‘The Talk’: How to survive while Black

by LeRon Barton

“The Talk” or “How to survive while Black” is given at one point or another to all young Black men. It is filled with different pointers and suggestions on how to handle police encounters when you are walking, driving or just breathing while being an African American.

M and his mentor, LeRon Barton
M and his mentor, LeRon Barton

My mother gave my younger brother and me the talk several years ago when we turned 12, and 15 years later I gave it to my “little brother” M, a young man that I am mentoring. Here are six important tips I gave to him:

You will be looked at as a criminal – I explained to M that it does not matter how you dress, act or talk; in the eyes of most if not all police officers, you are a criminal. There is nothing that we can do about that.

Keep your hands to your side – Many Black men have been murdered because their hands were moving or twitching nervously around police. Maybe it’s because they think we all pack 9mm; maybe they think we have the strength and skill of Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Nevertheless, keep your hands visible. We want to keep the police as calm as we can, not turn him or her into Officer Rambo.

Talk cool and keep eye contact – One thing that my mother drilled into my head when talking with police is to maintain a cool, calm voice, almost as if you are Snoop Dogg. Again, you want to keep the officer as calm as you possibly can. Also, you want to keep your eyes locked on the officer. This projects a sense of honesty, like, “See, Officer So and So, I am an ordinary Negro, not a super gangster like you think I am.”

Don’t roll with too many homies – When I was younger, me and my guys would never “roll four deep” or have four or more passengers in the car. That just screams to an officer, “Please pull us over!” This has never failed us. If four or more of us had to go to a house or place, we would either walk, take a cab or just meet up later.

“The Talk” or “How to survive while Black” is given at one point or another to all young Black men.

Pull over in public – If you are flagged while driving, try your best to pull over around people. Why? Well, you want witnesses just in case your traffic stop goes awry. Hey, more than one witness can help you in court if the police say you “assaulted” them. Speaking of police trustworthiness …

No warrant, no search – Under no circumstance do you allow a police officer to search your car without a warrant. I was taught to not consent to any unwarranted searches. Why? Well, for one, it’s within your rights. For two, you don’t want the cops to magically “find” an eight-ball of coke or weapon used in the commission of a crime. I have read too many reports of police planting evidence on Black people during traffic stops.

After I gave “The Talk” to M, he was blown away. He asked me, “Is it always going to be like this for Black people?” I looked at him, gave a big sigh and said, “I don’t know, man.”

It is a shame that we have to pass along these tips to our children to ensure their survival. They should be concerned with getting a great education and growing up to be upstanding adults, not how to walk away unscathed from an encounter with the police, a group that should be protecting us.

After I gave “The Talk” to M, he was blown away. He asked me, “Is it always going to be like this for Black people?” I looked at him, gave a big sigh and said, “I don’t know, man.”

The sad fact is that unfortunately M will have to sit down one day with a young Black person and give him or her “The Talk.”

LeRon L. Barton, a writer from Kansas City, Missouri, who currently resides in San Francisco, has been writing poetry, screenplays and short stories since he was way young. LeRon’s essays have appeared in Salon, The Good Men Project, Those People, Buzzfeed, Gorilla Convict and Elephant Journal. He is the author of “Straight Dope: A 360 degree look into American drug culture,” released in 2013, and his new book, “All You Need Is Love” is available on Amazon.com. You can reach him at www.mainlinepub.com , twitter.com/MainlineLeRon, https://www.facebook.com/ninjagaiden78 and info@mainlinepub.com.