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The toll your silence can take on your coworkers

Two years ago this month, the workplace became very hostile territory for many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color).

Within the last week, the Laguna Church and Buffalo, NY killings have it happening again, particularly for Black and Asian people.

If you can bear it, return with me to 2020 for a moment:

The country – even the world – was burning around us after the murder of George Floyd, the uptick in hate crimes targeting AAPI individuals, not to mention the stress and uncertainty of surviving a global pandemic.

I can vividly remember how many friends and colleagues of color called and texted me, heartbroken that their work colleagues, ones who professed to be “allies”, didn’t check on them or express support for “Stop Asian Hate” or “Black Lives Matter.”

Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash

I could empathize, because that was also my experience. Only two of my twelve colleagues reached out to me during that period (these two have always been my advocates, and I know you’re curious: one was a person of color, and one was White and they both identify as male).

During that post-May 2020 time of shock, grief, and despair, the rest of my colleagues showed me who they really are. Despite their elaborate word salad, to the tune of:

  • “I’m an ally,”

  • “I listen to Kanye,”

  • “My gay uncle’s partner is a Black man” (yes, a coworker said that the very first day she met me).

These glib statements are weak attempts to “show off” allyship, and they reek of insincerity. As Maya Angelou said, “When people show you who they are, believe them.”

If you truly want to be an ally of action – not just a performative virtue-signaling one – this is what you need to do:

Check on your colleagues. And not just the ones who look like you.

Right now, this week, as our nation reels from yet more race-based mass violence, ask your coworkers how they’re doing, how you can support them, how you can temporarily lighten their load.

A brief call, text, or email makes a meaningful difference to someone who is going through a tough time, and not just when it’s due to racial violence. It’s true of death or divorce, or anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.

Now, I want you to ask yourself: are you uncomfortable right now?

I’ll bet you are, a little bit. You might be worried you’ll say the wrong thing. You might be concerned you’ll overstep boundaries.

This is the bottom line: what is your discomfort compared to the anguish, stress, and grief your colleague is going through? If you were in their shoes – and we all have been or will be, at some point – what would it mean to get that email or text and know that your coworker remembers your struggle?

I know in my bones that that is the kind of ally, coworker, friend, and person you can be.

P.S. If you yearn for a concrete guide, an actionable something you can do this week, my book The Allyship Challenge teaches you how to evoke justice in the context of the workplace.


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