Conversations About Racism and the Road to Equality: ‘The Talk’

In the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, we’ve heard Minnesotans of all walks of life talking about issues relating to race in ways they haven’t before.

Wednesday night, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS continues our in-depth reports in “Conversations about Racism and the Road to Equality.”

Conversations about Racism and the Road to Equality

“The Talk.” If you’re part of a Black family, you’ve likely experienced it in some way no matter your generation. For some families, “The Talk” has changed over time. And their journeys are moving them, and others, forward, in unexpected ways.

When she becomes a doctor, Najaha Musse said she wants to focus on social justice. Musse is a medical school student and mother of two boys, both under 10.

Musse said, “I have multiple conversations with my two young sons, two Black sons, about racism and systemic injustices…Primarily, I start with teaching them how to treat other people for themselves. How they should treat others.”

This single parent said her sons have already faced racial discrimination. Because they’re still young, for her family, “The Talk” right now means celebrating each other’s differences.

“And if they ever see injustice happening to someone else, that they should always speak up and be the voice for those who don’t have a voice…I always tell them to educate the other person.” Musse said she does this to try and create understanding and change.

Professor of History and Distinguished Chair at the University of St. Thomas Yohuru Williams, Ph.D., said, “There’s always been an inherent danger in being black or brown in America, and ‘The Talk’ is a response to really the danger, the physical danger…Historically, the roots of that, are tied to segregation…The modern talk, really is a manifestation for most people of the murder of Emmett Till in 1955.”

Emmett Till, a Black boy, was lynched in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store in Mississippi. He was 14 years old.

“And so all parents of color, particularly African American parents, have to have that conversation their children about what it means to be Black in America, and how literally there’s a danger in not understanding the ecosystem,” Williams said.

Williams is also founding director of the Racial and Justice Initiative at the University of St. Thomas.

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He defines “The Talk” as, “A significant, if grim, rite of passage for many African American youth, particularly, but by no means exclusively, boys and young men. It is a conversation, most often initiated by a parent or guardian, but also by a sibling, trusted adult or peer on the manner in which they should act when in the presence of law enforcement to minimize the potential of being killed or injured based on the long and deadly history of such encounters between police and the African American community. Youth are instructed not to make any sudden movements that might provoke or justify the use of force, to immediately demonstrate compliance—including not questioning why they are being stopped or questioned, and to speak in a calm and respectful manner, referring to the officer as sir or ma’am, not to trigger an escalation by police. More recently, for older youth with cellphones, it has included instructions to document such encounters—but only if it will not put them in imminent danger. Numerous cases from Minnesota including Philando Castile, Jamar Clark and George Floyd illustrate both the need for and the dimensions of the talk and why it remains necessary.”

Williams cites a Harvard study that reveals: “Research demonstrates that Black children are far more likely than their white peers to be sentenced as adults, and that police officers themselves see Black youth as older and more culpable than white youth.”

Laura Mayo, a mother in St. Paul, said, “I’ve never worried about getting pulled over by the cops, and when I do, I’ve never had a moment where my heart skips a beat, I’ve never had to talk to my kids about what to do, you know, my kids are part Mexican, but they look white.”

Mayo and her husband live in St. Paul, raising their teenage daughter and son.

“I don’t have to have ‘The Talk’ with them,” Mayo said. “To have, to have the weight, of having to have ‘The Talk’, with your kid, I can’t fathom it.”

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Williams said, “For most people of color, whether you’re doing something wrong or you’re not doing something wrong, the reality is, that if you’re not aware of the landscape, it actually could put you in a position of putting your life in jeopardy…It’s not just law enforcement, but even encounters with other citizens.”

Sparkle Wimberly said, “It applies to retail spaces, it applies to educational spaces, it applies to any space where they could be, and sometimes are, judged based on the color of their skin…Any misstep in that space, with me not there, completely grips me with fear.”

For the Wimberly family, “The Talk” has changed, they say, out of necessity. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS first spoke with parents Mario and Sparkle, and their son Kamran and daughter Kayden, four years ago.

Since then, Sparkle said, “The Talk” has changed a lot for her family.

“I think the last time we spoke, it was more focused on Kamran, it was more focused on young Black males. I think what we have seen in the last five years is just a massive shift to include all people and all persons of color. So the conversation we have now, is with both of our children.”

A devoted soccer player, Kamran is now almost 13 years old. Kayden, now 10, is an avid swimmer.

Kayden said, “It’s terrible how we have to change something based on people’s opinion on something, and just, it’s terrible how we have to do certain things to keep ourselves safe.”

Kamran said, “I’m just proud to be myself, and represent my people and my heritage and where I come from, I am just proud of who I am as a person.”

Regarding how he feels about his parents having “The Talk” with him, Kamran said, “Well it definitely makes sense, because you see all of these things happening around the world right now, but I don’t think it should have to be done. I think I stand for equality, and I really do not think these things should have to go on, but unfortunately, they do, and it’s for safety reasons…I just have to be extra cautious of things I say or things I do or my actions, more than, say, my friend that’s a different skin color than I am. And I think that it shouldn’t have to be that way.”

Kamran is about to start the eighth grade. His mother and father are excited about his future, but like any parent, want to protect him.

Mario said, “We don’t want to restrict him, because he’s a free citizen. He is a law-abiding, a great kid, good in school, good athlete, so he should have every privilege and right that the country affords everyone else. However, we have to be realistic and let him know, just so he’s aware.”

When asked how it feels to have to have “The Talk” with his children, Mario said, “I would just say it’s exhausting. Just to even have ‘The Talk.’ I have friends that are not African American and they understand that we have to tell our kids things that they don’t…We try to put out children in a position of power, in every situation, because they can do anything they want to do, and they see that from their parents.”

Sparkle added, “We answer the call. We answer the call…We are solutions-based people. Right, so, if we don’t like something in a community program, we volunteer to change it.”

And what change looks like has many layers for the Wimberly family. Kamran and Kayden’s uncle is a police officer out west. Sparkle said, “You know, I think it offers us a unique perspective…His desire has always been to affect change, and to affect change in a way that connects people…And so his influence on the kids, is they see him as just a man of good character, of strong character.”

And the Wimberly children’s vision for the future is clear. Kamran said, “I want to go, be a pro soccer player.”

Once he reaches that goal, he said, “I just want to give back. My parents give back a lot, and the joy that I see when people see that kind of stuff, it really, it’s really a great thing so I just want, in the future, to be able to do the same thing.”

Kayden said, “I want to go to the Olympics, and then I really just want to see the world change, from now, to see maybe…people don’t have to look at us as a threat or as a bad person, and everybody could just be treated fairly.”

As for their hopes for their kids, Sparkle said, “I would love for them to go through life and build relationships and be connected with people who honor and see them and respect and them in turn doing the same.”

Mario said, “I hope that our grandchildren, if we’re lucky to have those, they don’t have to have ‘The Talk’, but the reality is, they probably will. So you know, I just want them to be free. Freedom, equality, it’s things that every American, every human wants.”