SAM SANDERS, HOST:
Hey, y'all. Sam Sanders here. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. Usually, my Aunt Betty introduces the show every weekend, right here at this moment in the show. But this time we're going to give her more time, more than just an introduction. She's going to be the first person I interview this week because the last week or so has been so heavy with the protest and the unrest and the news and all the pain. I have been on the phone with Aunt Betty talking through all of this with her. So to open up, we're going to share a bit of what we've been discussing on those calls.
So, Betty, you called me a few nights ago when the protest had gotten pretty heated downtown in LA, where I live. And you wanted to check and see if I was OK, which I was. But then you started talking to me about all of the protests like these that you've lived through before. And I think I didn't know as extensively what you had seen growing up. Tell me what you saw and heard as a young girl in Birmingham in the '60s, when everything was going down.
AUNT BETTY, BYLINE: I remember in the '60s, we were still children. I mean, we were really too young to go when this was going on. So firsthand, we didn't have the knowledge. We had a neighbor, though, who went every day and did the marching. And she came home and, you know, stopped on the front porch and gave the update of what happened and what she saw. So it was very vivid and, you know, very alive for us. We knew what was going on and very much could feel the sphere of the atmosphere, the dread and the excitement at the same time.
SANDERS: How old were you when this was all going on - like 11, 12?
AUNT BETTY: Yeah, that's what I'm thinking. I was born mid-'50s, and this was like...
SANDERS: I like how you couched that and didn't give our listeners the exact year.
AUNT BETTY: I thought about it but, you know, sometimes a little too much information is not a good thing.
SANDERS: But y'all dad - my granddad was not going to let you all go.
AUNT BETTY: Oh, no, no, no, no. He was - he had five daughters, and he was crazy protective of us. There was just certain things we were not going to be exposed to and we were not going to experience. And he, you know, he made sure of that.
SANDERS: Did you want to go to the marches, to the protest?
AUNT BETTY: No. It was - I mean, people were dying. People were bloody. People were kicked. And I mean, the dogs and water hoses was a byproduct of what was going on. I mean, the physical abuse - the beatings, the nightsticks the police used to beat people with. All of that was, you know, very live on TV, and we were seeing it.
SANDERS: Hearing you talk about that, I can't think of the images you and I are both watching on TV now. And in some ways it's not what happened back then, but in some ways it is that all over again. How do you feel seeing this now - what 50 years later - however many years later?
AUNT BETTY: Yeah, I just think it's so true that history repeats itself. This is not the second time, you know, I've seen it since the '60s. So unfortunately, it is so sad to say that it's getting to be too routine.
SANDERS: Yeah. I think it's - what's so frustrating - not frustrating, but what I have spent the last several days wrapping my head around is the way that I think about social justice and issues like race and policing. And I think you're always taught that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Were always making progress. We're moving X steps forward even if the progress looks slow. But, like, the scenes you're describing from the '60s, I could see them happening today. In some ways, we're seeing them happen today. And I'm like, well, maybe we haven't moved forward. And maybe this idea that we're always moving forward is untrue. And, like, what if we're just doing this weird two-step, and the shuffle and these circular dance moves where we just stay in the same spot but our feet just get tired? It feels like we're shuffling and shuffling and shuffling and not getting anywhere.
AUNT BETTY: Yeah.
SANDERS: And I didn't think it was going to be like that.
AUNT BETTY: Yeah.
SANDERS: I just didn't think that.
AUNT BETTY: I just think that it's probably our own point with that because it doesn't seem to be getting better. Perhaps, it is just because you don't feel it until you're in it, you know. You don't feel the better. But I think that it's so easy to distance yourself from the things that happened in the '60s if you didn't live through it. And so if nothing else, it has raised an awareness among another generation that this hatred and this racism is still very much alive.
SANDERS: Yeah. What would Betty today, watching all of these news reports in 2020, say to grade school Betty in the '60s watching that? What would you say to her now?
AUNT BETTY: Wow. I wish I could tell her to be encouraged. It changes. But I can only tell her, get ready for it. You've got to deal with it all over again.
SANDERS: Yeah. It's just all so tiring.
AUNT BETTY: It is.
SANDERS: It's so tiring.
AUNT BETTY: It is. It is very tiring.
SANDERS: Well, because you think you do good on your part, you build your life, you do it right, you - and then you still can't escape it, you know? You can't escape it.
AUNT BETTY: No, you can't. But I am just more concerned about my brothers, about Charlie (ph) and Micah (ph), and about my nephews - you, and Ruben (ph) and Xavier (ph) - and then the great nephew, you know. I'm more concerned about the black men that I love than anything in the world because I just don't want to get that call. I don't want to be Ferguson's family on TV pleading for help, pleading for justice and trying to stop the riots. You know, I don't want to be that. I want to - we should all be able to live peaceably and quietly.
SANDERS: Yeah. Wow. I think it'll be good for listeners to hear this this weekend. And I love you very much.
AUNT BETTY: I love you too, baby.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I am your host, Sam Sanders. That was my Aunt Betty, perhaps one of the greatest humans alive. As you figured out by now, this entire episode is dedicated to George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Sean Monterrosa and so many other people of color who have died at the hands of police. This episode, we'll hear what the protests for these individuals sound like in my neighborhood, downtown Los Angeles. And we'll hear from a colleague of mine, Kenya Young. She is a black mother and an executive producer at NPR. She tells me how the talk she has with her sons about policing and all of this, how it's very different and yet, in some ways, very similar to the talks she has with her white colleagues, my white colleagues, about how we cover these stories.
But right now, I want to talk more about what my Aunt Betty was saying earlier, how this stuff never seems to stop, how the things black folks were marching for when she was a kid in the '60s, black people are still marching for those same things today. As a journalist, I have covered so many stories of police officers killing unarmed black people, from Trayvon to now. And in spite of all the talk over the last few years about reforms to fix it all, the number of people who are killed by police every year, it still really doesn't seem to budge.
My next guest has been covering one of the potential reasons why. Her name is Melissa Segura. She's a reporter for BuzzFeed News. And she had a story out this week all about how increasingly, all over the country, police unions can keep police reform from being implemented. So, Melissa, I want to talk about a BuzzFeed article you published this week that lays out what might be one of the big reasons these kind of cases keep happening, and that is police unions. Talk about that.
MELISSA SEGURA: Sure. What we're seeing based on the reporting is that police union contracts - you know, sort of this obscure little part of probably your local city website - are incredibly powerful documents that can stand in the way from what many consider to be common sense reforms. These are contracts that govern everything from what we typically think a union, you know, contract would cover. And those are reasonable things like, you know, how much an officer makes, health insurance, salary, time off - the typical, you know, sort of working conditions that we associate with unions.
However, there are a number of other cut outs in these contracts that are specific and sometimes, you know - what advocates are saying are particularly problematic and obstacles to, you know, seeing the kind of changes that people want. Those tend to be particular provisions that deal with discipline in the way that officers' cases of misconduct or citizen complaints are adjudicated. And the second part of that tends to be investigative procedures when officers are accused of wrongdoing. Those also include, you know, provisions that allow officers to get their jobs back even if, you know, their police chief has fired them.
SANDERS: So what I hear you saying is that in some instances these contracts with police unions allow the union to supersede or overrule actual police departments and police chiefs.
SEGURA: That's exactly what's happening. Those of us who've been watching the George Floyd case in particular know that just because the police chief has fired these four officers involved in George Floyd's death, we know that that does not necessarily mean that that firing will stick. And a lot of that is due, of course, to the provisions that are negotiated within that police union contract. And what that contract says is, hey, we can take this back to an arbitrator, which most union contracts do allow. That's not out of the norm.
But what is out of the norm is that there has been, you know, this culture of unquestionable police authority for so long. And a lot of these arbitration systems work off of a precedent system. So what that means is that if Officer A back in the day was reinstated to his job and faced no discipline, then Officer B certainly won't be either.
SANDERS: So you detail in this article how police unions across the country have pushed through collective bargaining agreements that make it really hard for police departments to punish or fire officers. They take away a lot of power from civilian review boards. They prevent police chiefs from, you know, giving meaningful oversight. Was it always this way? Were unions always doing this or is it a more recent phenomenon?
SEGURA: You know, I mean, that's a union's job. And I don't think that anybody would say that they're acting beyond the scope - right? - of what a union is supposed to do. And that is to be able to protect your officers and get them the best deal that they possibly can. But what's been really interesting, I would say in the last 10 to 15 years, is after the Barack Obama administration - or actually in the midst of the Barack Obama administration which had decided to say, hey, we're going to come in. And we are going to push for reforms that we're seeing. We're seeing too many civil rights violations in towns like Ferguson.
What they did is they took a very proactive approach. They, you know, installed federal task force, they were enforcing consent decrees, which the unions, of course, blocked. I mean, they were furious because they felt that it took away a lot of their power within, you know, to be able to effect change or to prevent change within their own departments. And, of course, this happens at the same time as Black Lives Matter and other grassroots efforts are starting to rise up across the country. So we have like this double barrel, right? We have federal consent decrees that are starting to pop up around the country, and we have a grassroots movement that is much more unified in saying we don't want this anymore.
SEGURA: And the union really pushed back on that.
SANDERS: And we have video footage of all this stuff a lot more now as well.
SEGURA: Yeah, absolutely.
SANDERS: Do these police unions - do they represent the entirety of police forces or a certain type of officer? Your reporting found that there isn't just one type of union that speaks for one type of police officer.
SEGURA: Yeah. This is this whole super fascinating rabbit hole that I really can't wait to explore further. And that's that there is an alphabet soup of these particular types of unions. Like there's the International Police Unions Association, and there's the Fraternal Order of Police, and there are a number of other unions. But what is most interesting is - particularly in major metropolitans, like St. Louis, for example - what you have are what they refer to as, sort of, like these affinity group unions. And those are for black and brown officers in particular who form their own sort of mini-unions within...
SANDERS: In response to these other unions that are predominantly white?
SEGURA: And, really, in St. Louis, for example, they have taken strong stances against their primary unions - right? - the white-dominated unions. And sort of the hierarchy of how these things work, these, like, quote-unquote, "black and brown unions" are still subordinate to the white union, right? And they - a lot of times, they formed not so much, you know, to protect their interests, externally, like with the community or with the city council or anything like that. In some of these instances, they were formed to be able to protect themselves from other officers and from discrimination within their own departments.
SANDERS: So what do you think happens next? We have already seen protests lead to change here in Los Angeles. For instance, Mayor Eric Garcetti has already promised to cut the budget of LAPD next fiscal year. In terms of the relationship between unions and police forces and civilians, will this moment lead to any change in that relationship? And if so, how, from what you can tell right now?
SEGURA: What I can tell right now is that this is a grassroots movement that was afoot even before George Floyd's death. There have been some pockets like in Austin, Texas, for example. A group of black activists - namely, the Austin Justice Coalition - had come together and joined forces with a group called Campaign Zero, which has been on the ground and really tracking contracts for quite some time now. And they came up with some sort of reforms that they really wanted to see that they thought would make a big difference in their community. And it's the first time that we're aware that a city council has then rejected a union contract. And they forced the police union, and they forced the city councilors to go back to the negotiating table and actually include some of their reforms.
Did they get everything they wanted? Of course not. But one of the big things that came out of it was a civilian accountability board in which the public has much more access to disciplinary procedures. So it's a first step. And so we're starting to see that in smaller pockets across the country - is people recognizing the power of this particular contract and what it means.
SANDERS: Thanks, again, to Melissa Segura of BuzzFeed News. Her story on police unions is online right now. All right. Time for a break. When we come back, what the protests sound like in Los Angeles.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SANDERS: We are back. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. So I live in downtown Los Angeles and the protests have been pretty much right outside my window this week. But I still wanted to get out and see what folks were thinking and feeling and saying during this time because we've basically gone from not seeing anybody - 'cause of the pandemic - to all of a sudden marching side by side with thousands of other people. Before I went to the protest, I wanted to stop by my favorite taco place first. It is called Sonoratown. And it's my favorite taco shop in LA because they're one of the few taco spots in Los Angeles that has good flour tortillas. Not corn. Flour, like I'm used to as a native Texan.
Hi. Nice to meet you, Jen.
JENNIFER FELTHAM: Nice to meet you, too. Yeah.
SANDERS: I love the Sonoratown because of that. But I have also been obsessed with how this restaurant has been handling the last few months - coronavirus and now the protests, all of it. In spite of everything, even destruction just down the block, Sonoratown has remained open through just about all of it, through 6 feet apart floor markers and face masks and now boarded-up windows. Jennifer Feltham is the co-owner of Sonoratown. And she says she wouldn't have it any other way.
FELTHAM: I mean, so downtown's always been the place where all of LA gathers whenever they've got something to say, right? And so it's almost like an open-air church in that it's like a place where we all open up our doorsteps, and everyone can gather. And then it's almost an honor, you know? As much as it is really terrifying, sometimes, and it's a little bit - it can get you down, there's also a big honor in being the place where some part of history is been made.
SANDERS: So that taco shop is, like, a block from me. But if you walk north maybe five or six blocks, you hit all the big buildings - LAPD headquarters, city hall, et cetera. And that is the epicenter of the protest downtown. This Wednesday, I went up there to look and to listen.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Black lives...
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #1: It as if the police are infallible and untouchable. And we say, no, they aren't. So we have been gathering here for 2 1/2 years. We have brought the families...
SANDERS: Hi, my name is Sam.
COURTNEY LABRIE: Hi.
SANDERS: I'm here with NPR, getting some sound of the protests.
SANDERS: Can I ask you a few questions?
SANDERS: What's your name?
LABRIE: My name is Courtney LaBrie (ph).
SANDERS: OK. So you're out here downtown, passing out supplies for protesters.
SANDERS: So you got water here. What else you got?
LABRIE: We got snacks. We have sunscreen. I have face masks. We have hand sanitizer, electrolytes for people to put in those water bottles, trying to keep people safe and hydrated out here in the sun. It's really hot today.
SANDERS: It's really, really hot today.
LABRIE: It is.
SANDERS: How are you feeling? This is - it's been about a week of this.
SANDERS: After coronavirus kind of shut down LA, emotionally, spiritually, how are you as an Angelino right now?
LABRIE: It's hard to watch my city hurt this way. And it's - you know, as a white person, I feel like it's my - it's the least I can do to express my privilege and to come out here and to support people in any way that I can. And I've been watching on the news the last couple of days. And I couldn't stay home any longer. So I'm really happy to see so many people out here protesting peacefully.
SANDERS: Yeah, you know, so I live downtown.
SANDERS: And some stuff has gotten hot on my street. There were some stones thrown, some windows broken.
SANDERS: And on the one hand, that is exhausting.
SANDERS: It's tiring because I've been locked up for coronavirus.
SANDERS: And this is - but, also, it's energizing to see all these people, like you're saying.
LABRIE: Yes, yeah.
SANDERS: And what I can't figure out right now in this moment is whether LA has never been more tired or never been more energized.
LABRIE: I think it's a little bit of both. I think we're tired and we're engaged at the same time. And we're fed up, and we have a history of protest in the city. And I think we all feel like it's our duty to be out here today.
SANDERS: You know, downtown LA is always kind of weird, which is why I live here and why I like it. But...
LABRIE: Yeah. Me, too. I lived downtown for few years (laughter).
SANDERS: But I'll tell you - the weirdest thing is to go from a pandemic lockdown to this.
LABRIE: Yeah. right?
SANDERS: And on top of it, everyone has to wear a mask.
LABRIE: I know.
SANDERS: Isn't it strange?
LABRIE: The strangest thing is - I love - I try and smile at people. I try and make eye contact and acknowledge people when I walk down the street. And I'm just like, I'm trying to do my best, like, Tyra Banks smize. Like, I am looking at you.
SANDERS: Oh, yeah.
LABRIE: I am projecting positivity. But, like, you cannot see in my mask (laughter).
SANDERS: It's hard, yeah. And I'll, like, head nod a lot. But I'm like - do they think it's a nice head nod or a mean head nod.
LABRIE: Exactly, I know.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)
SANDERS: I'm talking to folks about the protests. Can I ask you a few questions?
FELIX ANTHONY DOMINGUEZ: Yeah, sure.
SANDERS: All right. My name is Sam. I work for NPR. Can you tell me your full name?
DOMINGUEZ: Felix Anthony Dominguez (ph).
SANDERS: All right. You live downtown, work downtown?
DOMINGUEZ: I just do business downtown.
SANDERS: What's it been like doing your work in downtown the last few days with all of everything going on?
DOMINGUEZ: Well, it hasn't been too bad. I've been having to drive down here. I guess you could say I've been out of thick of things. Like, my business is outside of the thick of things.
SANDERS: Has the curfew and everything affected you?
DOMINGUEZ: COVID-19's affected me more than the riots.
SANDERS: So you're already dealing with the pandemic. And then these protests pop off, and they get bigger and bigger every day. The curfews start. There's some violence around town. What was your thinking and, like, emotional state when that was happening? Were you just like, oh, my God, another thing?
DOMINGUEZ: I was just thinking, well, it's a culmination of - you've heard of the - you remember the Boston bomber. What happened to him? He got taken down, got arrested. This guy - he killed a guy for forgery. Bombing, they arrest the guy, put him in cuffs. And this other guy for forgery - they kill him, kneel on his neck.
SANDERS: For eight minutes.
DOMINGUEZ: For eight minutes, yeah. That's kind of chicken****, you know, if you ask me.
SANDERS: Would you ever go out to the protests yourself and join in?
DOMINGUEZ: I really wouldn't 'cause I don't have a foot in the game.
SANDERS: Why not? Doesn't everybody?
DOMINGUEZ: Well, everybody does. But I just don't feel like - you know, I just couldn't do that 'cause, you know, I'm too busy. I really would. I'd speak my voice out. Right now, I'll speak my voice out. I am - you know, this is my way of speaking out when I speak to people.
SANDERS: Can I ask you a few questions?
TIMORE MOTIVATION: Yeah.
SANDERS: I'm Sam with NPR, and I'm doing a story about the protest.
MOTIVATION: How's it going?
SANDERS: Good. How are you? What's your name.
MOTIVATION: Timore Motivation (ph).
SANDERS: You live in LA?
MOTIVATION: Yes, sir.
SANDERS: What brings you today?
MOTIVATION: I came out here - a lot of people were on social media. Going on Facebook is easy. Getting on the front line and accessing the problem on the front line - to me, it's where it's at. It's the best way.
SANDERS: Are you hopeful being out here today, seeing all these people coming together? Are you hopeful?
MOTIVATION: It's not so much of hope because hope comes and goes, here to put in work.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: ...In Los Angeles. So we lift up those names.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Breonna Taylor. Say her name.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: We provide space for the families so that they can share.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Breonna Taylor.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: And some of the stories are hard to hear. This is not just a moment.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: George Floyd.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER #2: This is a movement, which means we're looking to see you again. OK? All right.
SANDERS: Thanks to all the folks in downtown Los Angeles who talked with me this week. Listeners, time for a break. When we come back, we talk about the talk and what it's like to be the mother of three black sons during the age of Black Lives Matter. BRB.
We're back. You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. This week, the protests. We are using this episode to talk about policing and race and the hurt a lot of people are feeling this week. I want to talk now about something a lot of you have probably heard about before, something we're talking about more than usual this week - the talk, you know? The talk black parents give their children, particularly their sons, about how they should deal with the police if they encounter them. It's often a hard talk, a sad talk. And the stakes with this talk are really high. That's what it's like for Kenya Young. She is my colleague and the executive producer of NPR's Morning Edition. Like, she runs the whole show. She is also the mother of three black boys.
KENYA YOUNG, BYLINE: I have a 16 1/2-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 4-year-old.
SANDERS: How is the oldest 16? 'Cause I remember...
YOUNG: You remember him running around the building when he was 4 years old.
YOUNG: Isn't that crazy?
SANDERS: It is crazy.
YOUNG: It is, 16 years old. He is - we actually took advantage of the pandemic with the empty parking lots and took some of our first driving lessons.
SANDERS: You are brave and bold (laughter).
YOUNG: There wasn't no cars out there, so (laughter).
SANDERS: Yeah. So on top of just having to be a mom and do things like teach the oldest how to drive, you're also, as a black mother - a black mother of three black boys...
SANDERS: ...Having to talk to them about the news...
SANDERS: ...In a very specific way. What are you saying to them about George Floyd and his death and the police and these protests?
YOUNG: Yeah. You know, it's obviously not the first time. They are 16 and 14. And for some people, you know, this may be the first time they've had to have that conversation. It is not the first time for us. We've had to have what's known in the black culture as the talk many of times. You know, I'll never forget there was a time - our older house, we had a park right behind us, and they wanted to go to the park. This was - I'll say, you know, I kind of put them in arrears (ph).
This was right around the time of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and I was - it was really raw with me. My third son was just born, and, you know, I had many moments where I was holding him or nursing him and crying as I did so because I - while I loved this little bundle of joy immensely, also just the amount of fears and worries of what I just brought into the world again with another black son and the burdens that I have to carry with that again. And so it was really raw for me around that time.
And I just remember them asking to go to the park and the laundry list of what I had to tell them. Don't wear your hood. Don't put your hands in your pocket. If you get stopped, don't run. Put your hands up. Don't make a lot of moves. Tell them your mother works for NPR. I mean, it just went on and on.
You know, there's - it's funny. There's stages as they start to get older. One, it's the - you just don't even want them to draw attention to themselves enough for somebody to call on them or get stopped. Then there's the stages of what you do if you do get caught. And then more recently, I remember, I had them watch - we all watched as a family together Ava DuVernay's "When They See Us." And it was really, really hard for them to go through, and they were really torn because they were - you know, these were young kids. It was the Central Park Five, and they were young kids themselves, and they're watching this. And that was the first time that it changed to a new iteration of the talk. And that talk was, what do you do once you're inside those walls? Don't ever sign a confession. Don't ever let them tell you that your mom told you it's OK. Don't ever do this. Don't ever. And I was just like, oh, my gosh. It doesn't stop with this.
And so - and this time around, it has been more about - I will be honest. This time around, it's been more about what's not fair. And just be, you know, this just isn't fair, you guys, but this is the way the world is. This is the way America is right now. It's the way it's been for a long time, and I can't lie to you. I don't think it's going to change in your lifetime. And it's just not fair.
SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.
YOUNG: It's just not fair for us to have to live like this.
SANDERS: I imagine that it probably gets emotionally taxing for you to keep having these conversations with your boys when stories like George Floyd pop up it seems like every few weeks or months now. What is your emotional state having to give this talk again and again and again?
YOUNG: Yeah. You know, it's - I got to be honest about it. The more it happens, the harder it is to stay optimistic about it. And, I mean, we have an example right here within the span of one month of two different incidences that we've had to talk to them through. And I will tell you with the Ahmaud Arbery shooting, there was a sorrow, honestly, because we're in a - we're in the middle of a pandemic. Most of us were still in a shelter-in-place then. And even in a pandemic, even when someone's home, even when everything - when America...
SANDERS: When the world should be still.
YOUNG: And yet, we're still killing black - unarmed black men in the streets. That's the one thing we can still seem to count on for America. And that hit me like a ton of bricks. And that hurt my heart that that was the truth of where racism is in this country - that even when everything's stopped, that's the one thing that continues.
SANDERS: Yeah. That's just what it is. For me as a black man who's covered these stories for a long time and also just gotten the talk from my mother growing up, I think there were two assumptions I had, you know, from Trayvon forward as to, well, eventually it will get better. There's the cameras now. There's the reforms. It'll get better. That actually hasn't happened. And, two, I thought that I would age out of the fear.
SANDERS: I'm 35 now.
SANDERS: And I had convinced myself in my 20s, well, you know, when you're older, they care about you less. You're not the black kid they're looking for. Not true. How old was George Floyd? How old was Eric Garner? And to hear you talk about how, like, it's almost inescapable, I feel the same way. I feel like no matter what version of our lives we're in as black people, as black mothers, as black sons, it's always a version of the talk - always.
YOUNG: That's right. That's right. Because the truth of the matter is no matter what we do, what job we get, what college we go to, what education we have, what level we are, how much money, what car, you know, anything that you think may change even a little bit about how people see you, there are still people that are only going to see the skin color. My oldest son - bless black genes, and you just never know how they're going to show up in your kids.
YOUNG: All of my kids are three different colors. I call them dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate.
YOUNG: I've got all three. I've got a See's candy box.
YOUNG: (Laughter) Lance is a very dark-skinned, getting pretty tall - taller than me now, has a head above me - a very large, broad boy - 16-year-old boy. To some, he is going to look older than 16. To some, he is going to look this kid that has this, you know, heart of gold and is goofy as can be. He will look menacing. He will look threatening. And that is just because that's how they perceive dark, big black skin.
SANDERS: Your work as a mother to three black boys in moments like this is, if not complicated, further nuanced by the fact that you work in a newsroom of mostly white people, and you are directing them on how to talk to the country about these stories. I'm really curious to hear you talk about the differences and similarities between the talk you give your black boys about this and the talk you give your white co-workers about this when you're telling them how to cover this on the air.
YOUNG: I don't know because I think while it may be two different versions, I think the bottom line is it all has to come from this place of authenticity and this kind of raw space of, how do we get here? So with my boys, how did we get here, and what's our next step? And that's in your lane.
But it's the same question to my white colleagues or my white friends. How did we get here? Are you here with me? You know, are you still a little bit further behind trying to catch up, or are you finally here with me now? Are we ready to have this conversation? And what's our next step? What's your next step? What's my next step? And what is our next step together?
I live in this every day. You may live it in the moment when it happens, but it can slowly fade away for some people because life goes on, and it's not your life experience. It is my life experience. It is my boys' life experience. It does not go away. And the sad part is within the next couple of weeks, we'll have another one.
YOUNG: And so, you know, it becomes more of a talk with my white colleagues about, are we ready to talk about what's really going on in America?
YOUNG: Are we ready to face that this isn't a one-off or a two-off or a three-off or a 10-off?
SANDERS: It is America.
YOUNG: It is America. It is a 10-off because it is.
SANDERS: Totally. My last question for you really isn't a question. It's just a thing that I've been thinking a lot about in the last few days and grappling with the last few days. You know, these conversations focus a lot on black men killed by police.
SANDERS: But we should note, as we've talked about in this conversation, when a black man dies at the hands of police, a little bit of some black woman who nurtured him or mothered him or loved him dies, too.
SANDERS: And I cannot help but continue to hear George Floyd as he was being choked to death.
YOUNG: Oh, oh.
SANDERS: He called out for his mother.
SANDERS: He called out for his mother twice.
SANDERS: And I think it just reminds me, and I think I just want to say to you, as one black son to a black mother, we never forget those talks. We never forget those lessons. We're always grateful for you and for your protection. And even in the final moments of our lives, however those occur, we will think of you.
YOUNG: Oh, Sam. See, I thought I was going to make it all the way through.
SANDERS: Me, too.
YOUNG: I note that - I have to tell you, you know, I'm - I was watching the video. And, of course, as you know, there's anger. There's the yelling. It's like, what? Can't you see? And then, when he said that...
SANDERS: He said, mama, mama.
YOUNG: When he called for his mama - oh, God - that just...
YOUNG: There was something about that that changed in me because it just - the level of fear in somebody that you know you're about to lose your life unnecessarily, unjustly, that that's your last callout is - it's devastating.
SANDERS: And it's also this reminder. It's like, for all of these people that would want to see the worst in a black man and see an enemy and see violence and see...
SANDERS: ...Something dangerous, we're all actually some mother's son.
YOUNG: Just somebody's son - that's exactly right. That's exactly right. And that's what - I think that's the hard part. I look at my boys, and they love life. And I see that, and I know that, and I love them for that. And I want the world to see them the exact same way. You see it all the time. Black moms say it.
But, God, if there were ever a time - what if my son's name was ever a hashtag? What if we're posting his picture in a remembrance over senseless racism? It's just not fair that that's a constant thought every day as a mother of these three beautiful brown boys.
SANDERS: Yeah. Well, my hope is that listeners hearing this of all races and ages and walks of life will learn something and have more talks with their families and make things a bit better.
SANDERS: But whatever happens with whoever hears this, I want you to hear from me, thank you. Thanks to all the mothers all the time.
YOUNG: Thank you. Thank you so much. That means a lot. That means more than you know.
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SANDERS: Thanks again to Kenya Young. She is the executive producer of NPR's Morning Edition.
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SANDERS: All right, this week, IT'S BEEN A MINUTE was produced by Jinae West, Anjuli Sastry, Andrea Gutierrez and Hafsa Fathima. We had engineering help from Gilly Moon. Our fearless editor is Jordana Hochman. Our director of programming is Steve Nelson. Our big boss is NPR senior VP of programming, Anya Grundmann. Listeners, till next time, thanks for listening. Stay strong out there. I'm Sam Sanders. We'll talk soon.
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