9 Ways Non-Black Folks Can Show Up For Charleena Lyles

by Sharon H. Chang

*PLEASE NOTE* Womxn is a commonly used substitute (among others) to avoid using the suffix “-men”. Femme is more inclusive of the queer community.

  1. If you’re surprised this happened, check yourself.

And check your privilege. The same week Charleena Lyles was killed by police Tommy Le, mentally ill Vietnamese American, was shot and killed by King County sheriff for brandishing a pen. The same day Charleena Lyles was killed by police: 17-year-old Nabra Hassenan, Black Muslim woman, was beaten and murdered in Northern Virginia; and Dorian Taylor, Black gender non-conforming wheelchair user, was attacked by a white able-bodied man in Seattle for defending a friend the man was sexually harassing.

Violence against People of Color (POC), gender and sexual violence against Womxn of Color (WOC) and Queer Trans People of Color (QTPOC), is endemic and systemic. It is colonial, centuries-old, poured into the very foundation of this nation. It keeps the status quo intact; upholding cis male patriarchy and white supremacy by brutalizing the marginalized into submission. Violence is the norm and it has been happening for a long time. If you’re surprised by recent tragic events–then you’re not paying attention but, more importantly, you have the privilege to not pay attention. Ask yourself, why did I not see? What in the world around allows me to not see? What in myself allows me to not see?

Recommendation: Unpack that privilege stat.

Youth-made sign at Charleena Lyles memorial, Seattle WA / Photo by Sharon H Chang


  1. Start talking to your kids about race and racism right now.

Research shows children as young as six months old are able to recognize and even emotionally load racial difference. By seven years old some white children show they believe their Black peers feel less pain. Meaning, our children and their education represent a critical point of intervention. Yet we don’t often offer our children a chance to make much difference.

Consider what Charleena Lyles’ children, the children who knew her, and the children that live in her community have been forced to learn about race and racism. Then consider what your children know about race and racism. Is there a gaping difference? Are you telling yourself things like “my children are too young to understand,” “it’s too scary,” or “I don’t want to traumatize them”? Why do your children get to be shielded from the truth of race and racism while others are forced to live it and know it every day? And, in denying your children the honor of knowing the truth about the world we live in, aren’t you just being complicit in perpetuating inequity?

Recommendation: You can never start talking about race and racism too early. If you haven’t started, don’t worry, it’s not too late. Remember, saying something is the possibility of change. Saying nothing just keeps things the way they are.


  1. Start talking to yourself about race and racism right now.

You can’t be effective in having race conversations with children if you aren’t able to have race conversations yourself. In interviewing hundreds of people at this point for books and articles I consistently see that most have a very underdeveloped understanding of what race and racism even are. Which isn’t surprising. Society doesn’t teach us, school doesn’t teach us, hell even most colleges and universities don’t teach us. Actually if we’re taught anything about race and racism it’s most likely lies. Of course that’s on purpose, again, to maintain the status quo. That means one of your first and most important jobs is unlearning all the crap you’ve learned, making sure you re-learn the right things, and filling in the gaps where there’s nothing at all.

Recommendation: Do you first.


  1. Be critical of what you read and where you get your information.

Watch those headlines. The Seattle Times was one of the first to “break” the story on Charleena Lyles and, in usual form, did a serious botch job. They have since apologized but not before the offending article was shared likely thousands of times. Infecting the public psyche with racist narratives is something mainstream media has done too well for too long. It’s hard to undo that kind of damage.

But you can help. Watch who’s publishing. Watch who’s writing. Go for independent, POC-owned and/or lead media first. Go for POC written, preferably Black Womxn and Femme written, or at least WOC and/or QTPOC written. Also, go local. I’m a Seattle-based writer and activist who’s in community here. I pitched a piece on recent events to a national publication (even offering images from events I’ve been attending). They weren’t interested because they already had two staff writers working on articles. However the pub is east-coast based so the staff writers are, presumably, not in the area at all. I pushed back and said I had concerns that our community would not be accurately represented. But the pub still wasn’t interested.

Recommendation: Seattle pubs– South Seattle Emerald, Seattle Globalist, International Examiner. National pubs– The Root, ColorLines, Teen Vogue, to start.

Charleena Lyles memorial, Seattle WA / Photo by Sharon H Chang


  1. Make sure you’re centering *Black Womxn and Femmes.

Always center those most impacted. In this case it would seem obvious: Black mothers; Black disabled Womxn and Femmes; Black Womxn and Femmes living with mental illness; Black low-income and working class Womxn and Femmes; Queer Black Womxn and Femmes; and their families, children and communities. And yet, somehow I’ve seen more marginalizing and de-centering of these people over the last week than I have prioritizing of them.

Recommendation: As a much-admired Black friend in my life always used to say, “Where attention goes, energy flows.” Change your mode of thinking, your way of seeing. Keep remembering to look for, listen and bear witness to, uplift and center Black Womxn and Femmes. The rest will unfold. Here, I’ll start you off. Listen to this–> The Seattle moms whose children don’t get to be children (interview with Eula Scott Bynoe and Ijeoma Oluo).


  1. DON’T burden Black people with your feelings. DO check in.

If there are Black folks in your life–children, partners, family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, acquaintances–do not, I repeat DO NOT burden them with your upset feelings. Whether it’s because you’re trying to “relate,” show you care and understand, or you’re expecting consolation or comfort, this scenario is not appropriate under any circumstances. Your job as a non-Black person is to show up for Black people, not the reverse. Asking Black people to receive your feelings is asking them to do extra emotional labor in a time of trauma. It saps energy that should be going to their own healing and communities. You need to find other circles and people to process your feelings with.

Recommendation: However DO check in with the Black folks in your life. If you don’t say anything whether it’s because you’re not sure what to say or you’re afraid of causing more pain, it will still come off distant and uncaring. Keep it brief: “just checking in,” “thinking of you,” “love you.” Start with offering basics like food, transportation, housecleaning, yard work, childcare, etc. Open the door and listen, receive requests. But be compassionate and know the request might simply be for space. If so, back off immediately.


  1. Show some respect.

When I visited Charleena’s memorial to drop off flowers last Monday I saw the media crawling all over exhausted Black Womxn residents for interviews. When I went to the second Charleena Lyles vigil on Tuesday the media, again, was being incredibly aggressive; their cameras shoved within literal inches of Black people grieving and raging. Sure enough, by Wednesday community members (in more than one public post) were asking the press, the larger community, even some organizers, to stay away. The enormous waves of people and cameras were re-traumatizing, posts said, and ultimately not helping anyone re-stabilize.

The Black community is in crisis and perennially being re-traumatized. Show a little respect. For example consider the impact when you–as a non-Black person–share images, video and audio of Black people hurting or dying online. New ways of publicizing have not lead to justice but have continued a legacy of anti-Black violence for consumption by others (e.g. think public lynchings). On the one hand people need to know, but on the other hand sharing thoughtlessly can participate in a culture which normalizes Black suffering and continues to permit it. It’s a fine line between advancing truth and a sadistic voyeurism that stifles Black healing, preventing the Black community from galvanizing their strength and resistance.

Recommendation: Share violent content respectfully and sparingly. Give content warnings. Then share JUST AS MUCH OR MORE the brilliance and power of Black people such as stories of triumph and success, beautiful imagery, or writing and art (made by Black folks) that uplifts the Black community.

Charleena Lyles Memorial, Seattle WA / Photo by Sharon H Chang


  1. Ask questions about events you attend and places you donate to.

Did you know there were fake GoFundMe accounts being set up in Charleena Lyles’ name? Do you know which account is the correct one to donate to? Did you know there was painful controversy over one of the Seattle marches for Charleena Lyles that ended in it being boycotted by many local Black Womxn and Femmes, other key figures, and community? I won’t go into detail here out of respect for the privacy and confidentiality of those involved. But suffice to say, as all other points have said, don’t just blindly accept.

Recommendation: Before you give your time, energy, and resources, always do a little checking into who the organizations, organizers and administrators are. It’s actually not that hard, I promise. Just like you would if you were shopping online, read the reviews, comment threads, the weigh everything together. Make informed decisions.


  1. Push, and keep pushing, for JUSTICE.

Commit to being in this for the long haul, not just for now. If there’s something I know I’ll see over-and-over in this work it’s the shaking of heads, tears and outrage of “allies” being instantly eclipsed by their sudden willful silence, forgetting, lack of action and any real commitment to long-term change.

Recommendation: Don’t be one of those people. Don’t forget a week from now, a month from now, a year from now. Renew your commitment to social justice daily and ask, how can I support, how can I keep showing up, how can I continue to positively participate in transformative change on an ongoing basis?

There will be a Justice for Charleena Public Hearing on Tuesday, June 26, 2017 at UW’s Kane Hall from 6:00pm to 8:30pm. 

SChang bio photoSharon H. Chang is an activist, photographer and award-winning writer. She is author of the acclaimed book Raising Mixed Race (2016) and is currently working on her second book looking at Asian American women and gendered racism.



Featured image by Sharon H. Chang

10 thoughts on “9 Ways Non-Black Folks Can Show Up For Charleena Lyles”

  1. An entire article about Charleena Lyles and not once does the “female author of color” mention that it was the historically racist Seattle Police Department that murdered her. Sorry, sister, ending white supremacy is going to take a lot more than white soul searching and “looking inward.” Power concedes NOTHING without a demand. This article skips over the question of power entirely and fails.

    1. The target audience for this article will not read, engage with and start to grapple with these critical lessons with the strong demand approach you’re describing. We white upper middle class adults can’t flip a switch and believe that the police, the institution we have grown up trusting and believe is there to protect us isnt there in the same way for POC. This strong handed word assault hasn’t worked and it won’t help affect systematic change…. YET. I’m mortified by this truth, but it is the truth. And, yes, I’m angry too. But, if anything the white and POC will divide be strengthened without careful dialogue. This article is a perfect bridge to engage my peers, then we can continue education with a more direct and forceful approach. But until my peers have been processed, embraced and even practiced the above they won’t click on or engage in anything accusing the police of murder, or white privilege, and Black Lives Matter.

  2. Thanks for a thoughtful article. Do you have any recommendations or resources (books, guides etc) for talking to very young children (3 and 4 year olds) about race?

  3. Why isnt this article written by a Black womxn? Why am I being white-splained on privilege by a white-passing (and probably college-educated, upper-class) journalist?

    1. First of all, you know absolutely nothing about Sharon and her commitment to our community, but thank you for stereotyping, and talking out of your behind. Second, the article (hence the title) is directed at white people. Please feel free to actually think before you speak next time – A Black womxn

    2. The target audience for this article will click on and engage with the powerful lessons here. I am the target audience. I cannot change my skin color or life story but I can work to learn and teach my children. This article was written in a way that pushes me and my peers to start working on tangible things we can do to affect systematic change in our families, peer groups and communities.