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Crime & Justice

Having 'the talk': Parents of color reflect on discussing race and policing with kids

Tarik Smith with his wife, Marini and children Adia, Colson, Bella and Noah
Tarik Smith with his wife, Marini and children Adia, Colson, Bella and Noah
Karen Steyr Randolph
Tarik Smith with his wife, Marini and children Adia, Colson, Bella and Noah
Jennifer Carter with husband Leighton (center) and sons Ian (left) and Ron (right)
Jennifer Carter
Tarik Smith with his wife, Marini and children Adia, Colson, Bella and Noah
Take Two producer, Stephen Hoffman with his son, Miles
Stephen Hoffman

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This week on  The Brood — Take Two's family and parenting segment — we explore "the talk": How parents of color teach their children about interacting with police.

This comes in light of  the recent police shootings of two black men in Louisiana and suburban Minneapolis, and the graphic videos detailing their deaths.  

So how do you have  tough discussions with children around race and law enforcement? What did you tell your children about the incidents in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas?  If you're the parent of a child of color, at what age did you have "the talk." What did you say?

Three African-American parents joined Alex Cohen to share how they're tackling these questions with children ranging from 5 to 20.


Jennifer Carter - mother of two sons, aged 20 and 18

Tarik Smith - father of four; two teen daughters and two young boys

Stephen Hoffman - father of one son, aged 5

Interview highlights

Personal memories of "the talk"

Jennifer Carter

I started going to a Lutheran church when I was eight. My pastor was white and his wife was African American, and he was actually the first person that had a real race conversation with me. You know, you're African American, you're really smart, you're a woman and people are going to try to marginalize you in this way.  I've always been really spunky and talkative and outgoing and  I was starting to get some feedback about that, you know, being too opinionated or knowing too much, but my pastor was like, don't ever shrink. Make sure people know who you are, always speak up.

Tarik Smith

I think unfortunately it's probably something my mom and I should have talked about a little more directly when I was younger, but  I remember one time being harassed by cops and coming home and I'm  just going to be honest, crying.  My mom asked me what was going on, and we talked about it then, but unfortunately she didn't really have too many comforting words, to be honest.

Talking with young children about race and policing

Stephen Hoffman

Before this week actually, we hadn't really thought about it until this weekend when we were driving back from visiting relatives and [my son] sort of overheard us talking about [the shootings] and from the back seat he chimed in wondering what we were talking about. He's a boy, so he likes guns, even though we don't let him have guns, he's fascinated with them. It was important for us to explain why we don't allow  him  to have a toy gun, because things can happen. Just speaking with him about it, you could just hear in his voice that he didn't really quite understand. We mentioned the police shootings and police pulling people over, and doing it more towards African-American men than other groups and he was just very concerned. He said "so wait, Daddy does this mean you're going to get pulled over and shot?" It was one of those moments that you can't really prepare for. 

Talking with older children about race and policing

Jennifer Carter

Having a conversation with my younger boy last week, he came in and he was literally totally shaken up because he watched the video of the shooting of Alton Sterling and he just asked 'why do they disrespect so much? You know, we work hard, we try, we want nothing more to just live life like everybody else, but I feel constantly disrespected.' And what can I say, except, well, evidence has shown that in many cases you will be disrespected and it's not about anticipating that disrespect, it's about reacting to that disrespect and using your sense of identity, your sense of principles,  your sense of morality to figure out a way to elevate beyond that.

Tarik Smith

My two oldest children are bi-racial and my oldest presents as white, so it's a very interesting perspective and lens that she has because of that experience. But she's very aware and very scared for my younger children who are not biracial and definitely present as black and are boys, so she's really aware of that and she travels in spaces and is constantly alerting people to the complexity of race because of how she presents. I think, that in that way, it's been pretty amazing to see her perspective on things, because she's passing through barriers that other people don't.

Practical advice for older children on interactions with law enforcement 

Jennifer Carter

There have been enough conversations in their presence ... enough people who have guided them and given them advice about how to behave in the presence iof policemen, that just like any other situation,  I expect them to go out and carry themselves in a way that keeps them protected. And I know it sounds like a small thing, but I can just ask them to walk in God's shadow ... because I don't have any faith, to be frank, in anybody else. I can't trust police. I can't trust bystanders. You know, our immediate reaction is not to intervene, but to take out a cellphone, meanwhile someone's getting their head cracked open.  So I don't have faith that human reaction will serve them, so I have to rely on the fact that I've trained them well, that I've raised them in faith and that they're going to act on that. That's all I have.

Tarik Smith

I don't want to be too melodramatic, but I remember one bad experience with police where they had the gun out on me and I'm looking at the gun and it's shaking, and I'm thinking about what that means, that the gun that's being held on me is shaking. But I think that that's what I'm going to pass on to my children;  that they need to be very calm, very aware and very methodical in everything that they do. 

Stephen Hoffman

I mean, honestly everybody is in the same boat these days. The lessons that I'm trying to grasp as a parent to my son are probably the same that everyone is doing right now. It's not always about racial differences with the police, it's about questions of force and authority. So I think there's just some basic things that we all just have to tell our kids; be respectful, understand who you are and what your rights are, but by that same token, don't exasperate the situation by showing your anger, even if you're in the right. Hold the anger until after the situation is done. And then you can go about setting things right. Just make sure this situation isn't one where you end up being arrested, or held, or the most unimaginable thing happening. 

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