For generations, black parents have given the same lecture to their children: Don’t act out. Stay away from bad places. Avoid confrontations.
It’s a how-to guide for surviving police encounters, a list of do’s and don’ts every black person should follow if they want to avoid being brutalized or killed by police officers or other white people.
But after the deadly confrontations we’ve seen in recent weeks, what exactly should black parents be telling their kids now?
Some black people may now be wondering if there is any precaution they can take that will protect them during encounters with white people.
Blackmon, a pastor and activist in St. Louis, made that statement four years ago. One could argue that the guidelines in The Talk offer even less protection today.
‘The Talk’ is mostly about how to behave around police
“My father slapped him down, and the police said to him ‘you can handle him now,’ ” says Robinson, who lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. “It was typical. We whip our kids so the police won’t have to.”
Robinson says he teaches his children how to “de-escalate” situations with the police, but he wonders what behavior even works anymore.
“You used to say do what the police tell you and you’d probably be alright,” Robinson says. “You don’t get that sense anymore.”
But maybe it’s time to shift its focus
The Talk has to change, says Robinson, who adds that it traditionally put the burden on black behavior. There wasn’t a critique of police behavior — It was all about what black people were supposed to do.
That created a sense of hopelessness, he says.
“It puts the focus on us rather than where it should be — on racism in the police department and the way black people are targeted,” he says. “We are Americans and we ought to have a right to have a bad day, to question a police officer or to question an order that doesn’t seem right.”
In the meantime, Robinson says he and his wife continue to have The Talk with their 27-year-old son and their two daughters, ages 22 and 19.
He says he teaches his children how to be aware of their surroundings and a police officer’s movements and how to calm a situation. He also teaches them they have a right to question the police — but only in a way that doesn’t endanger their lives.
“We have to be better trained than the officers, and that’s a damn shame,” he says.
Robinson says he also tells his children they have a right to be angry. He himself got angry when he watched the video of the white officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck as he held him down.
“He knew he was being filmed and he still responded as if he knew his whiteness was inevitably going to protect him,” Robinson says. “That kind of arrogance — what can you do?”
More black parents may be coming to a conclusion that’s as stark as the videos of these tragic incidents: Do everything right and it may not matter.
The talk may no longer protect us.