There aren’t really words for what the last few weeks have been like. And this week is unlikely to be any easier. Watching wide-scale grief, unrest and disbelief play out in real-time and watching the effects of this horrific event, and so many before it, be played back through my boyfriend, friends and colleagues from Black communities has been difficult to reconcile or contain.
As white people, we can overlook the significance of collective grief, it’s not something I’ve recognised as part of our experience as a demographic group until the coronavirus took hold, globally. This is largely because, as white people, we tend to afford ourselves the luxury of viewing ourselves as individuals, not as a collective group, ‘white people’. We can overlook tragedy on other white communities because “it doesn’t affect us” or because “they aren’t like us”. Whilst it might be comforting to say to yourself this “event” affecting “people far away” is “out of your control” and you “are just one person” and “don’t want to jump on the bandwagon”, remember for all Black people in the West, this luxury is not awarded. For Black people, because society views Black as one homogenous group, one Black life lost is an affront on the whole community and is another manifestation of something that is constant and omnipresent, every day.
As white professionals, what’s needed from us right now might be more than we’re used to considering or even allowing ourselves to acknowledge. More space for listening or checking in if the trust is there to do so. It might even mean our commitment to performance and productivity takes a backseat to our humanity this time around. It might mean stepping in when white colleagues make light of, belittle or misunderstand what’s happening. It might mean reigning in our insistence on “silver linings” and “progress” to acknowledge the long-ingrained pain and fear and frustration someone is feeling at a system that seems unchangeable.
I could go on but the fact is, I don’t know how you will need to show up for someone over the coming weeks, months, and in the future but given how things are unravelling, it will certainly mean resisting our desire to tell people how to grieve based on our experience or to pass judgement on how Black people experience and express anger and fear-based on our experiences. Whatever it is that you think you know of difficulty and trauma is not diminished by this. It might even be almost impossible to imagine how much deeper pain and suffering could go in comparison to your own. Your experience is valid.
As a white professional, you might feel grief and anger over the killing of George Floyd. But let’s be real in knowing that for Black people that grief and anger will run much, much deeper. It hits harder, speaks louder and lasts longer. Its bedded down, and it may never leave.
You may want to take the time to reflect on that. And to reflect on not just your Black colleagues, but all those you work with and interact with who are affected by systemic racism and racial intollerence. You may want to reflect on how Covid-19 disproportionately wears thin the health and resolve of those same people, while also stretching thin your capacity to give real room to their grief.
There’s a lot for us to think about, and I’m barely scratching the surface of how we might let anti-racism inform our reflections. But I hope that’s plenty to start with.