Please stop saying how shocked or surprised you are when you listen to a story from someone from a marginalized community. You may not realize it, but it’s a microaggression and it reinforces privilege that you might have that the person sharing the story does not.
Let me give you an example:
The other day I was talking to a friend about growing up in the south and being followed to my car. When two men saw my girlfriend and I holding hands in a large department store and they followed us to our car telling us they were gonna kill us and rape us.
My friend’s response was “I can’t believe this still happens”.
I understand that they were trying to sympathize and say they couldn’t see how that could happen. But what I hear on the other end of that comment is you’re very unaware of what it’s like to navigate the world in a position like mine.
This is especially prevalent, prevalent for white folks. I will never know what it’s like to have someone look at the color of my skin and make negative assumptions about who I am, what I can do, what I’m capable of, what I’ve done in my history.
I can hide my queerness when I need to. And I have, and that’s not something that feels good, but when you say survival situation, I can hide it. So when you see or hear a colleague say that they got called a racial slur, do not say, I can’t believe this still happens, because what you’re saying to that person is
“I’m so far removed from being in that position because of the privilege that I have, that I didn’t even know it still existed.”
And trust me, I get that. You’re trying to be a good friend and you’re trying to be supportive. You can do that by simply saying, “I’m so sorry that you had to experience that.”
“I’m so sorry that this is something that you’re struggling with.”
“I’m so sorry that this is something that you still have to figure out how to navigate in everyday life.”
Those are all great things to say, to support that person without also bringing your own privilege into the conversation. So the next time that one of your friends comments about something that they had to endure, just be there and be supportive. Don’t say that you can’t believe it’s happening. Don’t say that you don’t see it. Don’t say that you thought we were bad or any of those kinds of things.
It just doesn’t come across the way you think that is does in the moment. Please continue to support your friends and continue to use your voice. Especially if you have privilege, use your voice to elevate those around you.
Continue to support them and dismantle the systems in your own life that marginalize specific groups and provide privilege to others. Continue to be really great allies, but also realize that what you can’t believe is still happening, happens on a daily basis for so many people. And it doesn’t feel good in that moment for you to remind us that this is something that you don’t experience because you have some level of privilege.
Take care of each other.
Be kind and do good in the world.
Megan Bloomer, PhD, Fortune 500 Executive and Career Coach
Dr. Megan Bloomer is a quirky and rebellious corporate executive with a proven track record of shaking things up and challenging the status quo. She was named one of Fortune’s Innovative Leaders of the Year under the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work rankings. Megan has facilitated consent-based workshops for TED2019 and pushed the boundaries with her TEDx talk on how the BDSM community can teach corporations to create safe space. Megan is also a certified executive coach who specializes in helping women and underrepresented folks master the unwritten rules of Corporate America in order to shatter every ceiling holding them back from the growth and success they want in their career. Learn more at www.shatteringceilings.com