SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – Since 46-year-old George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota while in police custody on May 25, protests and riots have been going across the nation.
Protests began on May 26 and the topics of racism, social injustice, police brutality have been at the forefront of these events. No matter the location, Minnesota or here in South Carolina, community leaders are encouraging people to speak up.
But the question for some, especially those who aren’t participating in any form of protesting or those who are watching and listening, do they get to speak?
Greenville therapist and clinical social worker, Suntia Smith said there’s no one perfect form of protest or correct reaction to them.
“We can’t stand in judgement of others who may want to handle this situation in a different way. Right? We’re all going to process it differently,” Smith said.
She noted some people may feel numb to everything that’s going on, and that’s okay.
Smith added that some protest through social media platforms, for example using the hashtags #BlackOutTuesday #BlackLivesMatter on Facebook and Instagram.
Freedom Fighters Upstate SC social activist founder, Traci Fant, explained protest can be talking to those around you about racism and social justice.
“Now is the time. Every time is the time. Whenever the conversation comes up is the time,” Fant said.
Founder of Sharp Brain Consulting, an organizational development firm, Jessica Sharp agreed with Fant. She added that silence on issues of race, especially in the workplace, are no longer the answer.
“We’ve got to begin to have hard conversations. The reality is those are hard. None of this work is easy but it is required and is necessary. Black folks cannot be the only ones having this conversation,” Sharp said.
While all three women agreed the conversations on race, social justice, police brutality and other hard topics are necessary, but noted the danger of having those talks, saying they could run on raw emotion.
“When it’s this issue about race and injustice, we have to be very careful that we don’t target our co-workers with that anger that we are feeling towards something else,”Smith said. “We have to be very mindful of when we are communicating that, that the person we are communicating to, most of the time, is not the person that the anger should be directed at.”
There’s also the reality that disagreements will occur and things could turn ugly. But, Smith said the solution to that is simple
“When they are calling you racist, or they are saying that you are on the wrong side of history. Or whatever the case may be, it’s best for you to take a step back. Really think about, ‘I don’t understand the cause.’ I don’t understand where this person is coming from. Let me just take a step back and just release it, because I don’t want to escalate it. That takes an empathetic way of dealing with it,”Smith explained.
Those who are like-minded in these discussions and want to help make change, but don’t know what to do or if they belong, Fant explained that all are welcome. It’s important to also be willing to learn.
“It’s not a specific race that makes you an activist. It’s your heart for the people. It’s your heart to do the right thing by the people. It’s knowing when to step in and when to step out,” Fant said.
She continued adding more leaders are needed to help in this call for change, especially men.
“If you’ve got black friends that you’re really close to that are on your squad, on your team, you know? Have conversations with them. But don’t just go up to random black people and ask them questions,” Sharp said. “Learn first and then begin to have conversations that combine your thoughts and feelings and your education. So you may go to someone and say, ‘I might get this wrong. But here’s how I feel. Here’s how I feel watching these things on TV. Here’s how I feel experiencing this part of the world, and here’s what I know based on my research.’ So, let’s combine those things in order to act differently.”
For Fant, having grownup in Detroit, Michigan, she explained that she’d not experienced racism. But, she had grown up around activism all her life. Fant met Rosa Parks at age 12 and said she knew being an activist was her true calling. Thus, her actions here in South Carolina, like joining the protests in Greenville, she said are her responsibility.
“I feel like it’s no longer my responsibility to end racism. I don’t, I no longer feel responsible to do that. But, what I do feel responsible for is the young people that were out there this weekend who are marching. Who are rallying, who are protesting, who are afraid, who are angry, who are upset, who are having anxiety attacks, that’s what I was responsible for,” Fant said.
That call to responsibility, combined with passion for others, can explain why the death of Floyd in Minnesota caused an uprising across the nation.
“The hate and that injustice, that is an energy. Anytime that is created, we feel that energetically. So, that’s why when it happen- and it may not be in your area. When that energy of injustice and hate happens, it hits us in an emotional way, and that invokes us to want to do something,” Smith said.
“My hope is that there is something different, there’s a difference now. That we can utilize to move forward and to have action,” Sharp said.
She explained actions that can be taken in the workplace, some easier than others, in the forms:
- Having fair and equitable hiring practices
- Including people of color in leadership roles and upper management
- Making sure more than one person of color is on a board to avoid tokenism
- Having diversity training and/or diversity departments
Theses are just a few, with the main focus on intentional inclusion, that will lead to a more comfortable and equal work environment.