For White folks joining today’s racial justice movement, there’s a lot to consider.
As we continue to emerge from the darkness of COVID-19 danger and loss, we see many aspects of our lives with new eyes. We’ve gained new perspectives of our relationships with work, family, friends, and self.
We’ve also found ourselves examining, perhaps for the first time, our relationship with racism.
Through a multitude of multimedia messages, each day reminds us to take action. So, as well-intentioned believers of civil rights, we jump into the anti-racism movement. We set out to become racism experts and conquerors. We fill our media queues, post messages of support, and kindly reach out to the Black and Brown people in our lives.
For the most part, our discussions with friends and colleagues have pivoted from heartbreak and fear about COVID-19, to heartbreak and shame about BLM-2020. We see the pain so ubiquitously now that we simply can’t look the other way.
This is progress.
Not all White people, of course, are interested in becoming anti-racists. If you don’t recognize racism as a pervasive and systemic problem, consider this perspective. If that doesn’t make your heart ache or your gut sink, you’re not ready for what I have to say. I hope you’ll come back when you are.
For those of us who are ready, we need to be resolute. The perpetual stream of stories about race-based prejudice, violence, and murder that has catalyzed our commitment to do more can consume strained emotional resources. As we deepen our knowledge of the Black American experience, we must resist surrendering to the depth of pain and enormity of its scope. We must keep working to end oppression in all its forms.
As an emerging anti-racist, you have likely seen many lists of recommended actions and wondered where to start. Weighing the benefit of contributing to the conversation with the cost of diluting more important voices, you may find yourself stuck. Or you may have learned more about the impacts of our country’s systemic racism and tried to reconcile your role up to now and what it will be moving forward.
This is where we need to do some deeper work.
Taking a professional coaching approach can help you process your thoughts and feelings about racism, and plan a course of action. A coach who encourages self-reflection and independent decision-making provides the opportunity to acknowledge your unique perspective, address mental obstacles, and identify specific steps forward. While working with a credentialed coach can serve as the most powerful catalyst for deep change, the investment of doing so may make it out of reach.
Fortunately, with the right tools we can coach ourselves.
Consider these five coaching questions to facilitate your transformation to an anti-racist.
1. Why is this important to me?
What brings you to the anti-racism movement? What about racist behaviors and systems makes this a priority for you? What aspects of your own experience impact your decision to step up?
What it looks like for me: I hold racial justice as a core value. I’ve been committed to mitigating racism but want to commit to eradicating it. With today’s momentum, I can have a greater impact.
2. As I think about my anti-racism why, how do I respond physically and what does it mean?
How does the posture or internal state of your body change? What happens to your breathing? What does this say to you? What emotions are surfacing?
What it looks like for me: I become tense and aggravated, my breaths are shallow and my heart is racing. This helps me realize that I am outraged about what is happening to others and unsure of my involvement.
3. What internal narrative is emerging and how do I want to modify it?
As you think about the feelings above, what do you tell yourself? If the message doesn’t serve you well, how can you modify it? Being an ally in the anti-racism movement means changing internal narratives that limit our efficacy into ones that empower us to be agents of change.
What it looks like for me: I fully object to racism but I’m not sure I can make a difference. I fully object to racism but I’m not sure I can and will use my talents and resources to help eradicate it.
4. What does an anti-racist look like for me?
Personal transformation is marked not by giant gestures, but by sustainable shifts. What does being an anti-racist look like in your daily life? What small changes do you want to consider? How can you mitigate implicit biases and be more inclusive?
What it could look like: I will speak up when I see racist behavior. I will share information and facilitate discussions related to racism. I will seek input and participation from people of color. I will continue to learn about diverse experiences.
5. When will I take my next step and what will it be?
What discreet step will you commit to now? If you’re stuck, look at resources like this list for ideas. Pick one specific action to start with, and give yourself a due date. If having an accountability partner seems helpful, enlist one.
What it looks like for me: I will start by publishing an article about how coaching can help emerging anti-racists.
Remember who owns the story.
The role of questions in professional coaching reflects the philosophy that clients hold the wisdom and ability to solve their own challenges. The role of a professional coach is to act in service to the client.
When a coach encounters a client in need, they face the temptation to jump in with their own experiences, opinions, and advice. Because such behavior rarely stems from empathy and client interest, it does more to feed the coach’s ego than to help the person in need move forward. The client owns the story; the coach is there for support.
As we join a movement born of centuries-long suffering, it’s incumbent on White people to take a coach-like role. The story of Being Black in America is not ours to tell. Rather, it is one whose narrators need help amplifying. As White anti-racists, we must do our work quietly and use our voices thoughtfully.
This means vetting our contributions by asking whom they serve and to what ends. It means stepping forward even if we’re afraid of saying the wrong thing or revealing our ignorance. It means taking risks and growing.
This is a time that requires White people to be utterly honest and uncomfortable. Even with the biggest of hearts and best of intentions, we must assume that we’ve each contributed to racism. Shame and regret may have catalyzed our commitment to the anti-racist movement, and that’s okay. But holding on to shame and regret puts our own interests at the center of our motives, and scares us away from doing the right thing.
Let’s do the right thing.