Just about every African American reading this will surely know what I am talking about.
It’s called “the talk.” It is the conversation that African-American parents have with their children—mainly their sons—about what to do when approached by an armed police officer or public official. It goes something like this (some of you will recite this almost verbatim as you are reading the words here):
Alright son, I’m about to tell you something that might keep you out of trouble and that might save your life. It’s something that our sons have been told for generations. If you are ever stopped by the police or a public official, make yourself as small and as non-threatening as possible. Make sure they can see your hands, speak very clearly, and respond to them with yes sir or no sir. Don’t make any sudden moves, speak with a cheerful voice and most of all smile if you can.
Many black parents instruct their sons this way hoping that we can prevent any possibility of a violent confrontation or even death in these situations. Why? The answer I know is obvious but I’ll state it here—too many of our sons have suffered violence, brutality and even death at the hands of overzealous, trigger-happy folks—uniformed or self-proclaimed vigilante. In the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of the man who killed him—George Zimmerman, many African-American parents who are currently engaged in collective lament have suggested that they will “double-down” in their efforts to have “the talk” with their sons. Yanique and I have already done so, long before Trayvon’s death—and we will continue to reinforce the message over and over and over again with our young prince and others around us.
But talking to our sons is not enough.
Let’s Be Clear. The problem rests not with our black princes, but with a society that is fearful and suspicious of black men who are often imaged as criminal, violent, hyper-sexualized creatures. Some who may be reading this may think that I am overstating this fact. If so, I invite you to find the black man nearest to you (don’t worry he won’t bite!) and ask him how America feels about black men and if he has ever felt profiled or vilified before having a chance to open his mouth. I have.
I can remember the time, back in high school, when I was about 16 years old. My cousin and I were driving to basketball practice. We pulled up to a stop light, and the white woman in the lane next to us quickly glanced at us, rolled up her window and locked her door (this happened frequently to me and many of my friends).
I can remember being followed around the department store in the mall—by white and black security guards.
I can remember many times when my white friends (again in high school) got in trouble with the police and they were taken home—my black friends were taken to jail.
Yes, Yanique (who has also blogged on this subject) and I will continue to talk with our son, we will continue to coach him on what to do to lower his “profile.” You have to know though that we would rather not, because he is not the problem; but we’ll do so in an attempt to save his life in the event that he ever has a confrontation like Trayvon.
However you must know, that we will spend an equal amount of energy having “the talk,” with a society that continues to attack and question the humanity of black males—particularly young black men—our princes.
My first line of inquiry—Why are you so afraid of us?
Feeling holy and righteous anger.