Do you ever avoid talking about race when you meet someone of a race that’s different from yours?
In May 2020, after so many news reports of arrests and racially motivated violence across the country, two Black women and two white women from the University Women of Flagler decided it was time to face race directely. They started a group called SIS (Seeking Insights for Solutions), interviewing each other to discuss how race impacted their perceptions of yesterday and today. The four women — Bettie Eubanks, Gina Barclay-McLaughlin, Trish LeNet and Joanne Mason — soon grew to a group of about 40. What follows is an edited, condensed transcript of their “Observations” video Q+A with me at the PMG Studio recently.
Observer: What have you learned from being in the group so far?
Bettie Eubanks: When you can sit across the room from people, face to face, we find we have many, many things in common. We may be sisters from another mother, but nevertheless, we're sisters.
Gina Barclay-McLaughlin: I used this interview process when I was a professor at the University of Tennessee with my students getting to know each other. For me, it was fascinating to be able to hear their perspectives.
Observer: How did you feel like the perceptions of race differed between generations?
Gina Barclay-McLaughlin: I was really surprised to see that we haven't changed very much in our society. There's some improvements. But in terms of equality, I'm disappointed.
Observer: A lot of white people probably feel a little uncomfortable having these kinds of conversations about race. What motivated you to be part of this group?
Trish LeNet: How often do we actually have a chance to sit down with a person of another race? This was just an incredible opportunity. And we asked each other about conversations we may have had about race with our family or friends, as we were growing up, or later in our career. We saw these patterns that for most of the white women grew up in a bubble, never having really even talked about race. Maybe their parents never mentioned it, and many of them never even met a black person until they went to college. For many white people, we don't necessarily have to interact with people of another race, because we are mainly in a white-majority country, whereas the Black women, every day they have to navigate in a white world. I don't think we, as white people, appreciate the difficulties of being Black in a mainly white world.
"I don't think we, as white people, appreciate the difficulties of being Black in a mainly white world."
Joanne Mason: As a white woman, I thought I understood Black issues. And the truth is, I didn't truly understand the scope. Gina has said she was frustrated because not much has changed, and I happen to agree 100%. But we are talking about it more. I watch my grandchildren, and it’s easier for them to talk about Black-white issues. But for our whole society, still, people continue to be judged on the color of their skin. And when I speak to others, and they don't get it, I am now very frustrated because I don't know how much more clearly it has to be shown.
Observer: What’s an example of the difference between living Black and living white in our community?
Bettie Eubanks: Let’s just talk about a conversation that mothers have to have with our Black teenagers as they leave the house. If they're driving a car, you've got to talk about, “If you get stopped by a policeman, you've got to put your hands on the dashboard. You've got to say, ‘Yes, sir.’ You do not ask questions, you only answer questions.” That's here in Palm Coast. And that's all over the country. As a woman, and a mother, that's the kind of thing you explained to your children 50 years ago, and you are now still explaining to your grandchildren.
Gina Barclay-McLaughlin: I'm the eldest son of 13, so I was kind of like the third parent. And I really had to prepare my siblings on how to exist in the world. So at an early age, I understood how we needed to protect ourselves. And it's just been a part of my life with all the children I've been involved in, in my family. I had 45 first cousins, so talking to kids and preparing them so that they can be protected was very, very important.
"Let’s just talk about a conversation that mothers have to have with our Black teenagers as they leave the house. If they're driving a car, you've got to talk about, 'If you get stopped by a policeman, you've got to put your hands on the dashboard. You've got to say, "Yes, sir." You do not ask questions, you only answer questions.' That's here in Palm Coast. And that's all over the country. As a woman, and a mother, that's the kind of thing you explained to your children 50 years ago, and you are now still explaining to your grandchildren."
Observer: What can people do to fight racism?
Gina Barclay-McLaughlin: My mother used to say to us as children, “A smile will take you around the world.” So I smile a lot. But, you know, I found that a smile does not necessarily work all the time. It's amazing how people avert your gaze.
Observer: How did you feel when you saw the group grow in numbers?
Trish LeNet: Obviously, people are interested in this. They want to talk about it. The women are just incredible. We can count on each other for support. We always can bounce ideas off one another make sure that we white women are understanding the Black perspective at all times. I'm more aware of making sure that my what I say is not offensive. And it's not that we need to tread on eggshells, but it's just really important to have that feedback from them, so that so that we understand the implications of what we are saying.
Joanne Mason: The original goal that we had from this was to learn more about each other, and then help educate others
Gina Barclay-McLaughlin: I love that we've gotten to know each other, and we can talk in honest, open ways. I've connected with people in ways that are very much like my natural family. And that's pretty exciting to me because we're growing with each other.
Brian McMillan and his wife, Hailey, bought the Observer in 2023. Before taking on his role as publisher, Brian was the editor from 2010 to 2022, winning numerous awards for his column writing, photography and journalism, from the Florida Press Association.