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I manage a team and several of my colleagues are African American, living very close to Jacksonville, Florida.

Given the weekend shooting this past weekend that appears to be due to suspect's animus against African Americans, I am thinking of sending an email to let them know that company / I support them and ask if they are affected / OK.

I did not intend to imply that only African American team members will be impacted or that I support only them.

Racial animus motivated violent crimes have secondary effect of sowing fear in others, to prevent others from speaking up, etc. I want to make sure my team members know I support them and they can freely talk to me as they may see fit.

Could this be viewed as intrusive or otherwise inappropriate / weird?

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  • "secondary effect of sowing fear in others, to prevent others from speaking up" - So non-African-Americans are never afraid to speak up about African-American issues?
    – MonkeyZeus
    Aug 31, 2023 at 17:08
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    @MonkeyZeus, secondary effect can apply to all individuals regardless of race. Racial animus motivated crimes can intimidate others who help the victims, as if saying here is what will happen to you if you interfere.
    – Anthony
    Aug 31, 2023 at 23:11

9 Answers 9

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I'm working in a large international multi-cultural organization with co-workers not only from the various in-country ethnic/cultural groups, but also from other nationalities. To be fair most of my Black co-workers, as well as most people in daily life, seem to be moderate, cooperative, and peace-loving. Black people are just as, or even more, affected by crime and other social disfunctionalities in my country.

My employer goes to great lengths to follow the modern trend of promoting people of color, women, people with non-heterosexual-normative sexual preferences, etc. The feeling I take away from this may be summed up as follows:

  • singling out certain groups while ignoring others, however well-meaning towards the upliftment of the beneficiaries, does create polarization and a feeling of resentment. At the most benign, it still increases the feeling of disaffectedness towards the organization and its officials.
  • on a few occasions there was an attempt to "celebrate" the diverse cultures represented in the organization. A few prominent co-workers were made to talk about their own culture, mostly watered down to superficial things like food and costume. This came over as "feel-good window dressing" and a waste of time.
  • a few colleagues have expressed the desire to be valued on their own merits, and have been uncomfortable, felt patronized, and felt that the organization was aiming for "cheap brownie points" by pushing their own group forward.
  • the real and important issues that affect peoples' day-to-day lives and those of their families and communities are never touched on and neither is a greater understanding between groups being fostered.

To give a short answer to your question, my opinion is that if you want to show support from your organization and from yourself as a representative of your organization to your colleagues, you should not single out groups. It would also be ideal if you already have a track record of being sympathetic on previous occasions towards colleagues, maybe a neighborhood that has been flooded, a huge pileup on a road that many colleagues have used to get to work, the C19 pandemic, etc. - starting now may come over as a PR exercise. While I absolutely would want to see the organization commiserating with a tragedy affecting Black people, the same should happen when a tragedy affects White people (or any other group of colleagues even without a clearly common identifying characteristic), not because they are a fashionable cause or it may be advantageous to the company's image, but simply because they are fellow people.

Having said all that, I have recently read The WEIRDest People in the World by Joseph Henrich (a few articles about his work may be found by web searching for his name and the acronym WEIRD). The one profound take-away from this for me was how absolutely different people from different cultures may evaluate the same thing, and how ignorant we may be of another group's evaluation because our own culture is so ingrained that our own evaluation feels so instinctive and foundational to basic humanness that we can not even imagine someone else feeling different. The book also tells me that I, as a WEIRD Westerner, may have an extraordinarily highly developed sense of fairness and egalitarianism, which probably influences my answer above a lot.

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    Are you in South Africa BTW?
    – Anthony
    Aug 29, 2023 at 15:39
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    Singling people out for their skin color can make them feel awkward and under a spotlight, and can make everyone else not of their skin color also feel awkward or unseen. I can't say for certain, but possibly the only person who'd feel uplifted about your message is yourself.
    – Jamin Grey
    Aug 30, 2023 at 1:13
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    If you insist on sending out an email, you can easily do so without making it about race. "Hey guys, as I'm sure you've heard, there was a mass shooting near us. If anyone is feeling alone or afraid, or has suffered a loss of friend or family due to this horrendous event - or any other recent event (including personal non-public ones) - I want you to know we support you, and my door is open if you need someone to vent to or talk to."
    – Jamin Grey
    Aug 30, 2023 at 1:14
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    I will point out that African (presumable South African) black culture is extremely different from African American Black culture in the USA.
    – stanri
    Aug 30, 2023 at 13:41
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    @Anthony I'm avoiding ref to my locale as that should not factor into the answer (and using a blank slate account for the same reason). It's often human to do "victim blaming" or "guilt by association to some guilty party" based only on some group characteristic like skin color, which can cloud judgement but shouldn't IMHO (WEIRD book touches on that too - individualists' guilt vs group shame). I agree wholeheartedly with @ Jamin Grey's comment. I'm trying to say the same as @ stanri, but in general terms/universal applicability. Aug 31, 2023 at 12:18
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I would personally find this off-putting, intrusive, presumptuous, potentially inappropriate, and even condescending.

If a message of support needs to be conveyed to staff it should come from the highest level of management, or from HR.

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    Normally I don't agree with these cold WP responses- but I agree with this answer. Unless you're giving people in the office a day off, an email from your boss/coworker about a tragic public event is a minefield. You might as well send an email saying "I'm sorry about tragic event X, now get back to work".
    – rob
    Aug 29, 2023 at 0:02
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    Obviously, if there is a message, it should be company-wide, but I think there is a difficult balance to strike, sometimes. Offer consolation about something that isn't traumatizing to someone, and you look like you are characterizing them as fragile or assuming that they care about something just because of their group membership, but ignore something that has widespread import, and you risk looking like you just want to ignore inconvenient events.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 29, 2023 at 5:35
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    Depends on how personal/emotional the relationship betw OP and their team in FL is. I have a pretty tight-knit team, many of whom are Ukrainian, and messages of support were welcomed when the war broke out. (I sent one, so I know). But that was based on prior relationship-building.
    – MandisaW
    Aug 29, 2023 at 17:14
  • I work for a fairly large, multinational corporation headquartered in Jacksonville. Not one person in the very crowded "C Suite" is African American. The CEO, naturally, sent out a multi-paragraph, very carefully crafted message full of emotive language. It came across (to many of us) as performative.
    – Jeffiekins
    Aug 31, 2023 at 20:42
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I find these sorts of emails incredibly demeaning and patronizing.

if you are absolutely compelled to say something - I would go with something like the following:

  • Talk about how your thoughts are with the family and the community that's been affected by the tragedy.
  • If your workplace has counselling services or mental health days or similar services, remind staff of their existence.
  • Let them know that if they feel impacted by the event, that they can come and discuss it with yourself or their management.

Don't mention Race, because ultimately - Are you Black and White or are you all Humans? Americans? Floridians?

Focus on that which unites you, disregard that which doesn't.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on The Workplace Meta, or in The Workplace Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Kilisi
    Aug 29, 2023 at 23:08
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    Personally, my ideal is a position where race is NOT something you can't discuss; ignoring someone's race is like ignoring the fact that they support a particular football team. But that's only possible when both parties know and trust each other really well. Aug 31, 2023 at 6:00
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Could this be viewed as intrusive or otherwise inappropriate / weird?

That depends on how it is worded. Just try to keep the message as professional as possible. Whatever you send should be to all of your employees not just a select few.

Acknowledge that the event may have impacted some employees ( not just African American ) and offer the contact information for the company provided support groups for any employee who feels that they need it.

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    I think a key point is the assumption by the OP that only the AA employees are the ones that would be affected by events like this. That in itself is a troubling statement to me.
    – Peter M
    Aug 28, 2023 at 16:03
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    When it comes to these kinds of emails, the only thing I would add to this answer is have it reviewed by someone else for anything that could be misunderstood before sending out the email.
    – Anketam
    Aug 28, 2023 at 18:17
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    @Anketam I think that if you need to have an email reviewed before sending it- you would be better off not sending it. The person reviewing your email will have this exact conundrum, or worse, be insulted by the draft. There is nothing to be gained by sending this, there is potentially respect to be lost.
    – rob
    Aug 29, 2023 at 0:01
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    @Anthony - The first motivation is certainly laudable, but I am not sure about the second. People are unlikely to think that you identify with the actions of murderous, racist neo-Nazis— unless, of course, you have in some fashion given them reason to wonder otherwise, in which case there would be much bigger things to do to rebuild trust.
    – Obie 2.0
    Aug 29, 2023 at 5:28
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    @Anthony "I want to send a clear message that I [...] do not identify with perpetrator actions". That should go without saying. It literally should not be said, no one likes the person who takes a tragedy and turns it into a virtue signaling email.
    – Aubreal
    Aug 29, 2023 at 17:46
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In my experience, email can work well enough for transmitting factual information. It doesn't work well for emotion-laden content. The nonverbal cues are missing and it's bound to be misinterpreted.

So if you're going to say anything about this at all (whether or not is discussed in the other answers), do it in a face to face meeting.

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Don't do it.

Not without knowing the specific colleagues very well, anyway. Such a message might come off as:

  • Insincere virtue signaling.
  • Creating pressure to respond.
  • Drawing unwanted attention or sense of “tokenization” to Black team members.
  • Presumptuous, in assuming that individuals will feel a certain way due to their race.
  • Reinforcing a racial stereotype about vulnerability or victimhood.

If you feel compelled to personally comment on this terrible event, then send a message to all of your team members that if anyone feels personally affected, then they can feel free to talk to you (or to your company's counselling services). But singling out specific people based on their race is inappropriate.

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I'm White, but when a company I worked at sent similar emails in the past and I found them very thoughtful. BTW it was voted Best Place to Work multiple times in the US, for what it's worth.

Usually those emails went something like that:

  1. Express sadness for the tragedy
  2. Re-iterate that racism / violence are unacceptable and the company will not tolerate them
  3. Offer support to everyone who is affected.
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7

Speaking as a Black male in America, I would find this email weird. Don't put this out there like that. Just talk to me in our 1 on 1 and reinforce that for me there. The whole company doesn't need your feel-good email.

We all know what happened, how it came about, and what the manifesto of that murderer was. It's good that you're in our corner, but it would feel weird for you to just put together an email out about that.

Offering free grief counseling would also be a boon.

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I am thinking of sending an email to let them know that company / I support them and ask if they are affected / OK.

The various elements of this sentence are wildly different.

If they work in your team it is normal to ask them if they are fine. A normal, human reaction - especially if you are somehow close to them (e.g. you exchange on a regular basis).

If you want to express the fact that the company (or you as the manager) support them then you get into a black hole of political issues. You have very good answers already which express the fact that it is a bad idea (and I concur).

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