Everybody needs to have “The Talk”

Adobe For All

In recognition of Black History Month, Adobe employee Earnest Mack discusses “The Talk,” and why all parents, not just Black parents, should have it with their children.

“You never forget this talk. Not ever.”

That’s what Earnest Mack says about “The Talk,” a polite name for a very difficult conversation about racism many Black parents in the United States are compelled to have with their children — particularly in interacting with law enforcement and other authority figures. His parents had The Talk with him, and as a father of nine and grandfather of ten, he’s no stranger to leading the conversation himself.

During the story he shared at Adobe For All Week, Adobe’s annual internal D&I event, Earnest encouraged all parents to have The Talk with their kids to increase understanding and in hopes that, one day, those types of conversations will be a thing of the past altogether.

We talked with Earnest about what it was like to share his story and his own experiences with The Talk.

Why did you feel it was important to share your story broadly with employees?

I wanted to share my experiences especially after what we’ve seen over the past year. After George Floyd’s murder, I started getting calls from friends and coworkers, many of them white, apologizing or asking questions about what they can do. I wanted to use my story to give people some understanding of what I’ve experienced and what Black people experience all the time. We have to have “The Talk” with our kids to prepare them for what they might face. I don’t think that’s a conversation most white people have to have with their kids.

What emotions did you feel as you prepared to share your story?

Honestly, it made me sad. Because here it is 2021, and I still have to have that same conversation my parents had with me. I have to explain that you’re going to face situations that other people don’t have to.

I have nine children and ten grandchildren, and I look at those little bitty kids and I hope that by the time they’re old enough to understand that we don’t have to have this talk anymore. Unfortunately, I know that we will, though.

Why do you think that’s the case?

Look, I was born in the ‘60s, so I’ve been around for a long time and I’ve experienced racism at the highest levels. I’ve been shot at. I’ve been chased. I’ve been a lot of things just because of the color of my skin.

I want to think things will change that quickly, but I look at the images from the insurrection at the Capitol Building on January 6. For the people who have actually been arrested, how have the police treated them? Can you imagine how different it would be if those people were Black? Black Lives Matters protestors were tear-gassed and handcuffed and so much worse.

And this comes on the heels of the decision to not charge the officer who shot Jacob Blake in the back seven times. And the whole outrageous situation that resulted in Breonna Taylor’s death. Unfortunately, these incidents demonstrate that there is a different justice system for us versus everybody else, and so you have to explain that to your kids.

Have you faced experiences where The Talk applied?

Yes, even recently. About two years ago, my wife and I were going on a cruise out of Fort Lauderdale. We had already boarded, and about 20 minutes before we’re supposed to set sail, I hear my name called over the intercom. I go out to the gangway, and the port authority police are there, and they say there’s a warrant out for my arrest from 1994 in Alabama.

Long story short, they ended up handcuffing me, perp-walking me off the ship and putting me in the back of a police car. They obviously had the wrong person. We missed the cruise, and they marched me out like a criminal in front of everyone because of a theft from 25 years ago — which, by the way, they did not bother to get their actual information straight about beforehand.

How did you react in that situation?

I stayed calm. I knew I wasn’t this person they were looking for, but more importantly, what would have happened if I had started being belligerent? That’s where you have to draw on The Talk, on that advice your parents gave you, the advice you give to your own children.

The cruise company apologized, refunded our money and ended up giving us a cruise for free, but that could have turned into an ugly situation, and for what? Nothing.

Why do you think it’s important for all parents, not just parents of Black children, to have The Talk?

It’s not enough to just sit back and say, “We don’t hate in this house, so my child is not going to be racist.” You need to reinforce it and explain it, tell them stories, show them what Black people are experiencing and how it’s different from your own experience. If there are protests, talk about why people are protesting. Help them understand that pro-Black does not mean anti-white. Don’t let it go through one ear and out the other. It’s important to not just hear but to start listening and understanding, and to help your kids do the same.