With the recent news cycle and Black Lives Matter protests, many white people may be wondering what they can do to help black peers in their lives right now.
Scholars and activists of color, including Rachel Cargle, Layla F. Saad, Dr. Crystal Fleming, Dr. Brittney Cooper and Ijeoma Oluo, have written or spoken about the urgency of white people de-centering themselves in conversations about race and racism and instead, listening and bearing witness to the experiences of black people. This is more important than ever right now.
While white people might feel compelled to process the horror they’re seeing out loud with their black peers, this is not the answer. Below are a few recommendations for how white people and non-black people of color can show up and support their black friends and colleagues during this pivotal time.
1. Do not make it about your own feelings.
The police brutality, violence against peaceful protesters and uprisings might be shocking to you, but these are part of the day-to-day experiences for many black people in this country. Just because you’re shocked and upset does not mean that you have carte blanche to process these feelings with colleagues who have been enduring these systemic injustices for a lifetime.
“[Black people] are not allowed to have the same human experience, you’re not allowed to grieve or struggle in the same way that other people are because you have all these external pressures on you,” explained Janaya Little, a culturally responsive educator.
If you need to work through your emotions, seek out mental health counseling resources. Remember, black people are feeling their own feelings right now, and your emotions are only adding to that burden.
2. Recognize when you’re "virtue signaling."
In a 2019 New York Times article, Dr. Jillian Jordan and Dr. David Rand described virtue signaling as feigned righteousness intended to make the speaker appear superior by condemning others. This manifests itself in moments like outright indignation about the awfulness of tanks rolling through suburban neighborhoods … and making sure that your shock is on full display at the morning staff meeting. This is not just about being well-informed; this is you signaling that, by staying on top of the news and media coverage and being outraged, you are one of the “good” white people. You read the news. You follow Black Lives Matter on Instagram. You even donated to a bail fund. Guess what? Black people probably don’t care. They know that what’s happening is horrific. They don’t need it reiterated by you in order to assert yourself as someone who is on their side. They also don’t need a laundry list of all the ways in which you’re proving yourself as an ally. Stay informed and do the work behind the scenes and don’t make it about your good intentions.
Just listen. In a recent blog post, Stephanie Caudle, founder of Black Girl Group, a staffing agency in Atlanta, Georgia, that connects businesses with black female freelancers, wrote, “So do you want to know how you can talk to your black colleagues? You don’t. At least not right now. You wait and then you listen.” Do not force a conversation with your black colleagues. It is not their responsibility to share with you. If you have a relationship built on reciprocal trust, at some point, they might feel compelled to share their feelings with you, and if that happens, it is your job to listen. Do not attempt to relate what they say your own experiences — they’re not parallel. Do not attempt to rationalize or intellectualize or downplay or make light of what they’re going through. If a black colleague is willing to talk to you during this time when they might feel especially vulnerable, it is your job to just be there and offer your support.
4. Reschedule meetings and calls and only keep what is absolutely essential on the calendar.
Group gatherings (like a staff meeting over Zoom) might already be exhausting for black people, especially if your office is predominantly white. According to Little, “In general, meetings with white people can be exhausting because you’re operating in a space where you feel like they’re not always accountable to the consequences of their power and privilege.” They’re probably doubly exhausting right now, so be cognizant of that. In all likelihood, your black colleagues are struggling to get through the workday, so, if you can, allow for generous personal time, be lenient and give as much space as you can.
5. Take the time to educate yourself.
If you are truly committed to supporting your black colleagues, your support should extend to holding yourself accountable for your own anti-racist education. This means you should seek out resources about allyship, about reckoning with white privilege and about the history of systemic racism in this country. Check out the work of Dr. Robin DiAngelo, of Dr. Eddie Moore of the Privilege Institute, of Peggy McIntosh. Support doesn’t just look like showing up today and tomorrow and next week for black colleagues— it is a long-term investment in a shift towards racial justice in this country. Interrogating your own racial ignorance and doing better is a key part of that.
Caudle told us, “Now more than ever, I want my non-black friends and colleagues to know that the greatest thing you can do for us is to use your privilege to help us. If you see us being treated unfairly because of the color of our skin anywhere — from the grocery store to the doctor's office, on social media — say something."
"Silence is violence and now isn't the time for you to be afraid for you to speak up … our livelihood depends on it now more than ever."