There’s been a lot of discussion as of late — as always tends to be the case when we get inundated with videos of police killing Black people — about “The Talk.” You know The Talk. It’s the conversation we have with our Black kids about what to do when confronted with police. We tell them to obey police, do not confront them and do whatever they can to stay alive with the prayer that they don’t end up like George Floyd, knowing that even if our kids do follow those directives, they can still end up dead at the hands of police officers.
We’ve all rehearsed this talk, executed this talk and reinforced its messaging throughout our kids’ lives. But for Black men who raise, educate and mentor Black boys, we have to have another talk. We have to tell our boys about the harm we cause Black women and Black LGBT folks and how it’s our jobs to value their lives. Our boys need to know that we are not free until Black women and Black LGBT people are free.
That means we have to tell our Black boys about Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau.
Toyin was a 19-year-old Black woman activist in Florida who had become well-known and respected for a video in which she’s pleading for justice for Black trans man Tony McDaniel, who had been killed by police a few days earlier. Salau was reportedly looking for places to stay and was still on the front lines fighting for the most marginalized among us to find justice.
According to Salau’s Twitter account, she was picked up on June 5th by a man who fashioned himself as someone who could offer shelter. That night he sexually assaulted her. Soon after, Salau went missing. Her body was found on Sunday night. Police have arrested 49-year-old Aaron Glee, Jr. A Black man.
The news of Salau’s murder has caused a tidal wave of pain for Black women across the country who are saddened by the tragedy. For Black men who don’t understand why, think about how you felt when you saw George Floyd get killed. Think about the disbelief you felt seeing how police could have the audacity to keep killing us even in the heart of a pandemic that is already killing us. Now imagine a Black woman who is dealing with the same pandemic, the same police killings, the fact that Breonna Taylor isn’t going to get enough attention as George Floyd and the fact that, through it all, Black men are still terrorizing their bodies and leaving those bodies lifeless in the streets. I can’t even pretend to imagine that level of oppression.
Salau was putting her life on the line fighting for Black people, like so many other Black women, and she was still subjected to the violence that Black men initiate. It’s a tale that’s told far too often to the point that I wouldn’t blame Black women for staying at home and leaving us to our devices to combat white supremacy by ourselves. We have taken for granted that they will fight for us no matter what. We disregard the way they save so many of our lives and we like to forget the fact that the very same Black Lives Matter phrase we chant in the street was birthed by Black women. And even if these women didn’t fight so tenaciously for us, they’d still be worth better than we have given them simply by virtue of being human. By simply being people we were born to love and cherish. This shouldn’t be as difficult for so many of us to grasp.
Because I need for us to be very clear on this all: Black men have never stopped bringing violent terror to Black women and Black LGBT people’s lives. It’s been past time for us to end this. And Black men are the only people who can stop Black men from doing what we did to the Oluwatoyin Salaus of the world.
That means our version of The Talk has to change. We as Black men can’t just tell Black boys about the targets on our backs. We have to tell them about the targets we have allowed to stay locked on the most vulnerable among us and the ways we are the ones aiming our weapons at those bullseyes. We have to tell our boys about consent, about valuing Black women’s bodies, about the ways we can uplift our queer family and make spaces for Black trans people. We have to raise Black boys that don’t grow up to be Black men who make the world less safe for Oluwatoyin Salau.
However, in order for us to have that talk as Black men, we have to get right with ourselves and come to the realization of several truths. We have to acknowledge our complicity and active participation in the degradation of Black women and LGBT people. None of us as men are innocent. We have all at different levels contributed and perpetuated the patriarchy that is killing women like Salau. Even as we try to dismantle these systems. In order for us to tell our Black boys what they can do for the most marginalized among us, we have to see where we fall short and raise our boys to be better than we are. If we as Black men can conceptualize the fallacy of bad apples in police forces then we should be able to understand how masculinity creates a similar code of arms that protects Black men at the expense of Black women and LGBT communities even if we are not pulling the proverbial and literal triggers.
Just like it is white people’s responsibility to talk to other white people about how to put an end to white supremacy and raise anti-racist kids, it’s on Black men to teach Black boys how to end the misogynoir, homophobia, toxic masculinity, rape culture, sexual abuse that we actively participate in every day. You have to understand your role in how Black women’s bodies are discarded. You have to teach your son to be better.
We have already failed Oluwatoyin Salau. I have failed Oluwatoyin Salau. We. Me. Us. Black men. But we can still save women in the future. That starts with us as Black men and what we tell our boys.
We give our boys the talk to save their lives. We pray with every syllable that leaves our lips and hope that it saves our boys from white violence. We need to speak words of love, reckoning and whatever it takes to stop our boys from growing up to be men who wreak havoc on Black women and LGBT folks. To be boys who raise up these marginalized among us higher than we’ve ever raised them before. Do it for your boys. Do it for Black women. Do it for Toyin.
David Dennis, Jr. is a writer and adjunct professor of Journalism at Morehouse College. David’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, The Smoking Section, Uproxx, Playboy, The Atlantic, Complex.com and wherever people argue about things on the internet. Read more of his work on NewsOne here.