By Dan Stultz
During times like these. there are ways we can show up for each other (fellow staff members, volunteers, the children we serve, etc.).
These practical suggestions are especially useful for those who are part of privileged identities. When so much is going on in our world, it is important to remember that we must stay engaged and not let discomfort or shame overtake our ability to learn, grow, and make ProKids a workplace where everyone feels they belong.
1. We need to make space for people to grieve in different ways, at different times, and for different reasons.
For children and adults in our community, grieving is a non-linear and non-consecutive path. It is rare for any two people to be in the same place when grieving an event. This is only exacerbated by cultural and social context.
If you are White, although you may be saddened or angry by the events of this week you are unlikely to experience events of racism in the same way as someone who is Black or Brown. The privilege White people have been granted limits their experiences of oppression, and thereby changes how they interpret events. If you are White, it may not be appropriate at this time to expect a person of color to help you process the events of this week with you. It may not be appropriate for you to expect a person of color to tell you their emotions about this week. It is never the responsibility of an oppressed population to do so. In addition to possibly being retriggering, you may not be the person they want to process with, you may not be a safe person to process with. It is also never the responsibility of a person we would assume to be hurting to explain why, or how, they are grieving, or why or how members of their identity are grieving. If you know someone that you’d like to reach out to, you can let them know you are here for them. Send them a text or email saying “I care about you. I’m here for you.” But, after that, let them take lead about what the next steps can look like. The best gift to help a grieving friend may be listening instead of talking.
To explore this more, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article Letter to My Son is a powerful testimony about his experience after Michael Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. In 2015, the New York Times interviewed Jenna Wortham about Racism’s Psychological Toll and also offers insight.
To learn more about grief, this Unlocking Us podcast by Brene Brown explores grief with expert David Kessler.
2. We need to engage in meaningful allyship.
An ally is someone of a non-oppressed identity (White, straight, cisgender, etc.) that stands up and fights against issues of oppression as their own, without or backing away when it gets uncomfortable. It is sitting in solidarity with someone who is oppressed even when that is inconvenient or uncomfortable. Allies take on struggle as their own and use the privilege they’ve been granted to amplify oppressed voices. They don’t make the conversation about themselves. Allyship is not about becoming the savior of an oppressed population.
If you are not Black, you have the opportunity to engage in allyship with the Black community right now.
As an ally, a member of a non-oppressed identity has the first task of listening and educating themselves. They should make their best attempt to understand the issues faced by the oppressed and how people who are oppressed want to address the issues. In the workplace, this is not the time to shy away from or be passive in your listening and learning. Just because it may be difficult or uncomfortable does not mean you are exempt.
There is a distinct difference between being passively “non-racist” and actively anti-racist. As a White person, if you are only engaging in the lip-service of “non-racist” advocacy for the black community you need to acknowledge that change may not follow. Change requires you to actively challenge racist structures and behaviors by calling them out when you see them, engaging in conversation with others, and demanding new policy. This type of advocacy requires courage and vulnerability. We are beyond the moment of simply saying “racism is bad” and then moving on without further action.
To learn about white allyship, Paul Kivel adapted Guidelines for Being Strong White Allies from the book Uprooting Racism. The Southern Poverty Law Center wrote Ten Way to Fight Hate: A Community Resource Guide.
To learn about the difference between non-racist and anti-racist, Marlon James recorded Are you racist? ‘No’ isn’t a good enough answer.
3. We need to engage in respectful dialogue about issues of oppression and understand that our intent and our impact may not be the same.
When talking about issues of racism and oppression, our words can sometimes have an unintended impact. It could be a joke intended to lessen tension, or maybe we are talking about the issue from an intellectual perspective but for the other person the issue is personal and emotional.
If our words have the unintended impact of negatively affecting someone, our obligation is to apologize, integrate the understanding of our impact and not repeat the mistake. Making a mistake does not make you a bad person. It is not appropriate to argue innocence because of original intent, especially if we are of an identity that is granted privilege over another identity. Privilege does not absolve anyone of the critical thought necessary to empathize with a community whose experiences can be so drastically different.
When discussing issues of race and oppression we must hold ourselves to a high standard of diligence and awareness. We are an organization predominately staffed by white, middle-class individuals. These experiences are valid, but they are not the same experiences as a population that has been regularly dehumanized in American society. As ProKids works to build more equity in our organization and in our community, we must consciously decenter privileged identities. We must look at why we are an organization that is white, middle-class. This will ensure space for populations impacted by oppression to share their experiences, enable credibility when they do so, and can meaningfully change the underlying systems of oppression that exist.
To learn more about apologizing, Rachel Premack’s guide for How to Apologize If You Accidentally Said Something At Work That’s Racist, Sexist, Or Offensive provides some key tips.
As part of the ongoing ProKids commitment to being a welcoming workplace for everyone, you will be receiving additional materials in the staff updates to learn how you can show up for those populations that are oppressed in our community. As you engage in learning, you will undoubtedly face hard truths about yourself and the world you live in. That is growth.
A better world is on the other side of that.
If at any time, you find yourself in need of someone to talk about any of your learning, I’m happy to be a resource.