I can barely express the depth of the pain and the anger I feel right now. I feel so helpless and powerless and hated. I feel so constantly plagued by doubt. I am constantly being messaged that I am a problem that society has yet to find a solution for. This world seems so afraid of me and what I will do next…so why am I the one paralyzed by fear? Why I am I the one afraid to walk down the street at night? Why am I the one that nearly has a panic attack every time I see the police? How it is it possible that I am this powerful, haunting menace that America fears so deeply yet am so…powerless.
They tell me that I’m different. That my family made it. That my parents got out of the hood and moved to a white town and sent me to a good school. They are constantly messaging to me that I’m the epitome of the Black middle class success story. Young, no kids, no record, employed with benefits and a future. The cops have never thrown me up against the wall. I’ve never been stopped or frisked. I’ve never been shot at. I’ve never been seriously questioned by the police. It is supposed to make me feel safe. I’m supposed to understand the plight of the ghetto is not my plight. I’m supposed to feel pride that I’m not one of them. Yet I feel that all this messaging of success is a lie.
I remember the cops following me through campus at the University of Chicago. I remember them eying me as a group of white students walked towards me. They drove off when it was clear that I was not going to rob anybody. I get the sense, its imaginary I know, but I get this sense that the Black cop in the police car were surprised or disappointed or even anxious that I didn’t hurt anyone. As they drove off, I wondered if that cop wanted to prove he wasn’t one of them too?
Its moments like that one that won’t let this feeling dissipate. I always have this feeling hanging over me; this sense that the bubble could burst any moment. This eery, pregnant pause, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
When I would walk through Back of the Yards on the South Side of Chicago I would get this sense, as I heard guns shots and sirens, that one stray bullet and I’d be another statistic. Another dead nigger outlined on the side walk. Another memorial with candles and pictures and tears. Another prophesy fulfilled.
When I tell my story in social justice job interviews or organizing spaces, I always make sure to leave that part out. I make sure to talk about my class privilege. Talk about my parents making good money. Talk about my college degree.
As I regurgitate these half-truths I forget about my students loans, I forget about the overdraft fees, I forget about the times I’ve wondered if I can pay the rent. I wonder, after I tell my story, if I leave out the economic insecurity to fit in and get ahead: to say “hey I’m just like you.” I know that white people get angry if you fit in too well. You have to walk a balance between what they expect of you and what they would expect of you if you were white. You can’t be either one. You can’t be one of them, neither their equal nor the nigger they expect. You have to surprise them.
Honestly though, I fear I leave it all out because I want to believe it. I want to believe that my Khaki pants and dress shoes will protect me. I want to believe that my family could take me in if I lost my job. I want to believe my articulation of my innocence, in my practiced “professional” voice, would keep me out of hand cuffs.
I want to believe that there is more than just random chance standing between me and pine box…
A maldistribution of life chances. Oppression. Marginalization. Subjected vs Subject. There are a lot of words to describe it but, at the end of the day, it’s a roll of the dice to see which one of us dies today. Dying in an instant with a gun shot. Die in 4 minutes with a rope around your neck. Die after months battling diabetes. Die slowly doing 20 to life. Die a little bit every time your daughter draws herself with blonde hair and blue eyes. Die a little bit every time you get an award for showing up. Die a little bit each day. What kills you is just a roll of the dice.
I wrote that in a hour. I’ll feel better sharing it. I’ll process my emotion by rewriting and editing this. By the time I post it I’ll be okay. I’ll go back to work tomorrow like everything is okay. I’ll forget that my city’s police department is preparing for violence instead proactively suing for peace. I will work with White co-workers and forgive them for not being paralyzed by my fear. I’ll remember how privilege works and be thankful that I’m not living in fear of being deported. I’ll be grateful that I’m not afraid of being raped when I walk home at night. I’ll be grateful that I won’t be punched in the face for loving who I love. I’ll be grateful that I have a job in the first place. I’ll forget that the world is so afraid of me. I’ll pretend, for a time, that I’m not so afraid of it.