The best way to support your Black colleagues and friends is to listen to what they are telling you about their experiences and needs, affirm that their experiences are valid, and comfort by offering concrete ways you will offer support.
Say, “I am here if you want to talk”
Offering yourself as a resource and sounding board is one way to support Black community members. This should be done in a very small or one-on-one setting. Be understanding if your Black friend or colleague does not want to talk to you about this.
Listen, affirm, and comfort
If your Black friend or colleague does want to talk, listen carefully to what they say without interrupting. Practice active listening by maintaining attention and replying with “mhmm,” “I hear you,” and/or “yes” where appropriate.
Then affirm their experience by repeating back a portion of what they say. This sounds like: “I am hearing that it is hard for you to concentrate on work,” or “I am hearing that you are worried for your family.” Repeating back shows that you are actively listening without inserting your feelings or judgement.
Finally, comfort your friend or colleague by thanking them for sharing with you, restating that you are available to talk in the future, and telling them how you will continue your support. Offer only the support you feel you can follow through with, and be sure to follow up with your friend or colleague in the days ahead.
Avoid putting Black friends and colleagues on the spot to share
Asking Black friends and colleagues to detail their feelings for us is another way that non-Black people participate in erasing and invalidating Black experiences. It signals to our community that we need Black people to “prove” their experiences.
Additionally, it is very easy to veer into two other areas non-Black people should be careful to avoid: asking Black people to “teach” non-Black people how to be better allies, and asking Black people to speak on behalf of all other Black people.
Avoid offering your opinions
These conversations are about offering care and affirming experiences, not about making personal or political statements.
While you might feel genuinely sorry about what is happening and your role in it as a non-Black person, apologizing re-centers the conversation on you. This also shifts emotional labor onto Black people. It is ok to feel sorry. Take those feelings to a non-Black friend and work through them. And if you feel yourself wanting to say “sorry,” try using the repeat-back. You can always say, “I hear you.”