Stop Asking Your Black Friends ‘How Are You?’
The answer to that question should be obvious. Instead, ask how you can help.
As a Black woman, on September 23, 2020, I felt numb — very numb.
I have already dealt with a lot of hurt and disappointment this year, but today I, and the rest of the country, found out that Breonna Taylor did not get full justice. The police officer who murdered her was not found to be at fault in her death. In fact, one of the officers was charged for three felony accounts due to the bullets that entered the other apartments, not for the bullets that entered her body.
Yes, you heard that right. He was charged for the bullets that damaged the building, not for taking away the life of a human being — a Black human being. Reactions to this news are what you should expect. Black people are angry, sad, tired and/or annoyed all at once. So, asking your Black friend “How are you?” is kind of redundant and maybe not the best question to ask during this time.
The reality is that Black people are not okay right now.
The reality is that Black people are not okay right now. In fact, your Black friend is probably in pain and/or grieving. Obviously this statement is a generalization, but overall, most Black people have felt bits of pain and hurt this year from the injustices in our society. Black men have been murdered and Black women’s deaths have been ignored.
Everyone has been impacted in some way this year, but Black people have been hit especially hard. In addition to Covid-19 disproportionately affecting Black people, we have dealt with the deaths of John Lewis, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Chadwick Boseman, Kobe Bryant, and Gigi Bryant.
When George Floyd was killed, I appreciated people reaching out and the kind messages. I didn’t understand why some Black people were irritated by the multiple people checking up on them, but over time, I became more exhausted. I know that the question “How are you?” is coming from a good place and good intentions, but over time, I realized that the answer to “How are you?” should be obvious.
Black people are hurting and tired. The Black Lives Matter statement doesn’t even seem legitimate in our society because, once again, we have been reminded of the reality that Black lives don’t matter as much. In 2020, if you ask your Black friends “How are you?” they may reply simply with “ Not good” or “I am alright,” while actually enduring an immense amount of emotional pain and confusion.
Instead of asking the three-word question “How are you?” ask this question: “How can I better care for you?”
Think of ways to actually support your friends and understand how they feel.
One of my closest friends texted me this question a day after I told her about how I was wrestling with the death of Chadwick Boseman. This was one of the most caring and straightforward messages I’d ever received because it came from a place of empathy and a clear acknowledgment that I was in pain.
“How can I better care for you?” leaves space for your Black friend to discuss ways that you could maybe serve them and care for them. Some people might just want you to listen to them while others might want you to send them a meal while they grieve. If you ask the simple question “How are you?” the conversation might end abruptly and, honestly, it might seem insensitive and oblivious to what you should already know your Black friend is going through.
It would be hypocritical for me to say that I have been asking this question frequently. I also need to do a better job of being more intentional and direct and asking what my friends need at a time like this. I will always try to do better and I would encourage you to do the same.
Black people are actually very annoyed by this three-word question, so before you text your friend “How are you?” thinking that you’ve done your friendship duties for the day, please think of other ways to actually support your friend and understand how they feel.
They need your help, not just in 2020, but also in the years to come.