How to show up for your Black colleagues right now

Pia Velasco

Warning: This article discusses violence, police brutality, and murder.

On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd‘s life was taken as a result of police brutality. For nine minutes, the 46-year-old pleaded for help as an officer knelt on his neck, repeating, “I can’t breathe”—the same last words of Eric Garner, another Black man killed by a police officer in 2014. Floyd’s death comes after a string of recent tragedies that took the lives of other Black Americans, like Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. But these killings are nothing new. For centuries, Black people in the U.S. have been victims of systematic racism, inequality, and police brutality. Living in fear is a reality many live with every day, and the murders of Floyd, Taylor, and Arbery are reminders that they, too, could become a hashtag anytime. Black people across the country go to work and move forward with that weight on their shoulders.
To support Black people right now, you can donate to non-profits, call your local representatives to demand justice, and post about the issues on social media. But as experts advise below, there are also a few simple things that non-Black people can do right now to show up for their Black colleagues and provide support.

How to shop up and support your Black colleagues now:

1Acknowledge what’s going on.

Some non-Black people stay silent during tragic times like these because they’re scared they’ll say the wrong thing. However, remaining silent is worse. “Don’t act like it’s not happening. Don’t try to continue with ‘business as usual,'” says Tega Edwin, Ph.D., a career coach in New York City. “Your Black colleagues are experiencing a collective trauma and trying to get them to focus on work right now is cruel. Even worse is not acknowledging their pain.”

2Listen.

“Ask your Black colleagues how they’re doing during this traumatic time of yet another black man being killed, and when they respond, listen. Don’t change the topic even when you’re uncomfortable,” advises Dr. Edwin.

Additionally, career coach Stephanie Heath suggests talking to your Black co-workers right now just like how you’d talk to people who recently suffered major setbacks or disappointments. “Try not to approach them from a place of guilt, but view them as your fellow human who that has been suffering in silence,” Heath says. “Allow yourself to feel anger against ‘the system,’  and don’t treat them as a victim.”

3Educate yourself on Black history and racism.

Don’t ask your Black colleagues what you can do to make things OK—it’s not their responsibility to explain how you can do better and frankly, it can be exhausting. “Educate yourself about the history of race and racism so that you can feel a bit more knowledgeable about how to have hard conversations and engage in self-reflection,” suggests Dr. Edwin. “You can start with these books: So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo, White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad.”

There are also plenty of free resources readily available online that you can visit, like Good Good Good’s anti-racism resources document.

4Use your voice to educate and demand change.

As a non-Black person, use your connections and privilege to educate those around you and fight for racial equality. “We don’t have access to the networks of naysayers that you do,” explains Heath. “It’s tough and it’s scary as hell, but don’t let your great-uncle Matt, that person from high school on Facebook, or a privileged senior executive make off-handed remarks anymore. I get that you may not have the emotional capacity to address every comment, but if you can ‘stand up’ for your fellow melanated Americans just once then you’ve done good.”