As many of us prepare to go back to work, physically or remotely (and for those who already have), the day may already be feeling incredibly exhausting and traumatizing before it has even really begun.
For Black people, we can turn off social media for a few days but we often can’t turn off work. We are preparing to be re-burdened at work in an unnecessary way.
And for white people and people of color, the need to say something is real. But it’s important that it is approached in a way that isn’t burdensome, traumatizing, or re-triggering.
Here is a quick guide for ideas on how to approach today and every day at work. Please share as much as you would like.
As a reminder before you read:
- I do not speak for all Black people.
- I am speaking from personal reflection and observation. Please continue to invest and support those who have been carrying the burden of this work on their shoulders.
- And yes, entrepreneurs, coaches, fitness leaders: these same guidelines are applicable for you too.
Do be mindful of opening up meetings and interactions with questions like “How are you?” or “How was your weekend?”
Recognize that by doing so, you can potentially be re-triggering what your Black colleagues are experiencing or dismissing their experience by pretending all is normal. It’s not and hasn’t been for a long time.
Do acknowledge what is happening, and share your empathy
This is an important one because to fail to acknowledge what is happening sends a message that it does not matter nor do Black people’s emotions matter. There are too many organizations that are planning to say anything today. Do not let that be yours.
Do ask Black colleagues if they would like to make space to discuss first before you make space for them
In organization-wide meetings, team meetings, and even individual conversations, once you’ve acknowledged what’s happening, don’t just leap into a discussion. It is important that you ask if Black people (not white people) if they would like further discussion space or not as not everyone is comfortable, ready, or simply wants to discuss at work. Plus, think of it this way: If you are a Black person who has eight meetings in a day and every meeting automatically opens with discussion, think about how exhausting and burdensome that can be.
If Black colleagues say yes to wanting to make space, here is a quick list of dos and don’ts for the discussion (mainly don’ts):
- Do listen.
- Don’t keep saying “I’m sorry” and put the burden on Black colleagues to respond.
- Don’t ask to be educated on racism, why something is, or their opinion on x that is happening. In fact, don’t ask to be educated at all.
- Don’t take up space with how you are now “burdened” or “feel helpless.” It is not your time.
- Don’t ask if you have done anything racist or take space attempting whether or not you are one of the “good ones.”
- Don’t force us to share if we don’t want to. Not every Black person speaks for every other Black person. Some may want to share and others may not. Don’t force them to or look for them to do so.
White CEOs and executive leaders:
If you are sending an internal or external response out, ask Black colleagues in your organization if they would be willing to engage in what is shared. I want to name this as it is critical to begin including Black voices and perspectives in these conversations from the very beginning and truly listening, not debating, what a response should look like.
Be prepared if:
- Black colleagues decline if they are feeling burdened. They are not required to be or become your token voice.
- If and when the response conversation turns to a question of ” What’s next?” Because it should. It will. And it should happen.
Leaders and colleagues who are people of color:
- Do remember that sharing acknowledgment and empathy is critical.
- Don’t equate your experience to the Black American experience. Acknowledgment is also acknowledging that it is different.
- Don’t become the “Black voice” for your team if you work in an organization where there are no Black colleagues or leaders.
And for my fellow Black leaders and colleagues:
- Do remember self-care first in these moments.
- Do take all of the space or none of the space that you need.
- Don’t feel pressured to speak.
- Don’t feel pressured to carry the black voice at work.
- Don’t take more burden on than you can carry.
This article originally appeared in Medium and is reprinted with permission.