Returning to work after tragic events

Returning to work after tragic events

It’s Monday and the new workweek beckons even though we are still finding our footing after the tragedies of last week. Many of us spent the weekend connecting with families, marching in protests, participating in healing self-care activities or clicking the unfollow button for many “friends” on social media networks who let us down with negative status updates.

You may have also felt a bit uneasy walking in stores or making eye contact with others wondering if they thought you were the next Micah Johnson. While these moments in a store are fleeting, how do we return to work with heavy hearts knowing that last week’s tragedies will not openly be discussed by the water cooler like past tragic events (hurricane Katrina or Sandy Hook) have been?

Returning to Work After Tragic Events

The recent turn of events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas are bit more dicey. As we are well aware, the core of these issues are fully planted in America’s racial discourse. As a brown or black person, discussing the events may make us feel like we have to contort ourselves for a number of reasons. Especially since the media has painted the Black Lives Matter as a divisive hate group. But we know this isn’t the case as people who’ve witnessed racial inequities firsthand. You may be wondering if your coworkers will sew a scarlet letter B to your shirt and disown you the minute they learn you find fault with the killing of Alton Sterling and Philando Castille.

In that moment when someone at work brings up the topic and your mind begins to weigh the pros and cons of being authentic or doing the doppy-dope out of fear of being seen in the negative light; I encourage you to be authentic as a form of protest. Ride against the need to code-switch or dig deep to find words to make your colleague feel like you are different from those “other” crazy black folk. The moment we contort or code switch to make everyone else comfortable we are enabling a systemic problem that says our pain is made up and our perspective is overblown. Additionally, we lose out on a opportunity to educate our peers and show them that someone they know, someone they work alongside with every workday, is also multidimensional and passionate about our communities.

While I am not encouraging that we initiate conversations on this topic with coworkers if the topic does come up or if asked, “how was your weekend?” and you know you spent the weekend grieving about the news and the state of race relations in America, you should respond with words that capture your sentiment. Here are a few suggestions:

“I spent the weekend indulging in (blank) activity to take my mind off the recent events; my heart was heavy for the unnecessary deaths of Sterling, Castille and the slain Dallas police.” In this statement you are clearly stating your displeasure with all of the killings and are willing to make it known.
“My thoughts are with people on both sides of this issue. I am hopeful for understanding of why the family of Sterling and Castille and others in their community may be feel unsupported and of police who may feel unsupported also.”
You may choose to be silent on the topic as you know your work environment best. However, consider for a moment that if you are willing to post a quote or reference Black Lives Matter on social media to stand in solidarity with the fallen, then you can also stand in solidarity by the water cooler. Not all protests take place in the streets.

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