Let Me Help You Help Me

By Jamie Kirk

To continue the much-needed awareness and positive momentum towards racial equality and to address police brutality that is causing so much unrest and chaos in our country over the past 45 days or so, I wanted to point out that there is still so much more work to do. I think it is awesome that the conversations are starting, and that local and state officials acknowledge something is severely wrong with how we enforce the law. For only a few times in our history has a unified front been put forth at such an International level. We haven’t come this far to turn around. 

We have GOT to keep the dialogue open, fluid, honest, timely, and often. Instead of what usually happens, which is that an “unfortunate incident” occurs, there is a bit of media coverage, a few social media posts, maybe a segment on the evening news, and then radio silence. We forget to “say their names,” heck, because we can’t even remember their names or the circumstances of the “unfortunate incident.” At this point, we do not have an option to start-stop these critical and necessary conversations and acts of peaceful protesting. We don’t have the option to rely on others to carry the torch of equality and march for acceptance. Each and every one of us owns the responsibility. Not only for ourselves, but our kids, our grandkids, our friends, relatives, co-workers, and even neighbors. 

Even though I grew up middle-class, went to good schools, have a good job, have great middle-class friends, may not have the darkest complexion, may not be 6 ft tall and look, dare I say, intimidating; I still check African-American box on any application, any survey, census report, et cetera. My point is, that despite my past and the grace I have been given in not having been to jail, wrongly accused of a crime, racially profiled, been in the wrong place at the wrong time; I am still a black man that could at any given moment experience what we are all seeing in the news and hearing about day in and day out. 

Because I am a black guy, I am also getting DM messages, text, and phone calls from my non-black and brown friends that sincerely ask:

“How can I help?”

“What can I do?”

“I stand with you, but I want to do more!”

“Help me help you get your voice heard!”

And even though I am extremely grateful for my tribe, that is not Black, there are still some coachable moments that need to be shared with them. These little nuggets should be used as a framework to start the conversation and to gain understanding about how to best support someone you love that could be impacted any minute or hour of every day, in a way that is authentic and meaningful. Let’s call them Race Relations Best Practices.

Knowledge is Power
Understanding what you are protesting for. “Is there a call to action?”, if yes, what is it. Where are the protests being held? Would you be in danger? What about the incident, don’t you feel was fair? You have to be fully educated on the issues that pertain to us, all of us, regardless of color. You have to feel the full level of pain so that you can have a thorough understanding. Know the issue, do your research, and question what you see in the media outlets. Arm yourself with the facts.

Don’t confuse Rioting with Protesting
Rioters Riot, Protesters Protest. Admittedly, that one frightful Friday night (mostly) in Atlanta was disheartening and disgusting. The narrative changed from peaceful language to demeaning rhetoric in many cities around the country. Keep in mind that rioting is the language of the unheard. People are/were frustrated and felt no one was listening. Hopefully, everyone understands that rioting is not productive, but yelling “something has to change,” and yet nothing is changing for over almost 50 years, there is likely going to be a collision of some sort. The chaos we are experiencing as a country is likened to the five stages of grief. And that final stage is Anger. Sometimes those emotions don’t understand the downstream impacts of their actions. Sometimes pain and hurt don’t know how to express themselves. Not defending, just explaining.

Understanding the Word Privilege
Privilege has been confused with fairness. We all get defensive when someone says we are not playing fair. In many minds, the opposite of being fair is cheating. Having or not having privilege is relative to race, gender equality, sexual orientation, and age discrimination. However, as it relates to race, it is a fact that Black people were held back for hundreds of years, and then in the late 1960s, it was determined “okay, Black people civil rights granted, you are good-to-go,” that is not a fair race. LBJ said, “you can’t shackle and chain someone for hundreds of years, liberate them to compete with everyone else, and still believe that you have been justly fair.” So think of it this way, white privilege is having a head start due to many many years of systematic and systemic racism. It’s having a head start intrinsically built into your life. It’s not saying your life has not been hard, but it is saying is that your skin color hasn’t contributed to the difficulty in your life.

Understanding Why It Seems Black People Have a Chip On Their Shoulder
That chip comes from daily having to over-think, the way you speak, the body language of your approach, what you have on, having the radio too loud, or maybe even standing around other black people in the break room. It’s the perception that you are doing something wrong or, at any given moment, “could” do something wrong. So the chip is about always being in a defensive mode of survival. Even in Corporate America, even though it is unspoken, Black people do feel that they have to come earlier, stay a little later, not speak up every time you disagree, and simply overlook some things that you honestly may not support or agree with. You have to fit in. Otherwise, you “could” be considered a trouble-maker.  This constant submissive approach is taxing. More often than not, you have to be aware of how the actions you portray could be taken out of context. Black people, in many cases, are unconsciously guilty until proven otherwise. If you pull someone over at a certain time at night, in a certain type of car, with perhaps tinted windows, you can’t convince me the potential arresting office is not thinking, “this is probably going to go side-ways.” What people (e.g., Black people, trans people, brown people, gay people, et cetera) are fighting is the unconscious biases that each of these are a threat to society for just being who God made them.  

Because so many people feel passionate about chipping in and helping remove social injustices and want to stand up for what is right, it is essential that you understand these Best Practices are only a few for Racial Equality. However, for any area in your life that you see as wrong, or you see as wanting to make a difference, you will need to challenge yourself to ask yourself first, “Let me increase my level of understanding so that I can fully understand the level of pain.” The only way we can get to the other side of this horrific mess we are in is to work TOGETHER and allow education, exposure, compassion, and empathy to be our guide. 

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