A White Coach’s Guide to Not Being Problematic

** INDEX NOTE: If you do not want to read my rant, skip clear to the bottom for the Guide to Not Being Problematic.

After George Floyd’s murder in 2020, there was a very public reconning in the coaching universe. Many coaches felt intense pressure to “get it right” and a lot of terror over “getting it wrong” regarding what to say, specifically, what to say online.

Everyone was saying something – and too many white coaches were squirming with discomfort because they feared if they didn’t say something publicly, they might look racist —

and even seedier, other coaches felt like they could be perceived as radical if they called out racism in their communities, virtual and otherwise. You know, some clients (and coaches) still think Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization. These coaches didn’t want to alienate anyone. Let’s all get along, amiright??

In 2020 white coaches had to put some time into keeping their public personas intact. It was some sticky work, given how upset everyone was. It was a lot for a good-hearted white coach to handle.

All of this was happening while the family of George Floyd was grieving, our nation was erupting in protests, and people of color were (and are) still trying to figure out how to stay alive on the streets. 

But, I digress…

Too many white coaches spent too much time figuring out how to protect their image and not enough time figuring out how to do their part to dismantle the foundation of white supremacy culture in our industry. 

I remember talking to a relatively public-facing white coach with a larger than most social media following about a week after George Floyd’s murder. This woman told me her strategy was to share that she had joined an online book club that was reading a book on anti-racism. Then she planned on just letting it allllll blow over – and as she predicted, all the anti-racism hype in our industry mostly did just blow over.

Our industry learned that performative anti-racism got you some attention. More than a few coaches coopted anti-racism language into their marketing messages. Having a Black Lives Matter banner around your profile photo became a badge of social proof that you were one of the good ones-

and we all want people to know we are one of the good ones, right?

In the wave of anti-racism broadcasting in the coaching universe, post-George Floyd, my friend, Iyabo did a much-needed Cultural Competency training for coaches. She is brilliant. A couple dozen or so people immediately signed up and attended. That said, given the volume of carefully crafted anti-racist messages in the coach spaces at that time, I figured that class would sell out many times over. It did not. 

Since then, several other bold, well-trained coaching humans have offered anti-racism training and support for white coaches. All those coaches who said they were doing the work must have been doing the work in their secret virtual book clubs because almost no one signed up for the ongoing anti-racism training everyone said they wanted. 

Fast forward to this week. 

I do not see Black Lives Matter banners pasted around smiling white coach faces anymore. 

There is a lot of fatigue with heavy shit in the world, and many coaches are sensitive to that. They don’t want to bring up stuff that feels hard because keeping it light is the new brand alternative to anti-racism. 

Last weekend a radicalized white man with a manifesto hunted and killed black people buying groceries. For the most part, we, (coaches) are playing it cool because with trans and abortion rights on the line and the world generally feeling like a dumpster fire, coaches are mostly just trying to keep their heads down and keep their clients.

But seriously – people of color and other marginalized communities notice this shit.

They have noticed we used anti-racism language as marketing currency but do not walk our talk. They notice when we, as a collective, sit silently, pretending it is business as usual when it is not business as usual for everyone. 

Our industry will not survive forever, maybe not for very much longer, being this out of touch with humanity and out of integrity with who we say we want to be. 

So, as promised, here is my quick guide for white coaches about responding publicly when something horrible has happened in the world. 

  1.  Do not center yourself by telling the story of how you are emotionally affected – instead, elevate the work of people in affected communities by sharing their posts. 
  2. Do not brag about all the money you are donating or your other good work – instead, post resources about how others might help and leave yourself out of said posts.
  3. Do not gaslight people by saying you don’t watch the news as a spiritual practice. People out there in affected groups can’t watch the news right now as a survival strategy because their nervous systems are shredded. Your spiritual practice of avoidance is dripping with privilege. Instead, at a minimum, acknowledge this is a difficult time for many and offer support. 

Additional note for coaches working with clients: Do not assume just because it is business as usual for you, it is the same for the people you work with. The number of people I know who have personal ties to what happened in Buffalo is astounding. Communities of color are grieving. Walk through your sessions very gently and be willing to hold space for conversations that might be uncomfortable for you. 

Love is a verb.

This shit is hard.

You will mess it up. However, let me assure you: your ambivalence speaks loud and clear. 

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