The Talk: Surviving Police Encounters While Black

The Talk is a rite of passage for many African-American children: parental warnings on how to handle racial discrimination from police.


| Summer 2017



Black boy

Every generation we fail to address racial discrimination in our institutions is a generation of African-American children who grow up learning to silence and diminish themselves.

Photo by Flickr/jbouie

“Mommy, the darkest people get shooted and killed and sometimes the little bit lighter ones, too,” 4-year-old Quest McEwen mused a few months ago as his mother, Tessa McEwen, listened in shock. “So, that’s why I want to be good,” he continued. “Maybe I shouldn’t talk like this so I don’t get died.”

Quest wasn’t done fretting, however, when on a more recent morning, he worried aloud that he didn’t know “if Daddy’s dead,” because his father, Jelani McEwen, had come in late the night before following after-hours volunteer work in their Chicago neighborhood.

Like scores of black and brown families throughout the United States, the McEwens are struggling with the delicate-but-brutal balancing act of protecting their children’s innocence, while educating them about the realities of what it means to be black in this country.

For these parents and their children, “The Talk” has nothing to do with birds and bees. It is about surviving police encounters, being aware of your rights and learning how to live within a complex, systemic, centuries-old framework of race-based prejudice, violence and discrimination.

The Talk is akin to a rite of passage for many African-American children, especially boys and young men. Essentially, they are taught how to behave in the presence of police to mitigate potential harm: no sudden movements, don’t question why you’re being stopped, comply with all verbal commands, never raise your voice.

Make it home alive.