I turned 26 one week ago from today and I typically write something on my birthday but the events of the week made it harder than normal to write something. I am talking about the murder of George Floyd. The murder took place on Monday night and it hit national news the next day. I always plan ahead to take the day off work for my birthday and this year I am glad I did. It is hard if not impossible to describe what is like to be black in America to non-black people so that they fully understand what you mean. For black people you do not need to say a word. It is fully understood, even with just a look. It is not obvious for black children however. Every child is born as a blank slate, every moment going forward their slate is drawn on and impacted by everything they see and hear. Babies do not know they are black, they learn they are black.
A universal experience for black children is some form of the talk, not the sex one, the race one. One day, every black child looks in a mirror and learns they are black. They learn that they look different than other children. This is normal. Some time later they learn that because they are black they are different than other children. This is not normal. They learn that due to forces outside of their own control they will be looked at and treated differently than other children, specifically white children. They will learn that they need to be strong, stronger than anyone else because of how they were born. They will learn that there is almost nothing they can do about how the world will treat them because the world is unfair.
I do not remember when I got the talk for the first time, I do however remember when my youngest brother probably got it for the first time. I was 12 years old and one day my mother told me some white kid at daycare called my 4 year old brother a nigger. That day I learned something new about being black in America, it is not just old people who will treat you lesser. They pass their traditions onto their children. It is impossible to forget these lessons. You get a refresher almost every single day.
- The time I wanted to buy a flight joystick at Walmart in Rhode Island when I was 13 and one of the assistants there came up to me, asked what I was doing when I was just standing there holding the item, waiting for my dad to buy it for me.
- The numerous times during middle and high school where I was called an oreo.
- The time when I was longboarding back to my dorm at Northeastern when two drunk college guys asked to use try and use my longboard. I said no and one of them called me a nigger.
- The time when I was buying groceries with one of my white, female friends in Vermont. When we got back to the car she told me she noticed everyone in the store was looking at us.
- The time when I was walking to get tacos and stopped at an intersection next to another black man waiting for the crosswalk signal when a Seattle police car, who had the green light, slowed down, stared at both of us for more than a few seconds, and then pulled away.
- The time when I told a doctor in a Seattle emergency room that the painkillers I was given 30 seconds ago had not kicked in yet when they ignored me while sticking a needle down my mouth and into the side of my throat.
For some of these incidents, non-black people might not understand why these things happened. For black people it is all too clear.
- Black people lie, steal, and should not be trusted.
- Black people should aspire to act like white people.
- But at the end of the day, you will always just be a nigger.
- Black people should stick to their own race and black men especially should not be friendly with white women.
- Black people in groups are dangerous and are up to no good.
- Black people do not need to be listened to.
It is actually incorrect to call the talk a lesson, it is actually a warning, a warning that the words you hear in school that "all men are created equal" are a lie because the man who wrote those words literally owned your ancestors, it is a lie because once your ancestors were "free" they were beaten, raped, and hung from trees, it is a lie because once your grandparents were "free but actually for real this time" they were beaten, locked up, and locked away from prosperity.
Now we are in current year and once again black people are fighting to be "free but with a money back guarantee!". It took a couple of "false starts". Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, Natasha McKenna, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Jordan Edwards, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, just to name a few. This time though, racism will truly be defeated, just like when racism was defeated in 2008 with the election of the first black president, Barack Obama.
Martin Luther King's dream has not come true yet.
I have a dream this afternoon that my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up within, but they will be judged on the basis of the content of their character, not the color of their skin.
It is too late for a child born today, it is too late for my brothers, it is too late for me, it is too late for my friends, it is too late for my parents, we have all been corrupted by the racist system we live in. It is impossible for black people to unlearn the warnings and it is impossible for white people to unlearn the traditions. The best we can do right now is to try and relearn new lessons, scab over the gash, and desperately try not to forget our past when we look at our scar in the mirror.
The last week has been mentally draining. To tell you the truth I do not like it when another black person is murdered and I have to relearn the warning. I am tired of the questions, I am tired of the awkward silence when my race is brought up, I am tired of the looks when I am walking down the street or when I am at work or when I am in school or when I am just buying food at the grocery store, I am tired of the stereotypes, I am tired of the expectations, I am tired of being questioned about who I date, I am tired of people touching my hair, I am tired of representing all black people.
I like keeping my wallet in my front pocket because I do not have to move it from my back pocket if I want to avoid sitting on it. Because I keep it in my front pocket I have a slim wallet. It is much less bulky than a typical wallet but because it is slimmer it cannot hold as many items. Because of this I only carry the most important things in my wallet, my drivers license, a credit card, a debit card, some cash on the rare times I have it, and my old college ID card. I do not carry my college ID card to get student discounts. For some reason I carry my college ID card in the event I get pulled over or stopped by the police. For some irrational reason I plan that when I get stopped by the police I will give them my drivers license and my college ID card. I hope that my college ID card will change me from just another black person who is up to no good to a college educated black person. I hope that I can put enough positive descriptors before black person so the police forget that I am a black person. Hopefully the police forgetting that I am a black person will prevent them from murdering me like a black person.
I try to be hopeful. I do want the United States to aspire to its founding ideals that "all men are created equal". I truly do hope that these round of protests will finally change the way black people have been treated in this country for the better. Somewhere inside me though I know it is not going to truly happen. It will get a little bit better, maybe an inch or two of progress, maybe even a whole foot, but there are 5,280 feet in a mile and we've got miles to go. Even so I am going to fight every day for change, it is not the least I can do, it is the only thing I can do because my life depends on it.