THE FEAR FACTOR


Be the change.

Although I’ve been relatively silent on social media the last couple weeks or so, I have not been idle. I have been having conversations, both online and offline. Great conversations. Hard conversations. Conversations full of awkward silence, along with moments of beautiful insight and revelatory sorrow. But in all of them, I’ve seen progress. I’ve seen us pushing things forward… together.

In looking back over the events of the last few years, one of the recurring statements that often preceded a POC’s loss of life by an LEO was that the officer “feared for their safety”, or the safety of someone else… a neighbor, a store owner, a colleague. While we can endlessly debate the validity of that assertion, we can and should look at the part fear has played in the history of violence against people from different cultures.

It seems the from the very beginning, white Americans (and to a lesser degree, Americans in general) have been conditioned to fear those who were different from them. Or at least view them as what I call “necessary adversaries”. It reminds me of the quote, “Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.” I remember playing “Cowboys and Indians” as a child. And although no one sat me down and said, “The cowboys are the good guys, and the Indians are the bad guys” It was just understood that this was true because everything we saw reinforced this belief. From toys to books to TV shows… the kids were upset when they had to be the “indian”. When I go back and watch “Old West” films, I find that they’re rife with the indoctrination of Native American savagery. “Indians” steal food and livestock. They rape and kill and have no concern for what’s fair or honorable. A false narrative.

Conditioned to FEAR.

In much the same way, the portrayal of African Americans in media (television, film, books, advertisements, etc.) has served to reinforce the stereotypical dangerous stranger. No one may have said it straight out. But to look around is to understand that “Here are the many reasons you should be afraid of black people.” We are gang bangers who live to terrorize communities and kill indiscriminately for sport. We sell drugs to support our own drug habits, and will kill family and friends if they interfere in this process. We steal women from other races and dominate them in defiance of the authority and superiority of other races. We are lazy, seeking only comfort and convenience, to the detriment of our futures or concern for anyone other than ourselves. Another false narrative.

Conditioned to FEAR.

For too long our country has been living in denial of the underlying traditions of xenophobia that support our current racial divide. Until we acknowledge the truth of our own biases, we cannot effectively address the immeasurable damage of this “fear” that has rippled throughout history.

How then do you retrain someone to no longer fear those of whom they’ve been repeatedly told to be afraid?

In some of my conversations, I’ve heard people say that education is not the solution. To a degree, I agree with that statements. We must understand that education was never meant to fix the problem of discrimination or systemic racism. But education provides the light that exposes an issue, so that we can fully understand and see clearly what it is that we’re attempting to fix. EDUCATION becomes the antidote to fear.

The solution then becomes replacing fear with COURAGE and DETERMINATION.

Embrace COURAGE.

Show DETERMINATION.

Together we can be the catalyst for CHANGE.

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THE MINE FIELD


I’ve had a chance to process more of what’s taking place AROUND me, but more importantly, what’s happening INSIDE of me. See, there’s been a shift of focus. Here’s what I mean…

In the past, I’ve been content to navigate life by trying my best to avoid instances of prejudice, discrimination and flat out bigotry. I call them racial land mines. Whether obvious or hidden, these land mines are a very real threat to me and others like me, in several aspects of daily life. It could be targeted discrimination on the job, excessive derision or bullying at school, false accusations by my neighbors, or undue scrutiny at the store.

LAND MINES.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to circumvent many of these situations by treading cautiously through life. A sad truth. I’ve done my best to teach these avoidance strategies to my two adult sons, and even my 13 year old. It absolutely kills me that this is even something that I have to do. But my hope was that having these tools might LESSEN the chance of them being injured, abused, or let’s be real… murdered. I say lessen because while prevention would be the obvious goal, there simply is no guarantee. I’m aware of the fact that when it comes to these land mines, prevention is not always possible, even under the best conditions.  One false step and it detonates. I NEED people to understand that I carry around with me the reality that there is no protected space. Anywhere. There is no guarantee of safety, even inside my own home.

I’ll be honest. In the past, when people asked about my experience in order to “understand what it’s like”, it was… frustrating. Not because they asked. But because I didn’t think they understood how much of an impossible request this might be. Why? Because there is no equivalent to systemic racism. It’s a different kind of beast. Nothing I described to them would come close to fully expressing the residual strife of a hostile environment built over hundreds of years. Even now, I can’t always articulate how I manage the haunting navigation of black life in America. The closest I’ve come recently is to say that my daily black experience can be summed up in one tormenting question…

AM I NEXT?

Imagine starting every day with this thought overshadowing every thing you do… every conversation, every activity, every interaction. Maybe that will give people insight into what it feels like to be black in America.

LAND MINES.

Because of their pervasiveness, I now know that it’s not enough to just AVOID them, we have to do the hard work and DISMANTLE them. I say WE because I’m convinced that we are far more likely to accomplish this united together than we ever could working alone. We start by having honest, uncomfortable, and sometimes difficult conversations with one another, so that we might understand the reality of the life we live, and how we affect each other. This is how we gain valuable perspective and hopefully, grace and empathy.

This also allows us to identify land mines that may not be obvious to everyone around us. Pointing them out is the first step toward disarming and hopefully destroying them. That’s not to say that I have all of the answers. But I do believe they can be found through our combined efforts.

So my focus has shifted.

I’m now at the point where I see the need and sincerely desire to have these conversations. As a matter of fact, I welcome anyone who wants to have genuine dialogue about our current conditions, the implications of this movement, the way all of this affects me and my family, how it might be affecting you and yours, and what can be done to move things forward.

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BLACK IN 2020 AMERICA


I thought that it would be a good idea to maybe paint a picture for some of you who are genuinely interested, or just curious, about what minority life looks like in America, at least for me and my family. So here are just a few of the very real considerations I have to take into account daily.

– When I mentioned that wearing glasses makes me appear less threatening to some white people, this was not just conjecture. This is from personal experience. I can see people visibly relax when I enter a room and they notice that I’m wearing glasses. I’ve had white people actually say things TO MY FACE about my apparent “harmlessness” because of my glasses. If it was just once, I could pass it off as an exception. But on several occasions white people have “jokingly” said variations of, “Bro, your glasses totally kill the gangster vibe.” Yep. Gangster vibe. Really. Did they mean any offense by the statement? Not at all. But they still got the super eye roll. 🙄

– I’m acutely aware of the substantial risk I take every time I leave my house. Not sometimes, during holidays, or on the weekends. No… EVERY. TIME. There’s an ever-present anxiety because I never know if this will be the day when I’m pulled over by the police, not because I did anything wrong, but because I “fit the description”. I would venture to guess that if you polled a sampling of black people, a majority would tell you that “fit the description” is a trauma trigger. When I get in my car, before I put it in drive, I place my cell phone in a holder attached to my dashboard. Why? Because I want to be able to call my wife or start a live-stream within seconds of being pulled over by the police. It’s on my Driving While Black checklist. It may not keep me alive, but it may bring some justice.

– There’s some weird notion that being “other” is preferred to being “black”. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked “Are you Cuban/Dominican/Puerto Rican/Non-Black?” by white people. It’s as if believing I am something OTHER THAN black, will make me more… acceptable? If I’m NOT black, maybe they somehow think I’m okay to like or believe or trust or befriend? Just a guess, but when I say, “No, I’m Black/African American”, there’s a noticeable sense of disappointment.

Again, I’m not speaking for all black people. I’m just sharing my personal experience. And if you take nothing else away from this message, please understand this… no amount of data, statistics, or reports should ever invalidate someone’s personal experience. We’ve lived what we’ve lived and we often see life through the filter of those experiences. Remember that before attempting to trivialize someone’s trauma.

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BROKEN


Ughhhhhhh!!!!!! 😩

My heart hurts. My mind is full of anger, confusion, and worry. I want to CRY and SCREAM and RUN and FIGHT… and hide, all at the same time. As I told someone else, I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to engage with people right now. So there will be no debate here. You either hear me, or you don’t. But that’s up to you. What I know is that I have been unable to sleep, and in my time of reflection, there have been myriad thoughts swirling around in my mind. Up until now, I have not spoken freely. But this must change.

And so, I will no longer remain silent.

To say that we reside in a nation divided, would be an understatement. It hinges upon readily observed and documented injustice, along with a perceived hopelessness, perpetuated by the repeated occurrences of mistrust, brutality, prejudice, and discrimination that I fear have now come to define the character of our country, to its citizens as well as the rest of the world.

These attributes have been affixed to the very nature of who we are as a population, brought about by the actions of those who have been appointed, and thereby obligated, to be the benevolent and compassionate custodians of liberty, safety, and justice for all.

But somewhere along the way, the vision was lost, or perhaps it was intentionally discarded.

We have become a nation in which the pursuit of wealth and success comes at the cost of compassion and consideration of others. We are teaching our children that it is socially acceptable to be selfish and obtain their definition of happiness by any means necessary. And in so doing, I fear we have developed a culture that prizes possessions over principle, money over morality, and status over solidarity. In a country whose very name embodies cohesion and promotes collaboration, The United States of America, we now seem to encourage divisiveness and egocentric aspirations.

We have been broken.
Broken promises.
Broken relationships.
Broken trust.
Brokenhearted.

I’m not sure how much more my heart and mind can endure. I used to think that civil dialogue could help heal the wounds between us. But in this current civilization, civility is not always possible. I learned a long time ago that people motived by feelings, who take action before considering the consequences of those actions, are NOT interested in talking. They are only interested in purging their emotions by any means necessary. There is no reasoning with them.

But I’m tired.

Tired of being the black man who is all too conscious of the fact that wearing glasses makes me appear less threatening. Tired of being the one who some people point to as the example of a “good black person” (wth is that anyway??). Tired of being the father who is constantly updating the Minority Rules of Social Engagement, and reinforcing them to his fives sons and one daughter, as a contingency against the very real possibility that their lives could one day depend on them.

I am a black man in America. And to some, that means I am a life without value. Disposable.

But my life has value as much as any other human being. And I will do everything lawfully within my power to uphold that right and recognize that value, in myself and others.

As I sit here in tears, I’m thinking about how I used to avoid making such precise statements about my feelings for fear of people misunderstanding me, unfriending me or taking offense. But I will say this without reservation, your approval of me will never be worth more than the welfare and well-being of my family. I’m committed to finding solutions and taking action. But I will not sit idly by while the world descends into chaos.

If I lose friends over this… ask yourself, were we really friends?

Categories: commentary, current events, opinion, personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alone In The Crowd


Entering the chaos of trivial chatter

it drowns the sound of reason 

an appropriate place to blend into oblivion.

 

Retreating into this hull of indifference

fearing asphyxiation by the masses

with no desire to breathe in their treason.

 

Plumetting to depths unknown 

their preoccupied faces cast stares unaware

of the stranger in their stew of conversations. 

 

A final glance of understanding

with a smirk this world becomes

a simple detour before the final destination. 

alone-in-a-crowd

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