Speak your truth. I erased so much and wrote and rewrote my book based on a fear of what other people would think. When I finally stopped concentrating on other people’s reactions, and just wrote, I was able to really begin my story.
As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Draffen.
When Nicole’s not making plans on how to shake up the world, you can find her in her garden tending to a vast variety of plants, Feng- Shuing everything in sight, reading vintage novels, collecting vintage paintings, attending Jazz festivals, antiquing, and sometimes running. It is her belief that each of us can achieve whatever we set out to do, if we are determined, and remain positive
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Running plays a lead role in my backstory. I always wanted to travel, but I’m the kind of person who prefers traveling with purpose. Running gave me that purpose and the Snowdonia Marathon in Wales, UK gave me the opportunity. It only took a very short while during that vacation to realize that people did not interact with me in a way that was mindful of the color of my skin. They reacted to me merely because I was American, and of course, that was only when I spoke. To the reader, this concept may sound so simplistic to the point it almost feels non-relevant. However, as an American person of color, it is the most relevant and soul-enriching situation to be in. I was seen as an American, not a Hyphenated-American, and that is a momentous statement. That short vacation led to a year-long exodus living in the United Kingdom.
What led me to write Hyphened-Nation harkens to one very well-used saying: “The trouble is that once you see, you can’t unsee it. Once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way you’re accountable”.
I grew to understand that the world outside of the United States, was in many ways, more advanced in their treatment of their countrymen. I understood this in a way that I did not understand and would never have understood had I not travelled and lived among my global friends. I initially wrote this book to benefit my nieces and nephews to ensure they understood that travel provides you with the opportunity to understand the world with a much broader perspective. I was compelled to write; I couldn’t get my experiences out of my head until I put them on paper.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
There are millions of Americans who have an established perspective of what it means to be an American. Some of these same people carry hyphens attached to their nationality. Hyphens carry distinct and disparate connotations depending on what ethnic background you belong to. This is where the disruption plays a role. Imagine what your life would be like if there were no hyphens attached to your nationality. A person would get to know you as a fellow American rather than an other-American. You’re not other, and you’re not confined to the boxes that institutions attempt to restrict you in. I lived that experience and it was an epiphany. To not live an assumed life is a soul wrenching experience that I wish for all Americans to enjoy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Living in another country, as I’m sure you can guess, you come across different vernacular. The strangest thing to me was while in the UK everyone would ask me if I was alright. I thought that was a bit strange and assumed I must have a little girl lost look on my face, or I looked angry. Therefore, I made it a point to always keep a calm facial expression, and it still happened. So, I asked a friend did I have a resting B%#ch face because people were always asking me if I was alright. My friend laughed and said, that’s just how people say hello here. So that was a fun little lesson. In a way, it really goes to show that assumptions, without asking for clarity, lead to confusion.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
While writing, I spoke to dozens of people regarding their thoughts on a hyphenated American; I consider these people my mentors. My most impactful conversations really helped me focus my story line. Based on the many conversations I’ve had with non-hyphenated and hyphenated Americans, I feel pretty safe saying many Americans that don’t carry a hyphen, have not really considered the burden that a hyphenated nationality carries with it. However, the conversations have always been positive in the eradication of the hyphen.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
That is both a yes and no answer. I believe American democracy is a strong example of a system that has withstood the test of time. The entire world has created democratic nations based on our model. In the context of disruption being ‘not so positive’ I would have to say the attempt to subvert Americans’ voting rights springs to mind. The undermining of the American vote is as old as the Constitution. The Three-fifths Compromise was a compromise reached among state delegates during the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention due to disputes over how enslaved people would be counted when determining a state’s total population. The compromise was that enslaved people were given the status of being 3/5 human to give a southern state more voting power. Here we are, 234 years later, and our government leaders are still devising strategies to prevent Americans of color from voting. Disrupting an industry is negative when the industry has used its power to inhibit economic, cultural, societal, and educational growth. That is exactly what the United States government has done with the use of a hyphenated nationality. The media, in all genres, has also done this by utilizing negative stereotypes to depict people of color throughout its history. The United States government has done this by pushing the hyphenated agenda.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Speak your truth. I erased so much and wrote and rewrote my book based on a fear of what other people would think. When I finally stopped concentrating on other people’s reactions, and just wrote, I was able to really begin my story.
- No one can tell your story better than you can. I originally wanted to hire a ghostwriter, but I’m happy I wrote it myself.
- Get an editor. That was the best decision I made. My editor, Joel Beers, was a great mentor. Not only in making the book flow, but also in asking the tough questions when I needed to dig deeper into the subject matter. I can’t imagine creating a better story without his guidance.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I have an entire book in my head just based on the stories and experiences people have shared with me from living in a Hyphened-Nation. My current book’s subtitle is, Don’t Check the Box. That is the name of the grassroots social movement that was sparked by the book, and what I am focusing my attention on.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
I attended an online class at Yale University taught by Professor Paul Bloom. The course he taught was called “Moralities of Everyday Life”. In one of his lectures, he discussed coalitional viewpoints. He stated, and I am paraphrasing, that people will normally make mistakes based on race. An experiment was conducted called the Memory Confusion Paradigm where you have black individuals and white individuals. If a black individual says something, and you get it wrong, you are more likely to attribute it to another black individual than a white individual. That was a standard finding. Then, they did something clever. They put these characters in basketball jerseys. Different basketball jerseys represented different basketball teams. They found that the race effect largely goes away (but not entirely). Now, you can start making misattributions based on the teams. Conversely, another experiment was conducted with babies and small children. It was concluded that race doesn’t matter to them. It’s only later in development, depending on the society, depending on the situation. Age four, age five, age six. It’s later in development that race starts to matter.
I was fascinated that someone, who was not a person of color, knew about some of what I considered secret perceptions. He appeared to have a very strong grasp of what it feels like to be a person of color. I do say that with the sincerest of respect, and not a small amount of awe. He left a very deep impression on me, and I asked and received permission to quote him in my book.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is from Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” I understood this to mean that as you travel, take the time to learn and understand your surroundings, that is the path to growth.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
A grassroots movement was created from the book called “Don’t Check the Box’. The grassroots movement encourages Americans to shed the hyphen. All people deserve to experience self-definition, unfettered by a hyphen. The battle cry is: Remember! You. Define. YOU.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!