Monday, July 15, 2013

"The Talk" In America

I'm fortunate enough never to have needed "the talk" from my parents. In fact, none of my white friends got "the talk" as far as I know. But this is a conversation that goes on in black families alongside the "don't talk to strangers" talk and the "what to do if there's a fire" talk. "The talk" teaches black kids how to deal with a police officer who sees you as a threat. Trayvon Martin, whatever he did, may not have obeyed the lessons of "the talk," and that's why he's dead. George Zimmerman walks free today, and that's why "the talk" is necessary. America doesn't care about another black kid lying dead on the street.

Though I've never experienced it firsthand, I know what "the talk" consists of. According to Gene Demby in the Code Switch article linked above, parents tell their children to make no sudden movements, answer questions clearly and deferentially, refrain from raising their voices, and keep their hands visible. Black parents must teach their children how to de-escalate a situation with police. In other words, in a scenario covered by "the talk," the police are escalating a situation with an unarmed and innocent black person for no reason other than the fact that they may "seem suspicious" or something like that. This conversation happens in the households of black families across the country.

The case of Trayvon Martin is a classic case covered by "the talk," though George Zimmerman is not a police officer. George Zimmerman followed a 17-year-old child because the child looked suspicious to him. Zimmerman postulated in a call to police that the juvenile was on drugs (he was not). As the child was being stalked, according to the parameters of "the talk," Trayvon Martin should have made his hands visible, acted politely to his assailant, and did whatever was asked of him. Maybe Trayvon didn't know if "the talk" applied to this situation because George Zimmerman didn't have a blue uniform and a badge, but the "the talk" applied because this person, like a police officer, had a gun, and according to Florida law (apparently), he was authorized to use it with deadly force.

Instead of heeding "the talk," Trayvon Martin got into a fight with George Zimmerman. And that's why "the talk" is so important. If you do what the police officer (or white man with gun) says and are extremely polite, there's a chance you'll come away unharmed. If you don't show the officer complete deference, there's no chance you'll come away unharmed. Trayvon Martin didn't obey the talk, and he paid for his disobedience with his life.

And you know what? Despite the fact that George Zimmerman started it, despite the fact that George Zimmerman got into a fight with a child and shot him dead, despite the fact that his hapless defense attorney opened the trial with a knock-knock joke, a dead Negro is just another dead Negro. Why would we pay any attention to another dead Negro on the street? Hell, George Zimmerman wasn't even arrested until his face had been on CNN for weeks.

That's why "the talk" is so important. Because even if you're a child and you disrespect a renegade neighborhood watch volunteer, if you don't follow the rules of "the talk," you end up dead. Oh and by the way, the legal system will not care that you're dead.

The fact that black families in this country feel that they need to give their children "the talk" should be alarming enough. The fact that "the talk" is 100% accurate and necessary is desperately heartbreaking.

By the way, let's not blame the jury in this case. George Zimmerman, a person we know (KNOW KNOW KNOW KNOW KNOW KNOW) to be a racist MURDERER, probably acted within his rights under the Stand Your Ground laws. All he had to do was believe that he faced at least "great bodily harm," which is open to interpretation, but if you're in a fight, that's a reasonable interpretation. He had that right as the AGGRESSOR under Florida law. If you're in a fight with someone in Florida, and if you STARTED THE FIGHT, you get to kill the person you're fighting with. That's what this trial taught us.

Stand Your Ground is on the books and holds up when a white (yes, George Zimmerman is white) man kills an unarmed black child. This from the nation that never passed an anti-lynching law.


  1. Great commentary, Jonathan. I think one of the problems with this situation is besides "the talk" black families must have with their children, every family talks with their children about how to handle people who may be trying to abduct and molest them. Many young men are taught to stand up for themselves if cornered by a creep. I believe the implication was made in the phone conversation with Trayvon and his friend Rachel that this man following him might be a pervert, although a slang word for this was used). So here the two "talks" were at odds with each other. A young person trying to get home in the rain with tea and candy shouldn't have to wrestle with such existential choices. It is indeed heartbreaking that so many of our young people do.

    1. Absolutely great point. Too many talks for kids to keep trak of. Hard to know which one applies to what.