At age 54 I have lived my life under the burden of being a Black male in this nation, and being a conscious African-American for the better part of my youth and adult years. I have not lived a racially isolated life; my upbringing was in majority white ethnic neighborhoods and my friends represent the rainbow of humanity. Yet, my experiences and the restrictions placed on my liberty have been a function of my skin color. It is a fact that I cannot escape and a reality of daily life, as certain as the changing of day into night.
I am pained by the utter lack of compassion and regard for the life of Trayvon Martin and all young Black men. Every day Black boys are subjected to mistreatment, whether in the classroom or school building, or in their neighborhood, and tragically for some, in their homes. And as they get older Black boys become Black teenagers who are reminded every day that their lives have little value. When Black boys become men, and particularly in the case of those that do not run from their race, they are subjected to such hostility that the moniker “angry Black man” should be worn as a badge of honor. We have every reason to be angry and every right to express our bitterness toward those that seek nothing but our penal quarantine or extermination.
Throughout my adult life and professional career I have been subjected to every imaginable racially driven slight or insult. This includes being followed by store security for a retail department store for which I was an executive, being stopped by police and given traffic citations for non-existent violations, having to inform a meeting appointment that I was the superior and not a white subordinate, and having to listen to white colleagues who sincerely believed they knew more about my community than me, and having to remind them that not to be the case.
And no, the mental exhaustion is not solely the function of encounters with whites. Some African-Americans, particularly middle class Blacks, exhibit the same traits as offending whites. When a young Black teenager, just 16 years old, was gunned down by a white, suburban Teaneck, New Jersey police officer some of the most offensive and hurtful comments I heard about the child came from middle class African-Americans in that community. It was as if his very presence, and his working class status, made him deserving of being shot in the back. In that case too, justice, along with the defendant, took a walk at the hands of an all-white jury.
Then there are the African-Americans sequestered in their office, some holding positions of authority and positioned to address inequities in society, who do nothing but collect checks and immerse themselves in conspicuous consumption; who lounge while injustices occur around them and who identify more with the oppressor than the oppressed. These are the folks who live for the social circuit and live for the adulation of whites whose respect for them is the function of approximation and self-interest; and their labor that perpetuates their colleagues white privilege.
I am exhausted by it all. Exhausted from being profiled by whites and betrayed by Blacks; exhausted from seeing Black children treated like trash than can be discarded, and exhausted from the fantasy of democracy; the hollowness of liberty and the contradiction of being a hyphenated American. We engage in ceremonial lies and pretend that the grand concepts embedded in the nation’s founding documents apply to us when they are readily jettisoned when our humanity is at stake. Our existence is the clause after the comma; the text that comes after with the exception of…
Is there no justice available for Black men in America? Our civil rights are violated but it’s our humanity that is at stake and our lives at risk. We have been reduced to “things” and again reduced to property. George Zimmerman did not have to pursue or shoot Trayvon Martin. We would not be at this moment if Zimmerman had not taken it upon himself to play judge, jury and executioner. He did so because he did not see a human being, he saw a thing, an object he did not like and was infuriated that this “thing” was occupying his space and breathing his air. In that moment, George Zimmerman exercised his white privilege and the jury concurred with that entitlement.
Fighting the explicit and implicit racism that infests our society is exhausting. It challenges your soul and takes its toll upon your mental and physical well-being. It is why we see so many Black men broken down, in spirit and body, attempting to anesthetize their rage with drugs and alcohol, and resorting to criminal behavior when society leaves them no other option. For all the talk of “personal responsibility” and the sermons preached to Black men, from whites and within the African-American community, the truth of our marginalization is never addressed. We are literally living under a civil death penalty that for many of us will result in our permanent disbarment from economic opportunity or our permanent engagement with the criminal justice system; and for some like Trayvon Martin, death.
But I go on, lifting this weight because the only other option is to write my epitaph.
Walter Fields is the Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com