A lot of us are thinking about racism during the past few weeks and the way it impacts people we love – a lot of us have been living under the violence of that racism for past centuries. For those of us who don’t live the horrors of racism directly, there are still a lot of emotions that go along with that: anger and helplessness at the injustice we see, fear for people we love, and maybe even some anxiety over difficult conversations we have been having, or are gearing up to have, with people who just don’t get it. As a nonblack person, I am one of many people trying to be allies, who will always have more to listen and to learn about how best to be supportive to our loved ones of color.
Recently, I messed up. It’s an instinctive thing to reach out to the people we care about for support, and I reached out to the DDP editing circle for support with the anxiety I felt about upcoming difficult conversations about race with my family members over Thanksgiving. In doing so, I redirected attention away from the people who are directly experiencing this violence. Whatever my anxiety about engaging with ignorant family over the holiday, the conversations the black community was gearing up for over their Thanksgiving dinners would be far more somber. All I had to do was get my family to open their eyes and see the violence; black folks and their families must have conversations to explain to their children that they are the targets of that violence.
The conversation reminded me of an article from a year ago about how to deal with trauma as a community. Take a moment to read or reread this article, linked below, and then come back. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s worth revisiting. Content note for examples involving serious illness:
In sending my concerns about dealing with my family to the DDP editing circle as a whole, I redirected attention away from our community members who are at the center of the trauma circle, and channeled stress in toward that center rather than comfort in. I want to apologize for that, and to commit to being more thoughtful and aware in the future. To those DDP folks, both editors and readers, who identify as black and whose communities are facing the worst of this physical and verbal violence going on right now, I am thinking of you during this time and will do my absolute best to support you in every way I can.
To nonblack DDP folks, it’s definitely important that we have these conversations with each other about how best to approach friends and family. We need to speak up, and we need to do it now and continuously. That is going to be stressful. It’s a given that all of us at some point will encounter friends and family members who respond with hostility, and yes, we are going to need support. At the same time, it’s important that we find support in ways that don’t put this burden on black folks to be the ones lifting us up. In this trauma circle, people of color are at the center. They are the ones directly experiencing this violence, and we should be funneling as much comfort and support in as we can. For our own needs, we can and should turn to our nonblack friends and lean on each other for support. Reach out to your nonblack friends who are feeling the same emotions you’re having, and get together to support one another. Leaning on our friends of color adds more weight to a burden upon their shoulders that we should be doing our hardest to help lift.
The most important part of our job as allies is to listen to our friends when they speak up about what they do or do not need from us. It’s not personal: no one is perfect, and no one expects us to be. But when we do make mistakes and get feedback, we need to listen, reflect openly and honestly upon what we hear, and commit to change. Make it your number one goal to welcome and encourage that communication. Any painful feelings you have about the difficulty of facing that you may have messed up — comfort in, dump out. Thank the person who was brave enough to ask you to change, reach out to other friends to help support you through that change, and then do whatever it takes to listen to and honor the needs of the people at the center of this trauma circle. As allies in this movement, isn’t that why we’re here?