Picture this: A Black person you’re close to has suffered an anti-Black experience. Maybe your coworker was told their natural hair is unprofessional. Or your partner was passed up for a promotion, again, for a colleague with less education, experience, and melanin. It may be painful to see someone you care about face these challenges. As a white person, you may wonder: what should I do? Should I go full Karen/Kyle/Kendall and open a can of verbal whoop-ass on the offenders? Probably not.
Below are some tips that can help support the Black people in your life. You don’t have to be super close to them, but for the purpose of this article, I will refer to them as a ‘loved one’. The closer you are, the better impact and care you can extend.
(As I am a Black American currently living in the U.S., this post will be U.S-centered. For those outside of the country, I encourage you to look up resources that resonate with your area.)
In my early 20s, I had a friend in college. He was cis, white, gay, upper-middle-class and male. He often interrupted People of Global Majority (the alternative to “minorities”) and women and asserted his point until he deemed necessary. One day, race came up. He told me that, growing up, his father (who would later become a Trump supporter) told him that, as a white boy, he had a right to have his voice heard. That others must listen to him. Not ‘will listen’ or ‘should listen’. But ‘must listen’. Where do you think this ideology came from? Likely this lesson was explicitly taught or implied to you as well. Understand this when you approach the situation.
Many Black Americans, however, have been taught not to upset white people, and never share personal information with them. Or else. Understand that your loved one may hesitate sharing their experience and question your motives/the consequences of opening up to you, no matter how close y’all are.
It may be holding space for them to simply talk. It may be saying ‘that’s messed up, I’m so sorry that happened’. It may be advocating for them by interrupting the next microaggression, questioning a harmful policy, or setting a firm boundary with a family member (putting some skin in the game, pun intended). It may be donating to or joining an organization that they are a part of. It may be suggesting they reach out to someone who could better relate to their experience. It may be not talking to them or others about the experience at all.
What they share may bring up discomfort for you. You may have held the belief or done the behavior the person you’re talking to has been affected by. You may not understand it, or you may want “proof”. Understand that Black people are the experts in their own experiences. A Black person knows when someone’s behavior is anti-Black. Let them do most of the talking. Be open to your loved one leading the conversation, as opposed to instructing them as the “expert” on the topic. Thank them for sharing and assure them that you won’t share their story with others or on social media unless they give explicit permission. Acknowledge their pain. Acknowledge that you won’t ever know how it feels directly, but that you are there for them in whatever way they need. Know you may mess up; if you do, acknowledge it, apologize, and assure them it won’t happen again.
What may work for your husband may be different than what your co-worker or neighbor needs. Adjust to the needs of each person you connect with. Saying ‘Well, this worked with [insert Black person]’ doesn’t cut it.
No whataboutisms or tone policing. No using your other identities to deflect from your whiteness. No saying ‘My child is biracial/my partner is Black/the girl who sat beside me in 3rd grade was from Jamaica so I know’. No putting data over the person’s lived experience. No ‘I’m sure they didn’t mean that’ or ‘They’re actually a really nice person once you…”. And the devil don’t need no dang advocate.
Yep, you read that right. There is currently much discussion about reparations on the state and national level. While we wait for our 40 acres and a mule, ask them if they would like compensation. Venmo, Zelle, CashApp, cold hard cash (no gift cards please). If this seems icky or “too much to ask for” remember: it literally costs money to be Black in America. Plus, there are already systems doing this on the small-scale. For example, the Facebook group Seattle Queer Exchange has planned reparation days where Black group members list their payment information. No gimmicks, no stipulations, no virtue signaling. I received $75 from complete strangers once. Don’t have money? Offer to cook a meal, clean around the house, make an art piece or childcare/pet-sit for the little ones.
Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragilityare great places to start. Look up Jane Elliott’s work. Follow popular thought leaders on social media. Join social groups that examine white identity and its impacts.
As we saw with the Summer 2020 protests, anti-Blackness often falls into the ‘trendy tragedy’ category à la mass shootings and harmful legislation. People forget about the last tragedy until a new one occurs, outrage ensues (‘I can’t believe this is still happening in [insert year]!’ while every Black American can definitely believe this is still happening), talk about it on social media and in person, a company statement (if you’re lucky), then…back to business.
Keep the fire going even after it’s no longer a hot topic, even after DEI positions in your company are conveniently slashed to “streamline the budget”. Support your ERGs, call in discriminatory behavior when you see it, recruit marginalized populations into your company by advocating for policy changes that will retain top talent.
This work may put your job, reputation, and finances at risk. This work can also open you up to a new network, profession, and more inclusive outlook on life. You decide how much you’re willing to wager. But remember: for Black people, Indigenous populations and other marginalized groups, our chips are already stacked high in a game we can’t opt out of.