I am not sure that “The Talk” is a discussion that occurs in a one-time sitting. I’ve been having this conversation as a series of talks over time as my sons mature, become more curious, have their own experience, and witness news in the media. When I was growing up, “The Talk” referred to a sit-down about the birds and bees. Today, it’s an open dialogue that many Black families are having across America, particularly with their sons, on how to respond to law enforcement with the sole intent of surviving these encounters.
I remember the day I began these serial conversations. It started with a role play of what to do when you enter a store, especially if the clerk is not Black. They have been in the car with me while I was being pulled over and I modeled what I had practiced with them. They understand why it’s important to not be in certain places, to avoid other places at certain hours, and why it’s not always wise to wear certain apparel. Progressively, more is added until I was staring my teenage son in the face to explain why the latest Black name-hashtag is trending—that someone’s Black child is dead. All the while, I peppered hopeful survival tips for my son hoping to keep him alive.
It’s 2020, and my number one prayer is that American police do not murder my sons. Read that again.
“The Talk” varies from family to family but the gist is typically found in these main ideas:
●Remain calm. Avoid sudden moves. Narrate what you’re doing as you’re doing, but with permission.
●Do not express any anger. Do not raise your voice.
●Be respectful. No swear words. No vulgarity or profanity. No name-calling. No sarcasm.
●Do whatever it takes to return home.
●It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to cry.
●Remember that you have worth and value beyond how they treat you.
●An understanding of how dangerous it can be to have a run-in with law enforcement (even when you aren’t doing anything wrong and especially if you are doing something wrong.)
●An understanding of how they are viewed by “white America” one they reach a certain age/stature/awareness.
I am an educator. I love to read books to my children, and I enjoy using stories to teach and equip them. In the world where I come from, I know that education is power and that citizens (even minors) have rights. I also know the value of imparting education for the sake of empowering children and teens to know, protect, and advocate for themselves.
So, I bought a book.
I Know My Rights: Bill of Rights authored by Mysonne Linen and Heddrick McBride is recommended throughout the Black homeschool community since it was published earlier this year. The narration is written in rhyme with a simplistic style for children to easily grasp and for adults to clearly teach. By the time Black children are old enough for “The Talk” they are usually familiar enough with the Bill of Rights, but I most appreciated how these authors articulated the rights of the accused and “bonus” pages that intentionally (and brilliantly) offered parents opportunity to discuss what’s legal when you’re interacting with the police. I was eagerly inspired to create various scenarios that could happen and equip them on how to best respond. It helped me to realize that while I cannot afford to lose focus on teaching my sons how to survive, I can also add other situations that are likely to happen as well like:
●What do you do if an officer properly cuffs you?
●What do you do if you’re in an interrogation room at a police precinct?
●What do you do if an officer asks to search your person, vehicle, or home?
●What are Miranda Rights and how do they protect you (and how do they not)?
●What does it mean to make a statement or give a confession?
●What legal rights do you have and what legal rights do the police have?
●Who do you call if you’re ever arrested? What code or signal will you use, if any?
●How does the law shift for a teen who is 16, 17, or 18 years old?
●How to not automatically be aggressive to cops just because they’re white or feel too comfortable with cops just because they’re Black.
This is the type of book where you read an amendment at a time, sit the book down, and explain and discuss until you’re finished reading the book. It’s only 25 pages, but your discussion could last hours past dinner. I appreciated Linen and McBride’s work because it created space to not just limit “The Talk” to physical survival but also legal survival too. Thank you, both.
Love, Light, and Rights