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Young People at a Workshop

Boldly Speaking.

3 TOUGH QUESTIONS: BLM EDITION (FOR ALLIES)


Over the last few months, Boldly Inclusive has been working closely with a number of organizations to support their anti-racism efforts.  Given current dialogues about the particular challenges and barriers faced by Black communities, many are interested in learning how businesses can be better allies in confronting and disrupting anti-Blackness. 


The truth is that we are in an exceptional moment of change.  The closest we’ve ever come prior to this was about 60 years ago.  The Civil Rights movement coupled with a wave of anti-colonialism efforts in Africa and across the Diaspora drastically transformed possibilities for Black communities worldwide.  Though people of all races, creeds, and colours were partners in the fight for change, the scope of their involvement is unlike what we are seeing today.  The strength of Black voices, supported by many more white and non-Black racialized people serving as allies, has brought us to a time where we can reimagine the future we want to see, the type of inclusion that we should all experience, and everyone’s role in striving for change.


For this reason, when I facilitate workshops, we encourage learners to be open to learning and in doing so, lean into what can often be uncomfortable.  Be honest, be vulnerable, ask questions.  If we don’t exercise curiosity, we limit our understanding of one another and our potential to support them in building this new reality.


This blog will tackle 3 of the more frequently asked questions that have come up in our anti-racism workshops.  We thank those who put their questions forward – as they do come up frequently! – as they were willing to share a valuable learning opportunity with others who are grappling with the same obstacles and uncertainties.

 

Question 1: I believe in my heart that "All Lives Matter" response is apparently not OK. Why is that? 

 

Many do not know the story of how Black Lives Matter got its name, so it may be helpful to start here. 

 

Black Lives Matter started when future co-founder, Alicia Garza posted on Facebook following the acquittal of George Zimmerman.  Zimmerman had been on trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black boy who was targeted simply for wearing a hoodie.  In her post, she stated: "I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter... Our lives matter." The post was then retweeted by Patrice Cullors, who would also become a co-founder – with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.


Thus, Black Lives Matter is a response to the fact that in our society, Black lives are frequently devalued.  Indeed, in theory, all lives should matter, but the reality suggests otherwise.  The Black Lives Matter movement is a statement of the pain and frustration Black people and their allies feel while calling for change and accountability.  As you can see, what Black Lives Matter does not mean, is that only Black lives matter.


Indeed, when one says “All lives matter” in response to another saying Black Lives Matter, it is therefore a form of silencing and suppressing an important dialogue about race and injustice.

 

Question 2:  Often, when I receive negative feedback from Black co-workers, I worry that nothing I do will resonate with them or meet their expectations.  How can I overcome this feeling?

 

What you are experiencing is the sense of being overwhelmed.  You understand the stakes as you strive for allyship.  You do not want to make a mistake, and you certainly do not want to offend anyone. 


What one must recognize is that Black, Indigenous, and racialised communities are also overwhelmed, traumatised, and tired because of their everyday experiences with micro and macro-racism.  Having an appreciation of their lived experience will set the stage for perspective-taking.  It will also allow prospective allies to recognize that you are both dealing with strong emotions -- and we know that when people are struggling, the best way of building connection is through empathy.


Therefore, the best way to deal with this discomfort is to lean into your sense of empathy.  More specifically, practice "compassionate empathy".  Daniel Goleman refers to this as understanding what others are feeling and being moved to act.  Indeed, it goes much further than simply perspective-taking or being a listening ear.

 

When you build compassion in this way, you open up understanding in a way that will make you more intentional in how to approach your work, while also opening up productive dialogues that will be mutually beneficial.

 

Question 3:  What tangible steps can I take to ensure my Black team members /colleagues/customers/clients feel included and supported?  I want to be a good ally, but I don’t know where to start.

 

Here are three helpful steps you can take to begin having courageous – and meaningful! – conversations about racism:

1.     Recognize the trauma.  If we encourage people to be authentic and bring their whole self to work, we must realize that they will also be carrying their trauma, pain, and fear. Consider this when supporting others.  Some will be open to dialogue, while others may be grappling with their emotions and may opt to withdraw from such conversations.  When reaching out to your employees and offering support, do so in a way that gives them space to respond in a way that honours where they are at, and centres their needs.

 

2.     Lean into the discomfort.  This is a time like no other, where white and non-Black racialized people are increasingly joining important dialogues on anti-Black racism and committing to change.  This means acting in solidarity with Black communities and sharing one’s power and privilege accordingly.  This can be uncomfortable, but it is important to challenge yourself to lean into this discomfort to drive change.

 

3.     Look beneath the surface.  Sustainable responses to anti-Black racism require a shift in culture. This means doing a deep dive, reflecting on your power and privilege, identifying what needs to be changed and committing to it, and sharing your power on a continuous basis to foster inclusion in meaningful and relevant ways.

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