are going to be times where I'm not going to have that conversation. And I think part of the reason for that is because a lot of the conversation is about listening, it's not about talking. So rather than like, let me share my thesis and dissertation on everything I've read and learned about privilege with you, it's much more productive if people come to conclusions and understandings themselves. And as lawyers or as trained lawyers, most of us should be quite good at asking questions that lead people into their thinking; no one's going to object to your leading question. So you can, you know help facilitate someone's thinking through asking questions. And I think you know for example, once you know a lot of the narrative around privilege or where people don't recognize privilege is there a feeling of you know, you did something yourself. You worked really hard by yourself. And I think asking questions about how is that really true, like did you really not have any support? So I could say, "I'm self-made. I'm the daughter of immigrants." Yada yada yada. And it's like, but did you really? Is that really true? No that's not true. Like I got C's in middle school, I got C's in high school. Why did that not prevent me from going to a good college?
Oh, well my parents had the resources to be able to pay full tuition for me to attend a small liberal arts college when I did not get scholarships into high-ranking colleges, and that allowed me to continue to grow and get good education and develop the discipline, get better grades. And so then when I was studying for the LSAT, again I had support and resources to take an LSAT class that allowed me to improve my score significantly and get admission to a great school. And like, you know and kind of asking people questions about, "Did you really do this by yourself.
You know, because you didn't. No one did anything by themselves. In an industrialized economy no one does anything by themselves, only the hunters and gatherers really did things by themselves, and even then they worked in communities to get things done.
And so I think if instead of it being an attack on, "Well you're not recognizing your privilege and you don't understand what it's like for me," I think asking people questions and trying to understand the narrative that they have in their head about not just others, but themselves, helps you to kind of deconstruct. If you can really, radically empathize and understand someone's viewpoint then you can talk to them in a way they can understand. But once you have demonized or written someone off, you're not going to be able to get through to them because you're not going to understand how they're thinking about it. And so, on podcast when we did the episode on white privilege and white guilt, I asked the person who I was speaking with how she talks to poor white people, how she helps them understand white privilege when in their lives they've not seen privilege, particularly if they live in a predominantly white community, they don't have a good point of reference to say, "Yeah my life is challenging this way, but people who are similarly financially situated but are, you know, lacking the racial privilege I have live lives this way." And she said you know, I try to get rid of the blame and the shame and kind-of explain that being born white is like being born with access to a country club. Like it's not that you did anything to deserve it, you just kind of have it. But by having it that means you have access to certain things that other people don't.
And so trying to steer the conversation away from blame and shame and make it more about you know, this is the structure, this is the construction that we're all in. And so now what do we do, right? It's not your fault. But this is what it is. So now what we do? But I think it requires first this base understanding of what perspective is this person coming from and what's informing that perspective. So you know like, I remember having conversations with my mom about racial privilege and her not fully grasping it, coming from a country that had a caste system but not a racial dynamic. But she really understood sexism well. And drawing analogies to sexism helped her understand racism. So I think if you can find kind-of, a point of reference for people, that helps. And I think, but particularly just not blaming them, really trying to understand their viewpoint. But that's quite draining when someone is telling you that they think your viewpoint and your life's work is invalid and then you're like, "Great. Let me really try to deeply understand where you're coming from," is exhausting. That's why I started with saying that having and I'm ending saying that I think having a boundary on when you'll have those conversations is really important.
Jeena: So I think that leads me to the next question, let's just say that the person recognizes that they have certain privileges. And I think you and I both talked about the fact that just you know, by virtue of being a lawyer we have certain privileges. I think that being Asian in many ways gives us certain privileges. Like then what, you know? It's like, then what do you do with that? So like, you admit you have certain privileges, like what's the next constructive step to take?
Aditi: So I think there are two things. I think one is not allowing yourself to be used as like, so like you know there was this whole conversation online recently with the DOJ announcement around affirmative action that you know, Asian-Americans are not your model minority, that you're not going to hold me up as an example, you're not going to give me, I'm not going to climb this ladder of racial hierarchy, right? I'm not going to step on someone else so that I can get ahead. I'm not going to allow you to use me as an example to denigrate someone else. So I think just kind-of in conversation, especially when you kind of fall in the middle in one of those groups, to say that you're not going to use me to say that someone else should have been able to do what I did, right? Because I recognize my privilege. I had help, I had support. My parents, my dad's an MBA and my mom's a Ph.D. Like, it is not a fair comparison to compare me to someone whose parents didn't graduate high school and say that all Asians are, you know, you just can't make those generalizations. So I think first, not allowing yourself to be used as a pawn in someone else's game. And then second, I think leveraging your skills and abilities where you can to create more equity and justice. So as lawyers we have this unique opportunity, large part of what I was doing on The Resistance Manual was trying to democratize information, was trying to say, "Hey, I can read through a legislative process and have some context and framework to understand what this means and how it works. Let me write it in basic language and share it so that others can also understand what this means." You know, I did videos and I posted them on Twitter when different health care bills came out, explaining to people, this is what it means for people getting health care through their employer. Get it this way, get it that way. So I think just sharing, trying to democratize information and knowledge.
I mean, lawyers played a huge role in pushing back the Muslim ban just by showing up at airports and offering pro-bono help. Today, the announcement of DACA being rescinded was announced, and dreamers have what, a month to renew DACA. So I think lawyers can play a huge role in leveraging their privilege and their knowledge, both to educate the public that hey, you need to renew it, and also providing help to people. Even if it's like, you write an FAQ form you know and you post it somewhere, or you help explain the process and you kind-of share, "Hey these are the steps that you need to take if you want to do that," and you make that public. I realize that as lawyers we obviously have a concern about offering legal advice and the ways to do that, but I think those concerns shouldn't prevent us from using the knowledge that we're privileged to have, to share it with others and to help others kind of be active, make their lives better.
And a lot of it's just process, a lot of it is not about offering specific legal advice, it's just about demystifying process. People don't understand how rules and regulations work and agencies, people get confused about what their members of Congress do versus what happens in the States. And I think lawyers are uniquely positioned to help demystify. A lot of times the reason I think the public doesn't engage in activism is because the systems feel opaque, and as lawyers were uniquely privileged to make them less opaque. And that doesn't cost you anything and that's not risky in terms of providing legal advice. That's really just about like, "Hey I can explain how this process works in language that a normal human could understand."
Jeena: Which is not an easy thing to do, let's just be clear about that.
Aditi: It's not, but you can practice. Like it takes a lot of practice because we live in our special little world, but like if you have kids at home, if you can explain it to a 10 year old, you're pretty good. That's pretty solid. I think that's actually a really good base line. The basic reading level is about a fifth grade reading level, if you can find a 10 year old and you can get them to understand it. You know. And also I think it's actually a good lawyering skill, when you're talking to a jury, when you're writing things, the simpler and clearer you can explain things the better.
So I don't think it's, you know, I think that even opposing counsel and judges recognize when you're trying to you know, my legal writing professor used to say, "Don't try to sound smart. Be smart." Like your argument should stand on it's own, you don't need to be pretentious with your vocabulary. You use words for precision, that's different, but the simpler and clearer you can write, the easier it is for someone to understand. If a judge has to read a paragraph three times, that's not good legal writing. The simpler and clearer you can write something and make your argument, the better. So I don't think it's, you know, I don't think it's like contrary to the mandate of lawyers, I think it just maybe feels a little uncomfortable.
Jeena: I think that feels like a really great place to pause. For people that want to learn more about your work and your podcast, where is the best place to find it?
So they can find my podcast at selfcaresundayspodcast.com. It's also on iTunes, Google Play, wherever podcasts are available. And to learn more about me and my work, you can check out my website which is my name, aditijuneja.me. And there's you know, articles I've written, projects I've worked on, speeches I've given, etc.
Jeena: And you are very active on Twitter and people can find you on there @aditijuneja3, wonderful.
Before I let you go, one final question. The name of this podcast is called The Resilient Lawyer. What does it mean to be a resilient lawyer to you?
Aditi: A lawyer who allows themselves to feel what they're feeling, deal with it and keep going forward.
Jeena: I love that. Aditi, thank you so much for joining me. It was such a delight chatting with you and I'm sure we'll be in touch.
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