"We are not shocked, because unfortunately we know it's coming."
Being black is exhausting. Not as exhausting as being black was for most of the black people who came before me in this world, but exhausting nonetheless. Leave a meeting or any work-related activity (hi, Cam) expressing normal disappointment and people label you as “pouty” or “immature.” The same anger and emotion seen in a person of color as being a detriment to their fundamental ability to get their job done is the stuff of legend for a white person. There are too many things for me to list here making the black experience in America…. Exhausting. But there’s something I want to make clear, nothing is more exhausting than the realization that I must be fundamentally ready to die.
Years ago when I was a boy, through my parents, church members, extended family, and everyone around me I learned the history of what it means to be a black man in this world. It means we are born being seen as a danger, like Emmett Till or Jimmie Lee Jackson. It means our murders may only be investigated if someone white dies along with us like James Chaney or if the image of our dying breath can be broadcast for the world to see like Eric Garner or Tamir Rice. When we’re alone or with those we love, we hear the stories that go unprinted of extrajudicial murders of long-lost faces in our community. We are not shocked, because unfortunately we know it’s coming.
The other morning as I sat in the dentist’s office, I thought about death. It’s the only certainty in this world. We are not guaranteed we’ll find our soulmate, we are not guaranteed we will have children. We are not guaranteed a life of wealth or poverty. We know we will die. The past few days as more black lives have been taken in a way that questions whether the world views us as human, I have received phone calls, texts, and social media messages asking about how I’m taking the news. Telling me I’m loved. Asking if I have a plan for the situations where other black lives have been taken.
My mother and father, and grandparents, and relatives, have all spent their lives preparing me to live. They give me the words to say so that I may remind someone of my humanity, teach me how to avoid provocation if possible, and show me how to quell my anger if it means I make it home another night. As they taught me how to live, they made sure to show me how to be ready to die. Through their lives, I know not to be ashamed of my blackness. To wear proudly where I am from and the history I represent. My grandfather was not afraid to die when he rode around Jim Crow Mississippi helping promote voting rights. I will not be afraid to die just for being black in what are supposed to be better times. My only plan – exhausting as it may sometimes feel – is to keep being black. My hope for others is blackness soon becomes less of a reason to be ready to die.
Image courtesy of Nicholas Upton. Creative Commons license.