The Plights of Being Black

Jack-Johnson
Image courtesy of tc-pbs.org

I’m acutely aware of the fact that I am Black. I’m reminded of this on a daily basis–from the time I wake up to the news report of another murdered black man by police, to falling asleep after watching a television show absent of people of color.

In between, during the waking hours that seem increasingly like a nightmare, I encounter: people that appear visibly uncomfortable, stare, shift purses, and/or avoid my glance until out of earshot; media that highlight tropes of black violence, limited and defined behaviors, monolithic examples of expression through entertainment (music, athletics, movies, TV, etc.); culture-coded conversations on societal issues (crime, sexism, racism, violence) that reveal willful and dangerous ignorance; and the fear that these things, though slightly getting better, are not progressing in the ways that the dominant culture carelessly chirp that they are.

I’d like to think that every police-induced death, every revelation of a new voice on black culture, and every technological miracle can bring about a newfound empathy for and realization of the binding strands of humanity that everyone shares. But the former, despite the world-shrinking effect of the latter, remain pervasive because of the aggressive obtuseness of people to look outside of themselves and acknowledge what they don’t understand.

And this is present in how we perceive blackness.

This is not a new thought in my head. But it is something that is becoming increasingly lost in the public discourse despite a bumper crop of reminders that blackness is fraught with negativity and complexity–and little understood. In reading “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay, I’ve been reminded how my increasingly pessimistic view of interactions with other races boil down to cultural brainwashing on all sides: Black people–particularly men–are painted as violent, hypersexual, lazy, poor, dumb, unmotivated, ugly people that are only good for entertainment (both earnest and cynical).

That assumption of fear that I perceive others have of me as I pass by them on the sidewalk; that coloring of blacks when I watch, read, or hear the news; that stain from the shallow in conversation online and offline: I feel it all, and it weighs me down. These traits are like shackles, binding people into negative stereotypes while grasping the freedom of being able to skip through life with weightless problems of not being killed by police officers and having good shots at jobs.

These idiosyncrasies are forced upon us, programmed by us into others, and taught to be the only way to live; it’s like Christianity, and the Crusades are being a person of color in everyday life. They’re seen as the norm by the dominant culture and often by our own, and we’re socially punished for deviating from the script. Being shunned is getting off light; murder is the case given by the violent intolerant.

We can be seen as “one of the good ones” if we mimic the dominant culture to the chagrin of our ethnic brothers and sisters; we’re chastised if we are the embodiment of those confining stereotypes that are reviled. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, and it’s fucking insane.

I can complain on my soapbox until I shout myself hoarse, bear my soul until the tears won’t stop, and protest society’s ills until I meet my end, and it won’t help. Not when the very people that need to hear it, need to understand others, need to change, won’t remove the fingers from their ears and the blinders from their eyes. And with all of the ways we can learn from and relate to each other in 2015, that is a baffling, excruciating pain to feel. And I feel it all the time–from when I wake up until when I go to sleep.

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