What Do We Do Now? A call to action for the lives of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC)
When I learned of what happened to George Floyd I lost my words. I was infuriated and deeply, overwhelmingly sad. I still am. Like many of us are taught to do, my first reaction was to suck up my emotions and get to action but thankfully my process of unlearning the unhealthy actions that chip away at my resilience has progressed. I wept and I vented instead.
Because you’re reading this, I know you’ve been impacted by the murder of George Floyd. I also know the impact will be different depending on how you identify.
It is too easy for our reactions to polarize each other instead of working together to lift each other up to a point where all people, regardless of race, colour, sexual orientation, gender or ability can live in peace, dignity, hope and equally.
What do we do now?
If you are white and/or enjoy the privilege of opting out of discussions and situations like this it’s time to listen and acknowledge. The problem with this suggestion is how you do this.
I’ve observed that people who want to be allies try to listen and are then shocked by the visceral response of discriminated, marginalized groups who essentially say: “Not. Good. Enough.” It’s understandable that one of the many reactions to this is: “So, what do I do now?”
You could opt-out. It may feel like too much. You may feel afraid of offending or getting into conflict. It is your choice and your privilege to do so. Remember, Black, Indigenous and People of Colour do not have the privilege of opting-out of their lives. The consequence of trying to opt-out and pretend discrimination doesn’t exist is the sudden and rude awakening to a reality where we are seen and treated as less than human.
So, thank you for opting-in to learn how to make the world an equal place to live in.
Your Call To Action:
Listening seems easy enough but it’s not. It’s why at some point you will hear or feel discriminated, marginalized groups say: “Not good enough.”
The solution to this problem is to effectively listen. Below are steps on how to do this.
Step 1: Stay silent and present.
When you listen to people sharing their experiences of discrimination, notice when your mind shifts to problem-solving, judging or feeling shame. Then, guide your awareness back to listening to the person.
Step 2: Actively listen.
This means listening to what the person has said, listening to the tone of their voice, what they choose to say and what is not said. Actively listening means before you say anything about your opinion or thoughts you demonstrate you have truly heard them. The way you demonstrate this is to mirror (repeat) or summarize what they’ve said and check-in. Here’s an example of actively listening to an African American man in Atlanta:
Mike: “I didn’t want to come and I don’t want to be here. I’m a son of an Atlantic city police officer. My cousin is an Atlantic City police offer. And my other cousin is an Atlantic City police officer. I got a lot of love and respect for Atlantic City police officers down to the original 8 police officers in Atlanta – that even after becoming police had to dress in a YMCA because white officers didn’t want to get dressed with …. And here we are 80 years later. I watched a white officer assassinate a black man. And I know that tore your heart out. And I know it’s crippling. And I have nothing positive to say in this moment because I don’t want to be here but I’m responsible to be here.”
Person actively listening: “Mike, I want to make sure I’ve really heard what you have said. (This preface helps the person understand your intention of repeating or summarizing what they have said instead of misinterpreting it as mocking or being disingenuous.)
You’re telling me that you have family who are Atlantic City police officers. Your father is one as well as two of your cousins. You’ve got a lot of respect for them including the original 8 black Atlantic City police officers who, even after they became police officers had to dress in a YMCA because white officers did not want to get dressed with them. And now, 80 years later, you’ve watched a white officer assassinate a black man and you know it’s torn our heart out and you know it’s crippling and you have nothing positive to say but you’re responsible to be here.
Am I getting this right?” (This is the check-in because you may not have heard them correctly. Give them the opportunity to correct you so they feel you are genuine about wanting to hear them.)
Active listening is a technique that requires practice. Yes, it feels like an unnatural way to speak and this is because we have not been taught to actively listen. Actively listening means demonstrating you are truly listening to another human being to the point that their eyes, facial expression and body language indicate to you that they feel seen and heard – they feel acknowledged.
Active listening takes resilience, because at times, what you may hear is not what you will like. You will be told your words and actions have impacted someone negatively and your initial response will be to defend yourself or go on the offensive.
These reactions will not lead to the positive change you want.
You are entitled to your emotions and you may have had no intention by your actions or words – or lack of them – to impact someone negatively. Regardless, what you are hearing is someone else’s experience. To respond by being defensive or offensive is to indicate that regardless of how they feel and the experience they’ve had your perspective is more important. If you are serious about helping change this world so it is possible for all of us to live in peace, dignity, equality and hope; then you will learn to actively listen.
Step 3: Get Curious – Part 1.
Ask the questions: What do you need? or How can I help? Asking these questions is part of actively listening. What these questions do is provide you with information and checks your assumptions on what you think may be best. Be prepared for someone who is part of a discriminated and marginalized group to tell you to learn for yourself. If and when this happens let me share with you what underlies this direction: People who have been discriminated against and who are marginalized have had to figure out how to survive and eventually thrive for themselves always. No one has been around to help them – except, at times, other discriminated and marginalized people who have been there and done that. It is through struggle and building clarity while simultaneously being in the depths of insecurity that they have learned how to overcome discrimination and oppression as best they can. Being asked by someone who has had the privilege to opt-out of actively working on an equal society can feel, among other things, frustrating. In asking these questions, while helpful in checking assumptions, you may very well be inadvertently adding to the work of discriminated and marginalized groups having now to educate you.
Step 4: Get Curious – Part 4.
To avoid adding the undue burden of discriminated and marginalized groups having to educate you, use some of your time to learn about their experiences, what has been identified as needed and what is being done to change things. When you catch yourself feeling doubtful about how things are being done because actions are unconventional or provocative, consider what Audre Lorde wrote. In her essay, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Audre Lorde asks, “What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable.” As you learn, go beyond the basic Google search and click-bait headlines. Consider that some changes cannot be made within the structures that have created oppression. Get curious about what is going on, why movements have begun and how current structures oppress people. Get curious on who is writing the material you are reading and who the experts on panel discussions and debates are. Is it a person who has experienced privilege? Or someone who has been discriminated and marginalized their whole lives? Notice your reactions to what is being said and get curious about that. Why do you react the way you do? What insights does this line of questioning offer you on how you show up and what you do to contribute to building a society that is peaceful, hopeful and equal, and allows for dignity?
Apply What You’ve Learned.
Apply the steps above when watching this speech. I’ll be coming back to this speech in future posts so invest 8 minutes and, in this time, do the following:
Stay silent and present.Resist the urge to problem-solve, judge or get lost in shame.
Actively listen. Write down what you hear and then re-listen to what you heard. Did you hear correctly or did you miss something?
Get Curious – Part 1. Ask the questions: What does the speaker need? or How can you help?
Get Curious – Part 2.What more do you need to learn? What will be the next action you take to learn? Identify it and schedule it in your calendar. Hold yourself accountable to taking the daily actions needed to make this world more peaceful, equal, hopeful with dignity for all.
Please invest the time to listen to this 8-minute speech and pay attention to the last 20 seconds. After you do this, do something nice for yourself. This is tough work and if we are going to make the world better, we need to stay resilient.
It was your choice to read this post in full or not to. In reading it you chose to invest time in listening to a woman of colour and take her words seriously. Thank you.
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