Parents around the country were scrambling to warn their children what to do if they had a chance encounter with police. They were repeatedly running down the lengthy and growing list of what to say — nothing — and how to act — be respectful, don’t make eye contact — should they be aggressively confronted by law enforcement, who have long hunted people who look like them while wielding a very real license to kill that, if used, brings very little repercussion, if any.
No, that’s not a reference to the Trump administration’s immigration soldiers waging war on migrants legally seeking asylum in the U.S. Instead, it’s also an accurate description of situations many Black people have either found themselves in with their own police encounters. That particular consistent presence in America has singlehandedly prompted generations of Black parents to have “the talk.”
“The talk” has had many incarnations since parents and guardians alike began having it with their children and other young loved ones in an effort to prepare them to deal with the harshest realities of society. Emphasis on “talk” topics have varied over the years, but the conversation invariably always seems to revolve around one single constant: the police. As race relations worsen, white supremacy has been flourishing, circumstances that require an evolving, updated version of “the talk” to properly prepare today’s youth for the 21st century as we know it.
Black children have always been warned how to behave around authority figures, which rarely, if ever, included people who looked like them. This phenomenon dates back to slavery and has lasted centuries by manifesting itself in the present with Jim Crow-style police, which has shown itself to be simply unable to rid itself of the implicit bias that fuels the seemingly endless string of killings that disproportionately affect Black people.
It is for that very American tradition that Black children, in particular, must live under a special set of social circumstances that compel parents and parental figures to sit kids down and give them “the talk.” To be sure, “the talk” is far from exclusive to Black people. But this “talk,” by and for Black folks, is like none other simply because of the deadly collision of race and law enforcement that ends in hashtags and rarely justice.
As one woman featured in a New York Times video about “the talk” said, “These are conversations that people of other races do not have to have with their children.”
Having these types of conversations with young people is known in the academic world as racial-ethnic socialization (RES), which “involves teaching children about their racial and ethnic heritage, as well as, preparing them to cope with discrimination.”
And while raising a Black girl in America is no small task, statistics have shown that Black males also get a pretty raw deal from society, making “the talk” with Black boys, who have historically been criminalized at an early age, that much more daunting and necessary at the same time.
“My black son—I have always taught him to treat the police the same way he would a Klansman, because in parts of the south where he grew up, they were often the same,” Angela Jackson-Browne, of Indianapolis, said about her 24-year-old son shortly after Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson shot and killed the unarmed, 18-year-old Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. “He is taught to interact with them as little as possible. Get stopped for a traffic violation: Use your Sunday school manners. Keep your hands where they can be seen, and above all else, do not argue. My daddy passed on that lesson to me, and sadly, if I have grandchildren, it seems they too will have to get this same, dirty lesson.”
Nowadays, the “talk” can (and should) include a mandatory tutorial for using a cellphone to record an interaction with police as a means for protection. But it also must include the following 10 points, according to the Rev. Dr. Frank Thomas — Director of the Ph.D. Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric and the Nettie Sweeney and Hugh Th. Miller Professor of Homiletics at Christian Theological Seminary — who shared his “10 Rules Of Survival If Stopped By The Police”:
- Be polite and respectful when stopped by the police. Keep your mouth closed.
- Remember that your goal is to get home safely. If you feel that your rights have been violated, you and your parents have the right to file a formal complaint with your local police jurisdiction.
- Don’t, under any circumstance, get into an argument with the police.
- Always remember that anything you say or do can be used against you in court.
- Keep your hands in plain sight and make sure the police can see your hands at all times.
- Avoid physical contact with the police. No sudden movements, and keep hands out of your pockets.
- Do not run, even if you are afraid of the police.
- Even if you believe that you are innocent, do not resist arrest.
- Don’t make any statements about the incident until you are able to meet with a lawyer or public defender.
- Stay calm and remain in control. Watch your words, body language and emotions.
Of course, there is no foolproof method for dealing with police. Even the most compliant of innocent suspects have found themselves on the wrong end of a bullet from a trigger-happy, implicitly biased officer’s service weapon. But the above 10-step program to self-preservation is more than a good start.
Future versions of “the talk” are bound to bear the hallmarks of past iterations, natural evolution also means that “the talk” must evolve, as well. But as white supremacy nears becoming a new normal, Black people in America probably should be experiencing a heightened sense of urgency to pay it forward by informing future generations of their children with the most updated version of “the talk.”
Their lives just may depend on it.