Being a Black parent, especially of a Black boy, comes with the added onus of having to protect your child from a country that is out to get him—a country that kills someone that looks like him every 28 hours, a country that will likely imprison him by his mid-thirties if he doesn't get his high school diploma, a country that is more than twice as likely to suspend him from school than a White classmate.
This fear has fueled a generational need for a portentous, culturally compulsory lecture that warns young Black men about the inherent strikes against them, about the society that is built to bring them down. It is a harbinger of the inevitable, a wishful attempt at exceptionalism, passed down like an heirloom.
Every Black male I've ever met has had this talk, and it's likely that I'll have to give it one day too. There are so many things I need to tell my future son, already, before I've birthed him; so many innocuous, trite thoughts that may not make a single difference. Don't wear a hoodie. Don't try to break up a fight. Don't talk back to cops. Don't ask for help. But they're all variations of a single theme: Don't give them an excuse to kill you.
I needed advice on how to do this, so I reached out to a small group of people. For Black parents, I asked: What rules, warnings, survival tactics are you giving your children as you raise them? For Black youth: What have you been taught? What did you learn on your own? And for everyone: What would you have told Michael Brown before he left the house that afternoon?