The dreaded “talk” strikes discomfort and apprehension in the hearts of even the bravest parents. From body parts to loving relationships to how sex actually occurs, we must boldly navigate the topic for the sake of (hopefully) raising well-balanced adults. But for me, and likely many other parents, there’s another “talk” that makes my stomach churn in a way that the sex talk never did. It’s the “how to be safe as a black man” talk.
The same heavy questions apply: How much do I say? What are they ready to hear versus what do I need to tell them? How do I introduce all of this in a way that’s not scary or shameful but empowering? How do I give my son knowledge that prepares him for a world that still sees color, while letting him live in the power that we are all equal because we are human beings not defined just by our gender, race or religion? Those are tough questions for any parent to grapple with, and this is certainly an intense conversation to have with a child.
For me, I have an additional layer to juggle due to the fact that I’m a white woman raising a black son. That means that for all of the inequities and judgments and struggles I see from my white world, there are thousands more that I don’t see. And while I can, for the most part, field questions about sex and relationships, I feel utterly unprepared for my son’s deeper questions about why he’ll be treated differently sometimes and how to stay safe. And I need to have the answers for him, because where he is and how he behaves may have a life or death consequence for him some day.
To prepare for the “talk,” I’ve watched videos of black parents sharing this information with their children and I’ve read articles on what points are important to cover. And while I follow the news and I know about the double-standard people of color – particularly blacks – often face from law enforcement, my white privilege means that I don’t automatically think of the specific ways to keep my son safe.
Where do your hands go when a police officer walks up to your car? I honestly had never given that any thought. How do you get your paperwork out without making the officer think you’re going for a gun? Again, that never crossed my mind. I’m white. I’m a woman. I’m not a threat.
After all of my studying and research, will I be ready to answer his questions? I had to think through these basic scenarios and listen to tips and advice just to be prepared with the basics. How will I help him navigate the deeper stuff? How well will I manage my heavy emotions as a mom and as a white person with privilege when I talk with him? I need him to know that I’ll be strong for him and I’ll always have his back and fight for him. No matter what.
I’m not quite ready yet. I’m probably never really going to be “ready” to have this talk with my son. But he’s 10, turning into a young man before my eyes. So, I’ll do a little more preparing and fortify my emotions, and commit to this conversation when we’re both “ready enough” for it.
*And if you have any thoughts or advice for me or other parents preparing for this talk, please share in the comments field!