Every black kid in America knows what "The Talk" is. As every young black man in this country comes of age, his parents sit him down and instruct him how to interact with police officers so that when the inevitable day comes that he gets pulled over or stopped by law enforcement, he won't leave the interaction as another headline.
In recent years, as victims of violence like Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner have initiated social movements, TV shows have started to delve into the dynamic between police officers and the black constituents they are supposed to protect. Black-ish, The Fosters, UnReal, Insecure, Black Lightning and more have all tackled the complicated subject through their own perspective, and on Wednesday, The CW's freshman drama All American dug into the issue from an angle we haven't really seen explored yet: the standpoint of class.
In the episode, Spencer (Daniel Ezra) and Jordan (Michael Evans Behling) were pulled over after leaving a Crenshaw football game in Jordan's red convertible. The cop found it suspicious that two black teens would be driving such a fancy car, and when Jordan questioned why they were being pulled over, both he and Spencer found themselves face down on the pavement and put in handcuffs. The altercation ended safely after Spencer coached Jordan into shutting his mouth and keeping his hands visible at all times — because Spencer had The Talk.
"I think that moment shows both of us that we are more alike than we think we are. Spencer thinks that I'm not as black as him," Behling explained to TV Guide at The CW's fall launch event. "The moment that police officer treats us the same, we both share a moment, as you've seen, where we are exactly the same. It doesn't matter if you're darker complexion or lighter complexion, we're in the same bubble."
When the boys were finally brought home to the Bakers' mansion, Spencer called Billy (Taye Diggs) out for not teaching Jordan how to behave in that kind of situation. If Jordan had kept talking, they likely would have both been dead.
"I guess I thought I had time. I fought so hard to get out of the hood," Billy said in the episode. "I honestly thought with all of this, I honestly thought that I had bought Jordan just a little more time before he had to face the ugly side of being a black man in America."
Billy's hopeful naiveté adds another nuance to an already complicated issue, but to be honest, Jordan was lucky to make it 17 years before reality came crashing down on his secluded Beverly Hills bubble. Are affluent black men exempt from racial profiling? According to All American, they aren't. There's no amount of money that can erase your race or put you above racial profiling in this country, and that's a discussion we don't really get to.
The reason that side of the conversation doesn't get tackled much is because, just like the episode illustrates, the young men who get stopped are all painted with the same brush. In the eyes of profiling police officers, they're all from the same class and all have the same potential for danger. Even when Jordan showed his ID to verify his Beverly Hills address, the cop suspected he could only be in Crenshaw to cause trouble. Jordan got to keep his innocence for a few extra years because of his affluence, but racism is the great equalizer within the black community in the end.
Even though Jordan was robbed of his innocence with that arrest, All American was able to bring about positive change after the incident. It broke down the final walls standing between Jordan and Spencer becoming teammates, if not officially cementing their friendship. It also changed Jordan's relationship with his father.
"Up until that point they feel like they're living in two different worlds. They're struggling to connect, struggling to gel, and then they're bonded by the way the world sees them," Ezra explained. "It's unfortunate that it has to be an experience like that that does it, but it does define their relationship going forward. The most important thing that comes out of it is that it inspires a very important conversation between Jordan and his father, which is a conversation that every young black man should have with his father."
The episode ended with Billy having that all-important conversation with Jordan and realizing that he'd done his son a disservice by trying to buy his race away from him. He started to show his son where he came from, and by shining a light on that topic, All American has begun to merge its two worlds. In the end, love came out of a situation of hate, which is a hopeful message that doesn't often result from depicting these real-world situations.
The truth is: If we're going to continue progressing this conversation toward actual change, then tackling it from as many perspectives as possible is necessary. All American's take on this particular issue helps to highlight that there isn't a single black experience in America. The show deftly tackled the affluent African American experience and how money can sometimes create temporary ignorance to what's happening in the real world. As more stories are told and represented on screen, those perspectives are added into the conversation and we get closer to finding inclusive solutions to our social issues.
"Billy treated Jordan like he wasn't who he was. [His dad] didn't show [Jordan] both sides of who he is, being that African-American and caucasian kid," Behling said. "It was rough [filming that scene.] ... It was powerful. I think it was needed because of that."
All American continues Wednesdays at 9/8c on The CW.
(Full disclosure: TV Guide is owned by CBS, one of The CW's parent companies.)
Additional reporting by Lindsay MacDonald