A familiar mantra in mental health advocacy is “It’s OK to not be OK.” Well, these days a lot of Black people are not OK. Your co-workers, your neighbors, your friends are not OK. I am not OK.
The killings of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd, and lack of arrests following, were the final straws that broke a series of camels’ backs when it comes to the disparity in the treatment and value of Black lives in this country. Out of grief, pain, anger, and frustration, their communities protested. Our communities protested. My community protested. It’s been an emotionally and mentally draining few weeks for many of us.
One of the most frustrating things for me during this time has been the lack of acknowledgement in the workplace. In speaking with my Black friends, peers, and colleagues, I am not alone. There was a lack of understanding that we were going through a collective trauma. Where was the understanding? Where were the check-ins on mental and emotional health?
Some of my friends are glad their colleagues and supervisors didn’t check in with them. You see, Black folks aren’t socialized to mix feelings with work. “I don’t want to talk to them about my feelings anyway.” Trust me, I get it. I didn’t want to talk about mine either. But I would have appreciated the check-in. I would have checked in on them if the situations were reversed. To be honest, I don’t want to talk about internships or benefits when my community is hurting. I also don’t want them to think that police brutality and overt racism are the only issues to be addressed.
More recently, statements supporting #BLACKLIVESMATTER have popped up from several businesses and organizations. Supportive statements from CEOs to their employees have been widely shared. Newly developed commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusion abound. This is all great, but why now?
Did Black lives just start mattering to them?
Did they suddenly realize they have no Black lives on their board or senior leadership team?
Did they suddenly realize Black lives don’t receive the same training or promotional opportunities at their organization?
Did they just realize that the racist jokes the recruiter makes about “Black names” aren’t actually funny?
I’m angry that it took such horrible events, events that have not just happened for the first time, for many people to finally acknowledge the different experiences Black people face in this country and in the workplace. I’m angry knowing that a lot of the statements and promises are just performative and will be forgotten about when they think folks aren’t paying attention anymore. I’m also angry that some people still won’t get it and some don’t want to.
I’ve had conversations with Black HR practitioners who fear repercussions for speaking out on George Floyd or Breonna Taylor. I’ve heard how difficult it is for them to work through meetings and phone calls when they really just want to cry. I don’t know about other folks, but I’m tired. I don’t have the energy or inclination to pretend to be fine when I’m not. I’m angry. I AM NOT OK. I refuse to feel bad about it or pretend to make others more comfortable. Some folks may not like it and they may be uncomfortable. I’m OK with that.
I encourage those reading to make an intentional effort to listen and learn. Get comfortable being uncomfortable. Read books. Watch movies. Feel free to ask questions, but don’t feel entitled to a response. A lot of Black people are tired of continuously having to educate white people and non-Black people of color on racism and anti-Blackness. It’s exhausting. If you really want to help us, listen, learn, commit to becoming anti-racist, and spread the word. We need all the true allies we can get.
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