We live in a world that doesn’t shut up.
From a very young age, I was painfully shy. And I was pushed right to into this world: a world that doesn’t shut up. This world places a high value on those who won’t stop talking. So I had to learn how to talk.
Then, it was in school: Raise your hand high in class to speak. Volunteer first to run up to the front of the class to share your poem. Speak really loudly so they can hear you. Louder. Louder please. Mita, we can’t hear you.
Now, it’s in meetings: Ask questions. Share your point of view. Challenge, debate, and discuss. Question the data, the recommendations, and rework the plan. Question again, and one more time. Now we hear you, thank you. Just keep talking. Talk some more.
As an ally, my job is to listen.
We live in a world that doesn’t shut up. But today, as an ally for the Black community, I am doing very little talking. I am spending hour after hour, day after day listening. Just listening. I am unlearning all of my previous leadership behaviors: to speak without listening, to provide a point of view that’s misplaced because I don’t understand the background, and to ask questions without doing the work myself.
As an ally, my job is to listen. The first crucial step is to listen to Black voices in order to educate myself and understand an experience that is not my own. I am a woman of color. In many ways, I identify with the Black community. But I am not Black. The racism and discrimination I have faced is not the same as the generational trauma of living with institutionalized racism that my Black friends have faced. This is a time when all allies have to stand up, stand with the Black community, and denounce racism and violence. Because what we have borne witness to, the murder of George Floyd and countless senseless killings before him is a human rights issue.
As an ally, my job is to listen. If a Black friend wants to share, it is my job is to listen. My job is not to be an investigative journalist. My job is not to share my own sexist or racist experience to counter theirs. My job is not to provide solutions, brainstorm, and action plans. My job is not to dismiss what they are saying. My job is to listen — listen to their truth. My job as an ally is to accept what they are telling me to be true. Because it is the truth.
I am a woman of color. In many ways, I identify with the Black community. But I am not Black. The racism and discrimination I have faced is not the same as the generational trauma of living with institutionalized racism that my Black friends have faced.
My job as an ally is to be with them in long periods of silence during that conversation and to be with them through emotion. It’s not my Black friend’s job to make me feel comfortable, at ease, or to make the conversation less painful for me. Because this is the pain they constantly carry. It’s not their job to make me feel less guilty about the privilege I hold. It’s for me to look in the mirror and acknowledge what privilege I hold. And to ask myself what action will I take next and how will I behave differently now that I understand the privilege I hold.
Listening comes in all forms. It’s not my Black friend’s burden to continuously educate me, reliving the trauma of their daily experiences. As allies, listening cannot be that we call our Black friends and ask them to diagnose, digest, and analyze what’s happening in our social media feeds.
Can you explain Black Live Matters vs All Live Matters vs Blue Live Matters? Why was it a black square for #BlackoutTuesday? What do you think about the peaceful protests vs. riots? And a litany of other questions that I need to do the work, research, and educate myself on. This burden lies on me.
It’s not my Black friend’s job to make me feel comfortable, at ease, or to make the conversation less painful for me. Because this is the pain they constantly carry.
It’s also my job to educate other allies as well and to seek education from other allies. I need to stand up to misinformation, inaccurate facts, and challenge stereotypes. I need to immediately stop the funny remarks, jokes, or questions, which can all be forms of microaggressions. And as Michelle Obama explained so powerfully on her Becoming book tour, the cumulative impact of those daily cuts, those microaggressions, can have devastating consequences overtime on an individual.
When I first started working in Diversity & Inclusion, my husband gifted me the book Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. And I went on to read White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin Diangelo. I am taking free Yale Open Courses and learning about African American History: From Emancipation to the Present. I still have my work to do, but it’s a start.
Many of my Black friends do not want to talk. They tell me they are still processing. They are exhausted. They are numb. And they are thankful that I checked in. And all I can do is be here and continue my self-work as an ally.
I am not the perfect ally. I am getting a lot right and getting a lot wrong. But it has never been an option not to be an ally. If you have ever doubted or wondered if it’s your place to be an ally for the Black Community, pick up your phone and just watch what’s happening right now in our country.
I read this quote the other night that popped up on my Instagram feed. “History Leaves No One Behind. Which side of history will you be on when your grandchildren ask you?”
So take the first step in being an ally for the Black Community. Please just stop talking. And please in this moment, start listening.