Have you seen any of clips from the recent Milwaukee Bucks’ protest of the shooting of Jacob Blake? One of the players wore a T-shirt reading: “Black All the Time.” It was one of the most concrete, illustrative statements I’ve seen in these crazy times. Our skin is our skin. It marks us for life.
Clearly, there have always been cases of racist violence, including police violence toward Black people — it’s just that those of us in the White world have been shielded from it, and therefore have been able to live our lives unaware of it. Now we’re seeing the evidence of many recent cases of excessive police violence toward individual Black people. Thank goodness for cell phones — if they had been invented earlier, we would be aware of even more.
It’s true that there may be occasions when it is right for cops to draw, or even use, their weapons, whether to protect society or themselves.
But here’s where my “business mind” recoils. It’s not just that these excessive killings and other aspects of police violence are morally wrong — it’s that they are also very clearly disproportionate. Because — once again, thanks to cell phone videos — we can also see many cases in which cops do not draw their weapons in the face of armed White people. It’s not just Kenosha. Sometimes police even hold their weapons, drawn, while White people scream at them and insult them, and yet no shooting occurs.
Whose Eyes Will You See Through?
It is a terrible thing to learn that one of your own has been brutally injured or killed. That’s true whatever group you happen to belong to, even if it’s an affiliation you can grow out of, retire from, or otherwise change, whether it’s ice skaters or volunteer firefighters. But when you’re Black in this country, you hear about these events with a frequency that is traumatizing. You are effectively forced to worry about your own safety and the safety of your loved ones every single minute of every single day in ways that White people aren’t. It’s exhausting.
It’s time to think more carefully about our Black colleagues and neighbors, and try to look at things from their point of view. (I’m hopeful that if you have real Black friends or relatives, you don’t need the reminder.)
For example, if you became aware that your colleague had suffered a loss in their family, wouldn’t you lean over the cubicle wall and say, “Hey, Bob, I was so sorry to hear about what happened to your cousin! I hope you’re doing all right. Let me know if you need the afternoon off, some help with your work or tasks while you’re grieving, or some other kind of support. Do you want to tell me a little about your cousin? I’m here and I’m standing by.”
Caring Is About the Other Person
These are the kinds of things people who care say to each other in the face of loss.
But please don’t tell a Black colleague or neighbor that you’re an “ally” or that you’ve “got their back.” Those kinds of declarations are meant to be supportive and show depth of feeling, but such language is not very meaningful if it’s not backed up by action. Demonstrate your intentions with your behavior: amplify your Black colleagues’ comments in meetings; ask why they weren’t invited; invite them; ask them to speak; speak on their behalf when they’re not there or when it would be awkward to expect them to speak up themselves. If you can see that there’s a power imbalance, do whatever you can to rectify it.
Check In, With Suspended Assumptions
Those are some of the everyday things that fall into the category of everyday workplace solidarity. And when you hear about a new loss — in this case, the brutal, paralyzing shooting of Jacob Blake — consider treating your Black colleagues as if they were recently bereaved or their dear relative was very ill. You might check in with them about their deadlines, offer to pick up the slack, or move dates or assignments for them.
Of course, this does not mean that you should take it for granted that your Black colleagues will want a pass — it’s their choice. So, don’t cut them out of anything because you believe that they’re distressed. They have more experience soldiering on under adverse conditions than most of us can imagine.
Just let them know that you care. That you’re on hand if they need you. (And don’t wait for them to tell you how grateful they are that you reached out — that shouldn’t be the point.)
And then do whatever you can to make the world safer and fairer. You will, won’t you?