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

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.

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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.

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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.

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