Cultural Awareness of all races should be the norm, since we live in “a melting pot.” A huge part of this is having an understanding of people and an awareness of cultural differences. That can only be done by recognizing these differences. Although we may not fully understand how others live, we should be at least aware of those differences. That is how we grow, learn, and accept those who have a different reality than ours.
“The Talk” is one of those differences, and it is very much the norm for my community. It crosses economic and education levels because regardless of those things, we are viewed as minorities, first. I have a Master’s degree, I’ve worked as some of the best companies in the country, and I’ve never so much as had a speeding ticket. That doesn’t change that I and others with similar backgrounds and complexions can be viewed negatively. In those cases, we have to have the survival skills provided by “The Talk.” Consequently, as parents of black and brown kids, it’s our job to supply them with those survival skills.
“The Talk” was a part of my childhood. My father and mother had it, my grandparents had it, and so on. Honestly, it is a part of teaching kids survival skills and how to stay alive. “The Talk” is an additional lesson to the “stranger danger” conversations that most people have with their children.
My father spent his entire life working in law enforcement. He worked as a military police officer in the Air Force, a Philly cop for twenty years, and a Court Officer executing evictions for over twenty-five years. None of that stopped him from having to tap into the survival skills of “The Talk” provided to him by his parents.
When I was a kid, my father worked in one of the most dangerous police districts in Philly. He had “The Talk” with myself and my brother multiple times. I believe the first talk, happened when I was about five years old, and continued discussions happened until my dad passed in 2019.
So, when I had my son, I had “The Talk” with my son, and I looked to my dad to have the police officer’s version of “The Talk” that he had with me when I was growing up.
“The Talk” is not a one-time discussion, but an ongoing dialogue. The conversations are continuous because the need to have them always evolves, but never goes away.
The first time I had “The Talk” with my son, he was about five years old. That talk was a very age-appropriate conversation about what he may be faced with as he walks through this world. I had additional talks and more frequent discussions as he got older. By the age of eight, is when there’s usually a shift in how darker hued children are viewed. So, I had to have a more in-depth version of “The Talk” with my son at this age. This conversation went as follows:
- Try not to look angry, even if you are.
- Try not to appear threatening.
- Be conscious of “looking scary.”
- “Looking scary” could get you killed.
In 2012, my son was thirteen. There was a case with a seventeen-year-old, which made me have a more serious version of “The Talk” with my son. This discussion went as follows:
- Remove your hood even if it’s raining or snowing.
- Remove your hands from your pockets.
- Keep your hands where they can be seen.
- Don’t make sudden moves.
- Travel with your friends.
- Always be ready to run. This means you can’t wear flip flops.
- My father told him never to run in a straight line, always swerve if someone is shooting at him. That’s because running in a straight line makes him an easy target. I am a calm person, but this advice from my father was hard to hear.
When kids start to drive, as parents we have so many things to think about. Most of those thoughts involve our cars and higher insurance premiums. For me, in addition to that, my conversation was as follows:
- When you get a car, go neutral with the color. Buy one that won’t attract any attention.
- Don’t tint your windows.
- Don’t buy expensive rims.
- Don’t blast music.
- Try not to travel with a car full of folks.
- Make sure everything related to your car is up to date.
- Make sure you have your driver’s license, registration, and insurance at all times.
Before you pull out of the driveway:
- Put your driver’s license, registration, and insurance information together.
- Never put your wallet where you have to reach for it.
- Put your wallet in your cup holder.
WHEN you are stopped by the police, you have a few minutes to prepare yourself, before they walk toward your window. These minutes are crucial. The goal is to get out alive.
- Move your wallet from the cup holder to your dash, to your left, where the officer can reach it.
- Roll ALL of your windows down.
- Put your hands on the steering wheel, and do not move them.
- If you have a passenger in the front of your car, tell them to put their hands on the dashboard.
- Tell the passengers in the rear to put their hands on the seat in front of them, or where they can be seen. Tell them not to move them.
- If you are a passenger in a car, the above two points apply to you as well.
- When the officer comes up, he’s probably completed the check of your information.
- Answer questions politely. The goal is to get out alive.
- When they ask for your car information, tell them it’s on the dash, let them reach in, to get it. DO NOT MOVE YOUR HANDS FROM THAT STEERING WHEEL.
- Always remember, the goal is to get out alive.
My father, who was a retired cop, and predominantly displayed the police emblem in the back window of his car has been stopped by police. So he was conscious of how to come away from these stops, alive. He had the following conversation for my son:
- Listen to your mother.
- Don’t make eye contact with cops, when driving by them on the street or in your car.
- Be excessively polite, WHEN you are stopped.
- Don’t give cops a reason to shoot you.
- The goal is to remain alive.
My son will be twenty-one next week. He is a very mild-mannered, soft-spoken, blonde streak, man bun wearing, skateboard riding, kid. He’s 5′ 4″ and maybe 135 pounds. He is probably the most non-threatening young man you would ever meet, but the world as we live in may not view him as such. His presence can be viewed as “scary.”
There is not a day that I don’t think about him getting killed by someone afraid for their lives. There’s not a day that he doesn’t think about me getting killed by someone afraid for their lives. When My dad was alive, there was not a day that I didn’t think about him getting killed by someone afraid for their lives, as was he with me.
“The Talk” has been given generation after generation to provide us with the skills needed to stay alive. Until the need for “The Talk” is unnecessary, parents will probably continue to have it. I look forward to a day when it is no longer necessary.
Originally published for a workplace diversity awareness project.
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