The Talk
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Black youth worried about the outcome of the 2016 election. The nation should listen to their concerns as the 2020 election hurtles toward its conclusion.

“The Talk” made its debut at the final Presidential Debate, and with it, the nation saw a clear lack of understanding of the critical role that racism plays in the lives of Black children and adolescents from the current President.

What’s referred to as “The Talk” is really racial socialization, or communication strategies, that many Black parents engage in with their children regarding the challenges and joys of being Black in America. That Kristen Welker, the moderator of the final 2020 Presidential Debate, broached the topic underscores just how important it has been as a safeguard and coping technique in the lives of Black families, especially over the last four years. 

And yet, the question was brushed aside by President Trump—who claims to be the “least racist in the room”—showing just how inconsequential these youth are to him.

Youth have been expressing their fears about the racist outcome of adults’ electoral decisions for years. In a 2016 study conducted in Philadelphia on “The Talk,” race, and racism —and without the lead author asking a single explicit question about politics—a Black youth spontaneously asked a pivotal question: What if he becomes president? 

Although many adults vote with their own self interest in mind, Black youth are the ones who are most impacted by our decisions. In the 2016 study, a mother described a stressful situation that her family had recently talked about: “My daughter was asking, ‘Are they going to kick Muslims out of America?’ And about, like, what are they going to do to Black people, and about, yeah basically how are Muslims perceived. And if he becomes president, what happens?” 

Four years later, we have the answer: Young people were right to be afraid.

Policies that caused family separations, police and white supremacist violence, and racially imbalanced impacts of COVID-19 have shown the life and death consequences of the result feared by the respondent above. More specifically, President Trump instituted his Muslim ban, abandoning refugees and separating families. He then went on to enact or try to enact dozens of racist policies, affecting all manner of racial identities, including Black Americans.

While “The Talk” has been associated with lower levels of anxiety and other psychological concerns, a shifting context was looming in 2016. And that changed some things.

A Black teen from the same 2016 study discussed how engaging in “The Talk” with his family brought him anxiety: “When I see the news, then, then like I just see … the headline ‘Race for White House’ and then I just think what it’s gonna be for him to be president and then I start thinking about how I can’t get a job and then after I start thinking about my race.” 

And yet, the beautiful thing about “The Talk” that many fail to realize is that it offers a way to cope and a sense of action for youth plagued by racialized challenges. 

When one youth recalled that a candidate called all Black people “dirty, ignorant people,” he replied that he initially felt a bit angry. “But at the same time, I didn’t really care because I knew that it wasn’t true,” he added. When the facilitator pressed him about how he knew it was not true, the youth replied: “My mom and my dad’s doing a great job … because they always keep me, like, they always keep me updated about what’s going on and just—just talk to me about what’s going on and tell me, ‘You don’t have to hear what they say and just live your life. Just live your life.’” 

Although tens of thousands of Black people have lost their lives to COVID and countless others have lost their lives in to violence—on camera and often without justice, we owe it to our youth to give them the opportunity to live their lives. 

The power of “The Talk” is the challenge to not just to provide messages to our Black children and adolescents, but to actually listen to them. We did not listen to their fears and anxieties about racial hate in 2016. 

But for the sake of Black youth voices and all other youth growing up in America now, we owe it to them to listen and act when we vote in 2020.