Allyship and Black Lives Matter: A Conversation

We can all agree that many children are afraid of the dark.

Monsters — venomous and terrifying creatures that haunt our little ones — thrive in this proverbial dark. They wait in the wings, patiently biding their time for the unsuspecting youngster to trip, fall, or be dragged into the dark monster abyss, never to be seen again.

As adults, we often demystify the dark by coming to our children’s aid — no questions asked.

We know when we put the lights on, monsters flee.

When we help our youngsters put on their superman cape, monsters shudder with trepidation.

We create a space that makes it safe for them to rest, even if we do not see the very thing that may cause them great angst.

For many Black Americans, White Supremacy has been the thriving treacherous monster White America has not seen.

And in many cases, has refused to see.

But in our case, many simply deny these monsters exist.

And as a result, we are left to our own devices, challenged to avoid tripping, falling, or getting dragged into the abyss of darkness so ubiquitous in its effects and insidious in its wrath.

Welcome to America.

The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers on May 25, 2020, as captured on video for the entire world to see, was the tipping point for Black people in America for hundreds of years. From time immemorial, this familiar monster vied many others — health disparities, criminal justice, income inequality, educational inequality, redlining, police brutality.

So many monsters.

And if America was the parent, it was a neglectful one.

It has not come rushing down the hall when it heard our pleas for help. It has not looked into our eyes and acknowledged our history of pain.

But something changed on May 25.

It was if, finally, society at large looked into the eyes of one of its oft-forgotten children and finally saw the terror.

And Black America felt it.

Now what are we going to do about it?

Some thoughts.

Many people don’t know what to say. Many completely avoid the topic; it’s hard to find the balance between showing you care and burdening your black co-workers with comments and questions. I suggest the following::

  • Offer insight into how you’re feeling first: “I’ve been having a hard time sleeping and focusing on work. I’ll be okay — but it’s tough. How have you been feeling?”
  • Ask something specific: “What have you been thinking about? How has your day been? How does it feel to be you right now?”
  • Offer support (without questions): “I’m just checking in. I hope you’re okay, but I’m here for you if you’re struggling.” or “I’ve really wanted to take up some action in light of these times. I wrote an email to the CEO requesting they have a public conversation around action steps we all can take”
  • Or simply hold space: “I care about you and you’re on my mind. No need to respond — just want you to know.
  • Be curious, but also be okay being uncomfortable. Your discomfort, ironically, may increase your level of empathy towards your darker brothers and sisters. We are uncomfortable every day.

Of course all lives matter.

hat’s not the point.

The point is that Black people have felt like they’re under attack and the phrase Black Lives Matter is our cry for help.

And just like a child hearing “All Children Matter” when they themselves in the grips of the monster’s rage, “All Lives Matter” will hardly help us escape the very real terror of White Supremacy.

Simply put, we need affirmation that we matter.

We need everyone’s help now to end police brutality and systemic racism. We need help now so that our young boys and men are not stopped by the police for “driving while Black.”. We need help now so that a whole generation of Black men are not incarcerated due to a flawed criminal justice system. We are not all similarly situated. Some are more at risk than others. And Black people are the most at risk right now. Yes everyone is affected… but not equally, not to the same degree and numbers. And not to the same impact on our communities.

By saying Black Lives Matter, we collectively acknowledge that Black lives are more at risk right now than other lives. We acknowledge our pain and cry for help. You come to our aid instead of ignoring us under the guise of caring about everything and everybody at every time.

This time, we need you.

Invest time and energy in learning about and understanding the Black experience. Yes you can talk to Black people as part of your discovery but do some due diligence first and spend a few hours getting informed. The following topics are a helpful start:

  • Criminal justice system — why do Black men populate our prisons?
  • Police brutality — why do parents have “the talk” with their kids?
  • Healthcare — why are Black people disproportionately plagued with adverse health outcomes?

My colleague, Elizabeth Morrison, VP of Diversity at Live Nation, prepared a great list of resources to help you. Start here to start learning.

And if you have the power, use the power to amplify Black Stories. Sponsor a company-wide learning initiative and ask all employees to spend 5 minutes taking the lesson and sharing their thoughts on this issue. Gather that data and then host a fireside chat to discuss this topic, their thoughts and concerns, and answer questions as best as you can. Show you care.

Emtrain is doing a great job at this. In fact, they just produced a complimentary video lesson on Black Lives Matter. It’s primarily a ‘listening’ lesson.

Listen. Learn a few lessons.

We all have practical steps we can take to actualize change. We all have some kind of privilege within our sphere of influence. I, for one, am Black and have influence because I work in technology at a high level.

I recognize it, embrace it, and leverage it for change.

For example, a few years ago, I was working for a big technology company and the sales leader, a middle-aged white man, organized a sales conference for 19,000 people. The speaker line up was all White and the entertainment was all Black -including children. While terrible for sure, the insidious element is that as originally planned, the conference would have propagated a false narrative (albeit unconsciously) that Black people do not have a place in tech sales. I was able to illuminate this blind spot and discuss how damaging his sales conference would be to the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts. I helped him put together a committee to modify the conference and provide a different experience (and different optics) for the 19,000 attendees. I used the privilege I hold within my sphere of influence to actualize change.

We all have influence to some degree. We know hiring managers. We know HR partners. We know business leaders. We can commit to doing everything we can to promote proportional representation of Black employees and/or funding of Black entrepreneurs. We can support organizations focused on increasing diversity in the tech industry. We can advocate within our organizations for African American employees to be promoted, mentored, sponsored, and otherwise supported so they are positioned to succeed in the same way as employees from other groups.

We can defeat this insidious monster together.

May 25, 2020 revealed there was a monster terrorizing beloved members of our community.

Are you committed to making a change?

If you’d like me to facilitate a fireside chat on this issue, I’m happy to help. You can review my discussion with Emtrain CEO Janine Yancey and/or reach out to me at

This article was adapted and reposted with permission from Emtrain.

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About Nancy Douyon

I educate leaders in tech around the globe in user experience methodologies, culture-themed designs planning and implementation of user goals in products, and personal career management.

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