At Some Point, A Parent Gives The Talk

At some point, a parent gives The Talk. Steve McIntyre. The Daily News. Thursday, December 11, 2014. B4

As some of you may know, it is the custom—no, it is the requirement—of every parent of a young man who is not white in this country to have The Talk.

My wife and her parents immigrated into this country from Zacatecas in central Mexico under the old bracero program. As the family grew they migrated and struggled to live like all farmworker immigrants. My Texas born brothers-in-law were taught to be careful when stopped by the police or rural county sheriffs. They received The Talk.

When it came time a few years ago I had The Talk with my son. He is a surfer, and at that time he worked as a beach life guard for Peter Davis. Before the summer was half over he was darker than his uncles and grandfather or the other campesinos throughout the history of our family.

It is possible that all parents have talk with their sons and daughters about how to behave in public. But there is a special urgency when your son is not as white as he needs to be to eliminate that gnawing fear when he is still out late on Saturday night in a neighborhood where some would think he should not be… driving a car some would think he should not be in… and if stopped by the police… possibly saying things he should not say.

About 15 years ago Bruce Springsteen wrote the song “American Skin—41 Shots.” It was inspired by the police shooting death of Amadou Diallo in New York City. It prompted the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in New York City to call for a boycott of Springsteen’s final ten-show run at Madison Square Garden in 2000. After Trayvon Martin’s death in 2012 he inserted it back into a couple of his concerts and then again after the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in 2013.

It is a powerful song and a couple lyrics particularly strike home–

Lena gets her son ready for school

She says now on these streets Charles

You got to understand the rules

Promise me if an officer stops you’ll always be polite

Never ever run away and promise momma you’ll keep your hands in sight

Cause is it a gun?

Is it a knife?

Is it a wallet?

This is your life

It ain’t no secret

It ain’t no secret

The secret my friend

You can get killed just for living in your American skin

There needs to be a conversation—lots of conversations… and then some action. Parents and their sons should not have to live and fear like this in America.

Young men of color in every family receive The Talk. The heartbreaking… fearful… urgent… Talk… and afterward we hope our sons have listened, remain lucky and will go on to live long lives and raise their own sons.

Hopefully, a future generation will be able to quietly wave good bye to their sons on a Saturday night without worrying that it will be the last time.