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Race

What I’ve learned as a Black man.

There’s a heavy weight that comes along with being Black in America, and a lot of us are tired all the time.

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The first time I realized white people could do things I can’t, I was about 8 or 9 years old. I grew up in the rural South and it wasn’t uncommon for my mom to tell me to run into a store and grab something while the car idled at the entrance. I loved it; I was a big boy. She sent me into K-Mart to buy something (I don’t remember what it was anymore), and on my way out, the theft detection sensor went off. A white woman was leaving at the same time I was, but the greeter stopped me, called a security guard on me, told me to stay put while he waved the white woman on and told her to have a nice day. I wasn’t in the security office for very long before my mom, who sensed I’d been gone too long, rescued me and took me home.

I learned to wait until the doorway is clear before I leave a store, so someone else’s theft doesn’t land me in handcuffs one day.

I was a very independent 16 year old. My parents gave me a lot of leash growing up, and I had gone away to boarding school. One summer I went to visit a white friend and stayed longer than I meant to. We had gone to the movies, had dinner, and just loafed around his house for hours when I realized it was dark and very late. I got in my car and left. Maybe a mile after I left his gated community, I saw flashing blue lights in my rear view mirror. I pulled over, waited for the cop to tell me a taillight was out or something, but I hadn’t done anything wrong. He just wanted to find out where I had been, where I was going, why was I out so late, and whose car I was driving.

I learned not to stay out past dark in rich white people neighborhoods.

I grew up on the internet spending hours on “social media” before it was a thing — freeopendiary, xanga, livejournal, etc. — and I’ve made a lot of really good friends through these keyboards. One of my best online friends is a DJ with a big heart and a helpful spirit. She’s also a Black woman. A white friend of hers asked if she could give another guy a ride, a white man she didn’t know, but who was friends with her friend. She did. When the cops pulled them over, he deposited his drugs under the seat of her car, and the police accused her of being a drug dealer and a prostitute. They told him to have a nice night while they took her to jail.

I learned not to let strange white people in your car.

I’ve had many brushes with the NYPD in the decade since I moved to NYC and each one taught me something different.

I was fumbling with my keys one night to get into my building and two police officers stopped me, questioned me, and frisked me. I told them that’s where I lived, but I still had a South Carolina’s driver’s license. I told them to watch me open the door with my key — it opened, obviously — and they still weren’t convinced. They came upstairs with me while I got a bill with my name and address on it.

I learned to have my keys out and ready before I get to my door.

I was walking in the West Village blasting Sade in my headphones (as much as one could “blast” Sade anyway) on my way to a bar I hadn’t been to before. The West Village is confusing and when I realized I was on the wrong street, I turned around and walked back the way I came. I didn’t hear the police until they were about a foot behind me yelling at me to freeze. I took my headphones off and they pushed me up against the wall to frisk me, telling me I was behaving suspiciously because I saw their cop car and immediately turned to go the other way, and I ignored their commands. I told them I didn’t hear them because I had music playing and I went the other way because I was trying to find a bar I’d never been to.

I learned to turn my music down at night on deserted streets.

I was walking along 125th Street one night when four policemen came out of nowhere and told me to put my hands up because I fit the description of a robbery suspect in the area. This was around the time Kalief Browder had committed suicide after being released from Rikers because he had been locked up for three years for the crime of fitting a description. I thought that would be me. One of the cops slammed me up against a wall face first, which is what saved me. I had been wearing a baseball cap and a hoodie, like this.

When he pushed my face into the wall, the cap was knocked off and my hair came tumbling out. I have a lot of hair.

The frisking stopped and one cop put their hands in my head to see if it was a wig that could be taken off. They were looking for a bald Black man and clearly that wasn’t me.

I almost never wear a baseball cap and hoodie anymore, and I never do at night.

A few years ago, I took a steak to work. I’d gone to Texas Roadhouse and ate way too much bread before the food came, so I only finished about half my meal. It really hit the spot for lunch that day, even though it made me sleepy and I think I only finished half of whatever else I was supposed to do. After my commute home, I was stopped by police officers doing random bag checks. They went through my things and pulled out a knife. I had taken a steak knife to work to cut my steak. They asked me where the container was and I told them I threw it away. They asked me what other weapons I had and I told them it wasn’t a weapon, it was a steak knife. For steak. They asked me where my fork was and I told them the office has forks, but they only have butter knives, which won’t cut a reheated steak. They ran my license to see if I had any warrants and 20 minutes later I was allowed to leave the station.

I learned to cut up my food before I take it to work.

I’m on the Internet a lot. I used to make a living here. I still use the internet to disconnect from my own (non-race related) life struggles because I can push my issues to the side and look at videos of babies eating lemons for the first time or look up new recipes to try or make gifs of Teresa Giudice. The Internet has also become the frontline in the war for justice against police brutality. Social media is littered with videos of Black bodies suffering at the hands of the state.

I learned not to go on the Internet when I’m emotionally fragile.

There’s no revelation at the end of this or wise reflection on life. I just wanted to share my story to let others — especially white people — in on what it’s like to be Black in America and why some of us are angry all the time. My patience for white whining is low. My empathy for white frustration is almost non-existent. My attitude toward white people is malleable and ever changing in relation to white people’s interactions toward ME.

There’s a heavy weight that comes along with being Black in America, and a lot of us are tired all the time. Constantly checking our tone so white people don’t feel threatened, constantly checking our actions so you don’t look suspicious, constantly checking our attire so we don’t look like criminals, constantly checking our white friends’ lackadaisical attitudes toward our own safety when they want to do things you know you would end up in jail or dead for. It’s very tiresome, and on top of that, I’m jealous. My best friend is white. I’m jealous sometimes that he can just…be. When he goes online, there aren’t timelines filled with the latest murder of someone who looks like him. The police have never stopped him. He’s never been turned down for a job because he’s white. He doesn’t have to think about whether his outfit is safe enough for the time of day and neighborhood he’s going to. The President isn’t telling the National Guard to shoot him.

When I was in kindergarten, playing House was my favorite thing in the world. Anybody who knows me will probably say it still is — I love to bake and clean and take care of people and crochet. I was playing with three white kids, two girls and a boy, and I wanted to be the husband. I was told I couldn’t because I’m Black and Black people have Black babies. I didn’t know what “Black” was yet. I thought people just came in different shades like hamsters. Some came out lighter, some darker, some with spots. I told her I wasn’t “Black” because I was brown and she told me it still had to be a white mommy and daddy and a white baby, but I could be the dog if I wanted to play with them. I said okay, but I didn’t get to play much because they said I was an outside dog and they just tied a string to my wrist, said it was a leash, and tied the other end to the leg of a table.

As I grew up I learned that some white people will always want you to be the dog.

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History

Take this Jim Crow era literacy test for Black people.

I have a master’s degree, and I failed on the first question.

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I know what a literacy test is, but sadly, I’d never looked one up to see what the questions were like. During Jim Crow, they were used to keep Black people from voting. Some poor and illiterate whites got caught in the net as well, and that makes sense for a country who, when founded, only gave voting rights to landowning whites, but the purpose was to keep Black people from being heard. Former congressional candidate Gary Chambers Jr. posted a literacy test today, and you can’t pass it. I can’t pass it. No one can pass it.

This particular test from Louisiana in 1964 was to be administered to anyone who could not prove they had finished 5th grade or higher, which would overwhelmingly apply to more Black people. We had less access to education and were more likely to quit school in order to work the land and help our parents keep a meager roof over the family’s head back when so many Black people were sharecroppers.

And there’s no uniform key for this test. The white registrar reads the answers and decides whether you answered correctly or not. I’m sure this test, on the rare occasion it was given to white people at all, was graded more leniently when the hand turning it in wasn’t colored.

So. Take it and see if you would be able to vote in Louisiana in 1964, less than 60 years ago.

Ten minutes to complete 30 questions is about twenty seconds per question, and you have to get every single one correct. If this was an actual literacy test, I would pass with flying colors, because I can read well enough to know that some of these questions are unanswerable, but it’s not about literacy. It’s about creating a standard that no one can meet and then applying it unfairly to Black people. It’s giving Black people additional burdens to be perfect that white people don’t have. It’s disparaging Michelle Obama for showing her arms in her White House portrait even though Melania has nude photoshoots online. It’s arresting Black people for marijuana at 3 times the rate of white people, even though the same percentage of Black people smoke weed as white people. (x) It’s Black college students being just as likely to find employment as white people who didn’t even finish high school. (x) It’s cops shooting unarmed Black people and taking a white mass shooter to Burger King. (x)

A lot of Black kids heard this refrain from our parents growing up: You have to be twice as good as the white folks to get half as far. However. When the judge and jury of your achievement is White America, you can still fail the test they never even have to take.

 

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Race

A moment for Gwen Berry

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It’s so funny to me that Conservatives think we care what they have to say about Gwen Berry being unpatriotic when those same people don’t care that the Capitol was stormed and vandalized.

One of these is a protest.

The other is a crime.

**Black lady turns away from the flag.**

WHAT A DISGRACE TO AMERICA!

**White people break into the Capitol and erect a gallows to hang elected officials.**

awwww economic anxiety 🥺🥺🥺🥺

 

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Race

France is giving the United States another Statue of Liberty.

Another symbol of liberty to a country that’s still oppressing its people.

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NYC has another Statue of Liberty on the way. France is sending us a smaller version to be placed on Ellis Island just across the water from Liberty Island where the original stands as a beacon to freedom…or something.

This new bronze statue, nicknamed the “little sister,” is one-sixteenth the size of the world-famous one that stands on Liberty Island.

“The statue symbolizes freedom and the light around all the world,” said Olivier Faron, general administrator of the CNAM [National Museum of Arts and Crafts]. “We want to send a very simple message: Our friendship with the United States is very important, particularly at this moment. We have to conserve and defend our friendship.”

(cont. CNN)

If you want to put a symbol of “freedom and light” anywhere, it shouldn’t be in the United States.

If you want to give the Statue of Liberty to the United States all over again anyway, give it in the spirit with which it was originally intended in the first place — as a gift to celebrate Black Americans.

I grew up with the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of hope and freedom for immigrants. “Give us your tired, your poor…” and all that, but Lady Liberty had been there for twenty years before those lines by Emma Lazarus were inscribed onto a plaque and installed at the pedestal. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of immigration (the voluntary kind, not the shackled and chained way most Black people got here) for two reasons. One, immigrants latched onto the massive sculpture, which is understandable because she was the first image of New York for most European immigrants arriving by boat on the way to be processed at nearby Ellis Island. Two, the creator, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, pitched the idea to raise funding from Americans in the most general terms of “liberty” without specifically referencing Black Americans. His plan worked since the United States did indeed agree to pay for the pedestal if France paid for the actual statue, but it was a pivot away from the original idea.

Édouard de Laboulaye was a French abolitionist and it was he, along with his social circle of abolitionists, who conceived of a massive gift to present to the United States after the Civil War — once slavery was outlawed. The proposal of Lady Liberty initially held broken and shackles to signify the broken chains of slavery instead of the tablet she holds today. The chains eventually made their way into the final version down around her feet, the original significance lost to most people and barely noticed.

The years immediately following the Civil War were filled with promise for Black Americans and de Laboulaye wanted to recognize that. We made great strides in education, civic engagement, and politics, but the South regained its footing and struck a compromise in the 1876 Presidential Election that saw federal troops removed from the Old Confederacy. Black people were back in chains, invisible shackles placed on our communities through coalitions built between lawmakers and law enforcement, private businesses and private citizens. When Bartholdi finished Lady Liberty, there was no way to “sell” the idea to the United States as a celebration of slavery’s end. Black America hated the idea, because we were being oppressed, terrorized, and murdered, and White America would’ve scoffed, because they were doing the terrorizing. She was pitched as a symbol of liberty, immigrants saw her as the first welcoming image of the United States, and then the government solidified that feeling by using words from Emma Lazarus.

Today, it’s more important than ever to remember why the Statue of Liberty was conceived in the first place, not a symbol of general liberty and freedom, but as a symbol of Black liberty and freedom. We are still fighting to have our history accurately taught in schools. We are still fighting to be the country de Laboulaye thought we were becoming when slavery ended. And we are still fighting to live up to the promise Lady Liberty has symbolized to millions of immigrants. This little sister will probably be all over the news as we get closer to July 4th, so whenever you see her, make sure you remind somebody that the Statue of Liberty was supposed to be a gift to celebrate the end of slavery, but the US put Black people back in chains too quickly for her to actually symbolize liberty and freedom for us.

 

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