I got The Talk. Didn’t you get The Talk?
In the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, I’ve read several articles about The Talk. Apparently, The Talk is the uniquely black experience of sitting your kids down (particularly your boys) and instructing them to be unfailingly polite to policemen even when you are ever so cross and the officer is ever so vexatious.
This one from the New York Post is typical (it’s a tragic tale of a young man who didn’t get The Talk and had to learn a tough lesson the hard way):
My moment — that is, my first moment — happened on Eastern Parkway and Utica Avenue in Brooklyn when I got into a dollar cab with my mother and brother. The cop who pulled the car over wasn’t after the driver. He was after me. I was a tall, skinny black kid with a baseball cap, and I fit the description of someone who was robbing people on the subway.
Right. With you so far.
It didn’t matter that I was wearing a baseball cap because I had been to a baseball game. I fit the description, and no one was going anywhere.
Okay, right. And….?
Wait…that’s it? You fit the description of a crime suspect and you were pulled over? And then questioned and released? Holy shit, dude, that’s supposed to be emblematic of the racial divide in America?
Seriously, if a middle-aged white woman in a denim jacket had just shop-lifted a hundred bucks worth of meat from a nearby Safeway, I would totally expect to be pulled over and felt up for sirloin. And I’d be nice as pie while they did it.
Wait! You did what?
I was uncooperative. I was angry. My mother, the churchgoing teacher, didn’t help. She was indignant, and she spewed words she would never use in the classroom. Only when the cop threatened to haul her to the precinct did I come around.
Holy god. You both did that, really?
My mother, who was sort of a proto-hippie and not fond of the authorities, gave me The Talk regularly.
You get stopped or pulled over, be relentlessly bland. No matter what. The cop is armed. He may be bored. He may be an officious prick. He may be spoiling for trouble. He may try to rattle you to see how you react.
Don’t react. Follow instructions. Be angry later.
My interactions with law enforcement have been few, thank goodness, but the advice has stood me well. It also works for judges, city code enforcers, irate bosses, large angry neighbors. Any situation where you are seriously outgunned and cannot possibly win a confrontation.
I wonder how much putative racism is because black people don’t realize how rudely white people often treat each other.