Look, I’m not trying to solicit sympathy or jeez even freaking pity with this blog post. I just want to give a glimpse into how I process life as a Black man in a White World, (that’s an actual song by the amazing Michael Kiwanuka, it’s great you should check it out). Of course, it goes without saying that these are my personal opinions and processes. No black experience is the same. Mine is that I’m a Yoruba man, who grew up in the Motherland, where my ancestry was a big part of my upbringing. A lot of African Americans don’t have that privilege which I took for granted for a lot of my life, so that’s one difference.
The last few weeks were hard. It didn’t help that I had decided to chill on my running due to a tender groin & annoying hip flare, but what made it hard to sleep was, of course, the shooting of another black man, Ahmaud Arbery. This was not a shock. These fucking shootings haven’t been for a while especially after the circumstances of Botham Jean’s killing. (You should really look that up)
Listening to his neighbors talk about Ahmaud being the guy that runs around the neighborhood reminded me so much of myself. When I lived in Waverly, I’d bump into neighbors at the local 7-11 who’d ask me if I was that guy with locs who ran on Greenmount. I didn’t realize how much the situation affected me until later that night when I went to bed. I slept in fits and starts waking up seemingly every five minutes with the same thing on my mind, “That dude was just running in his neighborhood.” I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. So when there was a run dedicated to Ahmaud on his birthday, it was a no brainer that I was going to do it, even if I was breaking my promise to not run for a week. The run was filled with reflection on what a tragedy this was, not on why this could have happened. The why of these situations has ceased to matter to me. Not after all the coverage gymnastics I have consumed about how this or that black man would still be alive if he hadn’t done something wrong or stayed quiet. Just wait, someone will find a way to make a subtle victim blaming statement, if they haven’t already. Fuck all that noise, they just killed another man.
Yes, I know I could write this more eloquently with less curses, but COME ON!
Thinking about the whys, hows, what ifs is a black hole that can swallow up a mind. The frustration & anger of watching these killings go unpunished adds another layer of hopelessness about how this can possibly change. These issues that come up in the black life can literally break your mind and soul. How can something as benign as going to a 7-11, be a life- ending event (Trayvon Martin, but you probably know that one, so how about Alton Sterling, check that out) But the point of this blog is not to lament, but give a glimpse into how I deal with this shit…let’s face it there’s no other name for it.
I know the world is not mostly populated by these people, not even close. I try to center myself by remembering that I encounter great human beings everyday. I shouldn’t let this overwhelm my view of the world. So I stick this racism thing in the back of my mind. I don’t let it affect my daily interactions in the world, The anger and fear of it all does lurk there in the dark. But as I stay informed, sign petitions, and witness people pumping goodness into the world, I begin to feel at peace with the world again.
Then I run a stop sign on my way to work.Suddenly, there is a siren going off and lights in the rear view mirror. Just like that, it’s out of the dark and in my frontal lobe as I quickly pull the car over. My heart is beating like I’m in the middle of a 5K. I try to calm myself and be normal. You don’t want to appear weird, I tell myself. I go through my mental checklist for a stop…
Police stop checklist (as taught to me by my cousin Kehinde)
- Pull over as soon as possible, even better if it’s somewhere open with lots of traffic and pedestrians.
- If it’s dark, reach for the interior overhead lights and turn it on. You want the officer to be able to see inside the car and feel safe. This is why I don’t do tinted windows.
- Roll down the driver’s side window.
- Keep my hands on the steering wheel, no need to reach for anything. Same applies to any passengers by the way.
- “Hello Officer” is an appropriate greeting with a smile. Be polite and non-threatening.
- Listen politely to the reason you were stopped and apologize if you know you did it. If you disagree, politely state your case, do not accuse or insult.
- When the officer requests your papers, say where they are and ask if it’s okay to reach for them. When consent is given reach exactly where you said.
- While the officer is in the patrol car, no matter how long it takes, don’t get out of the car or make any move that can be thought aggressive. That’s a huge grey area, soooo yeah.
- Receive your ticket politely, make sure the officer’s name is on it. Don’t be a roadside lawyer, arguing a mistake or omission, that’ll work for you later in court.
- Drive away slowly, congratulations you aren’t a statistic today.
I calm down. The officer comes to me. I see his name and relax, although he’s irritated. I apologize about blowing the stop sign. Then say sorry in Yoruba, he laughs. Yeah, he’s from my people in Nigeria. He runs my papers, gives me a warning, and says Odabo.
The fear has already receded back into the dark, and I resume my day.
It doesn’t come out most days. Most days are mundane, but that fear causes me to have some conversations.
With my significant other, we talk about how we will behave when we get pulled over by the police. It’s a simple conversation. I explain my process of expediting the police stop. It doesn’t matter what’s right or wrong in that moment. All that matters is that we drive away safely, even if it’s an Illegal stop. We will be exceedingly polite, with no complaints, back-talk or smart ass comebacks. We won’t be making any sudden movements or getting out of the car without being asked to. No arguing of any kind, with each other or with the officer. It doesn’t matter who is driving, the same rules apply.
As a black man, you have to know who you are with. Even a casual ride with friends can go sideways. It’s just something else that goes in that back room in the mind.
Listen, I LOVE being BLACK! It might have some health risks:
High Blood Pressure……✖️
Police Brutality…. ………Well shiiiiit!
But being black is an important part of who I am. Being a Yoruba man is important to me. Being an athlete is also a core part of my identity as well as a reader and writer. While some might be more important than others, being black is a part of all of it.
I grew up in Africa, but the kinship and pride I felt to Martin & Malcolm also extended to Mandela. There is a bond that stretches across time and space among black people which I wouldn’t give up for anything. It is the reason I give and receive The Nod.
You might notice two random black guys nod at each other as they pass by on the street. No, they may not know each other. However, we acknowledge each other because we know we are in the struggle together. Especially when you are doing something weird (something black people aren’t usually known to do), like attending a really good college, snowboarding, and yeah even running. The nod says, I see you brother, I know your struggle. I remember giving a guy the nod when I walked into a movie theater. He later helped me out when some dude wanted to start an altercation before the movie began (ask me about that story if you bump into me).
There is a lot that comes with loving who you are, but this particular fear and anger are also part of black life. It’s still a very awesome life, but when this thing comes out of the dark, the viciousness is brutal and all too real. It helps that the black community fights back against this together through the old ways, NAACP & the new ways, the Black Lives Matter movement. It helps that there are allies out there also trying to set this world right. It’s going to take all of us to do this.
Any decent human being has some level of empathy when these things happen. The support that rises up when an outrageous incident occurs is great to see. But I know how overwhelming it can be when the next incident happens before you’ve even had the chance to digest the last one. Understand that all the people of color you know live with this each and every single day. For us, it never goes away It’s an ever present spectre that can come up at any time.
So don’t tune out, stay in!
You see what happens when we push back together. It’s important we educate ourselves about what we each can do to change this system. I hope I’ve given a look at how this looks from my life as a black man.
Pace and Love ✊🏾Share via socials: