Almost all of us are grappling with the challenges and stresses facing families today—like economic hardship, juggling virtual school, food insecurity, mental and physical health concerns related to the pandemic, and reduced access to affordable childcare, to name a few. But since many of these issues are impacting Black families and children of color much harder—and because they’re so often tied to racial inequality—communities of color are facing these challenges on a level beyond what many of us can comprehend.
In the past year, against the backdrop of generations of systemic racism and worries over how to keep their children safe, Black communities have endured continued violent acts of police brutality, months of racial justice protests, and a larger burden of grief and stress caused by Covid-19 hitting their families disproportionately hard. Then, just when everyone was ready to reset at the beginning of a new year, came the 1.6.21 attack on Democracy by white nationalists. Images of a Confederate flag—one of the most clear and disturbing symbols of racism—inside the Capitol building swam among countless other disturbing reports.
For white parents, the first instinct in times like these might be to reach out to their Black friends or the parents of kids of color in their child’s school to make sure they’re ok. But, while that’s usually coming from a place of compassion and concern, is it really the best thing to do?
First things first, think about your own motivations. “Checking in is about the other person, not about you,” explains trauma psychologist Jennifer M. Gómez, Ph.D. So be honest with yourself, and if there’s any chance that you’re reaching out to make yourself feel better, or to convey or ease your own feelings of guilt, shame, or sadness about something like a racially-charged event—keep scrolling to discover a better way to show your support.
So what can you say or do that shows compassion and kindness, without adding even more to your Black friends’ mental load? Here are some ideas:
Listen and amplify
Support doesn’t have to involve contacting specific individuals. And even if you do connect with your Black friends, colleagues, and other parents, that may not be enough. “Platitudes of care and concern can become exhausting to hear when not accompanied with action,” Dr. Gómez points out.
Demonstrate your support by raising up and amplifying Black voices. As you do the research about what’s happening in the country right now in terms of racism, police brutality, the spread of online radicalization of our youth, and white nationalist attacks on our country, share links and thoughtful commentary from Black voices on social media. As you read children’s books featuring people of color or written by BIPOC authors, recommend your favorites in parenting circles. Listen to and share playlists that feature diverse artists.
If you still feel the need to add your own voice, the most useful way to do so is with public displays of solidarity, making donations, signing petitions, and sharing any of the other anti-racism work you’re engaged in. In other words, don’t just offer support—show that you’re already in the process of supporting Black causes.
Send a smile
So what if, in addition to taking real action, you also want to reach out to individual friends? First, ask yourself—would you regularly check in on or communicate with this person? Would you text them a “Happy birthday” message? If your primary connection normally involves mundane topics like confirming PTO meeting times or coordinating kids’ sports carpools, then it could be awkward (and yet another layer of emotional labor) for them to receive and have to respond to what amounts to a pretty personal text.
Consider that it might feel more emotionally supportive to get a text simply saying “Thinking of you!” followed by a silly photo of you two or your kids together, a meme that’s appropriate to your relationship, or a video clip you know they would think is funny. (And here’s another tip—if you don’t know what kind of video clip would make them smile, you might not be close enough to be the person they’d turn to for mental and emotional support. And that’s okay.) This can be a lot more uplifting—and easier to manage—than even answering a question like, “How are you doing,” which can be way more complicated and difficult than you meant it to be.
You can also try offering specific help you’re able to provide, rather than asking how they’re doing or what they need. Responding to a potentially emotionally taxing question, or taking on the responsibility of coming up with suggestions for things that would be helpful (especially when you’re already feeling particularly helpless), just adds more to an already overloaded plate.
Calling, texting, or sending a DM saying, “Hey, I’m going to be in the neighborhood tomorrow and thought I’d drop off lunch! What are you in the mood for?” or “Any interest in binge-watching a show on Facetime together this weekend?” or “Does your little one want to come over for a safe, outdoor, masked playdate tomorrow?” accomplishes the same goal of supporting your friend and letting them know you’re thinking of them—without requiring more work or emotional lift on their part. Likewise, you can share resources like self care tips for Black parents that they can use at their own discretion, without having to respond with anything more than, “Thanks!” If you’re close enough to them to be in a position to offer individual support, you’ll likely have some idea what they’d find helpful.
Talk to your non-Black friends, too
Finally, use that energy and funnel it into conversations with other white parents. Talk about what you’ve been learning, admit you don’t have the answers. Discuss what to say to your white kids about racism and equity. Brainstorm ways to actively combat racism, and commit to holding each other accountable. Use this media guide, which also has tips for having these kinds of conversations. Speak up when someone says something offensive, even though it’s so much easier to ignore it and move on. Because that’s the point—being able to ignore this and move on isn’t a luxury your Black friends and neighbors have.