In offering care and support, we know the difference between sympathy—simply feeling bad for someone—and empathy, which is truly feeling with someone. Empathy calls for rejecting judgements and using your own experiences to connect with what someone is feeling and saying.
To our Black friends, being an ally—someone not identified as a member of a group who takes action to support that group—means more than offering good thoughts. It means standing beside them for change.
“The power and promise of empathy is that we don’t have to have shared experiences—only the true desire to know each other with respect, no matter how scary it might feel at first.” —Melvina Y.
“Try to understand, even though you may not. Be open to my experience and believe what I am telling you. Just because you don’t think that way doesn’t mean it’s not real.”—Denise J.
What your friend needs from you
Before reaching out, be honest with yourself about the level of emotional closeness you share. Recognize that you may not be the person a Black friend might want to hear from, especially in a moment of grief and heartbreak.
- When in doubt, ask your friend directly how you can show and give support—and act on the answer you receive. Don’t assume what someone might need to feel supported.
- Consider the best way to reach out. For some friends, a quick check-in via text feels appropriate. With others, there’s a history of having hard talks on the phone or in person.
- Because you won’t know the intensity of how someone is feeling, graciously accept a “No, thanks” when your friend says they don’t want to talk about it in the moment.