Conversations With Yourself About Race

Conversations With Yourself About Race | Sedruola Maruska

Do you ever have conversations with yourself? I’m not talking about a quick “don’t do that!” or “what’s wrong?” I’m talking full on conversations.

A conversation where you end up in an argument and find yourself in a corner.

I have. When my best friend called to tell me she was getting married, I had a complete “deprogramming” argument with myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy for her. She was marrying a great guy. But, I was sad for myself, mad at my situation and questioning everything.

I was thirty two years old and she was the last of my single friends. I was about to become a lone wolf and that scared me. So the questioning began:

  • What’s wrong with you?
  • What are you waiting for?
  • Why do you feel sad?
  • Do you believe there’s something wrong with you?

There were a lot of questions and emotions as I grappled with conflicting ideas. You see, as a woman, I’d been programmed and socialized to believe that I should already be married at my age. I should at least have prospects.

So as I confronted each ingrained precept, I had to change the narrative. I had to tell myself a new story over and over again so I could replace the old, useless story I’d been socialized to believe.

Educate to Elevate: Racial Sensitivity Course

Conversation Starters

Dismantling a racist system starts with personal conversations and arguments. Only those who are willing to admit to a certain programming can start the process of deprogramming. Which is why I’ve created this list of “Self-Conversation Starters” as a guide to becoming the change you want to be a part of in this world.

Use these introspective questions as journal prompts, group conversation starters or as a personal coaching tool to start conversations about your feelings pertaining to race.

Question #1 – Do you think of yourself as a race?

If you’re White chances are you don’t. Consider why not. Consider what you’ve encountered socially that makes it so you don’t think of yourself as White.

Question #2 – Does talking about race make you uncomfortable?

Think about the reasons you feel uncomfortable when someone brings up race in any situation. Think about why you may or may not bring up race in any situation.

Question #3 – Have you ever called out another person on a situation you knew was racially charged?

This is a tough one because if you’re not sensitive to race, meaning, if you’re not tuned into how race plays a part in everyday encounters, you probably didn’t realize a situation was racially charged. . . which brings us to

Conversations With Yourself About Race | Sedruola Maruska

Question #4 – What are you doing to learn more about race in America?

Think about the books you’re reading, the shows you’re watching and the podcasts you’re listening to. Think about the conversations you’re having with other and the courses you’re taking. Think about the restaurants you go to and the communities you travel in. Think about your friendship circle and the people you work with.

Question #5 – Have you ever been the only one of your race in any situation?

Think about how it felt to be in that situation and examine the feelings that come up. Think about your reaction to the people around you. Think about what you said, did or did not do. Think about the questions you asked or didn’t ask.

Between the World and Me

Question #6 – Do you believe that everyone’s human experience is the same?

Think about how you treat others that don’t look like you. Think about how you refer to foods, books, communities, music, traditions of others. Think about how many shades of people work at your company. Think about how you react to art, expression and nuance of differing cultures.

Question #7 – What are you taking for granted?

Think about the privileges you hold, the place you live and the opportunities you enjoy. Think about how comfortable you are calling for police assistance, moving to any part of the country or where you shop.

Question #8 – What do I need to change about my thinking?

This is one of the most profound questions you can ask yourself because it means you need to stay open to new ideas and ways of thinking. It means you need to consider other points of view that may not be in line with what you’ve been socialized to think (remember my story above). This is the beginning of real growth.

Question #9 – How would changing my thinking change my life?

Think about the outcome of changing your thinking. Think about what you will gain and what you’ll lose in changing your thinking. Think about the changes you’ll need to make personally when you’re thinking changes.

Question #10 – What difference am I making in this world?

If you look at what your ultimate personal goals are, think about how they’l impact the world. Think about the friends you’ll make, the food, music and art you’ll enjoy. Think about the impact you’ll have on everyone who comes in contact with you. Think about how you’ll feel at the end of each day, week, month, year.

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Take Action

The conversations we have with ourselves are the most profound. No one knows our thoughts better than we do. No one understands how we see or process the world better than we do. That’s why starting with internal conversations is the best place to begin dismantling the racist system we’ve been socialized with.

This isn’t the place to let guilt run wild. It’s also not a good idea to wallow in shame when the answers start to surface.

This is where empowerment begins. The more you learn about yourself and how you react to situations, people, places, things etc. the better you are at noticing what’s going on around you.

Step into your power and use it to do better. Always remember: we’re always growing and things are always changing. Being the change, just like life, is a marathon. Give yourself time to ingest, process and rest before jumping back into the ring and making change.

Everything grows in steps.


Friends While Black: White Mom’s Guide to “The Talk”

Friends While Black: White Mom's Guide to The Talk | Sedruola Maruska

As a Black mother I know the information my son needs as he gets older. It’s information that I’ve learned along life’s path and it’s information that’s standard in the Black community. It’s the talk we have with our sons to help keep the alive as they navigate the world. In the Black community most sons get “The Talk.” So when they’re out together they know, for the most part, what to do to keep each other safe.

As a Black mother to a bi-racial son growing up in a mostly White community I worry. I know that my son’s friends may get him into a situation, where he could lose his life. Because “The Talk” isn’t a staple in White households or communities his friends are ill equipped to help keep him safe.

As my son gets older, as he begins to look more like a black man, a threat, I worry about him going out with friends who don’t understand his reality. Friends who mean well and who grow up learning that “we’re all equal” when that isn’t the case. In most White families there’s no real talk about racism and how pervasive it is. There’s reference to racism “being bad” and “treat everyone the same”. But what that ultimately means is, White kids aren’t aware of the part they can play to counter racism, or acknowledge or notice it in everyday life.

Educate to Elevate: Racial Sensitivity Workshop

The Motivation

Which is why when I spoke at a George Floyd vigil I asked White moms to share the burden, by also having “the talk” with their kids. The talk about what racism is, how it affects their Black or Brown friends, what it means to truly look out for their friends, and how to keep everyone safe in any interaction especially with the police.

Black and White kids are growing up. They’re the professionals of tomorrow who’ll need to decide the futures of Black and Brown people and how they’re treated in the system. If White kids never have “The Talk” they stay blissfully unaware of what’s happening. They don’t develop the ability to have conversations about race or to respond when acts of racism are happening around them. They then become paralyzed in situations where they feel they should say something but feel nervous or afraid to challenge the situation.

Following that speech a few moms reached out and asked where to start. It’s a good question. There’s not much information about the part White mother’s can play in helping their children understand what’s happening when they’re out with Black or Brown friends. So in an effort to start the talk or to spark ideas of things that may happen I’ve pulled together this list of talking points where White mother’s could start having conversations with their children.

Friends While Black: White Mom's Guide to The Talk | Sedruola Maruska

First Things First

It’s important to note a few things before jumping into the list:

  1. Just as Black families have to teach their kids how to stay safe early on, it’s important for White families to start talking to their kids at an early age about the dangers of a racist system. Starting early means kids are used to hearing and processing the information so when they’re older the conversation is already underway and the questions are easier to answer.
  2. Talking about racism is an ongoing conversation. It needs to be as regular as talking about any news in the world. When events happen that are racially motivated, it’s important to discuss it in ways that allows kids to see the racial aspect of it and process a full picture instead of simply saying “that’s wrong” or “that’s sad.”
  3. If White families want to raise kids that are anti-racist they have to model anti-racist actions and educate their children with information that won’t be taught in school.
  4. Educating White kids early gives them the tools to be better allies as they grow up because they’ll have the information and confidence to confront acts of racism when they’re faced with them.
  5. This list addresses mostly teenage children and mostly as it relates to police interaction.

At the bottom of this article is a list of resources to help with further learning.

Discover Your Brilliance

The Talk

Point #1 – Don’t start fights

  • When you’re out with a black friend it’s important not to start a fight. If you start a fight your Black friend may be inclined to “have your back” and if the police are called your Black friend will become the main focus of the investigation. Understand that your Black friend would always be looked at as the instigator, even if you adamantly expressed your part in the fight. Which is why, not starting a fight in the first place is important.

Point #2 – Don’t break up fights

  • When a fight erupts near you, and you’re with a black friend, find security or police on your own. Do not jump in to break up a fight because friendship loyalty is a real thing. If you try to break up a fight, and you’re not successful, your Black friend will likely feel compelled to jump in to help you, then. . . see point #1.

Point #3 – Don’t be upset if your Black friend doesn’t “have your back”

  • When you get into an altercation and your Black friend doesn’t jump in to help, it’s important for you to realize, he’s just trying to get home safely. He does have your back, but in having your back and jumping into a fight or melee he’s putting himself more at risk, because he’s Black, than you are. Do not give him a reason to “have your back” so you can all get home safely. If cops are called he’d be the primary suspect.

Point #4 – Ask an attendant, not a cop

  • When you’re out with your Black or non-white friend and you need directions, go to a gas station, do not find a cop to ask. Putting yourself on a cop’s radar calls attention and if you’re talking to the wrong cop, they’ll make it an excuse to harass you and/or your friend. Basically, limit interacting with cops as much as possible.

Point #5 – Your White Privilege may not always work when with Black friends

  • When you’re a friend with a Black or non-White person, your privilege may be temporarily revoked depending on the cop you may come into contact with. They may see you as just as much of a threat as your Black friend, simply by association. Be aware of that and stay calm. When you’re with your White friends, be aware of how your privilege works. That way, you’ll always be aware of the privilege you hold in any situation and how to use that to help someone you see needs it most.

Point #6 – Be mindful, Ask Permission

  • If you’re driving and you’re pulled over with your Black friend in the car. Be aware and act accordingly. Keep your hands on the steering wheel. Be respectful and ask the officer for permission to move. Do not ask a lot of questions, follow directions. Your Black friend will likely put their hands on the dashboard and stay quiet not moving. That’s because they’ve likely already had the talk about what to do to stay alive. Be mindful of that and follow suit.

Point #7 – When questioned randomly be respectful

  • When a police officer comes over to ask your Black friend questions randomly, stay calm. Do not intervene if things are calm and your friend seems fine. He’s probably already been instructed, at home, not to answer random questions, to ask if he can leave, to ask if he’s being arrested and to stay calm. Follow his lead. If, however, things escalate, that’s the time to intervene and use your voice and privilege. Do not be the one to escalate police interaction. It’s dangerous.

Point #8 – Don’t act stupid

  • When in public places with your Black friend, avoid doing things that draw undue attention to you, especially if it’s a mostly white situation. Attracting too much attention can get misconstrued and put your Black friend in a position where he is seen as menacing and a threat.

This list is not exhaustive and is always expanding. The most important thing to remember is talking to kids about racism early gives them the ability to process events later. Staying quiet means kids will stay quiet which perpetuates the system.

Talking about race helps remove stigma and allows for better conversations and solutions. Take the time and effort needed to talk to your kids about these things. Remember, if it were your child’s life in the balance, you’d want someone to take the time for you.

Resources:


I’m Not Teaching My Children Tolerance, Neither Should You

I'm Not Teaching My Children Tolerance, Neither Should You | Sedruola Maruska

Tolerance, really? This post holds a bit of harsh language. . . You’ve been warned. 🙂

I’m a woman of Haitian decent. Actually, a first generation Haitian-American. In Creole the word tolerance is not ever spoken in nice tones. It’s usually delivered with disdain and harshness. Which is why it always baffles me when organizations and people here in America speak of “tolerance” as a thing to teach.

Tolerance, for me, is not what I think to teach my children when it comes to other people.

Thinking I might be misunderstanding the word I decided to look up tolerance in the Merriam-Webster dictionary online. I teach my son (and soon my daughter) to look up words, so that was my default. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just tainted by the connotation ‘tolerance’ held in Creole vs. English.

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I'm Not Teaching My Children Tolerance, Neither Should You | Sedruola Maruska

The Definition

Imagine my shock when I read the first definition listed:

“capacity to endure pain or hardship”

I was right! My education did not fail me (in that regard) and when put in context in Creole, that’s exactly what it means. It’s a feeling of being able or unable to ENDURE pain or hardship presented . . .

“sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own”

Sympathy? Indulgence? Still not things that invoke hearts or rainbows . . . Let’s continue

“the act of allowing something.”

*Sigh*

Wait, what? So basically “I will allow you to be black” or “I will allow you to be Jewish” or “I will allow you to be gay”? The final set of definitions is what threw me over the top…

“the capacity of the body to endure or become less responsive to a substance (such as a drug) or a physiological insult especially with repeated use or exposure developed a tolerance to painkillersalso :  the immunological state marked by unresponsiveness to a specific antigen (2) :  relative capacity of an organism to grow or thrive when subjected to an unfavorable environmental factor”

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Synonyms

Why the Fuck (excuse me while I put on my elitist cap) would I want to teach my children to look at people as “things to be endured” or “hardships to indulge”? We’re teaching “tolerance”?

I am, they are, we are all human beings,  no one wants to simply be “tolerated”! I don’t want you in my space looking at me as something to “endure”! If you find my mere presence offensive then get the fuck out of my space. Do not put us in a position where you’re “enduring” a “sustained” trauma and I’m thinking we’re communicating.

Still not fully convinced? Well, neither was I, although I was getting there quickly, so I looked up words that may be similar in meaning, you know synonyms:

forbearance, long-suffering, sufferance, patience

Then related words:

acquiescence, resignation; passiveness, passivity; amenability, compliance, conformism, docility, obedience, subordination, tractability, willingness; discipline, self-control; submission, submissiveness

Correct me if I’m wrong but there’s a pattern here. All these words imply that those who are “tolerant” are in a state of great discomfort and in a position to be easily misled.

Teaching people to “tolerate” other people needs to be the teaching of last resort, not the platform! Because, at the very least, we should be tolerant. Tolerance is not the first thing to teach. . . I do not want to simply be tolerated.

An Examination

Have you ever been on a diet where you had to endure eating in a way that made you feel deprived? Did you stick with that diet or did you rebel and look for something new? That’s what I thought.

When forced to stay in a state of discomfort, say like chronic pain, people don’t learn what they need to grow, they simply learn to endure. That is tolerance. How can I, in good conscience, teach my children to endure other people? That will in turn teach them they are powerless and must endure the unfavorable situation when someone else is simply enduring their presence. I do not stay in the presence of those I think are merely enduring my presence.

“Mommy, can I change my color?”

It seems to me, this tolerance thing is blowing up in our faces right now. Alt-right, white supremacists are running rampant in our streets when for years many allowed themselves to think they were a thing of the past. What they were doing was “tolerating” us (blacks, Jews, gays, other). They’ve been uncomfortable for too long. In that discomfort they were made “submissive”, “passive” and are now fighting for a state of comfort.

Groups of people that have been taught to “tolerate” and others that have been “tolerated”, all living in a sustained state of discomfort are pushing back. No human wants or should stay in a state of sustained discomfort.

The Alternative

No, I’m not going to teach my children to tolerate people. Nor am I going to teach them to endure being tolerated. I’m teaching my children to be curious and open to other ways of life. I’m teaching them the richness of  experiencing and indulging in theirs and other cultures, immersing themselves in the beauty that is diversity. I’m teaching them to love.

When we’re open we gain insight and information about people and situations we don’t understand. Staying open means having sincere conversations and asking questions that bring information that’s otherwise a mystery. My children are learning that if they don’t like someone, they don’t have to be tolerant of that person. They walk away. They’re also learning that liking someone is never based on the way a person looks, worships or loves. Liking someone is based on who they are. There are people of all races, creeds, religions etc. who are assholes. We don’t have to tolerate that shit.

In turn, I’m not here to simply be tolerated.

Tolerance is the teaching of last resort.

Tolerance is the act of last resort.

So, if you haven’t talked to me, been open to me and learned anything about me because of the color of my skin, I DO expect you to tolerate me. Because I’m here, I’m not going anywhere and it’s your choice to stay in your ignorant state of stress.

What’s blowing up right now is a whole lot of tolerance gone awry. We take the teaching of last resort,  make it the best option and now people are done tolerating. We’re not teaching sensitivity to culture, because we’re afraid to teach culture. We’re not teaching an understanding of people, because we’re afraid to teach history properly. Kids aren’t learning  love, they’re learning to “get along” and to “tolerate”.

Teaching anyone to simply tolerate things that can never change will never end well.

Antonyms

The one antonym:

Impatience

The near antonyms, those words that are close to the opposite of tolerance:

defiance; contrariness, disobedience  insubordination, intractability, recalcitrance, resistance, willfulness

Sound familiar?

When tolerance is no longer sustainable you’ll get the opposite.

Take Away

Teach history, culture, inclusion, sensitivity and love. Then, if by some horrible twist, those things don’t work, teach tolerance. But please, take it from someone who is of a “tolerated” class, don’t teach tolerance first. If tolerance is the only lesson that sticks, then impatience is not too far behind