I was recently walking from east to west on 87th Street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan when I arrived at Park Avenue, one of the most prestigious and affluent streets in New York City and America. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a middle-aged white male appear. He was jogging, but after he saw me he abruptly stopped running and proceeded to walk backwards, while still facing my direction. He moved backwards nervously, like a frightened cat trying to understand the monstrous figure crossing its path. I looked at him, laughed, shook my head, and kept walking, for I knew that, unbeknownst to him, he was a much bigger threat to me than I was to him. Although I wouldn't hurt a flea, I knew that one word or phone call to the NYPD from him could have sent my easy-breezy and somewhat privileged self into a tailspin.
As I continued walking I thought, "Why the hell was he so afraid?" Was my 5'11", 180-pound frame so imposing? Was my choice to wear all black in the early break of dawn too mysterious? Or maybe I just surprised him because he wasn't expecting to see anyone at 5:50 in the morning in the city that never sleeps? No! I was guilty of being a black man. Now, this piece isn't about white people being afraid of the black man; it's about all people being afraid of the black man -- including me.
All types of people, of every race and gender, including black men ourselves, have been socialized to fear the black man. And that's traumatic, especially when you are both the feared and the fearful. The threat of the black man has gotten so pervasive that it has finally come full circle. We are afraid of ourselves.
So, as I thought more and more about it, I became so intensely angry, so angry that I wanted to cry, because the cycle is never-ending, and because I realized that deep down, I hated being feared. I hated thinking that regardless of my level of education, my accomplishments, and my status in society, something that I had heard when I was a kid had finally been realized and comprehended: "No matter what you do, you'll still be a black man" -- but they forgot to include the word "scary." I didn't understand what it meant at the time, but now, at 34 years of age, I do. But what I didn't realize about that statement was that it applied to everyone, everywhere, always. True, not everyone was afraid of me, but enough were to make me hate being black.
Yes, I said it: I hated being black. I didn't like and couldn't handle knowing that people feared me because of something I had no control over. Then I started thinking of how my own internalized self-hatred dictated the way I lived my life: my desire to date white men, my desire and need to wear non-threatening clothing, my dislike of tattoos and piercings, my straight-edge mentality. Maybe all of the above was a manifestation of my subconscious desire to be perceived as non-threatening, a need to free myself from the image of the "scary black man." Maybe it had something to do with my desire for access: access to a world where I wasn't feared for being.
The more I thought about this, I started to get a headache. My headache was a sign of fatigue.
I'm tired. Like, really, I'm tired: tired of trying to fit in, blend in, conform, and exist in a society where I'm feared. The fear is too deep-rooted, and the perception has spread like malignant cancer through every thread of our society, so what do I do? As my grandmother used to say, "Baby, just keep living."
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