I don’t want to put all of my political eggs in one basket, but I really think we as a country should hand everything over to Stacey Abrams. When I think of her campaign for the governorship of Georgia this past year, and the way in which she is now dedicating her time to fighting for fair elections and voting rights, Adele’s song “Rolling in the Deep” begins playing in my head:
“We could have had it ALLLLLLL.”
I started this blog in response to the 2016 presidential election, so it’s fair to say that politics is usually if not always on my mind whenever I write these posts. One of my favorite things about Stacey Abrams is that you don’t have to rely on her website, or her speeches, or hearsay in general to understand her way of thinking. All you need to do is grab a copy of Lead from the Outside: How to Build your Future and Make Real Change and read for yourself. Abrams wrote this book to inspire women, people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, and anyone who wants to take power but doesn’t fit into the traditionally white, cisgender, and heteronormative systems of American society today. For me, it’s a book that proves that not only is she a national leader we need, she is ready to extend her hand and help the underserved and under-resourced populations of this country truly begin to make changes in their lives on a personal level.
(This book was first published with the above title, in case you were wondering!)
Abrams, Descendant of Lorde
Last year, I wrote about Audre Lorde’s unforgettable collection of essays Sister Outsider, and it’s clear that Stacey Abrams echoes the advice of “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” with the very existence of this book. Just as Lorde argues that we can’t use the oppressive rules of patriarchy to tear the patriarchy apart, Abrams understands that as a minority leader, she can’t win the game playing by the rules written by white men. She calls out the ever-ubiquitous idea of “American prosperity” – go to college, work hard, and your dreams will come true – and proves that it’s inherently problematic. White men can succeed by this mantra, but for everyone else a college degree and hard work don’t guarantee that a future employer’s implicit biases about race and gender will suddenly disappear.
Following in the steps of Lorde, Abrams traces a different path to power and lays out the rules that she and countless other people who have been deemed “other” have followed to gain power and lead in any field, sphere, or space. She seamlessly incorporates personal anecdotes from her own life as well as stories from colleagues, employees, and friends. Each one shares specific, inventive insights into ideas like money and resources, the people budding minority leaders should surround themselves with in lieu of mentors, and work-life jenga instead of work-life balance. Abrams establishes the necessity of each of her reinvented rules with precision and clear language, even though the actual application of these rules requires deep reflection and thought.
Confront Yourself, Because You Have Biases Too
As many instructional, “self-help” books do, each chapter in Lead from the Outside ends with a reflective exercise intended to help the reader reconsider their own visions of success. What really sets this book apart is Abrams’ storytelling, and the personal truths about her own struggles and thwarted attempts at gaining power that she lays bare on the page. She is candid, for instance, about her own self-doubt and learning to be brutally honest with her business partners when one called her out for falling behind on certain tasks.
Perhaps the most crucial thing she accomplishes on the page is stressing the importance of confronting our internal biases of what we can really achieve, and how it’s virtually impossible to succeed and lead without probing deep into our own mental frameworks. In a world that is ruled by soundbites and instant gratification, in a world that encourages more and more, faster and faster, it’s so hard to slow down and think. To stop and observe. Abrams implores her readers to look inward, to examine the effects of racism and sexism and bigotry on our brains and hearts. I’ve been trying to do this work for a few years now, and it really is gut-wrenching to realize my own biases about people of color, to realize how my own self-worth has been so tied to systemic messages about women and Indian immigrants. For minority leaders in the making, for people who want to rip apart the systems of oppression in this country, we have to listen to Stacey Abrams and confront ourselves if we hope to make any kind of change in our world.
Stacey Abrams is the epitome of what American leadership should be. Lead from the Outside is a beautifully reflective manual on how we can all confront ourselves, circumvent the normal rules, and create our own paths to power. Buy this book and support a leader who will inspire you to take charge of whatever destiny you can imagine. Let’s invest in her the same way she is investing in creating a population of diverse, colorful individuals who can take the power they deserve.
Photo of Lead from the Outside by yours truly, courtesy of fake flowers from Michael’s