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After George Floyd’s death, an African American mother has ‘The Talk’ with her son

She offers the existential advice meant to keep him safe during police encounters.

Burglaries have been reported in September in Grand Crossing on the South Side.
Along with everything else, black parents also teach their sons how to safely deal with police.
Sun-Times file

As we debate America’s struggle to achieve racial equity, there has been much talk about “The Talk.”

The Talk is the conversation African American parents have with their children, where they must convey existential advice to keep them safe during encounters with the police.

Joselynne Gardner, an accomplished Chicago lawyer and devoted mother, was not ready for The Talk. Her son and only child is 12. But time had run out.

He said, “Mom, I’m very sad.”

“Why?” she asked him. She assumed, she told me the other day, that he was struggling with something in school.

“I saw the video of the man getting killed by the police,” her son replied.

The George Floyd video. Gardner has refused to view it, but you cannot keep the kids off social media.

Why are you sad?

“We have always been told that police are to protect and serve, and they’re our friends, and if ever we needed something, look for a police officer and ask for help,” he replied.

Gardner, 45, is a former prosecutor. No matter. Her family is financially comfortable. No matter. Her son is thriving, bright and active.

All that does not matter. It was time.

His parents sat down with the 7th grader and “told him that he will be treated differently based upon the color of his skin for the rest of his life,” Gardner said. “No matter what we say or do, no matter how good your grades, no matter where you go to school, this is the America we live in.”

How did he respond?

“He literally had this blank look on his face like we had just, like, blown up his whole universe.”

She pushed on to explain what all black mothers know in their bones. What George Floyd’s mother knows in the grave.

If you are out with friends and encounter the police, “you as a black young boy, will not be able to act in the way any of the young white boys act,” she told him. “You will have to be on your utmost behavior.”

No resistance. No back talk. No unexpected moves.

What about the law, he asked? What about the civil rights he learned at school? He reminded his mother that she works in the legal system, where justice is supposed to serve all.

Sometimes that does not matter.

“That’s a very heavy way to have to steal the innocence from your child,” she said. And now he bears “the knowledge of fear of violence against him because of the color of the skin.”

After The Talk, he would never view the police, or his world, as the same.

Still, Gardner is relieved, she says, that she has begun to equip her son with the “tools” to survive in a racist world.

As he grows to manhood, she must live with her own fear — that her child could be the next George Floyd.

“I am fearful that my son will be shot before he’s an adult or when he’s an adult, as a black man in America. That’s my ultimate fear, every day. I wake up with that every day.”

She has no illusions.

“Life is always going to be unfair. We are black in America. That’s the reality. But my son is of the mind that it shouldn’t have to be,” she said. “He is demanding that they treat us as the law is written. And I am inspired by that.”

For a school assignment, he created a “superhero” who can “change something you feel is wrong with the world.”

He dubbed his African American superhero “Silver Owl” and armed him with the power to eliminate racial inequality.

May the Silver Owl fly high.

Follow Laura S. Washington on Twitter @MediaDervish. She is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a political analyst for ABC 7-Chicago.

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