Want to Become a Better Leader? Here’s How You Can Respond to Anti-Black Violence

Mckensie Mack

400 years of oppression

400 years of racism

400 years of anti-Black violence

No matter how hard you try, there is no email you could ever write that could fully encapsulate the depth of trauma and anguish that your Black staff, managers, and leaders feel in the face of anti-Black violence. But the good news is that you don’t have to understand that lived experience for you do something now that matters.

How you approach communications about anti-Black violence will demonstrate what kind of leader you are. Showing up to confront anti-Black racism goes beyond a well-written bio on your website or an accolade bestowed upon your organization for incredible service. It takes dedication to be critiqued by colleagues and leaders who don’t consider racial equity and inclusion to be all that important in the grand scheme of things. It takes resilience to be disliked for intervening in anti-Black racism. It takes commitment to move forward even when people within the organization are telling you that “racism isn’t an issue for our organization.”

  1. Express acknowledgment, awareness, commitment, and caring. That means:
  • Not only acknowledging viral incidents of anti-Black violence at the hands of police but also expressing awareness that this is a historical pattern of anti-Black racism in our society. That this is not new.
  • Refusing to make your language “more palatable” for people who don’t want to have the race conversation and actually using words like racism, anti-Blackness, racial equity, and social justice as needed.
  • Offering a short term and longterm tangible action that the organization is taking to improve its commitment to racial justice across all intersections of identity. Don’t just tell Black staff and colleagues that you care. Show them that you care by taking action. Does your organization have a zero tolerance policy for racism at work, for example? Where does that policy live? Do all members of staff have to undergo mandatory training related to racial equity and inclusion? Do you offer mental health care as a standard benefit? Does it cover grief counseling? Do you offer staff PTO that does not require that a person be physically ill or have a doctor’s appointment to take the time away from work that they need?

2. Create a communications protocol that defines approaches to communicating with staff and stakeholders about public tragedies. Who will send out the communications and why? How should those communications be approached? Will resources be shared? If so, what kind? What is the protocol if a communication has already been shared and then another tragedy occurs in a short period of time? Also for teams that heavily use applications like Slack and Basecamp, ask yourself if you would want to receive condolences following a loss via Slack message or if you would want that message to come in a more formal email.

3. Remember that there’s a difference between solidarity and shared experience. White people and other non-Black people of color (NBPOC), no matter how much they’d like to, cannot share in the experience of interpersonal, institutional, and structural anti-Black racism. Using language that feels like it equalizes experiences could have a disheartening and alienating impact on Black staff members, colleagues, and senior leaders because the experiences just aren’t equal. Think about best practices when offering condolences to a friend or family member who is grieving the loss of someone close to them. 

  • Center their lived experience. 
  • Stay on topic. Try not to bring up similar experiences you’ve had. This could amplify the hurt that staff and leaders are experiencing. 
  • Make a tangible, actionable offer of support as opposed to expressing a more open-ended, “If you need anything, we’re here for you.” 

4. If you’re thinking about hosting an open discussion for your team, it should be facilitated and be centered around education. There should also be mandatory community agreements that help to intervene in and interrupt implicit or explicit anti-Black racism. These agreements should be shared with staff in the email invitation to attend. This is because, without agreements, people are far more likely to make racist and oppressive statements based on their privilege or ignorance and you want to protect Black and Brown staff members as much as you can and keep those spaces as brave as possible for them. Here are some examples of potential agreements:

Hold space for silence, hold space for compassion and vulnerability.

You don’t have to have your camera on for this call if you don’t want to. That is not mandatory.

Center the lived experience of those most impacted by anti-Black racism.

Listen, before speaking.

Step Up, Step Back. If you’re someone who typically speaks often, try to offer others who may not share as often the opportunity to speak. If you’re someone who would like to share and doesn’t share often, we invite you to share but only if you want to.

You don’t have to process in this space if you don’t want to. You are welcome to listen. Folks of color are welcome to leave at anytime.

5. Look into contracting a grief counselor or two to offer optional 1:1 sessions for anyone on staff looking to process their emotions around anti-Black violence. Caring about people also means caring about their mental health. Hiring a provider who can meet staff where they are as they struggle to navigate a global pandemic and process emotions around anti-Black violence is one of the best things you can do as a leader within your organization.

The recommendations listed above may sound daunting to you. You don’t have to do this work alone and shouldn’t do it alone. Look into hiring an anti-racism consultant who can help you develop and implement anti-racist strategies that help you to lead equitably and consciously. Wondering what to look for in an anti-racism consultant? Read our article, Thinking of hiring an anti-racism consultant? Read this first.