Why Black Girls Need the Police Talk Too

The police talk refers to a socialization practice wherein Black parents educate their children on how to maneuver encounters with law enforcement. According to Shannon Malone Gonzalez, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, parents deploy double consciousness to inform their children of how police officers view Black people. Double consciousness, as theorized by W.E.B. DuBois, refers to how Black people must maintain a concept of self that also includes the view of themselves as seen through the eyes of their oppressors. However, in the context of the police talk, Gonzalez argues that this double consciousness tends to rely on controlling images of Black men and how white society perceives them as a threat or the ideal criminal. This specific focus on Black men leads to a police talk that centers on Black boys and marginalize Black girls.

Gonzalez published a study in Gender & Society in 2019 that investigates how Black mothers address the unique ways Black girls experience police violence. The study included an analysis of interviews with 30 Black mothers from a southern urban city who had children between the ages of 4 and 13 years old. 70% of the mothers interviewed had daughters. Gonzalez recruited from two social clubs and two non-profit organizations to cut across economic classes. The interpretation of this analysis focused on the topics of racial profiling, the purpose of the police talk, and the advice given within the making it home framework.

How the Making It Home Framework Marginalizes Black Girls

Gonzalez argues Black mothers develop a framework that emphasizes making it home after a police encounter. This framework centers Black boys as the primary targets and Black girls as collateral. Since these mothers rely on double consciousness for this framework, they perpetuate a heteronormative understanding of which genders experience vulnerability. This framework marginalizes Black girls because it fails to consider how law enforcement targets Black women and girls specifically. Additionally, it fails to recognize how the home might not exist as a safe space for Black girls or the controlling images projected onto them as a result of adultification bias. Finally, Gonzalez also argues heteronormative assumptions pervade this discussion and does not consider how Black LGBTQ people experience encounters with the police.

While the mothers Gonzalez interviewed recognized that Black girls dealt with controlling images, they did not link these controlling images to the policing of Black women the way they did how society perceives Black boys. These mothers assumed that if a law enforcement officer targeted their daughters, race alone, rather than both race and gender, would determine how they got treated. Often, when Gonzalez prompted mothers to consider the ways police treated Black girls specifically, they would redirect the conversation to Black boys. For example, one mother argued that if a law enforcement officer pulled over their daughter if she drove a nice car, the law enforcement officer would assume that the car belonged to a drug dealer boyfriend.

Reconsidering Double Consciousness in Parent-Child Socialization About Police Encounters

The findings from Gonzalez’s interviews show that double consciousness as a paradigm for the making it home framework emphasizes black boys as vulnerable and black girls as secondary or even irrelevant to the discourse on police brutality. This framework, as Gonzalez argues, emphasizes lethal violence and rarely addresses how law enforcement victimizes Black girls and women through sexual violence. Black families assume that Black boys alone should get this socialization practice as a protective measure. However, in the article Gonzalez asserts that “centering Black girls in the police talk helps us understand the gravity of controlling images within Black families.” To reframe the police talk for Black girls, Gonzalez recommends a framework that accounts for multiple consciousness or intersectionality in relation to state violence.