As a Black person, working alongside a majority white staff at a majority white church with a white supervisor can sometimes be extremely difficult. This can be due to a number of things, including a general lack of awareness about the Black experience in America or neglecting to ask for Black people’s perspectives. There are also personal pressures—the cranking out of excellent work in a season of collective trauma for the Black community can be exhausting.
We are in a cultural moment. More and more white people are aware of the pain that the Black community has experienced for hundreds of years and are attempting to enter into it. Confederate statues are being taken down; top athletes are committing to historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU); and numerous white, Fortune 500 companies are taking a stand against racism. Deep-rooted structures that perpetuate racism are being finally addressed both outside and inside the church.
To the white leaders and supervisors out there who want to address racial justice and equity in the workplace, here are five ways you can properly care for your Black employee(s) and create an environment that stimulates the overall health of your team. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good starting point. My first two points deal with the symptoms of majority-white structures, while the last three address the structures themselves.
This is a basic principle: to know what someone needs, we must ask. Authority does not equal omniscience. We must ask our employees how we can care for them, because all Black employees are not the same. For me, when unjust lynchings of black people happen, I need more time to mourn and process due to the traumatic effects of racism I have experienced. I come to work with that weight on my shoulders.
Black women experience life differently than I do and often have different needs. I also have some friends who are Black who are willing to share their stories at any time. White leaders must move from the “one size fits all” mentality to arrive at empathy. In addition to this, you can privately offer an opportunity to Black team members to share their stories with the entire team if they’re comfortable.
Many teams in majority-white spaces have one or two members who are Black. These members tend to become the go-to for all questions on race and historical, systemic racism. It can be severely draining. If the phrase “follow the leader” is true, then supervisors must take the lead in learning about Black issues. Endless amounts of resources are out there, both free and paid.
What good is it if you, a leader or supervisor, are growing, but leaving your team behind? Even more, why only address the symptoms of your heart but not your team’s? When we fracture a bone, taking Advil may help in the short run, but we all know the bone won’t heal that way.
Historically, we have seen that when structures aren’t addressed, problems continue. I recommend receiving (keyword, receive) training for your team on the history of race and how to be actively for racial justice and racial reconciliation. Too often, leaders learn about subjects only to turn around and train others on them as though they became professionals in those subjects overnight. Leaders must have the humility to bring in specialists of color on racial justice. These people can assess the structure and train both the leaders and the team.
Racism thrives in systems. In white spaces, systems are usually built by white people, with white people in mind. This tends to perpetuate the idea that minorities must assimilate into the broader culture, which creates a barrier for effective ministry to all peoples. Our cultural impact becomes ineffective.
The kingdom of God is better because of its diversity. It’s from that conviction that its diverse voices should help shape the various ways we carry out tasks and ministry. Don’t limit Black voices to the issue of race. Invite their perspective on as many matters as possible.
Culture drips from the top-down, not the bottom-up. Ultimately, leaders can create a diverse culture by assessing their current strategy for recruitment and beginning to hire more people of color. In doing this, employers must strive for equity, not tokenism. Tokenism is a shallow attempt at diversity. A heart for equity seeks to uproot unjust structures within hiring processes and ethnocentric work environments, and to replace them with something greater.
Culture changes directions when more hands are on the wheel. It also continues to move in the right direction when you have gifted, godly leaders from all walks of life overseeing it. This means that white leaders should fight for people of color to occupy not only subordinate roles but also high executive roles.
Again, this is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a great place to start. While only a few of these points directly address caring for Black staff members as individuals, I would encourage you to remember that care goes beyond individual check-ins with your Black employees. We are also cared for when supervisors create structures that produce equitable work environments for years to come.
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