I wasn’t going to publish a blog post this week. The events taking place around our country have me feeling all the feels—primarily rage at the inability of white folks to see their own bias and see the institutionalized racism that surrounds us. There’s also been a sprinkling of helplessness, hopelessness, and a strong feeling of being overwhelmed.
I was speaking with a fellow executive coach yesterday (let’s call him George) and current events came up. George is white and is also struggling with everything that’s happening. He told me about his neighbors that moved in next door not that long ago—a young black family with a 4-year old daughter. She and her dad were out in the yard playing ball a few weeks back (before all of this really blew up) and the ball went over the fence into George’s yard. He happened to be outside and happily returned the ball. When he met the dad at the fence, George said, “The gate in the fence between our two yards is always unlocked. You are always more than welcome to come into my yard and get the ball, should this happen again.” His neighbor immediately replied, “Thanks, but I wouldn’t want to get shot.”
That hit George like a ton of bricks and made him instantly both very sad and very angry that his neighbor needs to feel that way. He understands why, though before the remark, it never would have occurred to him that this was something his neighbor would need to fear.
George and I have both watched social media blowing up these past few weeks. We’ve both read the “75 things white people can do for racial justice” article, as well as many others making the rounds right now. This article is fantastic. And it completely overwhelms me. Where do I start? What is enough? How do I weave these activities into my life of raising a family and running a business? How do I make sure they are connected to my life and not just things I check off a list?
George feels overwhelmed, too. I asked him where he’s going to start. He answered, “I think I’m going to go visit with my neighbor.” And then it hit me.
It’s all about the relationships.
I’m surprised I didn’t see it sooner. My first instincts have been to read what black friends are writing about this on social media to help me understand what they are feeling and how I can stand with them. Every conversation with a colleague or client, regardless of race, has gone to this place. I spent eight years as a community organizer where our work was 100% about the relationships we built to build power, which was simply defined as our ability to act. Why wasn’t it obvious to me sooner? I’m gonna go back to that whole feeling overwhelmed thing and chalk it up to rage making me blind.
So that’s where I’ve arrived. To me, it feels profound. To you, it may feel like something else altogether (which I’d love to hear, by the way, if you want to leave a comment). Focus on the relationships. I’m not talking about starting conversations with random black people to interrogate them about what all this feels like to them. I’m talking about engaging people in my life and letting curiosity and courage guide me to understand their self-interest and see where it crosses mine.
Building genuine relationships is about getting to know a whole person—what makes them tick, what gets them out of bed in the morning, what breaks their heart, what lights them on fire. Asking thoughtful questions that creates space for understanding, empathy, compassion, and if it makes sense, collaboration.
That’s what will guide me moving forward. Yes, I’ve read lots of books and will continue to read. Yes, I will engage in actions that help influence policy makers. But I won’t do those things in a vacuum. I will focus on doing what we are all compelled to do as humans—build true community with one another so we can be one another’s strongest allies. If you are a person of faith, you are called by your creator to be your brother’s keeper. There are no qualifying words attached to that statement. You’re just supposed to do it. Regardless of race. Regardless of economic differences. Regardless of whether your brother or sister holds the same political views as you. NONE OF THAT MATTERS.
I invite you to join me. Tell me who you’re connecting with and how it’s helping both of you. Be courageous, be curious, and be safe out there.