During These Turbulent Times, Here’s How We Talk About Race in Our Interracial Relationship

Tips for turning an uncomfortable conversation about race into an opportunity for growth.
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The ironic thing about being in an interracial relationship is how rarely race comes up. When my partner and I fell in love, I wasn’t falling in love with a white man, and he wasn’t falling in love with a Black woman. It was just a man and a woman falling in love.

And unlike the groundbreaking show Mixed-ish, portraying a married interracial couple raising three biracial children, not every disagreement that comes up between us is a “learning moment” on cultural sensitivity or ways to fight racism. Discord for us is like most couples: differences of opinion, being triggered by something the other did or said, old emotional wounds, adjusting to 24/7 quarantine togetherness, or just being desperately hungry.

Race so seldom plays a role in our day-to-day lives. However, following the death of George Floyd, a Black man, at the knee of Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, and the subsequent protests, the whole issue of race became amplified as we grappled with these issues and complex feelings.

Coming from different cultural backgrounds and different ideologies can be a cause for some tense conversations around the targeting of Black people, police violence, and systemic racism.

Here are some things we do to take the heat out of talking about race.

To love, accept, and validate

Years ago we listed things we felt were important in keeping our relationship strong. Those things have become our communication vows: to love and accept each other and to validate one another’s emotional experiences. So rather than rush in to fix a problem, we try our best to listen first, ask questions second.

Without that kind of understanding in place, tough conversations would be almost impossible, particularly those touching on subjects as potentially volatile as race, police violence, and social justice.

The astonishing thing is that by now, these “vows” have become the invisible backdrop behind our talks, so we can fall into a place of listening with acceptance without thinking about it. This comes in handy when one of us voices frustration and the other is just able to take it in without needing to do anything about it.

If this doesn’t come easily for you (and it didn’t for us for a while) you can start with these 7 ways to be more accepting of your partner.

Actively listen

These conversations usually happen when we’re hanging out in our front yard or sitting together on the couch and the subject turns to the following: “So, how are you doing with all this stuff in the news?”

During those times, when we delve into tougher feelings, we aim for being a better listener by staying in the moment. This means putting down the book or the phone, blocking out the distractions of neighbors walking by, and fully giving our attention to the other. Here’s how couples can become better listeners and strengthen their relationships.

Listen to understand the other’s point of view

It can be challenging when we disagree on something we feel strongly about. The way we try to improve our communication at those times is to take a step back and start asking questions to better understand the other person’s point of view. It doesn’t mean that we’ll end up agreeing, but it lessens confusion and defensiveness when we can understand why the other thinks the way they do.

So, as we discuss our reactions to Floyd’s killing and the protests, we may ask the other, “How did you come to think that or feel that way?” And it’s not uncommon that it’s the first time we’ve had to think about how we formed some ideas on a specific issue.

My background of living in predominately Black neighborhoods until my teens and then predominately non-Black neighborhoods thereafter shaped my feelings on how Black people are treated. Similarly, his upbringing of being raised in a predominately Polish neighborhood in an area where different ethnicities kept to themselves, shaped his feelings on how people from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds treated each other.

We both grew up in segregated environments and were exposed to ideas and beliefs about other races that reflected our environments. Some of those ideas we abandoned if they didn’t fit our concept of the world and some we’ve kept.

To hear the other’s perspective, self-reflect on, and challenge ideologies we hold helps us refine our thoughts and see a wider picture of the world.

While it would be a tall order for him to feel what I’ve experienced as a Black woman or for me to feel what he’s experienced as a white man regarding racism, we can show empathy by striving to understand the context within which certain beliefs and opinions were formed.

Don’t worry about being politically correct

Whereas we want to be cognizant of each other’s feelings, playing nice by being politically correct doesn’t work. For one thing, that’s not our style. More importantly, though, being politically correct has no place in a frank discussion about race within our relationship.

We call it as we see it because of our core belief that our relationship is a safe place to be real.

So, when we’re talking about things we’re seeing on the news, there are things that are just unequivocal: These are images of white cops killing Black men or these are images of Black people looting businesses downtown. We don’t dance around the issue.

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Keep the dialogue flowing even if we hit a sore spot

To say that talking about race doesn’t press some sensitive buttons would be a lie. The worst thing to do, though, is to clam up and stop talking (or stonewall) because we’ve become upset. That can lead to passive-aggression and resentment. Or the opposite: speaking out of anger and saying things you should never say to your spouse or partner.

What we do instead is keep talking until both have stated their point of view and if we can’t come to an agreement, let it go and move on.

What I’ve seen happen in our conversations is that when we hit upon a provocative issue like where to draw the line between social reform and community responsibility (or if such a delineation is even useful), after a couple of turns in sharing our thoughts and hearing the other person out, we’ll eventually get to, “Yeah, I see what you’re saying.”

Be all right with opposing opinions

We have to be all right with the other person having a different opinion because we’ll never agree on everything 100 percent. Since we base opinions on feelings or ideologies and not facts, they can be contentious if we hold on to them firmly.

Knowing that we try to be clear by saying: “This is just my feeling; I’m not saying it’s a fact or that it’s even right. It’s just how I feel.”

When it comes to discussing things like social justice, we both have opinions on what should be done to address the issues, the points that should take priority, and who should shoulder responsibility for what.

And since we are not part of a governing body, but a couple having a conversation on their couch, it’s just better to allow for the fact that we see some things differently.

Build on common ground

Because discussions about race and social justice can be fraught with tension, we’re sensitive to jump on things we agree on. We take some fire out of the conversation and reestablish our connection by taking a moment to acknowledge the points where we overlap and say, “You’re right about that, or I agree with what you just said.” Those moments feel more affirming than the moments of asserting our individual point of view.

An easy point for us to agree on is that the protests are good for raising awareness, propelling social reform, and showing global solidarity against racial injustice; while looting is untenable and deplorable, detracts from the movement, and gives those who already hate people of color evidence to prop up their hatred.

Come from a place of mutual respect

We can easily reduce differences of opinion on race within a group of acquaintances by saying, “s/he just doesn’t get it” and writing the person off. Within a couple, though, where you have history and know this person intimately, you also know the following: 1.) They have a genuine interest in doing the right thing and 2.) Dismissal would be disrespectful and damaging to the connection.

One of the signs that your relationship is solid as a rock, is your mutual respect of each other. One way we show that is in the value we place on our connection and the steps we take to keep that connection strong.

Mind you, these conversations don’t go perfectly every time. We’re human and sometimes we don’t get the words right. However, we know that we’re coming from a place of wanting to understand, to be understood, and to gain a wider perspective.

These could be some of the hardest conversations interracial couples have and as we move through this moment in history together, it’s important to remember that we’re on the same team.

On the macro-level, as we hold conversations across cultures in the United States, the same holds true: We’re on the same team.

Next, read how to support the Black Lives Matter movement and become anti-racist.

For more on this important issue, see our guide to the Fight Against Racism.

[Article first published on Reader’s Digest.]

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Tamara Jefferies MA is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.

Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly, and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.

Contact her at info@growandthrivewellness.com for all your wellness writing or counseling needs.

Or just fill out the form below.

Be Well!

What My Holistic Counseling Practice Is All About

This short video gives a brief introduction to my work as a Certified Holistic Practitioner and my approach to working with clients.

What To Do With All These Emotions – How giving shape to your feelings helps you to process them.

A demonstrator stands during a march in central Auckland, New Zealand, Monday, June 1, 2020, to protest the death of United States’ George Floyd, a black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd, who after a white police officer who is now charged with murder, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes even after he stopped moving and pleading for air. (Dean Purcell/New Zealand Herald via AP)

The shape of your feelings…

Despair has a shape. Outrage has a shape. As do anger, fear, rage, or terror.

Our bodies are fully integrated vessels that are able to feel and process and move emotions healthily if we allow them to. The problem is when we hold back, hold in, or lash out.

When given time and the proper space, we can feel and express our feelings in a way that completely discharges the emotion and does no harm.

With emotions running so high right now, one thing we can do is allow ourselves to move our emotions in a healthy, productive, and healing way.

You can do this individually, and there is also a way to do this communally that could bring deep healing.

It begins with the ability to identify and speak your feeling. What are you feeling? Anger, rage, outrage, despair?

Say it out loud to another person. They don’t have to do anything in return other than show that they are listening. If you are alone, write it down, and say it to yourself. If it helps,  look at yourself in the mirror as you speak your feelings.

Next, give the feeling a shape. That is, let your body move in the way that will express the feeling.

Despair can look like you balled up in the fetal position rocking yourself side to side.

Outrage can look like you flinging your arms and legs, kicking, or punching as if you were shadowboxing but with all your energy invested into each motion.

The key is to listen to your body. Once you’ve spoken your feelings, listen to what your body wants to do to move the emotion.

In community, the most powerful way of doing this is in a circle. Allow a person (the doer)  to be in the center of the circle with one other person (the witness) who is listening to them and holding space for their movement. The witness can mimic the movement of the doer and in this mirroring relay the feeling of being seen and understood to the doer. All the while those sitting in the circle witness and hold the container for this emotional process.

If alone or in a group, give your body the time it needs to move in any way it needs to move to fully express your emotions. You’ll know when it’s over because your body will feel calm and the emotion will have subsided. You will feel more at peace.

Give shape to your emotions and feel them move through your body.

 In this way, you will have restored wellbeing to your mind, body, and spirit. Not just to yourself, but to your community as well.

4 Super Easy Stretches To Help With Your COVID-19-Related Stress and Anxiety

(Article first published on The Candidly.)

Being cooped up in the house with few outlets for our stress and anxiety has us all on edge. We’re constantly learning how to balance productively working from home with educating our children with maintaining our relationships. It’s a lot. And with gyms and yoga studios closed because of the quarantine, our fitness routines have been totally thrown off schedule.

Add in our constantly terrifying news cycle, and you’ve got a recipe for frazzled nerves, stiff necks and shoulders, and tension headaches. Now, more than ever, managing stress is necessary to keep our immune systems functioning properly.

And while exercise, taking a walk, and limiting your news intake are just a few things you can do to stay sane right now, here’s another: stretch.

Yes, really.

Stretching might seem like a simple, semi-useless task we only ever seriously consider before or after working out. But stretching can do more than just prevent an exercise-induced muscle pull. It can actually be soothing. Think of that breath you take when coming out of a deep stretch—doesn’t it kind of feel like the first good breath you’ve taken in years (or months? weeks? How long has this thing been going on for now? Is time just an endless abyss?).

So here are four super easy stretches you can do right now, no equipment needed. You don’t even have to change out of your pajamas.

1. Seated, Forward Extension

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This stretch can be done seated with legs crossed or kneeling while sitting on your heels (if sitting cross-legged is uncomfortable). Once seated comfortably, take a deep breath in as you place your hands on the floor in front of you and slowly “walk” your fingertips away from your body as far as you can.

Not everyone can go all the way down to the floor, as in the photo, and that’s fine. Find your limit and stop there, taking long deep breaths. Let your head drop, relaxing your neck. After a few breaths, see if you can walk your fingertips a little further. Grip the floor with your fingers and feel the stretch down the sides of arms and the length of your back down to your hips.

Now, remaining low to the ground, walk your fingers to the left, leaning your torso to your left side. Go as far as you can to the left, then stop and breathe long and deep. Repeat on the other side.

Finally, with your torso still low, walk your hands back to the center and then slowly walk them back towards your body until you are again sitting upright. Take a deep breath. Exhale.

2. Seated, Spinal Twist

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To transition from sitting cross-legged or kneeling, stretch your legs out in front of you then bend your right leg in a sort of half-butterfly stretch, so that the outside of your leg rests on the ground, your knee is pointed outwards, and your foot is near the left inner thigh. Then bend your left leg so that the knee is pointing up at the ceiling and the bottom of the foot is flat on the floor. Scoot your right leg inwards, so that your right foot (still resting on the floor) is underneath the left knee, and then lift your left foot off the floor, take hold of the ankle, and bring your left foot to rest just outside of your right thigh. I know—that sounded incredibly complicated, but just try to mimic the leg placement in the photo above, if that’s easier.

Take a deep breath in and extend both arms up overhead. Exhale as you turn your torso to the left, bringing your right arm to rest in the space between your left knee and chest. You can bend the elbow (as pictured) or keep the arm straight.

Twist your torso completely and bring your left hand to the floor behind you. Look over your shoulder as far as is comfortable for your eyes and hold the posture. With each exhale, see if you can twist just a bit further.

To come out of the twist, slowly bring your head around first, then unwind the rest of your body. Shake out your legs and transition to the other side.

3. Seated, 1 Leg-Extended, Side Stretch

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Sit with your legs extended in front of you then open them as wide as is comfortable. When you feel a stretch in the groin, stop. Take a bend in your right knee and bring your foot to the inside of your left thigh.

Stretch both arms up overhead as you inhale, then exhale and bend at your hip toward your left leg. Stretch the left arm as far as it can go. If you can grab your toes, great. If not, no problem. Just let your hand rest on your shin. Stretch your right arm up and over your head as far as you can, extending your fingers toward your left foot until you feel the stretch along the side of your body down to your hip.

If you want to deepen the stretch, extend all the way over until you can grab your toes with your right hand. Believe me, it can be done. And if it doesn’t happen today, know that in time, with practice, your flexibility can increase and it can happen.

4. Forward-Fold

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This has to be the most beautiful and unsung hero of stretches. Simply stand up with your feet parallel to each other, hip-width apart, or with big toes touching, heels slightly apart, extend the arms overhead, take a deep breath in, and exhale as you bend forward at the hips, letting your torso come down and allowing your head to hang toward the floor. Breathe long deep breaths and hang out like a rag-doll. Alternatively, you can bend your arms and grab hold of opposite elbows and gently sway from side-to-side.

To experience different intensities of the stretch, gently shift your weight from your heels to the balls of your feet and back again. What I love about this stretch is how gravity helps you and the longer you stay in it the further down you can bend with the eventuality being that your forehead can touch your knees.

For those of you that just muttered ‘Yeah right,’ under your breath, I understand. Some of us have incredibly tight hamstrings that will forbid us from ever reaching the floor. Not a problem. You still get the benefit of the stretch just by allowing your body to hang and extending your fingers towards your toes. If you’d like to feel greater support during the stretch, do it while standing with your back to a wall and let the wall support you.

When you’re ready to come out of the stretch, do it slowly, slowly, slowly, rising up one vertebra at a time, with your head coming up last. If you rise too quickly, you’re likely to get a headrush and feel dizzy. Take a deep breath and feel the difference in your body.

Really savor each stretch. Take as much time as you can; I recommend staying in each stretch for a minimum of three breaths, which is what really works wonders on your stress and anxiety levels.  You’ll feel renewed and refreshed afterward. And maybe you’ll even feel motivated enough to change out of your pajamas.

But, no pressure.

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Tamara Jefferies MA, is a freelance wellness writer and holistic counselor/coach based in Long Beach, CA. She has worked in the wellness field since 2005 and holds a Master’s in Somatic Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, several certifications in the specialization of trauma and trauma resolution, and is a certified yoga teacher and holistic practitioner offering transformational counseling to women.

Writing on topics that help women heal, grow, and live fulfilled and happy lives is her passion as is writing for wellness businesses, publications, and brands. She is a regular contributing writer to the wellness brand, The Candidly and a Brand Ambassador to ADORAtherapy.

Contact her at info@growandthrivewellness.com for all your wellness writing or counseling needs.

Or just fill out the form below.

Be Well!

Moms: Exactly How To Let Go Of Negative Self-Talk

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(First published on The Candidly.)

Recently, my mom was lamenting mistakes she made as a mother while my brothers and I were kids. It broke my heart. It was such a moving example of what so many moms do, which is to beat themselves up for the mistakes they made or believe they are making as mothers.

Beyond that layer of regret, however, lays a deeper, more persistent thought process of negative self-talk. It’s a process of constant self-berating that adds up to ‘I’m not good enough.’ I’m not a good enough mother. I’m just not good enough, period.

Sometimes the flood of negative inner chatter can be such a constant, that it’s hard to imagine a time without it.

If you grew up in a household of highly critical and judgmental people, then you most likely absorbed all of it like a sponge, internalizing it and on a subconscious level, turning it into your own inner critic.

So how do you talk to yourself? Do you hear harsh voices saying, ‘You’re terrible at this!’, ‘You always mess things up!’ or do you hear, ‘It’s not that bad. And everything is gonna be ok’?

If it’s the former, your inner voice might be carrying the pain and negativity of the voices who spoke to you with such judgment. Though this is just an article on the internet, here’s our attempt to give you the tools to break that pattern and avoid creating a similarly shaming internal voice for your own kids.

Your negative self-talk is not you.

Who was it in your household that was critical or judgmental of you? One of your parents? A sibling? Did they consistently undercut your confidence or intelligence? Or were their comments geared toward your appearance, like ‘it’s too bad you’ll never be as beautiful as your sister’ or ‘maybe you should skip dessert tonight.’

Comments like these brutally undermine a child’s sense of self. If that kind of talk was constant in your life, then you most likely internalized those messages until you began saying those things to yourself, and potentially, to your own child.

Here’s the thing—those thoughts aren’t yours. They were never yours. They belonged to whoever planted them in your head. The trouble is that after years of living with such harsh inner self-talk, it’s hard to recognize it as someone’s else’s shit, and let it go.

How to stop negative self-talk.

There is no quick fix or shortcut to undo a recording that was made decades ago and has been playing on loop ever since. It’s a process to unlearn toxic thinking, but you can do it.

When I started this work for myself (and trust me, it took a while for me to figure it out), it was as if I had a chorus in my head shouting terrible things to me on the regular. As I worked on it, the chorus shrank to four or five distinct voices that I named, like “Doomsday Sayer.” With a little more work, even those voices dwindled to (what I like to describe as) two guys sitting on a couch playing video games who would occasionally lift their heads to shout ‘You Suck!’ and then go back to their gaming. And today, fortunately, even they have retired.

The first step is awareness. For some, beating ourselves up is like being a fish in water—it’s all that we know. These thoughts are deep-seated in your subconscious and operating independently of your control.

The next step is to interrupt the thought. It’s a habit, and like any habit, if you’re able to throw a wrench in it, you can loosen the grip the habit has on you.

To interrupt a negative thought like, ‘I always mess things up,’ as soon as the ‘I always…’ starts say, ‘Stop’ or ‘Interrupt’ out loud or silently to yourself. The simpler the command the better. I will make a random noise or say something out loud that is completely nonsensical just to interrupt a thought that I don’t want taking root.

Interrupt it. Then replace it.

This is where a mindfulness approach really pays off. Mindfulness is the practice of being present in the moment. After you have interrupted the thought, become aware of what you are doing at that moment and give it your full attention. Say to yourself, ‘I’m washing dishes’ or ‘I’m driving to work.’

Whatever you are doing, become completely present with it. This alone can break the power of a negative thought at that moment. If the voice starts again, gently bring your attention back to what you are doing.

A word on affirmations.

Some suggest affirmations overcome negative self-talk. However, it can be hard to jump from thoughts like ‘I’m a worthless piece of shit’ to ‘I’m beautiful, I’m powerful, and I can do anything,” and actually believe it. Affirmations can feel forced and phony if you’re not feeling them.

Instead of reciting an affirmation that feels remote and disconnected, create new thoughts that are true, like ‘I’m getting better’ or ‘I’m improving.’ Those at least feel honest because you can point to something concrete in your life that you’ve improved at with time and repetition. Remind yourself of your own progress, and use that to remember how you are always getting better at something.

Create affirmative self-talk through loving-kindness.

To counter limiting judgments, we must challenge them with reality and replace them with more life-affirming beliefs. If you are constantly hard on yourself, then you are in need of a big dose of loving-kindness in the form of self-appreciation.

Here are two simple exercises that can help you cultivate self-appreciation:

IF THESE HANDS COULD TALK

 

 

Take a minute and look down at your hands. Lift them up to eye-level and look at the backs of them then turn them around and look at your palms.

 

 

 

While looking at them, think of all the things your hands do in a day. They do so much—provide care, comfort, tenderness, pick up children, groceries, the dry cleaning, prepare meals, type emails, reports, contracts, articles, etc. You do a lot. And each day you get up and do it all again.

Take a moment to appreciate them. Acknowledge all that you do and give and are to the people in your life.

CREATING NEW BELIEFS

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Take a blank piece of paper and draw a line down the middle dividing the page into two columns. On the top left write ‘Old Beliefs’ and on the top right, ‘New Beliefs.’

Under the Old Beliefs heading, start to list the first five self-criticisms that come to mind. Then on the right side, come up with alternative thoughts that are affirming and make you feel good.

Example:

Old Beliefs: I must be thin to deserve love.

New Beliefs: I deserve love regardless of how I look.

Old Beliefs: I always mess things up.

New Beliefs: If I make a mistake, I learn from it and do better the next time.

Old Beliefs: I’m screwing up my kids.

New Beliefs: I love my kids and I’m good enough.

The goal is to identify, challenge, and replace limiting beliefs in the form of negative self-talk into more constructive ones.

Why do any of this?

If you’ve been living under the weight of negative self-talk without realizing it, you may not have recognized how tiring it is. Churning out novels of diminishing thoughts uses a lot of energy. It can drag you down, zap your joy, and make life feel like a slog. It’s a burden. And for any parents out there, you need all the energy you can muster.

Don’t forget that your criticism isn’t limited to yourself. Chances are, if you’re super critical of yourself, then you are also critical of those around you, such as your children and spouse or partner.

Remember that person who criticized you in your childhood? You might be doing the same thing to the people in your own life without intending to.

That’s why it’s so important to transform our negative self-talk so we aren’t putting that crap on the people we love.

Modeling a Positive Alternative

Your kids soak up everything you say and do. The example you set both explicitly and implicitly will become the foundation that will dictate how they feel about themselves and how they interact with others.

If you constantly berate yourself in their presence, they will internalize that and learn to berate themselves too. To make matters worse, if your self-criticism has become criticism of them or the things they do, this can lead to feelings of low self-worth and low self-esteem.

Thus, it’s crucial to model positive self-confidence. Start by being kind to yourself in front of your children and avoid saying self-critical things in their presence.

Say, for example, you burn dinner one night because you are distracted by other things going on in the house. Instead of cruelly chastising yourself (‘I’m such an idiot!’) in front of your kids, you could take a breath, let out a laugh and say, ‘Looks like it’s sandwiches tonight, kids. Mom goofed.’ And ps, they’ll probably be thrilled.

In that moment, you’ve shown your kids that everyone makes mistakes, it’s not the end of the world, and that there is a solution. Instead of being self-critical, you showed yourself compassion. Your kids will pick up on that.

The negative self-talk that you’ve lived with for years is a learned behavior. The good news is that it can be unlearned. By interrupting the old thoughts and replacing them with life-affirming ones, by practicing loving-kindness and self-appreciation, you are teaching yourself the behavior of self-love.

Most importantly, you’re teaching self-love and positive self-regard to your kids. And there might be nothing more important than that.