By now, most of us have developed, or are in the process of developing, effective language for supporting a friend through a crisis. Whether it be a friend who is dealing with fertility struggles or miscarriage, or chronic illness, or grief from the loss of a child or another family member, we have a pretty good idea of what we should say or shouldn’t say in order to show that person how much we care.
As I have navigated the news of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, compounded by what could have potentially happened to Christian Cooper, what has struck me is the earnest desire of my white friends to be allies.
While fighting for social justice and racial equality may not be completely synonymous with dealing with the loss of a pregnancy, there are some ways in which allyship and helping a friend deal with such a loss do align.
1. Don’t make it about you.
When a friend is dealing with a loss, sometimes the instinct is to try to relate by talking about our own experiences. That may be effective for some conversations, but we must tread lightly. The truth is, even if our experiences are remarkably similar, they are not exactly the same. We should not presume to think we know everything they are feeling.
When it comes to racial justice, this is also true. If your black or brown friend is reeling from what appears to be another miscarriage of justice, this is not the time to center yourself, or talk about an injustice you have suffered and try to compare the two.
2. Don’t tell them how to process their feelings.
You know how it only enrages you more when someone tells you to “calm down” when you’re in the midst of venting? It is exponentially worse for grief. Given that, telling a friend for whom you wish to be an ally how they should express their anger or despair is the last thing you want to do.
You may succeed in getting them to stop appearing so angry in front of you, but rest assured that anger hasn’t gone anywhere. It will just be expressed in a forum where the friend feels safer, which is clearly not with you.
3. Don’t ask or expect them to do something you can do yourself.
Would you go to a grieving friend’s home and ask her to cook you dinner? Of course you wouldn’t. You would likely bring something to lighten her load because you know that she already has enough on her plate. When it comes to allyship, your friend may welcome you asking her for recommendations on resources and ideas on how to talk to your children about racism and bigotry.
However, leave room for the possibility that she may not have any. For many black and brown parents, our conversations about race with our own children are versions of the conversations our own parents had with us. Meaning finding resources for you to use to talk to your children may not have been high on our list of priorities. Fortunately, lists of these resources are readily available via a Google search or helpful librarian.
4. Do listen.
A friend in the midst of raw grief or an acute crisis sometimes just needs someone to listen, and that’s it. Saying “I hear you” doesn’t take a lot of effort and can mean the world. If you’re going to be an ally, you will need to be able to listen and maybe even make peace with hearing some unpleasant things.
It is not your friend’s job to make you feel comfortable, or reassure you that you’re a “good person“, in the midst of expressing her pain.
5. Do what you can to help.
Lastly, when you’re helping a friend navigate a tough time in her life, you want to do what you can to make things better. Usually, especially in the case of a loss, there is little you can do to make it better.
Luckily, this is where allyship diverges from comforting someone through grief. Allyship is inherently an active role. If there are phone calls to leaders that need to be made, you can make them. If there are conversations that need to take place with racist friends and family members, you can have them. You can march, you can amplify, you can organize.