What Will Save Us?
Back in April, I walked over to a house–– in a neighborhood not too far from where I lived–– to pick up keys from a family I was going to be housesitting for. When I approached the door to ring the buzzer, a group of older white women looked at me, and said,
“What are you doing here? Who are you going to see? We don’t want any!”
Heart racing, I blurted out, “I’m here to pick up keys! I’ve been here before! I don’t have any!
The woman and her friends laughed and quickly said, “I was joking, I know who you’re here to see. It’s okay, calm down.”
The thing is, I can’t calm down. I was so afraid that the woman was going to interrogate me or call the cops. The neighborhood I was in is a predominantly white neighborhood that has a history of racism.
I am always on guard.
I always make it a point to talk “properly” and articulately.
I always take care to make sure my appearance isn’t “sloppy”.
I am acutely aware of how I present myself to the world and how others see me.
It’s because I can’t afford not to be aware.
In Utah, while attending BYU, I especially felt I had to be on my “best behavior”. I felt I had to represent my entire race and prove myself.
In a country that assumes the worst because of my race, I have to safeguard and protect myself with superficial things like how I look and speak and how I interact with people around me and how I present myself. Unlike most white Americans, I have to be aware of how others see me. Because the first impression is that I’m black, and even today, simply being black is a bad impression.
In the end, it doesn’t matter what impression black citizens give off. Philando Castile was educated, had a respectable job, spoke politely to the police; Sandra Bland was the same and spoke respectfully to the police, calmly asserting her rights before she was taken into custody; Trayvon Martin was a kid simply buying candy from a store, like any neighborhood child.
Not like any of that should matter in the first place. None of that protected them, anyway. The only thing that mattered was that they were black.
Frequently on the subway, I observe the behavior of children.
The white children laugh and monkey around on the seats and on the poles; they laugh loudly, people smile, the parents laugh at the innocence of their child. Kids being kids.
But I’ve noticed whenever I see black children act the same way, people look on with disdain, shaking their heads, thoughts of “control your children” showing on their faces; parents are quick to discipline and stifle that same childhood innocence.
In this country, there is no such thing as innocence for black children. There is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty.
In this country, you are just black until proven innocent.
And it scares me that no matter how good or accomplished I am, how much I’ve traveled, the level of education I receive, how many diverse friends I have, what kind of career I enter into, what my personal interests are…. None of that will protect me. None of that will matter.
Nothing will save me or any other black American.
Last Monday, Americans celebrated Independence Day. Black people are still fighting for that day to come for us.