Tragedy happens everywhere and to every type of person. It’s a part of the human experience. But when deeply tragic, newsworthy events happen, we often feel a brief sadness before self-preservation kicks in and hides our fears in the belief that things like that don’t happen to us. We keep the right company. We live in the right neighborhoods. We don’t engage in risky behaviors. We are careful. Our minds help us believe that gut-wrenching tragedy is rare. It allows us to move on with a relative lack of impact to our daily lives. One might ask why the black community feels it so deeply and personally when the tragedy of a slain black person that we have never met hits a community that we have never even visited. (Continued from Being A Good White Friend)
When a black person is killed at the hands of the police, or a white, self-appointed vigilante, a person of color doesn’t have the luxury of the mental balm to soothe us out of our fears. Why? Because we know that very well CAN happen to us. It CAN happen to our children. It CAN happen to our friends and family. There’s nothing outrageous about the circumstances of murdered black people that tells us its rare. It’s a black child playing with a toy gun just like his white counterparts. Its a young black man walking down a street with a beverage in his pocket. Its our husbands driving down a street. It’s our sisters sleeping in their own homes. It hits home. Not close to home. Home. Where we retreat after being pulled over by the police and accused of stealing the cars we purchased with our hard-earned dollars. Where we slump into our couch cushions for a reprieve from our professional lives where we are undermined and work twice as hard to receive half of the recognition. Where we lay our heads to dream after being followed around stores and having racial slurs launched at us.
There is no ability to self-soothe when we know this can happen to any one of us, at any time, in any place. The grief grips our chests because we don the same faces as those that are killed. It’s because of that face that they are killed; that their lives have been expendable and we are no exception. We grieve because there is a kinship forged in blood and pain. When one of us is extinguished, a piece is broken from all of us.
I hear so many white people say, “I don’t know what to say so I say nothing at all,” or “I don’t want to say the wrong thing.” Silence is not the answer. Acknowledge what is happening while giving your black friends the option of space to process what they are feeling. Try something like this: “It breaks my heart that (insert current black social tragedy here) happened. I wish this world was safer for you and your community. I will always do whatever I can in my own life/community to make a difference. I am here if you ever want to talk about it, and if you never want to talk to me about it, I am still here.” This is yours free of charge. You don’t even have to properly quote me. I give you permission to plagiarize that response.
Don’t opt for silence because it’s more comfortable. Trust me, we aren’t feeling comfortable at all when another black person is murdered. Our guard is raised. We feel betrayed by a society that touts values of freedom and safety from government persecution but says “except for you” in small print. With any of your friends, you’d find out what your individual friend needs in times of grief and you’re ready to support them. The rules of friendship apply here as well, even if the response is a bit different. Acknowledge that you know how fucked up this is, that you are not ok with it, and you see the pain its causing. Pretending it doesn’t impact your friend and that it has nothing to do with you is a sure way to show your black friends that you will continue to be complicit in the continuance of violence against blacks through your silence and lack of concern.