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 mothers 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 mothers 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:


Transformation – Part 2: A New Life

Sedruola Maruska | Personal Development Coach

In Transformation Part 1 I shared my trauma, here, in part 2 I share more of the journey. The new life that emerged after I went home to heal

After three months of healing at home with my family, I slowly begin feeling the urge to take my life back. I’ve not only spent time mourning my baby but also a relationship, doomed from the beginning, but still a painful chapter in my life.

Feeling stronger and more ready, I begin working, connecting more with friends and moving beyond my loss. A new life comes into play as I make new friends and connect with old ones. Within a year I quit my job as a corporate trainer in Massachusetts and move to NYC, my hometown, and begin living my dream life.

As I look back I can see one problem, I’m living ‘safe‘. The fire I had within to forge new paths and live new adventures isn’t there.

New York City

In 2000 I start working at an investment bank in their presentation center. It’s a group of young artists making their way in NYC and sharing big dreams, while doing what it takes to pay the bills. Being in that environment fed me emotionally and creatively. Something I didn’t realize until much later.

Being Smart is Sexy – Resist & Persist

That’s where I meet the most amazing man. Of course, at the time I didn’t know how amazing he was since I kept dodging his advances. I’m sure it was self-sabotage. A way to keep myself occupied with emotionally unavailable men, so I don’t have to get hurt. But it gets old. I’m older than most of the friends I’ve made in NYC and it feels like everyone’s leaving me behind.

So again I make a few promises to myself:

  • I will go out with any man, whatever his race/ethnicity, that asks (within reason)
  • I will find and buy a home of my own
  • It’s time to be more adventurous, a new life is bubbling forth

No sooner had I made those promises, my friend and co-worker, that amazing man I told you about earlier, asks me out, again. This time, instead of saying an insincere yes, I mean it. He’s a white guy from middle America, he’s clearly only curious, not serious, but he’s a friend, he’s nice and I promised myself to give the bold a chance.

In every decision we make there’s a glimmer of hope. There’s the possibility that it will light the fire within and change our lives.

Transformation - Part 2: A New Life

Los Angeles

We go on our first date, have an amazing time and continue to see each other through the spring and summer of 2001. We get engaged in the spring of 2002 and married in January of 2003. Life is good, things are going well, but there’s a nagging inside that there’s more to be done. More that I can do. More I need to do! But the easiest options, the safest options are my default.

It’s now been ten years since my loss. I’m 37 I’m an Executive Assistant, loving my job and enjoying being married. We’re living in California, a place I never thought I’d get to, but here we are and life is good.

Our internal lights flicker at various times along our journey. If they stay lit, is up to us.

I get wind that the Executive Assistants are getting industry raises, but I haven’t gotten one yet. So, mustering my courage, I go into my boss’ office and request a raise. There’s a flicker. I get the raise, a huge raise and a boost to our lifestyle and my confidence.

Then I get pregnant. I know what can happen. Do old fears creep up? I’m not sure. We’re excited but cautious because it’s taken us two years to get to this point. So, when I go into pre-term labor at 20 weeks, and my doctor puts me on bed rest I’m again committed to lay for as long as it takes.

It’s Free Money, Grab It

Flashes of ten years earlier come to the forefront. This time I’m doing it “right.” Safe and safety mode kick in and after 3.5 months our baby’s born. He’s healthy and I’m again going with safe choices. We leave L.A. and move home with my parents because my husband’s finished school and the L.A. air quality isn’t good for his health. I retreat to doing it “right”.

Default Mode

As I look back I realize that I’d set myself to default mode.

Default mode is when you’re going along with what’s easy, the basic programming or factory installed basics of a situation.

When I was a real estate agent I’d see lots of houses. The ones that couldn’t be priced very high were the ones that were in ‘default mode’, meaning they had builder’s choice decor. They weren’t updated or improved on in any way.

If we look at our lives we can see how we move along in default. We, especially as women, don’t want to rock the boat. We fall back on old beliefs, practices or ways that allow us to fit into our environment. That’s what I was doing.

Instead of boldly forging my way forward, I operated in the easiest mode available, fell back on outdated software and shrunk so I wouldn’t be too big for the life and space I was living.

How are you living in default? What are some things you’re putting off, ignoring or missing because they’re too “hard?”


Who decides beauty?

Sedruola Maruskaj Blog

I was having a conversation with my sister that turned to beauty. We were talking about marriage and anniversaries and how long some of our cousins have been married. We’re a huge supportive clan so we’ve all been to almost all our family weddings.

Anyway, my sister lamented that she looked “so bad” at our aunt’s wedding, but she just knew she was beautiful back then. “Why didn’t anyone ever tell me about my mustache or unibrow? How did I feel so beautiful?”

I didn’t think long before saying “we told each other we were beautiful so that’s what we all took into the world. We didn’t see your mustache or unibrow as ‘ugly’ we saw them as you.”

Who decides?

The more I’ve thought about that question the more I wonder, who decides what beauty is? Who decides that a woman with a mustache is less desirable than one without?

Did we lie or mislead her?

Mommy, Can I Change My Color?

Who decides whether we did or didn’t? I’m not sure. What I’m sure of is we were sincere in our praise of each other. We loved each other unconditionally and saw our beauty beyond the norms.

I was 95 lbs. until I was 34. That made me self-conscious because I didn’t feel I was beautiful at that size. I didn’t wear bikinis or show my arms. No one told me I wasn’t beautiful, but those I was around had curves I wanted.

My family always told me I was beautiful so I never truly doubted it, but there were counter messages that got through anyway.

At some point, someone in advertising decided what the “ideal” look would be. They took parts of ethnic women and created an ideal that has been etched into our minds. If we don’t feel we fit into that ideal, we think something needs to be changed. But does it really?

No changes necessary

No.

Beauty isn’t a product of what you look like on the outside, it’s a compilation of inner and outer beauty. I’ve seen men and women turned off by beautiful people because their beauty was skin deep. Then I’ve seen those men and women turned on by someone who would never fit the “ideal” because they glowed.

Scars To Your Beautiful

The next time you’re looking at yourself and thinking “I need to change. . . ” stop that thought. Think about your spirit. Think about your aura and consider if that’s what needs changing rather than your outer appearance.

Take it from a woman who walks around with and without breasts . . . no one cares how you look, they only care about who you are. Your person is what they respond to.

“Those who care, don’t matter and those who matter, don’t care.”

You are enough. You are beautiful. You decide, remember that!