If you’ve been following my recent updates, you’ll know that I’m broadening my interview series to include not just writers, but activists. I met Ellen Wagner on Instagram, and we had a hugely enjoyable time on her Insta Live show. I knew then that she had a lot more to say about racism and anti-racism from her unique perspective, and I’m delighted to feature her here. Please meet Ellen.
Ellen, what made you become an anti-racism activist?
When I grew up as a Black transracial adoptee in a white family, I never really understood the systems of oppression, especially racism. I was raised not seeing racial differences. My parents did not know that they should have invested in anti-racism education to support their daughter in the best way. Very late in my life I have found and accepted myself – a Black queer woman that knows only little about her roots. Because of my experiences as ‘other’ I have been advocating for social justice and diversity topics for quite some time.
But the initial moment I knew I wanted to make a genuine impact was shortly after I founded my business as a Diversity & Expat Coach end of 2019. I was a little hesitant if it would be a good idea to position myself as a Black coach because no one in my professional network thought it would be a thing. But when I finally branded myself as a Black Coach and attracted even more of the right clients – I knew that it was the best decision I could have made. In summer 2020 I took off with my business and focused on the topic of anti-Black racism and could help to empower many individuals of color as well supporting corporations who wanted to get educated around this topic.
What anti-racist cause are you most passionate about, and why?
Being a Black queer transracial adoptee, my two main areas of focus are education on one hand and empowerment on the other hand. The educational part is all about learning and understanding the systems of oppression, unconscious biases, and microaggressions. In workshops, organizations are learning to create their own ways and strategies for more racial equity. The empowerment part is mainly about people of color as well as folx from the LGBTQIA* community who seek for strategies to overcome internal and external hurdles and prevail. The journey to dismantle racism is long, and I am convinced that we need to mobilize allies as well as strengthen and empower ourselves.
What form does your activism take?
Initially, I started with a Twitter account, but I switched over to Instagram and LinkedIn to publish educational posts and share my personal experiences. Due to the COVID pandemic, everything took place online. I am a very social person and working as a solopreneur can get lonely sometimes. That's why I have found different ways to interact with people. Besides my interaction with my clients, I do regularly Insta lives to make voices visible we need to hear more and to directly interact with the community. I have also initiated a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Experts of Color circle for all practitioners especially entrepreneurs to exchange best practice tips, share challenges, and build our network. I am all about the power of empowerment and believe that when you genuinely give you will receive.
What response have you had?
The responses I receive while working with especially white-dominated groups are challenging but never surprising. Working in education with people for almost 15 years taught me to listen closely, to be patient, but also to affirm myself and to be aware that I am the expert, otherwise people would not come to me.
The harsh backlash of people who just started their learning journey or don’t want to learn at all is not easy to handle. As a trained Coach, I clearly see the psychology and systems of oppression so that over time I learned how to distance myself better and do not take attacks personally. If I were angry all the time, I would not be as successful with my work and would reach fewer people. Nevertheless, the space for anger and all other emotions is legitimate and important for my survival. That's why I consciously seek out and create spaces where I can talk openly about my experiences without being judged. In my empowerment spaces, we feel seen and safe - this alone is healing.
In terms of anti-racism content, which are your top three articles or social media posts?
The motivation for writing this post was a client I was working with. I disagreed with him that Black people can change their environment and overcome racism by simply changing their mindset and taking personal responsibility. I often hear that we as individuals have an influence on how we navigate through the world. In my post, I explain why this is a dangerous assumption and that we must see the bigger picture.
I wrote this post in June after we have joined the first BLM protest. I shared my feelings about being Black in these terrible times shortly after the murder of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
This is my post in which I clearly position myself as a Black coach and thus the beginning of my own empowerment and the successful launch of my brand.
Share one anti-racism article written by someone else that really made an impact on you.
I must be honest and share an article of yours, Sharon. I resonate with everything you write and realized something extremely disturbing for the first time just like your daughter: “She had to think about the fact that some of her ancestors had enslaved her other ancestors.”
In relation to racism, what is your vision for the future?
I sincerely hope that we can find a way to feel empathy, listen to each other, and unlearn racism together. Not only for our children but for all of us.
Folks, I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Ellen. You can catch up with her on LinkedIn, Instagram, and on her Cross Cultural Bridges website. And feel free to share your thoughts on this interview below.
Read more anti-racism writer interviews.
© Sharon Hurley Hall, 2021. All Rights Reserved.