I woke up this morning with recent events and names like George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Christian Cooper swimming through my mind and decided to take a walk to clear my head. As I stepped outside, I took a quick pause to consider my safety. Since the tornado on Easter, I have been staying with friends in a different neighborhood and I wasn’t sure of how I would be received.
As I started my walk, another friend’s Facebook post also crossed my mind. She posted her comments and a tweet from Quinta Brunson which says, “Being black is having a good day and then seeing another black person was killed for no reason. Then you have to think about/talk about that all day or don’t and numb yourself. It’s a constant emotional war. . . Meanwhile you still need to work and worry about everything else.”
So, as I walked, I thought about what it is like being Black. It’s having to think about everything – your actions and how they are perceived by others; other people’s actions and what they really mean; having to play out many different scenarios before making what may seem like a simple decision to others because you have to think about safety and consequences as a Black person. . . It’s a lot and it constantly wears on you.
It also includes being very emotionally and psychologically affected by the things in the news. When these events happen, it’s hard not to consider yourself or someone you love in that situation. It’s hard not to reflect on previous events – those that made news and those you personally experienced. The collective weight of those events can become unbearable if you let it. At the same time, it weighs on you when others try to make excuses or in some way blame the victims. This past semester, I had a young Black male student who claimed that people are too sensitive and make too much out of these events. He claimed that as long as you are polite and respectful there isn’t a problem. On one hand, I’m glad that this young man has not experienced some of the real-life events that many of us have. On the other hand, I’m terrified for him if he ever does because he won’t know how to respond and could end badly for him. The reality is that sometimes you don’t get a chance to be respectful and polite. Sometimes, being respectful and polite makes no difference at all and the victims are just as dead.
I know some people probably think that I’m overreacting or being paranoid, but life experience has taught me that my normal and other people’s normal may not be the same. For some people, normal is moving into a new house and being greeted by the new neighbors.
My experience was being greeted by a police officer asking what seemed like a million questions (some of them repeatedly) as, in his words, he investigated “a burglary in progress.” This was in spite of the fact that I was unloading a big yellow Ryder truck that was sitting in my driveway. My experience includes walking out of the front door of a friend’s house after the one and only sleepover my mom actually allowed me to go to and having the “N-word” shouted at me by a kid riding by on a bike. My experience includes being assured on the phone by an apartment broker that they had plenty of apartments available and could get me into an apartment that day, only to be quickly informed that there were no apartments available minutes later when I showed up in person. My experience includes having police officers rush to the vehicle I was driving with their hands on their guns, pulling on the doors because, as a new driver, I apparently hesitated too long in making a left turn at a busy intersection. More recent experience (within the past year) includes being accused of being threatening and intimidating when I calmly and politely confronted someone for their wrong doings against me and later having others confront me as if the guilty party was the victim and I was the culprit.
Fortunately, none of my experiences escalated to the level of some of the victims whose names appear on the news far too often, but being Black is constantly living with the possibility of something like that happening to you or to someone you care about and knowing that you may not be able to prevent it. Those things are all too real for most of Black people. Each time one of these events occurs, it’s a reminder of our own personal experiences as well as the outcomes that could have occurred for us as well. I’m not saying that I live in fear – I don’t, but I do constantly think about my actions, the actions of others, and possible outcomes and that weight gets pretty heavy sometimes.
My walk this morning was pretty good and it helped me process a lot of things. For the most part, the people I encountered along the way were friendly. Some of the walkers, joggers, and drivers smiled and waved. I actually had a brief conversation with one guy about how hot it was and how we should have been out a bit earlier to avoid the heat. However, a part of me wonders if my nephew would have received the same friendly responses.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
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