Southern Illinois University visiting professor Angel Jones is arguing that Black people should get special paid time off as bereavement leave in order to deal with systematic racism.
In the article, “Where’s Our Black Bereavement Leave?” published in Times Higher education on February 23rd, Jones argues for special paid time off and mental health therapy for Black faculty and staff to deal with systematic racism
I am a proud educator who loves what I do. But before that, I am a Black woman. A Black woman who is expected to return to “business as usual” on Monday after seeing a member of my community murdered on Friday. Although it is customary for employees to receive support and understanding while grieving the loss of a loved one, the same care is rarely shown to the Black community when we lose someone in horrific and traumatic ways. Where’s our Black bereavement leave?
This is an obvious, yet consistently underfunded, resource that could support Black faculty and staff who are dealing with trauma caused by racism and anti-Blackness on and off campus. Racial battle fatigue (RBF), a term coined by William Smith that refers to the psychological and physiological consequences of experiencing racism, has been well documented, yet its (sometimes deadly) symptoms continue to be minimised or ignored completely.
Psychological consequences of RBF include anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts, while physiological consequences include elevated heart rate, tension headaches and stomach ulcers. We experience these symptoms on a regular basis as a result of our first-hand racial trauma as well as the trauma we experience when we see people such as Philando Castile, Eric Garner and Patrick Lyoya murdered on camera. Free counselling services, by culturally competent counsellors familiar with identifying and addressing RBF, should be available at all times, not just when our trauma has been televised
Some may have thought I was joking when I mentioned Black bereavement leave, but I wasn’t. We need space and time to grieve without having to explain or defend it. And since the grief process, like the Black community, is not a monolith, flexibility is required. Some may need a day off while others may just need to be able to work from home. Some may need a small extension on a deadline while others may need to have something removed from their plate completely.
This is one of the many reasons why relationship-building is important for the retention of Black faculty and staff. Having a relationship with people you claim to want to help will increase the likelihood of them feeling comfortable enough to verbalise their needs with you.
There are several ways to support Black faculty and staff, but one of the most effective is to just ask. Don’t assume you know what they want or need just because you read this article. Anti-Blackness is intentional, so your efforts to combat it must also be.