In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s tragic death, several news stories like this one exposed America to the common practice of African-American parents teaching their young sons how to conduct themselves in public—to avoid being shot by the cops (or wannabe cops). Known as "The Talk," even Geraldo Rivera weighed in with advice, suggesting that perhaps Trayvon should have dressed differently. Geraldo was later chastised by his own son and eventually apologized for his comments. Rightly so, in my opinion. Why? Because my parents also had "The Talk" with me when I was a teen, so I could relate. Only it had nothing to do with the issue of race. Rather, it had to do with the fact that I was a girl.
Some of these lessons may seem a bit antiquated and unnecessary today. But society has long judged women and questioned their morals based on their appearance and past sexual behavior. Until the introduction of rape victim protection laws in the late 1970's, if a woman were raped, her sexual past would automatically be called into question. People would also wonder whether she “asked for it” based on the way she was dressed.
Fortunately, for women at least, we have come a long way baby. I believe that most women would assert, and most men would agree, that they may dress however they wish to dress without the expectation of being raped. Also, a female rape victim’s sexual history is generally not allowed into evidence in court today unless it is truly relevant. Similarly, jurors are often instructed not to judge the victim’s appearance in deliberating whether she was indeed raped. So perhaps there is less of a need today for parents to have "The Talk" with their daughters.
Unfortunately for Trayvon Martin (for whom my heart just aches) and our African-American sons, we apparently still have a long way to go. Geraldo felt it was okay to judge an African-American young man based on how he was dressed. But then again, Geraldo’s son felt it wasn’t okay. So maybe there’s hope.
I hope that one day our society will be completely enlighted in terms of race and the acceptance of those who look or dress differently. In the meantime, I will probably err on the side of teaching my son the same lessons that other African-American parents teach their sons. But, if I had a daughter, I am not sure what I would say when she dons her first skimpy skirt.
What would you say to your daughter? Is "The Talk" still necessary? Did your parents have "The Talk" with you?