Houston native Tracie Jae is passionate about raising the voices of women who've frequently been silenced and sidelined by society. Her company, Quiet Rebel, which has created platforms for people to have authentic conversations with each other about difficult topics since 2014—not surprising for a facilitator with a master’s degree in Strategic Communication and Leadership, has taken on a more specific focus in 2020: bringing women together for conversations about race and culture.
In February, Quiet Rebel hosted its inaugural 100 Voices: Women’s Dinner Dialogue on Race and Culture, which brought 100 Houston women together in person to share their experiences and learn from others. The event was met with tons of enthusiasm, and Jae quickly made plans to tour the country with it (and make it an annual event in Houston). Those plans have changed a little due to the coronavirus—an upcoming 100 Voices Seattle will now be held digitally, with more to potentially come.
But the events of the past few weeks, which have brought renewed attention to our country’s systemic racial injustices and an urgent need for conversation and action, have thrust Jae into hosting digital dialogues about race among women from all different backgrounds in Houston and facilitating larger chats over Zoom too.
With her services needed more than ever, we talked with Jae to learn how she facilitates authentic conversations among so many different people and her advice for using dialogue to make a positive difference in the Houston community.
On the power of conversation:
The thread of conversation is the thing that sort of pulls me back all the time, and it’s because we don’t do it naturally. We talk at each other a lot and we discuss a lot of surface things, the weather and the traffic, but we don’t do a good job of discussing the things that really matter. We don’t do it in our families. We don’t do it in our friendships. We don’t do it in our workplaces. So, until we actually start having really hard conversations with each other, things just stay the same.
On approaching a racist statement:
Sometimes people say things out of hate, and if you respond to that hate with more hate, then there’s just a bomb waiting to explode. You can either act as the bomb or not engage in a hate-filled conversation. You can opt out. You don’t have to participate in every conversation that you’re invited to. I don’t know whose quote that is, it’s someone else’s, but I love it. You can say no, and you can walk away and just let that person live over there in their hate.
But then there are people who say things that are hateful, but not malicious—they don’t mean it to be that way and it came out of ignorance. So those are the kind of conversations we can actively engage in because when a person shows ignorance to something they didn’t know was harmful, they’re usually open to hearing your response. So we have to practice responding rather than reacting. Those are different sets of emotions. When we are responding, we are responding with our heart. We are hearing that person’s intent more than their words. We have to recognize the truth that they live in at this moment. They live in their truth. You live in your truth. And they’ve never seen your truth.
But if we’re just talking about the black and white situation—black people have seen white people’s truth. It’s there all the time. But white people don’t have to see black people’s truth. It’s not a part of their regular life. Part of their privilege is ignoring it. Part of that privilege is not needing to know what that truth is.
On navigating difficult relationships:
I’m not a therapist. I don’t pretend to be one. But there are some relationships that we don’t feel like we can avoid, and so we have to maintain bold choices in those moments. We have to check our own core values and decide how important it is for me to be in the relationship? And, if I have to retain the relationship: How important is it for me to engage with them? You can be in a relationship with somebody and not engage with them. That is a possibility.
If you have decided that hate is not a thing that you allow, and you are in a space where people are being hateful and you don’t speak up, then you are doing a disservice to yourself and to them.
On how to listen:
LOVE first always. LOVE is an acronym. The L is for listen with your heart. O is to observe your own biases. V is to venture into unfamiliar territory. And E is to expect the best. So if we are having a conversation with LOVE, then hopefully there is some active listening. We get to choose. We can choose love and we can choose fear, and often we choose fear because the biggest motivator is fear.
On how to make a positive difference:
My advice is to typically begin where you are. There are so many things that need to be addressed, but we can’t address them all. So we start by beginning in our truth, whatever truth looks like to you, and being mindful of the company you keep, and then actively engaging in your personal area of expertise. So, if you work in education, then do what you can in the area of education. If you work in politics, do what you can in the area of politics, instead of trying to stretch your arms out all over the place. Fortunately, throughout our life, we get a bunch of tools. Sometimes we get to use them. Sometimes we don’t. But they are all in the bag. Whatever we have acquired, whatever we have mastered, are the things that we should be doing.
On using social media responsibly:
People on social media have what I call “keyboard courage.” You can say things on social media that you could never say to somebody’s face. But it is real life, and screen shots are real. People are keeping receipts of things you said and that may or may not work to your advantage. As my mom would say, “If you said it, you said it.” Be careful what you say. Be careful who you quote. Be careful whose stuff you share because if it’s attached to your name, it’s attached to your name. Nobody is letting anyone wiggle out right now. You said it and we see it. It’s in type.
On the future:
I am more optimistic than I have ever been because people are fed up. Even people who wouldn’t normally speak up or hide behind their privilege are speaking up, so that’s exciting. I also have three daughters who are in their twenties and when I look at them and how they approach the world, the future looks pretty good.