By Simeon Coker, Creative Social Entrepreneur
(ADCOLOR Contributing Writer)
There’s more that Black people can say and do to ensure Black lives matter. But we shouldn’t have to–especially not at this moment in time.
Allies, read the room. Black people need a break. My friends need a break. I need a break. And while I don’t speak for all Black people, various forms of “I’m tired” have been said by millions of us over the last couple of weeks as images of slain Black bodies have flooded our timelines like memes.
We’ve educated ourselves enough to know that trauma in all of its shapes and forms—including seeing people who look like you and do the things you do murdered on social media—impacts every aspect of our wellbeing. Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. The impact is like being punched in the chest and having the wind knocked out of you. And as we struggle to catch our breath, we’re hit again. George Floyd’s murder. Then again. Breonna Taylor. Then again. Ahmaud Arbery. Over and over. And we have no choice but to brace ourselves for the next blow. It’s a vicious cycle that won’t stop without profound intervention.
We are tired. We are exhausted, and it’s imperative that we are given the space to catch our breath. For ourselves. For the people we love. For our communities. But in order to catch our breath, we need to rest. It is essential to rest. It is also revolutionary right now. And while we are resting, it’s time for those who consider themselves to be an ally of the Black community to wake up and do the necessary work to manifest justice in every dimension of our lives.
To our self-proclaimed allies, this is not the time to throw your hands up and ask how you can be of assistance. This is the time for you to prove you care about us, and not just the dope culture we create. We’ve done the emotional labor of writing books, penning articles, recording podcasts, filming documentaries and producing conferences, all with you in mind. We’ve heard you declare your alliance with us and our mission for equality on stages and behind closed doors. If you’ve learned something, anything, from all of the work we’ve put in, now is when you should act with well-informed intention. Without this, your “allyship” runs the risk of doing more harm than good.
Ill-informed allyship often operates like cancer. Even when backed by the best intentions, it can be a tumor that latches onto our life supply and drains us of the energy we need to thrive. Silence and inaction also fall into this analogy. All of it keeps us in a cycle of injustice and pain. So please, start working.
The work starts wherever you are. It is acknowledging that the Black people in your companies and communities are grieving. And saying something. Then doing something. Like calling out the ‘Amy Coopers’ in your circle, donating to protestor bail funds, or having informed conversations with your clients, vendors and partners. The work starts when you put some skin in the game. Justice is the return on those investments.
In 2016, we recorded an episode for the Mixed Company Podcast, which I co-host, shortly after the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. When I listened to that episode again recently, I heard the anger, hurt and sadness in all of our voices. I also heard myself avoiding saying that I needed to walk out of the agency to cry on the West Side Highway. That day sits with me. I remember thinking that all of the White people around me didn’t care because none of them said they did. They discussed everything under the sun that day but Black lives mattering. I didn’t process what I was going through enough to articulate what I needed at that moment, which was a break, and a fissure developed between them and me that never healed.
This time, I made a conscious decision to rest. My brain, body and soul. I avoided social media, the news, and people and things that didn’t spark joy. I made a conscious decision to not feel guilty about not using the platform that we built to address inequities in real-time. I needed it. It allowed me to be more intentional with my words and actions in the aftermath. It was, and is, a privilege to be able to rest, but I encourage every person of color who also feels the weight of America’s sins on their chest right now to do the same. We as Black people are no good to anyone, especially ourselves, carrying the weight of injustice alone. We are no good to the resistance if our health buckles under the stress of it all. We need our physical and mental strength for the road ahead. Because this is, unfortunately, a marathon and not a quick sprint. There will be more work to do in our offices and communities, and we will do it. But at this moment, we should unapologetically pass the baton to those who say they care about us but who benefit from our oppression, whether they see it or not. We must rest right now so we can do the work later, and this requires our allies stepping up.
Allies— this idea of us resting may seem weird to some of you because you’re used to seeing us work twice as hard, but many of us simply don’t have the energy at this time. We’re not just mentally and emotionally drained from processing the latest government-sanctioned lynchings of Black people, we’re also in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic that is killing us at a disproportionate rate. People of color are fielding calls daily about people we love dying, getting sick, losing their income, struggling to eat, and a myriad of other stress tests; and many of us are left feeling helpless because there is only so much we can do from our homes with the resources we have. And now, this. We are grieving. Put some work in, allies.
If you’re still wondering what you should be doing right now, do not ask your Black friend. Here are a few things you can do:
Sincerely acknowledge Black people you know are hurting: Try not to be performative. Don’t do it for the gram, do it because you care. Send a text or an email, but don’t expect a response. Know that your acknowledgment has been received and appreciated. Empathize, then give us space.
Interrogate and activate your privilege: Make sure you’re not adding to the oppression of Black people by doing things like calling the police on innocent people or policing how Black people should show their rage. Use your money, time, access and talents to be impactful. Donate to causes that are asking for assistance and amplify the voices on the frontlines.
“Keep that same energy” – Tiffany R. Warren (Senior VP, Chief Diversity Officer, Omnicom Group and Founder & President, ADCOLOR): After the protests, news cycles, and moments of discomfort are over, we’ll need you to keep working. We need lifelong commitments and intentional actions for racial justice. In the office. At your family gatherings. When no one is looking. If we’re in the same place four years from now, asking for the same things, then all of this was in vain. You can help make sure this isn’t the case.
Whatever you do, just make sure you’re doing something that will lower the chances of us reliving this pain again. Do something that lightens the load of Black people and allows us a moment of rest.