Help Me Understand: How is My Life Better as a Black Man?

How is my life, as a black man, better than it was two months ago, and are current efforts working towards the goal of a safer life for black people?

Photo by: Wouter Engler

I’m trying a new approach. I think that often we approach debates from the position of being right and having to convince the other side they are wrong. It means we aren’t really listening for understanding, but for points to counter. What this often leads to is people yelling their best arguments at each other and making no progress.

So, I won’t be making an argument for or against, I will be stating my sticking points. This is not an opportunity to lecture me, but more like be a tutor to guide me to the right answer. If you can explain these issues, I am on your side. If not, I’m not going to tell you to reevaluate your side that is on you. I am seeking understanding, not trying to change minds.

Are protests working?

First, I support protests as a way that Americans have addressed social change. When done right, and for the right reasons, I’m a big fan. We are far past the “raise awareness” stage, so what are the protests currently accomplishing? Police across the nation are still using choke-holds, Breonna Taylor’s killer are still free, and there has been no cultural shift in police department and guilds. So, how are the protests currently making my life safer?

Will defunding the police make black lives safer?

I fully support police reform and reorganization. I like the idea of having other services show up in stressful situations where a person with a gun will only make things worse.  Situations with someone with mental health issues or dealing with the homeless. Times when someone can offer services and not handcuffs. Programs like this in other cities shows a lot of promise and I would love to see something like that implemented in my area. So, my question isn’t is it a good idea, my question is will it make black lives safer? The distinction is important.

Now look at the list of names when we talk about Black Lives Matter. George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, the list goes on, none of them were homeless or facing a mental health crisis. All were killed after police were responding to a crime or a traffic infraction. Something those other services would not be doing.

As much as I want someone else to take over these duties for the police, none of the defund the police solutions are changing the issue of black people being killed by the police because none of them would have been used in the deaths of these black people.

I’m going to say that again and put it in bold and underline it for the people that skim articles. None of the solutions proposed in defunding the police would have saved the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and many more. Defund the police = good, but does not solve the problem we need solved.

Banning tear gas and non-lethal measures

Avoiding the discussion of what “non-lethal” means, I am using it in the context of how law enforcement categorizes it. I know city of Seattle banned them, and at the time of this writing, a federal judge blocked the ban. But here is why it is a sticking point for me. I’m not worried about being pepper sprayed by the police, I am worried about being shot by them. I will take a mild irritant over dying any day. I want the police to have as many steps between verbal warning and shooting as possible.

In fact, can we make up new tools for the police? Can someone invent a combination Taser, pepper spray, Spiderman web shooter, tranquilizer gun? Let’s give them a lot of options before they bring the steel.

How is my life as a black man safer?

I need this question answered. Because, to me, it seems like we have not solved the issues that would demonstrate that black lives, do indeed, matter. It seems to me that this is about white safety. All of this started because of excessive force, inflicted by white police officer, on black citizens. Many who did not commit an arrestable offense, and none committing an offense where the death penalty is a possible punishment. None were having a mental health crisis or in a situation where the police would not be involved if we successfully defunded the police into other programs.

I don’t want to argue semantics, and you should think about your response before touching the keyboard. But please, help me understand; how is my life, as a black man, safer than it was two months ago and how are the current efforts getting us towards that goal? If it isn’t better, should we be doing things different?

When it was just smoke

There have been a lot of posts by well-meaning white folks lately. While it is nice, from my perspective it is bringing a smoke detector to a three-alarm fire. The people in the burn ward do not need to be told that while you have never been on fire, you understand that it was hot.

I needed you every time a person said I had a bad attitude. I needed you to ask them why they thought that. I needed you to point out that I wasn’t doing anything different, or responding differently than another coworker.

I needed you when someone said they felt threatened by me. I needed you to ask them why, and what I had done. I needed you to challenge them with their own bias. I needed you to tell them then, that being black isn’t a threat. I needed you to not validate their racist feelings just because they feel them. I needed you to think about how a man that has spent his life defending others would feel being labeled as dangerous.

I needed you to confront your friends when I told you how they treated me. Not tell me, that you don’t see me that way, or that you nave never seen it. I needed you to trust that I wouldn’t say it was a hostile work environment unless it was. I needed you to talk to people that wouldn’t listen to me.

I needed you every time someone said “I don’t see color” and tell them that doesn’t make them enlightened, but it makes the ignorant to the unique experiences of others. I’m not just talking about racism here, if you don’t see color, you miss out on the beauty of a rainbow.

I needed you more times than I can list here. And not just me, so many of us. I don’t need you to tell me when the world is on fire, I needed you when it was just smoke.

Originally posted to my Facebook June 1, 2020.

The Fire Inside

You know that feeling you have? In the face of great injustice, you are angry, scared, tired, frustrated, hurt, anxious, overwhelmed, there are all these feelings and emotions burning through you like a raging fire. This fire consumes you, dominates your day. It impacts how you feel and maybe even your interactions with other people. I want you to know I see you and I understand.

While it has been great to see these fires burn on social media, it is a little disheartening. This fire that has been burning up social media for two weeks, I have felt for 40 years. But not a raging fire, a slow, smoldering burn. It can’t rage because, like all flames, it needs to breathe. My fire was covered years ago. I didn’t do it, you did. Some of you without even knowing it.

The lid is on my fire and I have been choking from the smoke for decades. Because you see my fire as different, it is dangerous. When a man stood up and yelled at me during a work meeting, it was dismissed as passion, when I calmly, quietly sat on my hands, I was the ones that someone felt threatened by. Because his burning fire is seen as a cracking log in a fireplace. Safe; comforting even, but more importantly, contained. While mine would be in a dry forest in summer. A danger to all and should be avoided at all costs. That spark must never be lit.

So, I sit here, still smoldering. Waiting for the allied fires burn away. This will end, as things tend to do. What I hope people will take away is an understanding of the frustrations that people like me have felt for years. To see and experience all the injustices we have known for centuries and have to smother that fire. Understand that this is why some slights are deeply offensive to us. How horrible it has been to see people validate the feelings of someone that we find offensive.

Many people didn’t see the big deal surrounding Rachel Dolezal. There were discussions about what trans-racial was in a world where race is a social construct. I burn with a white-hot rage thinking about if the current situation happened a few years ago and Rachel Dolezal was on TV talking about what it is to be a black person. That is why what she did was so offensive. She almost got to speak for us. A white woman, who sued her college for discriminating against her for being white, who was a leader in her NAACP chapter, could have been given a platform to speak for black people as a black woman.

I’m going to say that again in bold for the people that are just skimming. A white woman. Who sued her college for discrimination because she was white. Who was a leader in her NAACP chapter. Could have been given a platform to speak for black people. As a black woman.

I don’t expect you, the reader, to dismantle systemic racism tomorrow. I am not asking you to change the world. Just do your little part. When you see a person get upset about something you think it minor, give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it isn’t this particular thing, maybe it is just another in a long line of injustices they have had to face. Challenge people when they justify their mistreatment of black people by saying they “have an attitude.” Talk to a person when they say a black man in a professional setting is scary. Really look at how the people around you are treated. Is someone you work with singled out? Do you see it? Are you silent about it? Why?

If you truly want to be an ally, let us freely express ourselves and let our fires burn for a moment. If you stop feeding the fires, they will eventually die out. Don’t be scared of our fire, take the lid off. The smoke is too much and I can’t breathe.