It’s no secret that I’m a loud person. I have a boisterous laugh, I yell constantly, and at every performance I have ever attended, I’m always cheering at the top of my lungs, regardless of the format. Sorry, Seattle Symphony.
Probably for the good of society, not everyone is like me. There are quiet people who would prefer to fly under the radar and not be noticed. I’ve found this to be especially true of many white women accustomed to being told they’re too loud, too big, or too much.
This results in the most frustrating of experiences: silently approving colleagues. Agitators, often Black women, are seen as strong superheroes to be admired (spoiler alert: this trope also carries deep consequences, including health).
“You’re so brave. I could never speak up like that,” is a common phrase I have heard from white nonprofit staff too afraid to speak to power structures. Instead, they have private conversations supporting the agitators, calling them courageous and putting them on a pedestal.
By doing that, we absolve ourselves of our responsibility. We place the weight of anti-racist work squarely on the shoulders of the oppressed. Hiding behind our quietness or our shyness, we happily relinquish our power to white supremacy.
But there is no personality type incapable of calling out racism.
One of my good friends is a very introverted white lady. She was getting more and more frustrated with herself and her inaction in the face of racism. It was hard for her to step out of her comfort zone and confront racism head on, but she knew that her silence was a problem. Even if she used back channels to support her BIPOC colleagues, she wasn’t using her voice in the spaces where it was most needed.
We know that silence only benefits the oppressor. People in power usually assume that others are agreeing with them unless they are directly confronted. When we are silent, we are tacitly endorsing the actions of the person in power. And since power structures in our sector tend to align with white supremacy, when we stay silent, that’s what we’re supporting.
No amount of in-meeting texting or DMing will make up for that silence. Even if we consider ourselves woke enough to understand the problems in our organization and to stand with our BIPOC, LGBTQ, or disabled colleagues, if we don’t use our voice to support them, what good are we actually doing?
So, I made a list of steps you can take to practice visible and vocal solidarity with your colleagues.
Share on social media
While we all hate the person who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk, there are real ways you can express support for marginalized voices online. It’s a good way to practice using your voice without the pressure or flooding emotions of a work meeting.
First, when you share articles about racism or white supremacy, add your own two cents. That’s obviously scarier than simply sharing to your timeline, but it’s about getting used to putting yourself on the line. Bringing up an experience you’ve had, or even a time when you haven’t lived up to your own anti-racist standards, helps prepare you for in-person confrontation.
Participate in social media
Okay look, it’s no secret that social media arguments aren’t effective at changing anyone’s mind on pretty much any topic. People don’t go on social media to learn things; they go on social media to fortify their own opinions.
I’m not asking you to see social media as a way to change stranger’s hearts and minds. I would, however, encourage you to use it as practice. This practice can help prepare you for conversations with colleagues or people you know which, I promise, will be much harder.
Hunching over your computer and rolling your eyes at racists, either in Zoom or while scrolling on Twitter, doesn’t do anything. So the next time you see a conversation between two folks, one advocating for anti-racist policies and the other for, erm, racist policies, jump in.
Liking a tweet or a comment is the bare minimum, but I encourage you to say something simple in support of the anti-racist person. Will you draw attention to yourself? Yes. But it’s social media: you can tap out whenever you want. If it’s a stranger, you’re only two clicks from blocking or muting them.
**Please note: this advice is primarily meant for white folks. There are REAL concerns about doxxing that many people go through. I’m referring to conversations with other professionals, not default avatars with screen names like @Trump4Ever6321743 on Twitter.**
Practice some phrases
If you’re in an organization that is benefitting from outspoken anti-racist employees, don’t shrink into the background and let them carry the work. Practice these phrases to say in meetings to show your support. Yes, I really mean say them out loud to yourself in a mirror. Fill in the blanks with the issues you anticipate, or have seen, show up in your organization.
- “[Name of co-worker] is making some very good points right now.”
- “I share [name of co-worker]’s concerns on this topic.”
- “I’m hearing [name of co-worker] asking questions about [topic] and I’d like to know the answers to those as well.”
Show support on Zoom
In a time when half our identity is tied up in the internet and zoom calls are a normal way we connect with groups, digital interactions are more important than they have ever been. The good news is that this can make it easier to support a colleague because Zoom offers more options for engagement.
If a BIPOC colleague calls out racism on Zoom call, in two clicks you can throw up a thumbs up or heart emoji to show your support. Or you can comment in the chat and say you agree. Simple shows of support are a good first step to flex that muscle and practice speaking truth to power.
Actions like the ones listed in this article put you on the path of allyship. Private support, while giving you a bit of an endorphin boost because you’re saying the Right Things™ to the Right People™, is rendered meaningless when paired with inaction where it counts.
I know it’s not easy. None of this is comfortable. It’s not meant to be.
Do it anyway.