"Being an African American is a wonderful thing, it's a wonderful blessing," says one parent in a powerful new video from the New York Times. "But it's also a hard thing."
The short documentary, titled "A Conversation With My Black Son," highlights the tense yet necessary conversation that parents of black children often must have with their kids about how to interact with the police. As the video shows, it's not simply a matter of giving tips for having a positive experience with law enforcement; for black people, especially young black men, such a conversation may be a matter of life and death.
The video is in part a response to the ongoing violence against unarmed black people by police, which has highlighted how race affects both the attitudes and experiences of people of color regarding law enforcement. Indeed, as one woman says in the video, for black people such a conversation includes caveats like "when you get pulled over, not if you get pulled over."
"It doesn't mean that every police officer is inherently a bad person," one parent says. "But ... that institution does not look out for your best interest."
As the saying goes, children are our future. But the video is a testament to the fact that for parents of black children, what should be a bright and promising outlook is often marred by the lingering threat of police brutality and racial profiling.
Sadly, this talk isn't anything new. Throughout American history, many police institutions had a strong hand in defending legally-sanctioned slavery, segregation and discrimination of black people. Although progress has been made to correct this legacy, racial biases in policing don't simply fade away because of civil rights laws or the election of black people (and other people of color) into public office.
This history explains why, in the video, these parents recall giving their sons advice such as "don't talk to the police if you're arrested until I get there," or "make sure your hands are out of your pockets, so they can see." These parents fear what might happen if their sons aren't careful about every detail of their interaction with police officers, even if they weren't doing anything wrong.
White parents and children don't typically have the same conversation. Research has shown that white people have a more positive idea of police than their black counterparts do, and while white adults may view police officers as existing to protect them, that's not the reality for many black people.
"If something goes wrong, your first line of defense, [with] parents not being there, is to go to the police — if you're Caucasian," one couple said. "That's what you teach your children. Unfortunately it can't work for black children, right?"
What this conversation really means: Ideally, parents of black children wouldn't need to have this talk. But if recent news is any indication, the conversation is one that won't go away anytime soon — that is, until there's substantial reform in how law enforcement treats black people.
As one parent in the video says, "In America, because of your skin color, as a black boy and as a black man, we are going to be dealing with a lot of danger."