Im a child of the 1950s. I started coming of age during the turbulent 1960s of the Civil Rights Movement and the Free Love 70s. My mother had the The Talk with me knowing she wouldnt always be around to protect me.
The Talk wasnt one between an African-American mother and her African-American male child. The Talk was universal. But given the times, it was especially important for me and those who look like me.
She told me to always respect authority, particularly authorities with guns strapped to their belts. Yes sir, no sir was to be the extent of my conversations.
My mother was wise. Though she grew up in the rather protected hamlet of Kiblah, Ark., just up Interstate 71, was Foukes, a town that didnt like black folks being there after dark and had signs at the city limits saying so. She knew the drill.
Why is The Talk necessary? We are idealistic when young. We think there is no one out to harm us. We also mistakenly believe we are invulnerable and will live forever, despite evidence to the contrary.
My mother taught me that some people would judge me by the color of my skin -- forget my character. I needed to know that. Did it make me cautious? Instead of cautious, lets use prudent.
My mothers words have served me well. Ive been stopped by law enforcement more times than I can count -- sometimes justly when driving a bit faster than I should -- and at other times unjustly when they thought I shouldnt be driving a Porsche, BMW or a Lamborghini. Still, Yes sir, no sir, has worked wonders. She told me to always control my emotions. And thats the message parents must deliver to their children today.
Parents have a more taxing task now. The most militant dress of my day was a dashiki and large Afro. That appearance, while denoting some militancy, did not convey criminality. Parents must now tell their children that if they wear their britches below their butts, have dreads and look thuggish, they will be perceived as a thug. Skin color is just an added bonus. Should people judge a person before a hello is spoken? Of course not, but thats the way it is. Thats what The Talk is really all about -- how to survive in the real world, not one of our idealistic imaginations.
There were several other lessons in my mothers talk. When in stores, I never put my hands in my pockets. Im aware that some overzealous person might decide to jump bad. Thats not some bogeyman of my imagination. Its happened. I heard my mothers voice: stay calm and in control.
A million words have been written lately about the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial, an outcome that did not surprise me. Not because I thought the verdict was correct, but I understand a basic rule: Dead men tell no tales. The dead cant get into a he said/she said conversation in court.
Some white people are incredulous and dont understand the angst in the black community. If that description fits, you obviously believe O.J. Simpson was innocent. Some still proclaim his guilt today, but a jury said he was not guilty.
That aside, there are two things that set me off following such a verdict. The first is the sometimes counterproductive demonstrations. Its not the demonstrations, per se; people have the right to peacefully express their displeasure. But do we care more about a Florida teenager than we do about teenagers killed in our own communities through no fault of their own?
My second complaint is with those who draw parallels where none exist, such as bringing up the case in Brunswick where 18-year-old DeMarquise Elkins and 15-year-old Dominique Lang are charged with murdering a 13-month-old baby and shooting his mother. Does one tragedy excuse another? There are tragedies aplenty.
My mother ended The Talk with Scripture, Luke 14:11. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.
Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraphs editorial page editor. He can be reached at (478)744-4342 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Tweet @crichard1020.