Devon’s Interview with Natalie Elizabeth

Natalie at the Great Wall of China in 2019

Introduction

Natalie Elizabeth was raised in Scarsdale, New York. Natalie was adopted and primarily raised by her White father. She is a graduate from SUNY (State University of New York) Purchase and studied arts management with a concentration in fashion design. Natalie resides in San Francisco, California. Natalie runs a logistics operations and administration for a design showroom. The showroom specializes in Italian furniture, kitchen, bathroom, and closet manufacturing.

Education

Natalie began her educational endeavors by going to private schools in Scarsdale, New York. As the city she grew up in was not diverse, neither were her classrooms. There were approximately 36 students in her class from 3rd to 8th grade and only about three Black students per class. Natalie went on to tell me that she did not learn nearly enough about Black history in school. She said she learned only about the basics of Black history and the history of other marginalized groups. The class handout titled Forms of Discourse that Perpetuate Racism talks about the silencing of history and how it “isolates rather than connects present racial disparities, opportunities, and attitudes from their historical context, results in incomplete or inaccurate understandings of the root causes of these disparities, opportunities and attitudes, obscures the pathway to illuminating what solutions are most viable or warranted, and miseducates the public.” Unfortunately, the silencing of history was prevalent in Natalie’s high school. She discusses the impact of this and why it is crucial to dedicate time and energy to teaching the history of marginalized groups.

“You know, you learn the basics, you learn about slavery, you learn about the Holocaust, but you need to know more about the Emancipation Proclamation, you’ll learn about it. Lincoln freed the slaves, but in actuality, he didn’t really free the slaves. And you don’t learn all of that in day to day school when you go to, you know, American history in 9th, 10th, and 11th grade. That’s not what they’re really teaching you. They’re just teaching you kind of the basics of history.”

Natalie Elizabeth

Natalie also went on to share racist and micro-aggressive experiences she had in school. One story that stuck out to me, in particular, was the events that followed after she was prompted to draw a self-portrait in grade school.

“You’re asked to draw a portrait of yourself in the first or second grade. You don’t innately know to look in the mirror and draw what you see in it for a portrait of yourself. You look around the room and you look at what everybody else looks like and that’s what you draw. So that’s what I drew. I drew a little girl with blonde hair, blue eyes and then my teacher made it a point to tell me and ask me why I drew myself like this and did I not understand that I did not look like this.”

Natalie Elizabeth

Career

As stated earlier, Natalie works as the logistics operator for a design showroom. Although this job is very different from what she studied in school, she loves her job. The reason she likes it is because she gets to learn a lot and is one of the only people from her office that knows how to do her job. Prior to her current position, Natalie has worked a lot of interesting and unique jobs. One that stood out to me was when she “worked with ocelots, stovalls, bobcats, over a hundred different types of birds, including peacocks and parakeets and emus.” Natalie’s job has changed dramatically during the pandemic. She works from home and does the bulk of her work at around three in the morning because she communicates with many people based in Italy. Natalie shared that finding balance between work and her personal life “has kind of been a challenge, but it’s also kind of made me look more [into] like self care and what I can do to better keep my health in check”.


According to Valerie Wilson and Melat Kassa, at the Working Economics Blog Black, “Women’s Equal Pay Day, August 13, is a day to call attention to the fact that Black women deserve equal pay but are still severely underpaid. It marks how far into 2020—seven and a half months—the average Black woman must work to make the same amount as the average non-Hispanic white man was paid in 2019.” I shared this disheartening information with Natalie and asked if she has ever faced racialized gender pay discrepancy in the workplace. Her response instilled optimism within me and satisfaction that there are industries and businesses where women of color hire and equally pay women of color.

“I come from a fashion background, so I don’t really think in my industry at least, there was a huge pay discrepancy between. Right now, because there just wasn’t enough White male counterparts in the most companies I worked for were owned by women, women well yeah, women of color who hired women of color. So there wasn’t that much pay discrepancy”


Natalie Elizabeth

Representation

Natalie and I also talked in-depth about the media’s representation of women of color. In “Shame, Guilt, and Apology- Then and Now” by Sonya Renee Taylor, the representation of different bodies in the media is discussed. Many sentiments of this chapter also correlate to the representation of different races, including the line “when we don’t see ourselves reflected in the world around us, we make judgments about that absence. Invisibility is a statement.” Natalie had a lot to say about the film and television she grew up watching and the impact of the lack of diversity and problematic stereotypes.

“I grew up watching shows like 90210 and Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill and, you know, those types of shows where you don’t see women of color or people of color in general, I don’t think . But throughout my years of watching 90210, I think 11 years it was on the air, there was one lead actor of color. They had stories with people of color, but there was never a lead actor, just like Dawson’s Creek that was never a lead actor. A lot of those shows just don’t. They don’t have to, so they don’t do it.”

Natalie Elizabeth

Current Civil Rights Movement (TW: POLICE BRUTALITY, MACRO-AGGRESSIVE RACISM, MURDER)

The day we recorded the interview was only a few days after the murder of Daunte Wright. Talking about the country’s current climate and all the progress achieved was difficult, as the killing was a brutal reminder of how much urgent change is still needed. She shared her thoughts on ex-officer Kim Potter’s actions and why we should provide no lenience on this instance:

“If a surgeon, the surgeon instead of like, is supposed to take your kidney out, that takes the liver out instead. That’s his medical license, that’s malpractice. You can’t say, oops, I’m sorry. […] So I don’t know and listening to the Derek Chauvin trials for me is really interesting because it’s like are we really just going to listen and let people tell us that it is okay to kneel on someone for nine minutes and then you have all the first responders who were at the scene and all the people who are I know that’s like the lady who was a firefighter was. Does it matter what the crowd’s doing? My job is to save people from a fire. So that’s what I’m going to do. I don’t care what the crowd’s yelling at me. We have to stop making allowances and those excuses being okay because they’re not.”

Natalie Elizabeth

Natalie went on to share how it felt to witness and be a part of a Civil Rights Movement. The protests, rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, amplification of voices, and the gathering of many communities was a rare and beautiful thing. The events and the function of our government that led to the movement is tragic and disheartening. This summer was definitely historic because, but not exclusively, due to how the fight has been strengthened. The fight for social equity is being fought for all marginalized and silenced groups.

“It was amazing, and I think it was it’s much needed. You know, I think it’s not only a movement for… it’s not just a Black Lives Matter movement at this point. We’re looking at other marginalized communities. And if you have Trans lives and Asian and, you know, immigrants and all of these people who have been marginalized for so long, finally having a platform and a voice to speak, and it’s horrible that it took, you know, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor’s lives and all of the other countless lives that were lost to do it. But I think it’s much needed. And let’s hope that it continues and, you know. And it is getting stronger and louder because I think that that’s what has to change is wasted standing together and not backing down.”

Natalie Elizabeth

Final Thoughts

I have many takeaways and thoughts about this interview. Many of the profound things Natalie said truly stuck with me after the interview. Many people focus on all the changes we have achieved in terms of gender and racial equality. While celebrating the victories and progress made is essential, I was shocked to hear how there has not been much change in the past few decades in many instances. For example, Natalie’s depiction of the Black history she learned in school and the television she grew up with sounded very similar to my experience even though we grew up multiple decades apart. Natalie had an interesting point of view on how to continue to fight for complete social justice.

“And we have to make maybe some laws or stricter laws when it comes to racially or sexually motivated crimes not just to assault, but crimes should not be allowed to sit on a subway and scream racial obscenities at somebody. But there should be right there that she should get arrested and it should be that should be dealt with. You should go up to somebody in a restroom and ask them if they’re allowed to be there. That should be your crime. So it’s just making people feel safe in their own space, I think is a really big one.”

Natalie Elizabeth

Natalie brings up an excellent point by explaining that our current laws give so much space for hateful acts to be excused and allowed. Some of the most violent, disgusting, and dehumanizing things that can be done have no restrictions in our government.

I really enjoyed this interview. I have never interviewed someone before, and I definitely could hear my inexperience as I listened to myself stumble on my words and struggle to transition from question to question. But interviewing someone and devoting space for someone to educate, inform, and command attention towards important issues, was something I loved. Facilitating conversations is the best way to learn and connect. An interview is a great format because the nature of it ensures that we are intentional in the words we speak.

I truly appreciated and loved Natalie’s vulnerability and passion in telling and explaining her opinions. I am so glad this interview is recorded and Natalie so kindly consented to others listening to her words. I certainly learned a lot and know that others will take away so much from Natalie’s powerful words, experience, and advice.

Works Cited

“Black Women Workers Are Essential during the Crisis and for the Recovery but Still Are Greatly Underpaid.” Economic Policy Institute, www.epi.org/blog/black-women-workers-are-essential-during-the-crisis-and-for-the-recovery-but-still-are-greatly-underpaid/.

Sonya Renee Taylor. “Shame, Guilt, and Apology- Then and Now.” The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love, by Berrett-Koehler, 2021.