Dear friends who are White and privileged by virtue of that categorization (not necessarily because of wealth, intention or ethnic background),
If you are receiving this, it’s because we have gone through some beautiful things together and/or we have been a significant support for each other as a friend or colleague. This is information on how you can do that now for someone who is Black.
Here are 10 ways that you can make an effort to show up differently for your Black friends and colleagues. Please take heed:
- Don’t ask me how I’m doing because I’m Black or tell me that you’re praying for me and my family or tell me about your grief, guilt, helplessness, crying or confusion triggered by the presence of racism. I cannot take that on at any level. And, if you’re my friend, you’re always praying for me and my family, and I thank you.
- Don’t act like nothing is going on when major racialized unrest or tragedy is occurring. That’s almost as offensive as number 1 and certainly more ignorant. I want to relax with you, not deny with you. My feelings for you don’t make racism go away, nor, obviously, does your affection for me, and neither do our good times together.
- Understand this, I probably don’t want to talk with you about race unless a) I am being paid to do so as part of my work, b) you deeply understand the dynamics of racism (which takes years of consistent action and daily study), or c) we are currently involved in a coordinated anti-racist action together. Having Black people in your life that you love does not make you an effective, or active, anti-racist.
- If you want to be helpful in addressing and undoing racism: first, immediately start teaching your kids. Not sappy, apologetic sentiments but hardcore facts. The myth that White children are too young or fragile to learn the horrors of racism keeps racism alive. Enough is Enough, White kids are not more fragile than other children—that’s a lie as old as American slavery—and it severely overburdens families of color to carry not just our weight but yours. Second, donate and get your friends and family to donate to Black women-led organizations both locally and nationally. Black Lives Matter.org (the movement that’s been updating the world) is a notable and effective one. One last thing, I would love a meal-offering, store-bought or home-cooked, among many things, Black people are collectively grieving right now. Offering a meal is a tradition that honors our loss and exhaustion.
- Work through your grief and confusion about racism with other White people—not me. When I am with my friends I am interested in relaxing and being whole. Addressing your racism, latent, confused or otherwise detracts from my wholeness and infringes on my joy.
- We have a lot of work to do. Either you’re in or you’re out. If you’re in, we can accomplish more and deepen our relationship. If you’re out, we won’t. This isn’t a punishment; it’s just a fact.
- Take leadership from people of color on how to transform and dismantle racism but don’t ask them to teach you in that process. Think leader, not caretaker. We are so tired of care-taking, and we know the difference.
- Remember, and I know that you know this if we are friends: not all Black people are the same. We think differently, tolerate at different levels and assimilate at different levels. As a result, you get to be extremely flexible and uncomfortable during these times to remain real friends with us. I know that all or most of my friends are up to the task.
- We want you on the frontlines standing in protection of us (think chivalry) or beside us (think partners) but never cowering behind us (think that person you couldn’t keep dating or marry because they were never fully committed or didn’t have your back).
- As long as feeling better is more important than doing better, we will continue to live with the violence of racism. Taking responsibility for your own feelings is a major step toward ending racism because racism never requires White people to be responsible for their discomfort when people of color are around. As a friend, here’s my last piece of advice on this topic: you have to require that responsibility from yourself.
Sunshine Muse is a health equity consultant who runs a Black woman-led non-profit focused on shifting paradigms and experiences to help create a world where public health is more effective, people are more thoughtfully engaged and history is not forgotten. To learn more visit here.