The last week has been a heavy one. It’s one thing to hear of a murder — it’s another thing to actually watch it. And it’s yet another thing to get smacked back to the reality of the fear black people in this country must live through each day.
There is a place for protest, and there is a place for social media posts, and there is a place for outward displays of solidarity. We need that, now more than ever.
Yet many of you like me have often been left wondering, “What next can I do?” I want to make several suggestions of some thoughtful and practical next steps.
Who is this for
While I’m sure anyone could read this post, mainly I’m writing from my own perspective as a 30-something, white, middle-class, Christian, college-educated, working mother. I’m writing to my friends, those I went to high school and college with, those who look like me and we generally have similar values. We grew up ignorant about the Black American struggle (an entirely different post to write about), yet we’ve come face to face with it in the past 10 years and had to grapple with it’s reality, the duplicity of our faith, and the pain our silence has caused. We know more than we’ve ever known, but we’re unsure where the next step should be.
If that sounds like you, then this post may be one you should read.
Step 1: Look around
Pre-COVID-19 we all often were in groups, in conferences, at events, at church, getting together at gatherings. Think about those gatherings, and observe even now the groups you virtually meet in.
Ask yourself: is there a black person present here?
Why or why not? If your church meets in a neighborhood that is 50% white, 50% black, why are there only white people present?
If you’re at work, observe how many people of color are there. At a favorite music concert or special conference, as you scan the audience, do you see other colors?
Then give yourself some space to think through why the racial makeup is what it is. Talk about it with someone else in your group.
Think about where you live, where you eat, all the activities you do. Who are your friends? Are any of them black?
I made a presumption about those that read this that you are able to not be afraid or offended by these questions. There’s nothing to be afraid of. The worst thing that can could come as a conclusion is that a group you’re emotionally invested and connected to is explicitly prejudiced. And there are solutions to that.
But before you come to any conclusions, just look around and observe the realities of your life.
Step 2: Ask questions at the leadership table
Many of us are now sitting in places of leadership, or at least have a seat at the table. We spent our 20’s being told to not speak or think and just do what we were told. Now we have work and life experience, and we are either managers or creating some businesses, programs or systems. The leaders are starting to listen to our ideas and giving us departments to manage.
So now that you are at the Leadership Table, look around. Are there any black people? Usually we give a sigh of relief that we are emphatically not racist or prejudice because we have people of color in our workforce, or at our church, or apart of the ministry, or in our friend group, or in the student body.
However, the only real test of an organization or system is whether or not they give black people a seat at the leadership table, hands untied.
You get the opportunity now to bring up that question in your next leadership meeting. “Why are there no black people on leadership here?” And see what kind of response you get. I’ve asked this question often. I don’t do it to bring shame or judge. I try very hard to simply be curious, knowing that the response I get will reveal truth.
But don’t stop with that first curious question. If they say, “Well, no black person has ever approached us about being on the leadership team.” Follow up with, “Well, why is that?” “Um, maybe because we don’t know any black people.” “Oh, well, why is that?” “I think they just don’t want to be here.” “Why is that?”
You just opened up some real conversations now. It will be uncomfortable, and the conversation may go differently than above, but just keep asking, “Why?” until you get some real answers, and hopefully some way forward. Because until black people have places of leadership in civil, community, and business organizations, there simply cannot be realistic change.
If we want less of George Floyd stories, we have to let black people have positions of leadership. And that won’t happen until we start pressing the current leadership for change since we already have a spot at the table.
Step 3: Listen quietly
We love to have something to say in any conversation. If someone shares a story, we want to share a similar one. If someone has a struggle, we want to show we too have struggled in some way. I think it’s just the human condition. We want to be accepted and to find common group with whoever we are talking to. I think it’s also just a social expectation.
But there are many situations where it’s not necessary to talk. I learned this during a one-month service trip in Spain and England right after grad school. I was serving and working alongside recovering drug addicts who worked in the businesses the organization had set up for them to recover and build skillsets. I’ll never forget the stern lecture the director gave us when we arrived. “You are here to learn and your mindset should be ‘I am a person of no importance,’ and so you can ask questions and serve the people here. That’s it.”
Little did I know how that “training” would prepare me for understanding and listening to my black friends and community in Chicago. Generally, it’s something I’ve had to practice when talking to anyone who has experienced trauma and distressing experiences. You ask questions, and then you listen, and then you say, “I’m so sorry.” Repeat, repeat, repeat. You don’t explain your past, you don’t share a similar experience you’ve had, you don’t try to make them feel better. You sit there and share in solidarity.
Depending on your relationship and how long you’ve had these talks and discussions, you may feel the place to ask what they think you could do better in your place in life with the connections you have.
Another place to listen is in a group of black people. Have you ever been in a group where you were the only white person, or at least in the minority? Oh, and let me add, *in America* (cause I know lots of you have gone on missions trips overseas). If you haven’t, try to find a situation where you are. Church is a great place, because you already know you have a common faith and it’s a natural place to show up as a visitor. Be present, listen, and listen more. Observe how it feels to be the minority. Remind yourself how comfortable you feel when you are the majority, yet there are always those in the minority.
Just keep listening. And learning. Quietly.
Step 4: Start with you
We each have a range of impact in our own life. We also have the privilege to make decisions for our lives and our families. We’re not victims to the busyness our life leads us. You can make changes.
Take inventory of all the things you do. Work, church, home, community, recreation, fitness, friends.
In which area can you start making long-term adjustments to have more color? Perhaps there’s a black woman at work you have become friends with but don’t know her family. Maybe you can invite them over and begin regular family hang-out times with them at each other’s houses? Maybe you have a YMCA membership and you always go to the one in town that has predominately white people — but you could start going to the one on the other side of town that has predominately a black clientele?
Another way to start with you — do you currently or have you ever had someone in authority over you that was black? Anybody? Go find yourself a black business or spiritual mentor. Join a church with a black pastor. Take a job under a black executive team. It matters, it all really does.
Now go ahead
That’s all I’ve got for now. I think it’s a good starting place for all of us. I’ve worked on these for years and I have quite a ways to go. We all have quite a ways to go. But to move forward, it starts with us. It starts with you. You do have a voice, and you need to start using it.
If you have any other suggestions, please leave them in the comments.