Insider

Think twice before reaching out to the people of color in your life after a traumatic event. Here’s how to know when it’s OK, and things you should never say.

Summary List PlacementRecent events like the Atlanta shooting of multiple Asian women and the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin have left much of the country, especially Black and Asian folks, reeling. When reminders of these traumatic incidents play out over and over again in media...

friend sad consoling hug

Summary List Placement

Recent events like the Atlanta shooting of multiple Asian women and the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin have left much of the country, especially Black and Asian folks, reeling.

When reminders of these traumatic incidents play out over and over again in media and in real life, they can make people of color feeling angry, depressed, and emotionally exhausted.

As a white person witnessing this toll, your first instinct may be to text or call the people of color in your life. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

Before reaching out, assess your relationship

Instead, first consider whether you have an ongoing friendship with the people on your mind, Talkspace therapist Reshawna Chapple told Insider.

“If this is a person that you are only reaching out to because something tragic has happened, it’s not your place to reach out because it feels disingenuous,” said Chapple.

If you’re the boss, work acquaintance, or social-media follower of a person of color, it’s best to avoid reaching out, even for a brief, “I’m thinking of you.” Doing so can feel intrusive to the person receiving the message, according to Chapple.

“It requires a great deal of labor to regulate my emotions in order to talk to them or to turn down their help,” Chapple said of her own experience getting messages from people she hardly knows or hasn’t spoken to in years after the deaths of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor.

According to Tina Opie, an associate professor in the management division at Babson College, bosses who work with people of color should instead support their employees to take time off to care for themselves.

To do that, bosses should explicitly offer mental health days and decreased workloads and leave it at that, Opie previously told Insider.

“Don’t request anything extra from them,” she said

Send a text or a gift and say, “I’m thinking about you”

If you’ve established that you are indeed a close friend of a person of color, reach out for support in the least intrusive way possible, according to Chapple.

“The best way to reach out would be to send a text, an email, or a card or gift. I would not call unless they state they want to talk,” Chapple told Insider.

She suggested drafting your text, email, or snail-mail card as soon as possible and writing something like, “I’m reaching out to check on you. I’m happy to talk over the phone if you want to speak with me. Otherwise, no need to respond. I’m here for whatever you need.”

Avoid comparing your own experiences and apologizing

If you end up having a longer text or phone conversation about what your friend is experiencing, don’t bring up your own experiences.

“Oftentimes, people will compare unrelated experiences to racial trauma because they need to feel connected or get rid of their guilt,” Chapple said. 

Similarly, avoid saying these phrases, since they can come off as a way to rid yourself of white guilt, therapists told Refinery29:

  • “I’m sorry this is happening.”
  • “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling.”
  • “How can I be a better ally?”
  • “I feel guilty for my privilege.”
  • “I don’t even know what to say right now.”

Reaching out is meant to be a selfless act, and your only role is to listen and support your friend.

These phrases better convey that sentiment, Refinery29 reported:

  • “I want to be a support to you. I will wait for you to tell me how I can do that in the best way.”
  • “How do you need to be supported in this moment?”
  • “I’m checking in on you. Did you make sure to eat today?”

Consider other forms of allyship

Whether it’s appropriate for you to reach out to a particular person of color or not, you should also be educating yourself on race issues, Chapple said. 

She suggested thinking about how your workplace, the government, and other institutions you interact with uphold racial bias.

Then, “Talk to other individuals with your same background about these issues and help them navigate their own privilege as well,” said Chapple.

This way, you avoid giving people of color emotional labor or expecting them to educate or comfort you when that’s not their responsibility.

Use books and online research to find organizations you can work with and donate to as well, since the onus for racial equity should never be placed on the people most affected by it.

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