The premise for this thesis is “the talk” that Black mothers are having to have with their sons about making it out of risky police encounters alive. In the aftermath of the highly-contested 2014 death of Michael Brown, a slew of other African-American fatalities ensued, such as Dante Parker, Tamir Rice, Tony Robinson, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Philando Castile, Antwon Rose II, John Crawford III, Daunte Wright et al.—so numerous that listing them in totality is virtually impossible. These atrocities drew immense criticism over the racism of law enforcement in police departments across America and spurred public reform initiatives. However, police reform proposals have been endlessly debated and whittled down to nothing by right-wing conservatives preventing any substantive reform from being passed. As such, Black mothers have been compelled to take charge in preventing such often unjustified deaths by way of preventive talks with their sons. Resentfully, Black mothers feel that solemn obligation to discuss difficult topics with their sons about how racism and police brutality have been prevalent in Black communities for centuries. It's an ever-evolving lesson, passed down through generations, designed to instruct young Black men about how to conduct themselves in a police encounter, and stay alive! This crucial piece of advice notwithstanding, unsettlingly, within the backdrop of every conversation is that agonizing image of a mother’s young Black son, standing unarmed before an officer, staring in fear and desperation, begging for his life, and seeing utter hatred staring back at him. Only to hear the commanding words: ‘Put your F-ing hands up where I can see them. Do it now or I’ll blow you away!’ Every second of hesitation brings the possibility of a terrible outcome closer to reality. The fear that weighs heavily in mothers’ hearts is enough to tighten their throats in the utterance of each word. The skepticism and uncertainties that the talk would save their son’s life are no less daunting. Moreover, for Black mothers, the elation of their son’s existence is accompanied by a heartbreaking understanding that no amount of intelligence, kindness, or good looks can change how others may view them. In simpler terms, a Black mother tends to look at her son through the lens of other’s perceptions. Whether she is aware of it or not, this observation is done as a precautionary measure. The talk between mother and son also encompasses a discussion of certain societal norms, such as dress code expectations of African Americans that can be deemed suspicious or criminal by law enforcement. They are thus confronted with that nauseating line of reasoning, that deepens the suffering of young African American men—and the mothers left to mourn them. That is, the insistence that a seventeen year old deserved death simply because he was sagging, wearing a hoodie, looking thuggish, or carrying a cell phone that resembled a gun. Or, that the so-call eighteen-year-old “menace” deserves to be mowed down simply because his perceived larger than average frame, made him a threat. Key elements from The Talk shed light on how rational, or otherwise, mothers are compelled to caution their sons that offending an unethical, delicate officer can lead to death, a bleak reality that no mother should have to contemplate.
African American Studies|Fine arts|Creative writing
Mungin, Anthony Jerome, "The Talk" (2023). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI30988553.