Black Children Across Dallas Are Getting ‘the Talk’

Shonn Brown
Shonn Brown

It’s a conversation parents of black boys wish they never had to have — and one their white counterparts typically never will.

In the aftermath of the Dallas police shooting this month, many black parents have had “the talk” with their kids — a discussion about how to rise above perceptions about race and how to respond if confronted by police.

This conversation, happening across town with children of all ages, from first-graders to grown men, is just one example of how race divides our experience on a daily basis.

Most white parents never have to think about having “the talk.” Many don’t even know it’s a thing.

Within black families, it’s practically unavoidable — a parental responsibility almost as fundamental as teaching children how to tie their shoes.

Shonn Brown, lawyer

‘I don’t want to see you on the ground in handcuffs.’

Shonn Brown fears for her son.

She fears for him when he wears a hoodie like Trayvon Martin did.

Or when he asks to hang out at the mall with his white friends.

“What I see is you as the only black child in the group and something going wrong and you getting treated differently,” she said. “I don’t want to see you on the ground in handcuffs when I come back and pick you up.”

Brown’s 13-year-old son lives in a largely white world. He attends an elite private school. The family’s home is not far from Preston Hollow.

But no matter how much he relates to his white peers, his mother tells him, he’s very much a black teenager when it comes to the law.

She frets over juvenile pranks, like ding-dong ditch. She instructs him to make sure other parents know where he is at all times when visiting their homes, to buffer against unfair accusations if something goes wrong.

“I have to make sure he’s above reproach,” she said. “You don’t get to be the stupid teenager. You don’t get the luxury.”

She especially wants him to understand how to respond to police once he learns to drive.

Be respectful.

Answer their questions plainly and simply.

Sit there and take it, whatever happens.

“It’s horrible, but you answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and you come tell me,” she said. “Because the one thing I want is to see you walk back through that door.”

Charles Battle, barber

‘You already got one X against you, being black.’

Charles Battle’s son is grown, 23 and living on his own.

But when his son visited him at work shortly after the shooting, Battle said, he couldn’t help but preach a bit, as dads are wont to do. “Be extra careful,” he said. “Be compliant” if stopped by police.

Battle, a barber at Trendz Barber Shop in Southwest Center Mall, said he’s had the same conversation with young clients.

“What I want them to understand is, you already got one X against you being black. You don’t want to be black and doing the wrong thing. … Then you got two strikes against you,” he said.

“You’re already going to be stereotyped because you’re a minority, and then you’re in the wrong too. So whatever they thought was true.”

Battle knows.

He said he committed his first crime — taking a car for a joyride — when he was about 16. A string of thefts and burglaries followed. Most recently, he served time for forgery.

He started anew when he got out of prison in 2012, he said. Now, he said, when he’s not at the barber shop, he can often be found at church.

He hopes the discussions he has with his son and clients will help them avoid his mistakes and more quickly find the stability he has today.

For the first time in his life, he said, “everything is legit and straight.” Even his car is registered and insured. He has no reason to fear the police.

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Source: Dallas Morning News | Sarah Mervosh