“I’m Ariel Skye Williams, I’m 8 years old, I’m unarmed, and I have nothing that will hurt you.”
Ariel tells the camera what her father taught her to say if she encounters a police officer. She raises her hands in the air as if she is surrendering.
So begins the viral video from The Cut, featuring Black parents talking to their children about how to engage with the police so they won’t be harmed or killed.
In a country where police killed 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and most recently, 17-year-old Antwon Rose, Black parents do whatever they can to teach their children they can’t assume the police will protect them—oftentimes, they can assume exactly the opposite.
This heartbreaking yet necessary conversation with Black children about predatory policing is often known as “the talk.”
The talk about how Black children must behave around police officers so that they might have a chance in this world. The talk about how Black children can’t “scare” white women or they might be killed. The talk about how Black children can’t anger white men or they might be killed.
The talk about how Blackness alone is enough to warrant a death sentence from the police.
As I scroll on social media, I see a lot of white parents say how sad it is that Black parents have to have “the talk” with their children. And it’s exhausting.
I am tired of hearing white parents say that they feel sorry for Black parents who must have this talk with their children. Because often, I never hear that sadness paired with a commitment to have “a talk” with their white children.
A talk where they commit to teaching their white children how to be disruptors instead of enablers of injustice. The talk where they explain that it takes intention to dismantle their complicity in racist systems. The talk where they refuse to be bystanders and strategize about how they would intervene if they saw a Black person being harassed or abused by police.
A talk where they teach their white daughters not to weaponize their emotion for violence. The talk where they don’t just memorialize the name of Emmitt Till but they also denounce the behavior of Carolyn Bryant Donham, whose lies about her encounter with Till led to the 14-year-old’s lynching.
White parents must tell their daughters, “You are accountable for the trauma that your manufactured drama creates. The manipulations associated with the assumptions of white female innocence and naïveté have historically resulted in Black death. Over and over again. And in this family, we will do otherwise.”
It’s time white parents teach their sons that it isn’t enough to avoid the extremes of toxic masculinity and racism—that the everyday acquiescences of white men in the names of attaining and maintaining power has a real cost. That the heroes and “good guys” in our history books often maintained oppression, only pivoting for political gain, not out of the goodness in their hearts.
Who would white sons be if they interrogated the stories of people like former Supreme Court Justice, Hugo Black, who both joined and left the KKK relative to what he perceived as the politically favorable action of the moment. White parents need to tell their sons, “The expectation to be anti-racist doesn’t change depending who is in the room and what money is at stake. In this family, we will be anti-racist, always.”
Yet, white parents rarely get this direct with their children, instead settling for discussions that erase identity instead of teaching how whiteness comes with a responsibility to dismantle privilege.
These colorblind versions of the “talk” have resulted in generations of white people who think having Black partners, friends, or co-workers make them inherently anti-racist. And that they have no additional responsibilities to protect these Black people they claim to love.
But as long as the police continue to harass and kill people who look like me, white people aren’t having enough real “talks” with their children.
White sadness about Black pain is purely symbolic without an equal commitment to end that pain.
I watch white “allies” comment that Black death makes “them sad” and then continue life as usual. This upholds the narrative that they are good people without requiring them to advocate for saving Black lives—it’s exploitative and exhausting.
If you aren’t having “a talk” with your white children and calling your family to anti-racist action, then stop pretending you’re not a part of why “the talk” has to exist for Black children in the first place.