When I was little more than a high school underclassmen quickly coming to grips with the things around me, enjoying life’s small pleasures like the freedom that comes with one’s very first driver’s permit, the world always had a very unflinching way of balancing my reality. In the case of my first car – a battered, brown Toyota Corolla that was a hand-me-down from my older brother – it was “the talk.”
No, not that talk. The other talk. The talk Black families give their over-eager yet unsuspecting sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, cousins and play cousins, about the dangers of driving while Black.
“The talk” is one part of a much larger survival guide – a cultural manuscript given verbally and passed down through generations with one goal in mind: to teach young Black boys and girls how to survive America. These talks aren’t meant to scare you out of living your life. They are meant to ensure that you don’t die before you’ve had a chance to live one.
Such discussions from Black elders are both forceful and endearing, equally meant to tell you what’s required of you to “be ok” in any given situation, and that no matter the circumstance, you’ll “be ok” if you follow their advice. This was our parent’s way of emphatically telling us that being ok can mean many things, and that we would need to get comfortable with those shifting variations.
Today, in a world with some parallels yet largely different from the reality my elders faced, being ok is still very far from a linear emotion. Each day brings a new set of challenges, and the crippling thought that the next day, week, or month, could be worse. So how exactly do we condition ourselves to be ok when the things that trigger mental trauma seem to outweigh us?