A few weeks ago, Levar Burton, the actor best-known for his role as Geordi LaForge in Star Trek and the host of the long-running kids' show Reading Rainbow, appeared on a CNN roundtable and offered up a sobering how-to on driving while black:
Listen, I'm going to be honest with you. This is a practice that I engage in whenever I am stopped by law enforcement and I've taught this to my son, who is now 33, as part of my duty as a father to ensure that he knows the kind of world in which he's growing up. I take my hat off and my sunglasses off, I put them on the passenger's side. I roll down my window, I take my hands and stick them outside the window and on the door of the driver's side because i want that officer to be as relaxed as he can be when he approaches my vehicle. And I do that because I live in America.
It's a lesson that many of us got from out folks at some point, often before we got that other uncomfortable parent-child conversation about the birds and the bees. Don't move suddenly. Answer questions clearly, and with yes, sir and no, sir. Don't raise your voice. If you're handcuffed, don't say anything until we [your parents] get there.
The details differed depending on where you lived and your parents' particular concerns, but the point was for us to get through any encounter with the police without incident.
Like many parents, our folks wanted us, young black and brown not-quite men, to become experts at de-escalation. Because like many parents, they were motivated in part by worst-case scenarios. The worst-case scenario was always lurking in the conversation, unstated but strongly implied.
Then the Trayvon Martin shooting happened, and the The Talk became much more public — here was our parents' nightmare scenario. George Zimmerman wasn't a police officer, but for a lot of people, it only drove the point home more: at some point, you will be assumed to be a suspect or a threat.
After Martin was shot, a lot of folks wondered how it all could have been prevented, de-escalated. (And you watch a movie like Fruitvale Station about Oscar Grant — 22, black, unarmed, and shot in the back by a police officer as he lay face-down on a subway platform — and you can't help but wonder if The Talk itself is some kind of quaint fiction, like those old duck-and-cover instructional videos from the 1950s.)
In the wake of the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, we asked people on Twitter who watched the verdict with their kids about their reactions and the conversations that followed. We got an overwhelming response. Here's some of what they told us.
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