I can’t even pretend to internalize what’s going on through the hearts of Mike Brown’s family. I can’t pretend to internalize what African Americans all over the country are feeling at young Mr. Brown’s execution.
I can ask a few questions.
What was the last time a white teenager was killed for stealing a candy bar?
What was the last time a white teenager was killed by a community watch vigilante for walking down the street?
What was the last time a white father was gunned down by police for handling an air rifle at Walmart?
If you are scratching your heads trying to come up with the answer, the answer is simple: never.
If your answer then is to say “Well, they [all those black folks] looked suspicious”, then you’re part of the festering racism which works to hold back this country.
It is amazing how black men can keep their sanity despite the insanity that happens to them.
I remember one time I took my wife to a medical appointment at an office building, usually I drop her off at the entrance and I wait in my car in the parking lot usually listening to music or talk radio. Anyway this one time I decided to go in the lobby to use the rest room. As I exited my car this white lady was walking towards me, the look of fear she had or her face was palpable, she clutched her purse so tight her hands turned red. As usual I smiled at her to ease her fears, see I’ve discovered that when I run into white people on a one on one situation I smile just so they will feel comfortable.
I’m tired of smiling; I’m tired of having to worry about some stranger feeling comfortable or uncomfortable in my presence. Why is it that when I’m the only black person in an elevator with a bunch of white peoples, nobody smiles to make me feel comfortable?
Why is it that when I’m anywhere and I’m the only black person there, nobody smiles at me to make me feel comfortable?
The average black man will tell you, if he’s lived long enough, that he’s discovered certain mechanisms he uses to make people feel comfortable in his presence. So now another black kid is dead under unclear circumstances, another black community is in pain, and another policeman is on paid administrative leave.
By this time tomorrow we’ll know everything this young black kid has done since he left his mother’s womb, the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. I’ve got an eight year old son; I used to wonder about what college he will attend or what does he want to do when he grows up. As black men we’ve learned to focus our thinking on the present more so than on the future when it comes to our black boys.
It is a horror in our country that we always have to worry about making white people feel comfortable first before we think of ourselves. When outside, we make sure we smile to make them feel comfortable, we put our hands out so they don’t think we’re hiding something, we make sure we aren’t dressed in threatening ways (who the heck knows what that is because apparently, a hoodie is now threatening), we make sure when walking to our cars, our keys are prominently displayed so suspicious stares stop and cops aren’t called (I’ve been harassed in that manner and now whenever I’m in a predominantly white neighborhood, I make sure my car keys are prominently displayed so that they’re comfortable that I am indeed walking to my own car. I shouldn’t have to do that, but I must so that a group of white people aren’t threatened by one black person).
We make sure we don’t run in public because that looks suspicious (yeah, apparently running is suspicious), we make sure that we are 100% respectful to cops or your life may end that day. Yes sir, no sir, I’m sorry, sir. My hands are out, sir. I’m not holding anything suspicious, sir. I remember my shock and surprise when my white friend argued with a cop and I had to tell her to stop doing that because the person who’ll get shot first is me not her. I can’t even imagine the freedom that white people have to argue with cops and tell them loudly that they have rights. The thought that runs through my mind when I’ve been stopped by cops is the talk that my parents had with me. Be polite, make sure your hands are where they see them, say yes sir/yes m’am, never raise your voice, speak very softly, and it goes on and on and on. The prevailing thought being, good god, please let me be alive after this interaction. White people don’t understand that fear and pain where the cop isn’t there to serve and protect, but to shoot you first then ask questions later.
We make sure that we don’t raise our voice in public lest we seem threatening. I’ve been in coffee shops where white people raise their voices and everyone shrugs it off, but then a black person raised their voice while talking on the phone and a deathly silence filled the shop as people looked fearfully as though the black person was going to kill them. It’s insane.
We make sure that we never leave the house without any form of identification or company card to prove that we’re respectable and that still doesn’t guarantee your life will be safe.
The thought runs through your mind: Why are you as a white person not trying to make me feel comfortable in public? Why are you allowed to raise your voice in public and express your frustrations but I can’t? Why are you allowed to assert your rights with cops but I can’t? Am I not a human being too?
I’ll say it again. It is a horror in our country where a large swath of people can’t think about their lives and safety first, but have to think about others and making them feel comfortable just because of the color of our skin. We’re doctors, teachers, lawyers, business owners, parents, children, etc; but that doesn’t seem to matter when we’re out in public.