The Unspoken Burden of Being a Black Man in America
With the recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a young black man who was simply out for a jog, and was brutally gunned down by a racist father and son duo in Brunswick, Georgia — the truth about America’s attitude towards black men, has reignited a national conversation.
Arbery was only 25 years old, and he regularly jogged through the same neighborhood daily. So his presence should not have been a cause for alarm, among the residents. Unfortunately, Arbery was racially profiled by two white men, Gregory McMichael, 64, and his son, Travis McMichael, 34, who grabbed their weapons, a .357 Magnum revolver and a shotgun, jumped into a truck and began following Arbery after seeing him run by.
The two men bypassed Arbery and waited a few paces up the street, in an attempt to conduct what they claim was a citizens arrest. I haven’t seen the video, but it’s pretty clear the McMichael’s true intention was to startle Arbery, and force him into a fight or flee situation, similar to George Zimmerman’s deadly, stealth attack on young Trayvon Martin.
The father and son duo were not arrested and the Glynn County police department, declined to invite the Georgia Bureau of Investigations to conduct an investigation. Instead, they asked the GBI to investigate threats against the police department, as a result of Arbery’s murder.
Fortunately, the killing was caught on camera, and Georgia’s Attorney General has recently requested a grand jury.
What happened to Arbery is awful, but this is daily life for a black man in America. A young black man gunned down while jogging, a child murdered by police in a playground, a boy headed home to watch the NBA All-Star game, and murdered by the Neighborhood Watch, there are just too many unfortunate stories to tell.
As black men, we have to present ourselves in public as non-threatening, regardless of our profession. A black man in a suit and tie, is just as likely to be racially profiled as a thug with his pants sagging.
I recall a few years ago, I was shopping in the mall and I stopped to purchase a back massager from Brookstone. The box was fairly large, but I decided to carry it with me, while I shopped around. When I finally decided to depart the mall, a white man dressed in plain clothes and carrying a walkie-talkie, suddenly jumped from behind a rack of clothes, in an attempt to startle me.
I thought the whole incident was bizarre, but as I walked to my car, I realized that he was an undercover security guard, and he obviously thought I had stolen the back massager and decided to carry it with me, throughout the mall.
I laughed about it, but deep inside I felt humiliated. So, the next day I called the mall management and explained what happened, and very bluntly asked them, if they had a policy of following black shoppers around the mall.
Of course they denied such a policy, but their denial didn’t matter — what mattered was that I spoke up. They were now aware that black men like myself feel uncomfortable shopping in their mall, without be harassed.
A while back, I heard a comedian joking about his decision to remain in his car, while a white lady completed her ATM transaction, during a late night encounter. He joked, “I didn’t want to put too much pressure on her…” It was a really funny bit, but it was only funny because it’s true!
As black men, we have to be constantly aware of our surroundings and how our mere presence may affect white people. This is a heavy burden to bare, and the psychological effect that this has on black men is rarely researched or discussed.
Black men suffer from unspoken aggression against them in a society that praises talented and athletic black men, while treating most like a constant threat.
When black people speak of white privilege, this is the dynamic, that we’re referring to. The privilege of taking a jog without concern about being murdered because of your race, the privilege to shop in the mall without being harassed, and the ability to secure a job without concern about your race.
Society is clueless about the psychological impact this has on black men — having to moderate your presence in order to accommodate a society that feels threatened by you. This is the burden we carry.
On another occasion, I was shopping at CVS, but couldn’t find the item I was looking for. So, I left empty-handed, but when I walked through the theft detector it was instantly activated. I shrugged it off and kept walking, but I was immediately chased down by the store manager, who I had observed behind the counter.
He abruptly asked me to hand over the item he assumed was stolen. I showed him my hands and pointed to an older white man, who had walked through the detector with me, as the possible culprit. The old man overheard our conversation and showed the manager his KY Jelly purchase (lol).
Instead of apologizing to me, the manager walked back into his store, seemingly disappointed that he had not caught a black thief red-handed. Instead of returning to my car, I decided to return to the store and demand an apology from him, in front of a store full of customers.
I was nearly irate that he left his store unattended to chase me down. I asked him in the presence of his customers, if this was a CVS policy to racially profile black shoppers. He was embarrassed and attempted to downplay the situation, but I was far from satisfied.
At some point, you just get fed up with always being profiled. Every black person knows the feeling of exiting a store, and feeling as though you’re being watched. Even if you’re an upstanding citizen, you can feel the eyes of surveillance upon you, whether they’re real or not.
I encourage all black men to speak up when they’ve been racially profiled. The only way to change the mentality is to hold the business owners and police officers accountable. Staying silent and suffering indignation is the root of a lot of maladies within the black community.
Without an outlet to express our frustrations, we turn on each other, and begin to rely on unhealthy means of living.
Speak Up! Speak Out! Be heard and be respected.