Hello, my name is Kellee, and I’m here to talk about the experiences black children and young adults have as they learn to navigate their world. I’d like you to try and imagine a time as a child when you had a serious conversation with your parents. Perhaps it was that a new sibling was on the way, your parent got a new job, and the family was moving, maybe they wanted to talk about the way you dressed for prom, or perhaps it was as awkward as the dreaded birds and the bees conversation. Now imagine sitting down, as perhaps a 12 year old, with your parents. They’re a little stilted, perhaps nervous as you arrive, tipping you off to the fact that this isn’t going to be a quick or easy conversation.
The talk is a conversation that black parents have to prepare their sons for police encounters — out of fear, mainly, that such interactions can go horribly wrong, ending with their son dead. While many families within black communities have had these conversations with their children for generations, recent events have made these conversations even more important.
In 2003, I was in Norfolk, VA for my fraternity’s national convention. It was late, and to get some air, two of my fraternity brothers and I grabbed hoodies, and took a walk in the city. We’d hoped to find someplace to grab a drink, or perhaps a bite to eat. Instead, we found that most of the places we’d planned to go, had closed early. On our walk back to the hotel, we were trailed through the streets by a cop car.
The police officer neither sped up, or turned his lights on. He just followed us through the dark streets for a couple of blocks, before passing us, and continuing on his way. When we realized that we were being followed, I immediately flashed back to the conversation I’d had with my parents who grew up during the civil rights era. I was frightened, and didn’t know if we were going to be a statistic.
In my research, I found that In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2014, researchers studied 176 mostly white, male police officers, and tested them to see if they held an unconscious “dehumanization bias” against black people by having them match photos of people with photos of big cats or apes. Researchers found that officers commonly dehumanized black people, and those who did were most likely to be the ones with a history of using force on black children in custody.
In conclusion, I plan to build an interactive experience that allows people to experience other’s lived experiences. Within black communities, the onus is often put on us to validate our lived experiences. It is my hope that this experience will encourage conversation, even if it’s uncomfortable.