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:


George Floyd Vigil Speech – 6-10-20

George Floyd Vigil Speech 6.10.20 | Sedruola Maruska

I’m a momma to two beautiful humans. My son is 13 and my daughter is 9.

When my son was about 2 years old we took him to the Clinton pool.

As I put him in the water I fully expected he’d have some trepidation, take it slow and be cautious. Turns out that’s what I was feeling, not him!

My son dove in like he’d been there before and it was up to me to pull him up. Everytime he dove into the water he was confident that I’d be there to pull him up.

I want to stop here to say: I’m not a very strong swimmer so there was real fear associated with putting my baby in the water

However, very early on, I decided two things:

  • 1 – Not to project my fears on my children
  • 2 – All questions answered truthfully

I had no idea what I was in for. . .

So we’re at the pool, my son is challenging my decision not to project my fears right out of the gate. When we get a chance to rest, I turn to my husband, who was on the swim team from 7th grade to 12th grade and say “maybe we should get him some arm floats or one of the life vests that will help him stay on top of the water.”

“No. If he learns to rely on the floats, he won’t develop his ability or confidence to do it on his own.”

“fine”

Which is why neither of my children has ever had floaters, they’re strong swimmers and I’m flirting with high blood pressure.

Mommy, Can I Change My Color?

Vagina

Let’s fast forward a few years and my son is now 6, he’s gonna hate me sharing this story, but I must. . . I’m a momma

It’s November / December time and we’re sitting around the dinner table.

Christmas is coming so my son proudly bursts out “I know what I want for Christmas!”

My husband and I both say “great!” what do you want, let’s put it on your list to send to Nama, Poppa and Grandma & Papa.

“I want vagina!”

Some of you, right now, are wondering “what’s wrong with this lady?”

Trust there’s method to this madness. . . and remember that vow to answer all questions? Yeah

My husband quickly jumps up from the table, walks over to our refrigerator, opens the door so my children can’t see, and proceeds to choke himself with laughter.

I, on the other hand, stuck with this revelation must venture forth, straight faced.

“Well honey, that’s not really something you can get for Christmas.”

“It’s okay mommy, my friend says that’s not a bad word”

“no, it’s not a bad word, but you can’t have it for Christmas.”

Do not project fear

Answer all questions

Educate to Elevate: Racial Sensitivity Coaching

“The Talk”

When my kids were younger the questions were innocent. Benign. The fears I had were of being able to keep them alive, under my care.

As I said my son is 13. Next year he’s going to be a freshman in high school. In a few short years he’ll be driving and going out with his mostly white friends.

So I have to have “The Talk” with him.

Not the birds & the bees talk.

Not the stay away from drugs talk.

Not even the buckle down and start to consider what you want in life talk.

No, I have to talk to my son about how to stay alive and come home to me.

You see, we’re getting to the stage where I can’t be there to pluck him from the water.

We’re getting to the stage where he’s no longer cute, he’s a black kid.

We’re getting to the stage where, he’s a threat.

George Floyd Vigil Speech given 6.10.20 | Sedruola Maruska

As a momma who’s vowed not to project her fears on her children, it’s hard to circumvent this talk.

At the end of the day, all I want is for my son to come home to me. So I need to tell him:

  • Don’t do everything your friends do, because if there’s trouble, you’re the first one to get grabbed
  • If you’re stopped or questioned by the police, stay calm, be respectful and no “unauthorized” movements
  • The world will treat you differently because you are black, be aware

As a momma who’s vowed to answer all the questions. I sometimes feel a huge burden to have to answer the ones regarding race. It’s a far cry from wanting vagina for Christmas at 6.

Why can’t I do what my friends do? Why won’t they get in trouble?

  • Because of the perceptions others will have of you, because of the color of your skin.

What if I’m stopped for no good reason, can I ask why?

  • Yes, but always remain calm, even if you’re right, you’re not right

Why will the world treat me differently?

  • Because the system of racism that we live in establishes certain norms.

How do we fight that?

  • With collective awareness, education and love.

George Floyd

George Floyd is a victim of the system of racism that exists in this country.

While he was breathing his last, he cried out for his mama and all mommas were activated.

We were activated because we understood that when a child cries out for his momma, he’s in real pain.

We knew because we know how hard it is to send our hearts out into this world on a daily basis, praying they’ll come back to us safely. . . black moms have an added burden.

I watched the video in utter horror because in George Floyd’s face I saw my brother, my cousins, my friends and my son.

Mamas – what if we shared the burden?

What if we all talked to our kids about the part they can play in protecting each other, and especially their black friends.

What if white mothers everywhere also had “the talk” with their sons and daughters.

  • “don’t do things that will put your black friend’s life in the line of fire.”
  • “If you’re stopped while with a black friend, stay calm, don’t escalate the situation so you can both get home safely.”
  • “be aware of the privilege you have that allow you to walk the streets freely, and which condemns your friend.”

Mommas, our babies become children, and our children adults.

When we instill information early that allows them to see and use their privilege to dismantle the system when they grow into working humans. We’re making a difference.

I’ve been encouraged by the awakening I’ve seen in the past few weeks.

Two and a half weeks ago, only George Floyd’s family, friends and acquaintances knew his name. Today, his face graces murals around the world.

We watched in horror as he died. We watched as an oppressive force choked out his life and a 17 year old girl begged and pleaded for his life while still having the presence of mind to film what she was watching.

We heard and registered when he cried out for his momma.

This evening, as we remember George Floyd, let’s also remember:

  • Amaud Arbery
  • Breyona Taylor
  • Atatiana Jefferson
  • Bothem Sean
  • Stephon Clark
  • Jordan Edwards
  • Keith Scott
  • Philando Castile
  • Alton Sterling
  • Sandra Bland
  • Walter Scott
  • Tamir Rice
  • Mike Brown
  • Trayvon Martin

And so many other black humans who’ve been killed by an oppressive racist system that doesn’t see the value in their black lives.

Let’s dismantle the system by teaching white children not only to “be nice” but to be curious.

White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism

Teach them to think critically and question everything.

Teach them to look from the other perspective and embrace difference.

Teach them to see color, not to fear it, but to inquire about it.

Teach them that talking about race isn’t political, but personal development.

As a black woman. A black mother. The firstborn child of Haitian immigrant parents. A wife to a white man and as a citizen of the United States my experience, the way I see and walk in this world will always be different from

A white woman, A white mother, a child of native born parents married to a same race spouse.

So please listen to my cry as I’ve listened to yours.

When I say I’m hurt, don’t take it personally, it’s not personal. Move away from feeling guilt, shame or whatever other feeling allow you take it personally and realize, it’s not personal.

I don’t want to project my fears

I want to answer all questions truthfully

As hard as that is in every situation, it’s the only solution.

Please, don’t project your fears.

Listen, and ask all questions truthfully, humbly.

There’s no longer a place for complacency. . . He cried out for his mama. . . all mamas everywhere were activated. . . It’s time to do your part.

Thank you.