If you’re a white person or a non-Black person of color, being an effective ally to the Black community in the fight for racial justice requires daily, conscious action. And one place where many non-Black individuals can make inroads is at the office: by supporting and advocating for Black co-workers, pushing for a diverse and representative staff at your company, and insisting upon an inclusive office culture.
But right now, doing anti-racist work in the workplace has an added wrinkle: Given that we’re in the middle of a pandemic, many of us have shifted from office life to a remote-working situation. In this new environment, one where communication is largely limited to stilted video calls and written exchanges, employees may feel more isolated and less apt to speak up (about injustice and also about boundaries). To that end, everyone working remotely needs to immediately adopt a certain set of guidelines in order to be an effective ally while working from home.
Before getting into the specifics, know that non-Black employees can and should self-educate on how to be an ally in general. A number of anti-racist courses and workshops are readily available online for you to take and learn. (On the work front, author, educator, and host of the Good Ancestor podcast Layla F. Saad offers a 90-minute masterclass specifically called “Allyship in the Workplace,” which is currently wait-list only.) Additionally, effective allyship can take a number of other forms, including donating, buying from Black-owned businesses, protesting, and signal boosting on social media.
While there are a number of ways to actually help, simply “meaning well” is not ever enough—and certainly not in the scope of a virtual-only work environment. So before you act on a good intention to ask how a Black co-worker is doing, apologize, or ask for tips about what to do (hint: don’t do any of those things), really listen to how you can best individually support someone. Not everyone’s needs are the same, and no single person speaks for an entire community.
So how can you be a helpful and not harmful ally, specifically while working from home? Below, anti-racist career and fitness coach Dynasti Hunt offers valuable and actionable insight on how to be an effective ally to the Black community and Black co-workers while working from home.
5 guidelines for being an effective ally while working from home
1. Remove the ‘all cameras must be on’ culture
With society at such an intense inflection point in history, those on-camera Zoom meetings, which are already so fraught with weird psychological pressure and effects, may only be more disorienting. The last thing emotionally exhausted Black employees need is to be the focus of an extra lens.
“Not all colleagues will want to be on camera when speaking on traumatic topics that impact them daily, nor should they be forced to be.” —Dynasti Hunt, anti-racist career coach
“Not all colleagues will want to be on camera when speaking on traumatic topics that impact them daily, nor should they be forced to be. [This puts] pressure of them, having them be on the spot while on camera,” says Hunt. “Open up the option for cameras to be off in meetings as needed.”
2. Give prior notice about any meetings addressing current events and BLM
If your meeting is giving space to address the Black Lives Matter movement and/or race-related current events, share agenda notes ahead of time to communicate this. Doing so lets Black employees not feel put on the spot in real time on the video call.
“Everyone comes in prepared knowing that space is being made, versus being forced to engage in a space that they were not mentally or emotionally prepared to be in,” says Hunt.
3. Don’t record conversations where you have made space
“Unless POC colleagues have specifically asked for this, do not record or say you are recording these conversations for someone who cannot sign on for the actual conversation,” says Hunt.
4. Send written messages of acknowledgment and support—without expecting a reply
If you feel compelled to reach out to a Black colleague, Hunt says there’s a responsible, caring way to do so. “How are you?” is probably going to come across as trite, because, well, how do you think? Instead, something along the lines of “I’m thinking of you,” is a better way to signal your support and openness.
“Sending a written note, Gchat, or Slack allows Black colleagues to read your support without feeling a need to respond in the moment in the same way they may feel pressured to if they are on a video call with you.” —Hunt
“Sending a written note, Gchat, or Slack message allows for Black colleagues to be able to read your support without feeling a need to respond in the moment in the same way that they may feel pressured to if they are on a video call with you,” Hunt says.
The last piece of that pie is really important—a bombardment of messages and combined pressure to answer is simply not needed right now. Furthermore, as poet and professor Eve Ewing, Ed.D, pointed out in a recent tweet, before reaching out period, consider the specific relationship in question. A colleague from a different department, with whom you once exchanged hellos in the elevator, probably doesn’t want your note, but the person on your team you often get lunch with might.
can i be REAL awkward for a sec? the thing about “reach out and check on your black friends” is some of “your black friends” are not your friends. They are acquaintances or coworkers who have tolerated your complacency or participation in creating a hostile environment for years.
— wikipedia brown, a tired person (@eveewing) June 2, 2020
5. Advocate for channels to be created for BIPOC employees to connect separately from the entire organization
“Whether that’s encouraging a separate meeting space during the day, where white colleagues do not join the Zoom line, or a separate and private Slack channel, offer to help create spaces that are for people of color only to connect,” Hunt says.
Setting the space for BIPOC individuals to organize, empathize, and have open discourse without an overbearing white glare can be really helpful and meaningful. Furthermore, given that allyship is an ongoing journey, be open to receiving criticism and feedback from BIPOC co-workers and other allies who have learnings to share.
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