On today’s episode of Diversity Be Like, host Sequoia Houston talks to Dr. Aparajita (AJ) Jeedigunta about her experiences as an immigrant to the US, her framework for cultural competence, and how to step into and own your own space as a marginalized person.

Show Notes

About Our Guest

Dr. Aparajita (AJ) Jeedigunta
Award-winning Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader

Dr. Aparajita (AJ) Jeedigunta (aka Dr. AJ) is a social psychologist, a diversity and inclusion consultant, a certified life and executive coach, an author, a speaker, a podcaster, an immigrant, and a two-time Traumatic Brain Injury survivor. She is the Founder and CEO of AJ Rao, LLC, a boutique firm that specializes in providing custom tailored, implementable, profitable solutions for intentional inclusion.

Website: ajrao.com
Instagram: @drajjeedigunta
Clubhouse: @draj

 

3 Key Points

  1. Dr. AJ talks about competence in terms of practicing it rather than mastery: the first component is to be aware of it, then sensitivity and humility, and after all of that you can then begin to practice. 
     
  2. The action that is taken from the bias is what becomes right or wrong, not the bias itself. 
     
  3. They discuss the emotional intelligence involved in recognizing that impact is greater than intent, and apologizing without defensiveness is key. 

 

Episode Highlights

  • Sequoia and Dr. AJ start off by talking about learning each other’s names so they can pronounce them properly. 
     
  • Dr. AJ was raised in India until she was about 14. 
     
  • She had two traumatic brain injuries that changed the course of her life; she was previously a medical student, and she realized that she was only doing it because it was what was expected of her. 
     
  • During her second TBI, Dr. AJ died for a moment and woke up not knowing who she was or anything about herself. 
     
  • Dr. AJ notes that we often talk about race and gender and occasionally talk about the intersection of the two, but don’t go beyond that. 
     
  • Someone reached out to Dr. AJ on the Clubhouse app to tell her that they’re surprised she’s so articulate with her history of TBIs. 
     
  • Sequoia asks Dr. AJ why her approach to working with marginalized people is to teach them to own their own space and culture rather than trying to get the dominant culture to open the door for them. 
     
  • Dr. AJ encourages the people she works with to find ways to make a system that wasn’t built for them work for them. 
     
  • Dr. AJ goes into the various definitions of “culture” and “competence,” and she says that these terms are already whitewashed because of where the definitions come from.
     
  • Dr. AJ talks about competence in terms of practicing it rather than mastery: the first component is to be aware of it, then sensitivity and humility, and after all of that you can then begin to practice. 
     
  • One of the pros of developing cultural competence is being able to see each other as whole human beings. 
     
  • One of the cons of developing cultural competence is that it cannot be forced on someone who’s not interested in going there. 
     
  • Dr. AJ says that this framework of cultural competence allows for the burden to fall on the situation rather than on one person or the other. 
     
  • They discuss the emotional intelligence involved in recognizing that impact is greater than intent, and apologizing without defensiveness is key. 
     
  • Dr. AJ talks about the Black Lives Matter protests that happened after George Floyd’s murder in 2020, and the way that some people reacted with defensiveness to their privilege being called out. 
     
  • Stereotyping and biases are a part of human nature, just like the need to belong is. 
     
  • The action that is taken from the bias is what becomes right or wrong, not the bias itself. 
     
  • Groupthink and social loafing are side effects of the ways in which we socialize, and it’s the cognitively easy way to handle social problems. 
     
  • Dr. AJ says that she hopes to be remembered for making the invisible visible. 

 

Tweetable Quotes

“Systems and systemic structures are meant for automation.” – Dr. AJ Jeedigunta

“We’ve been brainwashed into believing that culture dictates people…when the truth is the exact opposite: people dictate culture.” – Dr. AJ Jeedigunta
 

“Culture is what you choose to express.” – Dr. AJ Jeedigunta

“The need to belong is a human imperative.” – Dr. AJ Jeedigunta

 

Resources Mentioned

AJ Rao

LEGupward Institute