I’m not sure that race doesn’t matter anymore.
Eight simple words made complicated, when fused together to form a sentence. Words. It breaks my heart to say that out loud. It hurt even worse to write it down. I’ve spent my whole life trying to break down racial barriers. I’ve dated women of every race and religion. My friends run the gamut of the color scheme and my experiences run the spectrum of adventures. I’ve lived in the Deep South, and I’ve lived in the biggest city in this country. I’ve tasted the big apple and Georgia peaches and I love both equally. I love them for their differences.
This administration, this political climate, this point in history feels so lonely.
I still can’t tell if America loves me though.This administration, this political climate, this point in history feels so lonely. I’ll never forget waking up on November 9th after the election of Donald Trump and walking into my living room. My girlfriend could see that I was still in shock from the event of the night before. As we passed each other, she hugged me. The feeling of her body against mine, the realization that a white woman was consoling her black boyfriend less than 24 hours after the election of Donald Trump, the disappointment in my country caused me to lose it.
As she pulled me in tighter, I began to cry. Not the cute kind of crying that you see in the movies, but an ugly cry. The kind of crying that doesn’t allow you to catch your breath. The kind of crying that scares you, because you aren’t sure if you can stop.
All I could manage to say to her was, “Why do they hate us?”
It devastated me to realize that the warnings that I had been given by older generations could be true. As a child, I had often been told by elders to “be careful.” Don’t put yourself into vulnerable positions around white people, “you never know what can happen.” I almost always pushed back, “you don’t know what you’re talking about, things have changed.”
Have they though? Racism and inequality aren’t as blatant and obvious, but have they really gotten better? Have they really changed? We may have had a black President, but look at what he had to accomplish to make it this far. Despite his success and accomplishments, look how they treated him. They may have called their attacks political, but they weren’t. The attacks on his citizenship, on his legitimacy to hold office weren’t just attacks on him, they were attacks on all of us.
What many in conservative white America don’t understand is the power of their words. The effect that their actions have on the rest of us, especially black America. So much is over simplified.
We live in a complicated world. A world where the easiest explanation is usually the farthest from the truth. A world where I have to actively try to appear non-threatening to the world to ensure that I make it home everyday. A world where I have to code-switch like a linguist at the United Nations to preserve my “blackness,” while trying to find a way to not be so black that I’m not marketable. It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating. It hurts.
It hurts because no matter how hard I try to show white America that the portrayal of black men on TV isn’t reflective of who we are as a people, I always manage to find someone who manipulates the meaning of Black Lives Matter to fit their narrow-minded political narrative. They don’t ask about my personal experience.They don’t care to understand why it’s important to acknowledge that black lives do matter. They aren’t interested in hearing about the police officer who pulled a white high school girlfriend out of my car late on a Friday night to ask her whether I was holding her against her will. Of course I wasn’t, but that wasn’t the point.
They don’t ask about the police officer who nearly shot me in my own home when I accidentally tripped the silent alarm in our new house, two weeks after my parents’ divorce. With his gun drawn and finger on the trigger, the officer yelled through the window, “What are you doing in there?” The only response I could utter was, “I live here.” I was exactly where I was supposed to be. How close was I to becoming a hot take on one of the many cable news networks I now appear?
My reality isn’t the same reality that everyone has to deal with, it has emotional effects, it breeds self-doubt. Before I met a now ex-girlfriend’s parents, I’ll never forget her looking at me as I got dressed and saying, “Can you wear long sleeves, I don’t want them to see your tattoos.” Because why wouldn’t they see a successful black man who was on the verge of graduating law school?
I went to the same school as their daughter. Why did I have to hide a part of me for her parents’ approval? Wasn’t I enough?
I went to the same school as their daughter. Why did I have to hide a part of me for her parents’ approval? Wasn’t I enough? When we broke up I couldn’t help but wonder what role race played into it. Maybe we broke up because we reached the natural end of the relationship, but merely having to wonder what role race plays into such important life interactions has heavy effects.
We’re not so removed from the criminalization of interracial relationships that we can just write it off as racial sensitivity. Loving v. Virginia, the case that made marriage a protected right and decriminalized interracial marriages, was decided in 1967―well within my parents’ lifetimes.
This stuff is heavy. It’s why it shouldn’t be compressed down to a sound bite. These problems weren’t created overnight and they deserve our full focus and attention to solve them. They won’t be solved with flippant reactions to societal tragedies or gross over-generalizations. In fact, doing so risks the alternative occurring. Instead of bringing our country together, it ensures we stay even more divided.
We can’t sustain our polarization. We have to do more listening and less talking. Ignoring the problems that we face will only exacerbate them and do more psychological damage. If we can’t find a way to see each other as humans first, we’ll never come close to addressing hyper-partisan issues like our economy, national defense, or healthcare. We have a trust deficit that is centuries old. We have to address that before we can ever begin to find answers for the easy stuff. Because at the end of the day, that’s exactly what our politics are, the easy stuff. The people part has always been and will always be the most difficult reality we face.