If, God forbid, I were to be killed by an officer of the law, I wonder what types of things would be alleged about me in public conversation.
I wonder what sorts of opinions would be shared by the public at large. How would my character be maligned? What misjudgment would I have made that would turn out to be the ultimate cause of my justified killing? How would everyone come to believe that it was my fault? Because, of course, it would be my fault.
Some parents advise their children just to be themselves and act naturally if they have an encounter with the police. Other parents, black parents, have to teach their children that acting naturally is dangerous and can get them killed. Black youth have to learn to be character actors in order to survive. Literally.
“But A – you don’t have anything to worry about. You aren't in a gang, you aren't a thug, you don’t commit crimes. You’re respectable, you’re well-liked, you don’t get into trouble.”
Does it matter? No. Black skin is threatening. Black speech is threatening. Black culture is threatening. Shoot first, ask questions later. If I ever found myself “in a situation”, would I live long enough to play The Part? Would I live long enough to play that role that we – Black children – are all taught, and convince a scared cop that I am not in fact dangerous?
You see, all Americans grow up in a racist society. You may think that you are not a racist. Indeed, you may not be a bigot with overt racial prejudices spilling from your lips; but the institution of racism is alive, well and thoroughly embedded in our society and culture. Each of us is taught to fear The Black Man. The Black Man is a savage beast. The Black Man is a wanton criminal. The Black Man must be kept in check. The Black Man is a menace to society – his number must be closely managed. We are all taught to fear The Black Man.
We have all been raised in a society that has taught me to fear my own reflection. I watch you cross the street when walking toward me on the sidewalk at night. I watch you women clutch your purses a little closer. I watch you stare straight ahead and walk sternly forward, ignoring my “hello, good evening”. But it’s OK, I understand. I’m dangerous, and you’re just using common sense – the sense of self-preservation that every good American has. I do the same thing if I’m approached by two or more black men that I don’t know. Obviously, they are up to no good. Otherwise, they wouldn't be walking together, right? What business do two or more black men have prowling around like that? It’s unseemly. Obviously, their “hello, good evening” is a pretense to get my attention so they can taunt me, rob me, or beat me, or tauntmerobmebeatme all at once. Right? Obviously. What in the world could a random Black Man that I don't know – a stranger – have to say to me on the street? Nothing good, obviously. Black culture glorifies violence, right? I mean, there's so much else for the average Black Man to focus on, right? So much sunshine and rainbows...right?
How much deeper the fear for someone who doesn't look anything like me at all? How much more afraid must someone be who doesn't have an insider’s knowledge, who doesn't know any “good” Black Men (what are those?).
None of this makes any sense. Am I just rambling? How do we make sense of race in America? How do I make sense of my existence? Do you have to make sense of your existence? Do you have to think of excuses to explain why you are? Do I have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Am I still only 3/5 a person?
Do you ever have to ask yourselves these questions? Where do the answers come from? Are there any answers?
You, America, you brought me here against my will. I have played by your rules. I have been a slave. I have been a servant. I have been every sort of subservient, impoverished, groveling not-quite-a-man (in your eyes, yes...in my eyes, hmm...in reality?), and I can’t win. And now you don’t want me here. Where can I go? Where is home? Who am I? When I stand up for myself, you beat me down. I beat myself down, because I have been taught that it is too dangerous to speak when I haven’t been spoken to. When I stand up for myself, I am playing the race card, because after you've suffered injustice for long enough, is it still injustice?
Or is it just Life?
Even when I am successful, I cannot win. “That’s pretty impressive, for a Black Man! You're so well-spoken! So articulate!” Sounds like, “Wow, I didn't know monkeys could talk!” Yes, the successful Black Man is a trained monkey. Right? When will I be allowed to be fully human? When will you respect me, America? When will I be able to stop looking over my shoulder? When can I stop carefully monitoring what I can say, what I can do, how I can move in the world? Because the world was made for You, and I’m an ingrate of a guest in your house. Of all the possible outcomes to this game, is there any where The Black Man can win?
I’d settle for a draw.
But still, I wonder what America would say about me if I were to be cut down before my time. Do you ever wonder about such things? When will I stop fearing my own reflection? How will you help me? What more must I do to help you?
Do Black lives matter? How can you tell?