How You Can Lend Support To Your African-American Friends Who Are Struggling During This Time

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From tornados and other natural disasters to immigration issues, COVID-19, and calls for equality, 2020 has been nothing less than turbulent.

If 2020 was a person, it would look like a bloodied and bruised UFC fighter who has just gotten his derriere (to be polite) handed to him on a platter. It’s been rough for everyone, but it has been especially taxing for people of color.

George Floyd and current events

The latest tragedy to strike the African-American community is the unjust killing of George Floyd, an African-American Minnesota man who was killed on March 25, 2020, after a policeman placed his knee on his neck for almost 9 minutes. This was especially traumatic for the Black community. It also increased African-American’s fear of law enforcement.

There is a long-standing mistrust of law enforcement in the Black community, and George’s death by a cop or cops (those who did not intervene) only heightened this mistrust. African-Americans not only became scared for their loved ones, especially their husbands, brothers, partners, and sons, but also angry and disheartened that they were still grappling with inequality, police brutality, discrimination, and racism decades after the Civil Rights Movement.

For some African-Americans, George’s death triggered a host of conflicting and negative emotions. But for others, it helped increase their awareness of what’s really happening in this country (even if it’s not happening in their own communities). It also brought to light equality issues that have been simmering for hundreds of years.

Fortunately, George’s death also caught the worldwide attention of non-minorities, motivating them to join in and take a stand alongside their African-American friends and loved ones. But, the truth is, the protests, anger, depression, and fear have been emotionally draining and exhausting for most African-Americans. That is why your African-American friends need your support more now than ever. What do they need from you? They need you to be there – be present – be vocal – and be a friend – a real friend.

The larger movement

This senseless killing spurred large-scale protests in all 50 states and in 18 countries, including Ireland, England, and Africa.

What originally began solely as the Black Lives Matter Movement quickly transformed into a united call for the end of police brutality and equality for all people – the LGBT community, women, and minorities (African-Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners (Muslims), and Native Americans). It even included a call for equality between the rich and the poor.

Although evening and night protests included rioters whose main purpose was to loot, steal, and cause division, these “bad apples” were largely “weeded out,” leaving behind mostly young people (teens and young adults) who simply want things to change for the better.

The daytime activists (of all different ethnicities and races, ages, genders, socio-economic and educational backgrounds) have been committed to peacefully voicing their dissent. They have laid down, kneeled, chanted, and even remained silent as they marched. To say these protests aren’t inspiring would be a lie. And, even more miraculously is that it’s primarily 20-somethings who are leading the pack.

The main focus of these protests still lies in the mistreatment, discrimination, and racism of African-American people. Specifically, in regards to police racial profiling and brutality, but also systemic racism – racism in education, housing, job opportunities, etc. As a result, many African-Americans are struggling during this time – struggling for equality and to be seen as valuable members of society.

How to support your African-American friends

Even if your African-American friends do not broach the topic with you or remain largely mum, it does not mean they aren’t being affected by what is happening in the country right now. Because, most likely they are – they just aren’t talking about it.

What can you do to help your African-American friends who are struggling during this time? First and foremost, be there. What does that mean? Below you will learn valuable ways you can be supportive of your African-American friends who are not only dealing with a lot emotionally and physically but also trying to change America so it’s more inclusive towards all of its citizens, regardless of race.

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Actionable Steps


Listen to your African-American friends

The biggest mistakes non-minorities make when it comes to issues in the Black community is not taking enough time out to listen (really listen) to their African-American friends’ concerns or not paying attention to their non-verbal cues (i.e. when they avoid racial topics out of fear of causing conflict between you).
When African-Americans share their life experiences with you, the worst thing you can do is discount, dismiss, or ignore them because they make you feel uncomfortable. This is a reality for them, regardless of how “unimaginable” it is to you; these are their experiences as Black people living in America.
Keep in mind that each experience is different for each African-American. The Black community is not a monolith, which is another reason to listen to your friends’ experiences. Another thing you do not want to do is to come across as knowing more about “Black issues,” culture, or likes and dislikes than your African-American friends. When you do that you aren’t listening and you’re definitely not learning or being supportive of them.
So, the best thing you can do is just listen. You’ll never fully understand your friends’ concerns because that is not your reality. But, you can lend support by listening to them and trying to understand. Listening helps you see the world, your African-American friends, yourself, the situation, and others in a new light.
It also helps you become a more objective and fair person. So, listen and learn from your friends. Ask questions if you don’t understand, but only ask if you genuinely want to learn – not to discount your friends’ experiences.
Your friends do not expect you to completely “get it” because that is impossible. But, you can show your friends that you have their backs by listening to them and paying attention to the issues that are plaguing their community. 


Dialogue with your African-American friends

Another way you can lend support to your African-American friends is to dialogue with them. Talk about what’s happening in the country. If your African-American friends are reluctant to share their thoughts on the protests or personal experiences with racial profiling, discrimination, or racism, reassure them that you are a “safe place” for them.
Let them know you care about how they feel and what’s happening in their world. Ask your African-American friends for their perspective and listen – without interjecting your own opinion or thoughts. Once your friends have shared their perspectives with you, share yours. Ask your friends if you are missing or mistaken about something and then share your personal experiences with them.
After you’ve had a productive conversation about race relations, talk about ways you can work together to make this world better for everyone, such as speaking up when you see someone of color, not just an African-American, being discriminated against.


Educate yourself

This is a great time to educate yourself on issues African-Americans are facing every day in America. Some topics you may want to research are The history of African-Americans in America, why Black people are so angry at the police, the relationship between the police and African-Americans and how it got that way, how the Black Lives Matter Movement was formed and its purpose, systemic racism and racial profiling and how it has this affected the Black community, etc.
Try to learn as much about the “Black Experience” in America as you can, but refrain from getting your information from partisan networks and sites like CNN, Fox, MSNBC, The Hill, The New Yorker, The National Review, Mother Jones, The Nation, American Legion, or New Leader. 
Stick with material from scientific, peer-reviewed African-American journals like the Journal of African-American Studies and Journal of Black Studies (JBS), and magazines, networks, and periodicals like USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BBC, The New York Times, The Economist, The Associated Press, Reuters, Bloomberg News, National Public Radio (NPR), and TIME magazine.
To gain a better perspective on Black issues from a historical perspective, you may want to check-out the following essays and books: Recitatif, The Miner’s Canary, This Bridge Called My Back, A Taste of Power, The New Jim Crow, and The Fire Next Time.
Another great way to educate yourself is to ask African-Americans about their backgrounds and experiences.


Find ways to participate in the fight

Truth-be-told, protesting isn’t an option for everyone for a variety of valid reasons, such as workplace policies and schedules, time restraints, COVID-19 concerns, transportation, chronic illnesses or disabilities, etc. However, you don’t have to physically protest to lend support to African-American friends during this time.

There are plenty of other ways you can be there for them that do not require that you march or hold signs that voice your dissent. For example, you can educate yourself on the plight of African-Americans in the United States, or donate to organizations designed to make the “playing field” equal for African-Americans in all areas of life and those created to fight police brutality, discrimination, inequality, and racism. These organizations include NAACP, Black Lives Matter, National Black Justice Commission, National Urban League, United Negro College Fund (UNCF), Color of Change, and the Black Youth Project.
Another way to lend support is to patronize Black-owned businesses. This helps African-Americans thrive in the business arena. And, although this may not seem like a significant way to lend support to your friends – it is. They will see the effort you are making towards their community and appreciate it.
Listed below are Black-owned business you can patronize: Slim & Husky, Prince’s Hot Chicken, Jones Bar-B-Q, 228 Grant Street Candle Co., Rochelle Porter, NightLight Pediatric, Red Bay Coffee, The Lip Bar, Camille Rose, FUBU, OneUnited Bank, The Furlough Cheesecake, Essence, Salamander Hotels & Resorts, and RML Automotive.


Confront your own racial biases and speak up when you see racist behaviors

You can support your African-American friends by confronting your own racial biases and speaking up when you see racist behaviors. This suggestion is harder than it looks, but it is so important, especially in today’s racial climate.

The Black community needs you to speak up. But before you can do that, you’ll need to confront your own prejudices and biases. You may have them and not even know it, so this is the time to self-reflect and figure out how you really feel about Black people, not just your Black friends.
If you determine that you do have biases towards people of color, then the best way to show your support to your African-American friends is to address and work through them, so you can fully support your friends. If you see others (neighbors, police officers, supervisors, the general public, family members, non-minority friends, etc.) being racist towards Black people intervene – even if it scares you to do so.
Say something. Do something. Don’t allow people to be mistreated out of fear or racial allegiance. Do the right thing, and make a stand. Your action or inaction could mean be life or death for an African-American or person of color. 


Go out with your African-American friends

Lastly, be normal with your African-American friends. Don’t allow it to affect your relationship with them. If you are used to going to dinner twice a month or clubs on the weekends, continue to do so.

Racial and political topics have a way of damaging friendships. But, you don’t have to let it. If the friendship is valuable to you, check-in with them, and work through any differences. Talk about it and compromise. But, don’t allow these differences to divide you unless there is no other choice. Keep your routines and cherish your friendships because you need each other.

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About the Author

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Dr. R. Y. Langham

Ph.D. in Family Psychology

Ree has a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy (M.M.F.T.) and a Ph.D. in Family Psychology. She spent over ten years counseling families, couples, individuals, and children on adjustment issues such as blended families, same-sex couples, dysfunctional family relationships, relationship issues, etc. Now she writes for famous health organizations and is a published author.
Full Bio | LinkedIn

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