When Martin A. Gordon talks to his 19-year-old son about the history of race relations in America, he invokes the Black Panthers, Martin Luther King Jr.and the watershed moments of the civil rights era. It's a story of hard-won rights that fills the '60s-era activist with pride.
Then the conversation turns urgently personal, survival its theme: On the wrong street, at the wrong time of day, he tells his son, pride might be his undoing. "I know my son can be a moment away from being killed if he acts the wrong way, if he's arrogant," Gordon said. "He started to learn about this as a child." ...
The incident, which remains under investigation, followed the controversial shooting death of an unarmed black teen in Florida by a neighborhood watch leader. For many black parents, the shootings have given fresh relevance to a painful generations-old conversation. "The Talk," some call it.
"Certain things are a reality for him — he needed to understand that early on," Jim Collins, a longtime Pasadena resident, recalled of his conversation with his son. "The Talk is because they have to know what to do and not do."
Parents say some version of the conversation, ubiquitous in African American life, is necessary regardless of how high they climb on the socioeconomic ladder. It is about learning to say "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" when a policeman pulls you over, no matter how unjustified the stop seems. It is about keeping your hands on the steering wheel and giving officers no cause for panic. It is about swallowing your anger and pride and coming home alive. ...
Walker said that when his grandson, now 20, was learning to drive a few years ago, he started hammering home certain realities about dealing with police.
"I tell him one of the worst things to do is be belligerent with police," Walker said. "Whether you're right or not."