Working in an organization that is nearly 50% Black, finally yay, and as a mixed race Ojibwe (Native American/American Indian) cis gender queer woman, I am being given a window into the ways that Black people, particularly Black leaders, capacity builders, facilitators and racial equity practitioners are bearing the brunt of their non-Black POC and white colleages, peers, clients and partners needs, demands, desires to feel like they are doing something, you fill in the blank here.
One of the deep ironies of this country is that Black and Indigenous people are often called on to teach others, to fix others, to fix the problems of this settler colonist and post enslavement (but not post exploitation, extraction, and continuous violence against Black, brown and Indigenous bodies) occupying state. I will hold aside for the moment the impact on Indigenous people and focus most explicitly on the impact on Black people, on my colleagues and friends.
So from the limits of my vantage point—it is the nature of vantage points that they have limits—I am witnessing my Black friends and colleagues being inundated with attempts to connect (even if its been years and you were never really close anyway), requests for advice, and urgent requests (which sound a lot more like demands) for coaching, facilitation, training, deep wisdom, lifeblood by other non-Black leaders, organizations and movements.
Yes, Black people are magic. Surviving white supremacy requires some serious superpower action. But that magic is theirs. In a nutshell, “back the fuck up.” The centuries of trauma and harm, now visible in new ways for those who haven’t been paying attention, is engendering seriously urgent demands for Black people’s teachings, holdings and time. And if you are actually paying attention, you might also notice it is a moment of deep retraumatization and pain for Black people. A moment when we all should be asking, how can I support Black leaders, facilitators, coaches and capacity builders?
But that question—if it is even being considered—is being subsumed by “I want, I need, my team, my organization, my network needs, etc.”
Take a deep breath, everyone. Do some self-reflection. Ask yourself if these overtures to Black people are more about assuaging your own urgent need to do something, or make up for something, than about actually lifting up and tending to the wellbeing of Black people. And if the answer is yes, then I encourage you to pause. Give our Black friends, or people you are imagining you are friends with, colleagues and peers some space. Don’t demand so much right now; don’t ask for it so quickly.
Give more than you take.
Burden Basket Drawing by Aja Couchois Duncan
Clear, necessary and direct message to all of us white allies that are trying to figure all this out with you and/or beside you. I will do better and I will work in and out of my organization to encourage white folks to do their own work, be respectful and give more than we take. I am launching a conference this week that centers people of color and I have asked many to be presenters in response to their work and wanting to amplify their voices. For the first time, I am holding an all white space to encourage colleagues to do work on their white priviledge themselves. I am doing my own work as I am being asked to help others so I will make many mistakes but I am committed to my own learning and practice for the rest of my life. I am sorry my consciousness was not raised to an appropriate level until the last few years of my work but I hope to make up for it in the next years of my work and for the rest of my days.