The talk or the dreaded call – updated

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“Uh, uh, you’re not going to get me to touch that one!”

That’s been my line when I get requests to address some thorny societal issues that spring up from time to time.

But the fact is that there are persistent issues (and persistent people) that/who won’t let you off the hook that easily. The Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and other tragedies come immediately to mind as an issue.

“Terry, I know you are chomping at the bit to step into those tinderbox issues,” dared one person recently. I could tell by the look on his face that my canned response was not what he’d wanted. Two similar conversations – with different people, same suggestion, same topic, my same response – ensued over the following weeks.

Now this pattern got me scratching my head with the burning question, “are there teachable moments from these incidents that maybe I’m missing because of my hesitation?”

Over the last few months there’s been lots of media coverage, finger-pointing and anguished private conversations about these that hit close to home for many of us, parents of young black males in particular. In the aftermath – and even before – many of us had or are having “the talk” with the young black males in our lives.

So what’s “the talk?”

According to a parent in a recent article in a national newspaper, it involves teaching young black males who may find themselves in dangerous situations to;

“Be aware that because of their race, some may stereotype them and treat them based on that stereotype.”

“Avoid confrontations with authority figures.”

“Remain calm in tough situations even if their rights are perceived to be violated.”

Should we tell our sons that because of the color of their skin they may be seen as threatening to others outside the home? Should we encourage them to always dress nicely (sans the “hoodies”), talk articulately, have their papers ready and turn the other cheek if trouble looms? Or do we even not bring this subject up with them in the first place, as some would suggest, therefore raising something that they may never encounter, thereby introducing unwarranted fear and paranoia?

Do we role play with them on how to handle themselves if – no, correct that, when – they find themselves in a potentially dangerous situation because of a possible racial stereotype? Or do we just sit back when they leave our home and pray that we don’t get that dreaded late night bad news call we never, ever want to get?

These are the difficult questions many parents of black males struggle with. And there are plenty of others to be sure.

Now the real reason why I decided to tackle this is because I had a chance to test the appropriateness of this as a topic with a number of folks I know whose perspectives I deeply value and respect.

And I, like everyone, I was deeply upset and angered by the killing of those two police officers in Brooklyn this past weekend and, by extension, the potential impact of those murders could have on interactions between police and black males during those inevitable future “traffic stops.”

“Of course it is Terry,” said a Muslim friend on the question of topic appropriateness. “Don’t you remember my telling you about the Muslim kids who were being treated badly in the aftermath of 9/11? My husband and I certainly had to have such a talk with both our sons and daughter, all of whom are very much Muslim in reality and in dress.”

“This transcends black folks Mr. Howard,” said white male manager. “We’ve had to have the talk with our daughter when she turned sixteen and started to go out on her own.”

Said a gay friend, “Call it “the talk,” or whatever you choose Terry, this is one of those necessary conversations members of my community must have all the time, especially with those who some may perceive as “acting gay.”

“Terry, have you ever heard the term DWH?” asked a Latina friend. “It means Driving While Hispanic,” and that can get you stopped and frisked in a heartbeat, especially since we are all “illegals from Mexico.”

“Not to diminish a important issue Terry, but I’m a diehard Texas Longhorn football fan and made the mistake of walking into a bar in Oklahoma years ago with a Longhorn cap on. The resident “Sooners” let me know in no uncertain terms that they would rather I head back down to Texas,” said Arnold. “My son, an equally rabid Longhorn fan got “the talk” from me as soon as I got back home.”

Here are few add ons for consideration during “your talk”:

  1. Always have your papers – license, registration, insurance card – ready for presentation if stopped.
  2. Keep your hands visible and ask for permission to reach for the glove department, wallet, etc. if your papers are not immediately accessible.
  3. NEVER argue back even if you honestly feel that you got stopped for DWB (Driving while black) or Latino, or Muslim, or transgendered, or ….
  4. Try to empathize with how difficult – and sometimes dangerous – it is to be a police officer. Respect them and the service they provide
  5. ALWAYS obey traffic laws …always! 
  6. Know that blaring music and tinted windows – or even the make and model of your car – can increase your prospects for getting stopped.

In closing and in parting, maybe it is not a bad idea to initiate “the talk” if it helps to bring one person home safely – and alive – regardless of his/her race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, baseball cap, or any other difference for that matter.

So do we initiate “the talk,” or do we wait for this call:

Mr/Mrs. (insert your name here), I’m sorry to have to deliver the bad news that your child (insert his/her name here) tragically is no longer with us. We need for you to come down immediately to identify the body!”


NOTE: Several readers suggested that I repost this one and encourage all readers to pass this one along even if they don’t have someone in their life that may be impacted. Others suggested that this one be used for local discussions at churches, schools, provide homes, ERGs, counseling sessions, police precincts, and other places where others can benefit from the key points here.

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One comment on “The talk or the dreaded call – updated”

  1. I discovered your blog site on google and check a few of your early posts. Continue to keep up the very good operate. I just additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Seeking forward to reading more from you later on!…

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