“A Conversation With My Black Son”


In this short documentary from the New York Times Op-Docs team, parents discuss how they prepare their Black sons to navigate the presumption that they are dangerous and guilty.

EJI has been working to confront and eliminate the bias that people of color must still overcome today as a result of our nation’s history of racial inequality. EJI believes that contemporary presumptions of guilt that are assigned to people of color reflect a long historical narrative that began when the first Africans were forced to this continent as victims of abduction and kidnapping.

Slavery in America was justified by a narrative of racial hierarchy — the belief that Black people were inferior, and therefore needed and actually benefitted from slavery — that survived the formal abolition of slavery. Slavery evolved into convict leasing, whereby African Americans were arrested for “crimes” like loitering and forced to work in white-owned businesses throughout the South. The decades of racial terror lynchings that followed slavery grafted onto the narrative of racial hierarchy a presumption of guilt and dangerousness, as whites defended vigilante violence against Black people as necessary to protect their property, families, and Southern way of life from Black “criminals.”

The presumption of guilt and dangerousness assigned to African Americans has made minority communities particularly vulnerable to the unfair administration of criminal justice, and has made African American youth, especially boys, especially vulnerable to police violence.

Filmmakers Geeta Gandbhir and Blair Foster provide this backdrop:

For generations, parents of Black boys across the United States have rehearsed, dreaded and postponed “The Conversation.” But when their boys become teenagers, parents must choose whether or not to expose their sons to what it means to be a Black man here. To keep him safe, they may have to tell the child they love that he risks being targeted by the police, simply because of the color of his skin. How should parents impart this information, while maintaining their child’s pride and sense of self? How does one teach a child to face dangerous racism and ask him to emerge unscathed?

This Op-Doc video is our attempt to explore this quandary, by listening to a variety of parents and the different ways they handle these sensitive discussions. In bringing about more public awareness that these conversations exist, we hope that someday they won’t be necessary.

A short documentary where parents discuss preparing their Black sons to navigate presumptions that they are dangerous and guilty.