6 Questions to Stop Asking Your Black Friends and Colleagues Right Now
This week, our country is experiencing both the continued turmoil of a pandemic and also now acts of blatant racism that are traumatizing, triggering, and unacceptable. The reality though is that when you are Black in America, events like this happen all of the time, even if they never make it to be seen in the public eye. Sharing this resource that I shared on my personal platforms in case it is helpful as I think it is equally important to recognize things to be mindful of with not only Black friends but also Black Colleagues in the workplace.
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3 quick things to note before you read and digest this:
- I do not speak for all Black people in America, in the workplace, nor my own work and therefore, I acknowledge that these suggestions may not be everyone. That being said, please do not go around asking everyone who is Black which ones work for them or not right now as it may be seen as burdensome.
2. If you have asked me these questions this week, I am not angry at you and you do not need to write me an apology (another act of being burdensome). I simply ask that you use this as a learning moment.
3. I mean every word said that I’ve written below and share them from a place of love, honesty, and full transparency.
Stop: Asking “ How are you doing?”
Imagine experiencing first-hand a traumatic death of a loved one and the first text is “How you’re doing?” Then all of the texts afterward are the same. How do you THINK you would be doing? How would it feel to be asked it over and over again and needing to answer? This question can be traumatizing to have to answer over and over again, especially when you know it may lead to even more questions.
Plus, the reality is for Black People (and all People of Color), experience racism every day. So, unless you plan to ask us this question daily on the topic and/or “ check-in” on us daily, it can come across that you only “get it” when it’s in the news.
Do This Instead: Use statements and just say you are thinking of us. Acknowledge that you see what’s happening and share your solidarity in dismantling racism. And then, say up front that you do not expect a text, a call, a response back. Take the burden off.
Stop: Saying “ I’m sorry.”
Saying I’m sorry that this is happening or that you’re experiencing this is hard to receive as a Black person especially when it’s something you experience every day, not just when a hashtag is trending. Be mindful that we hear apologies daily that are not followed up with actions that indicate the words expressed.
Additionally, when phrases like “ I’m sorry” are used, there is typically an expected response from the person who received the apology that shifts the burden back on people of color to say something when we are already burdened by racism in the first place.
Do This Instead: Again, acknowledge that you see what’s happening and share your solidarity in dismantling racism. And if you say sorry, name upfront that no response is expected.
Stop: Asking “Do you need anything?” or “ What can I do?”
The answer: Dismantle racism.
Many times, what is needed is your action, your voice, your courage, and your willingness to give leave us alone and give us space to practice self-care. Asking this question, again and again, puts the burden back on the already burdened to give a response when many times, what we need from you is already out there in the form of a resource that we want you to tap into, share, and actively use so that we are not trying to dismantle racism alone.
Do This Instead: Do the work and your own research. Speak up. Acknowledge that you are here if you are needed but don’t ask what we need. We’ve been sharing the answer to this question all of our lives. We’d appreciate it if you listened.
Stop: Asking us to explain “ Why x is happening?” or “ X is happening; don’t you agree that it’s wrong?”
These questions put the burden back on the already burdened. And often these questions lead to simply more burdensome questions or debate. And we don’t have time to debate you. We are too busy trying not to become the next hashtag. Period.
Do This Instead:
“White Fragility” by Robin Diangelo”
Read “ Stamped from the Beginning” by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds
Read” Why We Can’t Wait” by Martin Luther King Jr.
And these are just a start. Google resources. They are there for you.
Stop: Asking us “ Tell me how you’ve personally experienced racism?”
This is incredibly traumatic and re-traumatizing as it asks us to re-live our pain and can even put us in a position where we feel like we need to “ prove” to you that we’ve experienced racism or that we’ve experienced it so badly, that THIS will be the story that will finally make you believe racism exists and act.
Do This Instead: Don’t ask this. If we voluntarily choose to share a piece of our story, recognize the privilege you have in being able to hear it. Don’t question it, analyze it, or justify it. It’s not your story.
Stop: Saying to us that “ You’re uncomfortable or in fear of saying the wrong thing.”
Wanna know what’s uncomfortable? Having a knee in your neck and having the breath literally taken from you as you cry out for your mother and beg to please stand.
It’s knowing that you have been judged every single second of your life and the only place free of judgment used to be your home and now that’s not safe anymore (and maybe wasn’t ever).
I could go on. But look: stop putting your fear on the shoulders of those whose whole life was designed to live in fear. We, again, have zero time to make you feel better about it,
Do This Instead: Phone a Friend. A White Friend. And get uncomfortable.
This list is just a start and again, important to note that it’s important to check with friends (when the time is appropriate) to ask if it resonates with what they need.