In a grim, low rise building that was part church hall part community centre in North London (you know the type…stackable chairs, horrible carpets, children’s art work, biscuit tins) I was going through my training to volunteer as a grief counsellor.
We were doing some grit-your-teeth-and-suck-it-up group exercise walking round the room and forcing ourselves to have sincere conversations with one another about our imagined losses.
Although the exercise was cringe-o-rama, it highlighted something really important.
Most of the time, people have no idea what to say to a bereaved person.
We mumble something about being really sorry for their loss and then make it the bereaved person’s responsibility to contact us in case they need something.
And then we never have to discuss it again.
But I don’t. I know what to say. I’ve had training. I’ve experienced loss. I got this.
Turns out, not so much.
On what seems like a now weekly basis, black people are being subjected to deadly force. I am horrified. I am saddened. I am going out of my way to understand how my own bias and white privilege implicitly colours my thinking about this.
What I had failed to do, until this week, was reach out to my black friends and say anything.
I don’t know what to say. I haven’t had any training. I have no experience of being black. I have not got this.
But we have to say something, don’t we?
Here’s what was stopping me:
“I hate misunderstandings! What if they take it the wrong way and get offended and then hate me?”
“I just don’t know what I could possible say to make it better…probs best not to say anything…”
“Conversations about race make me feel uncomfortable. I’d rather not have them”.
But, oh my god, all those excuses are bullshit.
Yes, ultimately, they are the voices of my monsters whose constant worry is that I’ll do something stupid that makes me look like an idiot. I am on board with that mission. I, too, do not want to look like an idiot.
What I’m not on board with is their methods.
Me, me, me. I, I, I. Sometimes it’s just not about you, Tam.
Vulnerability is the cost of entry to feel connected to the people you love.
I want my black friends to know I am an ally. I want to own my ally-hood. And I want to do those things even if it means risking bungling my words and not getting it quite right.
I would rather say something out loud that’s 80% right than compose something that’s 100% perfect that’s never said.
So here are some copy and paste things to say (repeatedly) to your bereaved friends and your black friends:
I don’t know what you’re going through but I love and I care about you and I’m so sorry. I’m here for you in whatever capacity you need.
Here’s to imperfect words spoken in love over perfect silence maintained out of fear.