Saturday, August 16, 2014

The death of Michael Brown stirs rage among black men

(Students and residents of Columbia, MO gather for a vigil to protest the death of Michael Brown on the campus of the University of Missouri)

I am a black man.  I’m proud of that fact.  I wouldn’t change that for anything.

I celebrate sharing the hue of my skin with former African kings.  I’m proud of the creative legacy of men like Miles, Coltrane, Baldwin and Jean-Michel Basquiat.  I take pride in carrying the torch of leadership, creativity and social consciousness that opens eyes and inspires many to do the same.

Like I said, wouldn’t change a thing.  That doesn’t dismiss the pain that comes with walking in these shoes.  It’s a point I’m forced to make whenever another black man is gunned down, unarmed, by police. When that happens, and sadly it happens too often, I find myself taking deep breaths, wiping tears and fighting the urge to swing in the air.

It happened after the Trayvon Martin verdict when I wrote about America’s lack of love for black men.  I was disappointed when people fired back with claims that I was pulling the race card, had cast all white people in the same bucket and needed to consider the facts of the case versus being angry at the outcome.

Those responses forced me into deep isolation.  The attack of my vulnerable moment reminded me of why I feel so disconnected from America.  Don’t take that the wrong way. I love America.  I’m not willing, yet, to give up on my country and head to another more affirming place.  I simply need to be heard.  All black men need that.


Because we are being hunted down like rats on the street.  Because it feels like our lives are worth less than the T-shirts we purchase to protest the execution of another black man.  Because of how it feels to walk within a village with eyes glued on us as if waiting for us to make a mistake.  Because of the assumptions and distance created to keep us silent when our hearts ache too much to share how we really feel.

It hurts being a black man.  That angst is rooted in our ongoing need to prove we deserve our place within the broader American social stream.  Our movement is blocked by the condition of our race and manhood, and it hurts.  It hurts too much to share, and I’m tired of the pain.

That's the root of what I said during a vigil on the campus of the University of Missouri to protest Michael Brown’s death.  I talked about being born in Columbia, Missouri, walking the streets of the city, reading Kierkegaard for the first time in the university library, graduating with a degree in journalism from Mizzou, only to feel like an intruder.

I simply don’t feel like any of it belongs to me.  I feel out of place when I walk the streets.  I’m constantly reminded of the distance between myself and the others who share common space.  I don’t feel affirmed or appreciated.  I grapple with the vast gap between the opportunities afforded me versus those who are white.  I notice the disparity in my field.  Where are the black reporters? Where are the black people?

No, I don’t belong here.  Everything is set up to sustain a system of white privilege.  I’m not supposed to say that.  I’m not supposed to feel that.  I’m told to preach personal accountability by pulling yourself up from those bootstraps.  I’m rewarded for drawing attention to the failures of those unable to make it in a given system.  I’m told to use scriptures to warn people of the consequences related to not playing by the rules. 

None of that feels right when pondered within the context of my black manhood.  When another one of us is shot and killed, I’m reminded of the ache that keeps my feet glued in fields of pain.  I don’t belong here. They want me dead.  It doesn’t matter how hard I work to transcend it all – none of it matters when I’m judged by the stuff they can’t see.
So, I’ll try this again for those who missed it the last time.  I’m a black man.  I’m hurting because of all of this.  I’m taking it personal because I have been stopped by the police for walking in my own neighborhood.  I have been stopped for driving home late at night.  I’ve experienced enough to know how it feels to be judged for no other reason than the fact that I am a black man.

I’m not asking people to understand any of that.  I simply need a space to scream, because, once again, a part of me died last week in Ferguson, MO. My faith will pull me back, but, in the meantime, give me some space to breathe.

Black man walking.

1 comment:

  1. Not all of them want you dead. I should say, not all of us want you dead, because I know that I'm just as much a part of that white privilege you speak of, voluntarily or by chance of birth, as you are part of the disenfranchised.

    I'm sad, and I'm scared, because I see the anger, and I hate it and it frightens me, and I know it's justified, and I'm embarrassed by people like me who are throwing blame to rinse their collective hands, and there just is no way to make that happen. It doesn't matter the reason, it doesn't matter whether it's a race issue or not, it doesn't matter because a boy is dead, and a man shot him, and we all are impacted by that - I want the riots and the vitriol and the terrifying behavior on every side of the race lines to stop, but that doesn't stop anything, and I don't know what to do, and I don't know what I can do as a single person to help heal the wounds that have been ripped open again. I'm angry with those who are spreading inflammatory rumors and making stupid assumptions and connections that don't exist. I'm also angry with those who want to pretend this is no big deal and want it to go away without dealing with the huge underlying issues that aren't being, haven't been, addressed.

    Maybe it doesn't matter what I think -- I can't fix anything except to speak out against cruelty and racism and prejudice when I see it. I'm nobody. My voice feels very small to me, and may not reach you at all, but I want to thank you for your voice. I believe it reaches more hearts than you might know. Peace to you ... however that might happen. Faith is a powerful healer.