While driving down the highway I slowed slightly to see if the car at the on-ramp actually wanted to get on the highway. . . they’re not ready. . . I drove past.
As I got to the top of the hill, I slowed my car because the upcoming intersection is a tough one to turn left from. . . I flashed my lights, they sat there, I flashed again, they sat there. . . They’re not ready. . .I drove down the hill will the endless row of cars following behind me.
It’s a phrase my high school volleyball coach used to say to us us over and over again. It’s a phrase I hear ringing in my head whenever I feel something slightly amiss, “Get in the ready position!”
At our volleyball meets, as we stood behind the net, waiting for the serve, we’d lean forward and put our hands on our knees. Anyone looking on would think “They’re ready!” But we weren’t, we were allowing fear and doubt to keep us un-ready.
“Get in the ready position!” he’d yell from the sidelines and instantly our hands would drop from our knees, down to our sides and then we knew, we were ready. We were no longer relaxed with our hands on our knees.
You see, when you’re leaning forward with hands on your knees, you’re in position to fall forward, flat on your face, not to attack the ball when it comes. It’s inertia. It’s simple.
The ready position is legs apart, leaned forward and arms at the ready by your side. Anytime we took the right stance, we’d accomplished more because we were ready.
Ready for Life
It’s the same in life. Placing ourselves in the ready position gives us more leverage than relaxing, looking like we’re ready, but having our hands on our knees.
Ready doesn’t mean perfect, it means open. That ball is coming any second now, what are you going to do with it? Are you going to fall forward and miss, or are you going to put your hands where they need to be so when it comes you’re ready to hit hard?
Many of us are sitting in the on-ramp of life waiting for an opening that will give us a lot of time to get revved up and moving. That can take a long time.
Others of us put our cars in the ready position and watch for the slightest opening to go for it!
Some of us wait for both sides of the road to be completely clear before we creep in to make that left turn. Others are pulled up as far as possible, watching faces and headlights to see when our opening arrives.
Work, prepare, then get in the ready position. Your opportunity may show up as fast as that served ball. You need to be hands down and ready when it comes.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
First Things First
It’s important to note a few things before jumping into the list:
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.