Recently we have seen a double whammy of discrimination left right and center in Western media. Not only was American tennis player Serena Williams held to standards that have widely been considered sexist by an umpire at the US Open final but the incident was then depicted in a racist light by an Australian publication.
Seeing something like this is always a huge disappointment in our modern society but it’s also a sad reality, and not just in media. Inequality is still a real concern even in countries such as the US and terms of sexuality and identity such as ‘gay’ are still heard as insults or slurs in 59% of workplaces.
Given how prevalent discrimination can be it’s likely that you’ll either feel discriminated against yourself or have a partner face discrimination and/or hate slurs during your time with them as a partner.
But what can one do in such a situation? Especially if they are in a situation where they haven’t ever had to worry about discrimination to a large extent?
Here are a few things that you can do to support your partner in a constructive, supportive, and potentially empowering manner.
Recognize Your Position As An Ally, Not A Target
Given that this is an article about being the ‘outsider looking in’ to some degree, it’s important for both this article and for yourself that you recognize that, in this position, your role is as a supporter and not as the target of harassment or discrimination.
Don’t presume that you know what your partner has been through, what emotions it might have triggered in her, and the extent of the discrimination that they have faced.
Also don’t attempt to try and compound or compare their emotions to a similar but non discrimination-based experience that you might have had in life.
Allies are potent because they provide support but that support must come with a recognition that your position is different from the person you are trying to support.
Once you are clear of this boundary you will be in a better position to understand where you stand, where your partner stands, and how to move forward from there.
One of the best things we can do for anyone who is struggling in life is to become an active listener, not an active speaker, nor a passive listener and, yes, there is a difference.
A passive listener lets a person talk but isn’t really taking in what they say, how they feel, nor much of anything else really. They are an entirely muted and not at all empathetic ear.
An active listener, on the other hand, makes a point of showing that they are invested and interested in the conversation but are focused entirely on letting the other person talking and primarily being a shoulder to cry on.
Active listeners need to take in what is being said not so that they can think of or repeat solutions (chances are your partner already knows what they should or can do, but that’s not the point). Rather, they take information in so that they can notice key thoughts, feelings or emotions and then use those to reinforce and validate a person’s feelings.
Responses such as ‘That must have been frustrating,’ ‘I can see how much this has hurt you,’ or ‘You sound like you’re feeling a little better now?’ are all part of the active listening vocabulary (if appropriate) because they feed off of a person’s emotions and let them know their reaction is valid while also inviting them to speak more if they wish.
So try your best to be an active listener to your partner where needed. The value of a good venting session should never be underestimated.
Ask How Best You Can Assist Them Then Do So
This one sounds deceptively simple. However, how many times in life has your partner (or anyone really) come to you with an issue and you’ve offered them advice or a solution as you see it rather than asking them what help they want at that current point in time?
Most people in distress already know the practical steps they need to take in order move forward from their situation. If they don’t then they’re typically happy to gain advice but not necessarily when they’re in the middle of distress.
So, if your partner has just faced discrimination and is in a state of distress then simply ask them ‘What can I do to help you best right now?’
It could be that they want you to simply listen to them (as above). It could be that they don’t know how to proceed in a practical matter and need some help there. Or it could be (as is often the case) that they simply want to be in the company of someone while they process what just happened.
With a partner it’s likely to be a mixture of all of the above, so don’t fret if you need to check in regularly or if, at times, you get things a little wrong. Both you and your partner/s are only human and dealing with something as vitriolic as discrimination will likely lead to some volatile moments and a learning curve.
Just remember, as long as you work to be a reasoned, empathetic, and available support system for your partner then you will both benefit from the support that you are providing as an ally.
Good luck navigating this tragic and truly unfair situation.