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.
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.
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.