One of my weekly rituals is an uneventful visit to the neighborhood convenience store for a menagerie of miscellaneous items (gum, candy, sports drinks). However, my normal routine was interrupted one non-descript day when I felt a strangers gaze as I walked through the various aisles making my selections. I initially thought nothing of it; that is until I stood before a middle-eastern cashier who loudly accused me of attempting to steal from the store. If my puzzled expression did not convey my thoughts to the rude clerk, my involuntary verbal reaction of “Excuse me?” certainly did. At this moment, the middle-easterner vehemently reiterated his ridiculous accusation that I had hidden something in my pocket. This false accusation not only infuriated me, but also led to my blessing him in a language that you would never find in the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John; all over approximately 12 dollars’ worth of Gatorade, Snickers, and Trident gum. I completed my purchase and stormed out yelling obscenities the entire time and vowing to never spend another dime in that particular establishment.
I went home and shared my story with my father. Although he agreed that I had every right to be livid, he reprimanded me thoroughly for my reaction. His stern language flowed from both a place of love and the reality that young African-American men have been killed for much less. In my heart, I knew that he was correct; in hindsight, I realize that I was relatively fortunate to have not become another statistic.
In the aftermath of the shooting of Mike Brown, the choking death of Eric Garner, the recent hanging of Lennon Lacy in North Carolina, and Jordan Davis’s senseless murder, I find it illogical to hear many Americans propagate that the nation is now in a post racial society. All indicators are pointing towards the contrary. Put simply, it appears to be open season on young African American men throughout the nation.
Since the first stolen Africans were brought to this continent in 1619, the assault, mutilation, and murder of my ancestors has been a staple of the American political diet. The alluded horrific attacks executed by slave masters, overseers, and marauding whites upon enslaved Africans occurred nearly a century after the Emancipation Proclamation. The young Chicagoan Emmett Louis Till was murdered for merely whistling at a white woman. More recently, Trayvon Martin was killed for no other reason than George Zimmerman suspecting the young man was up to no good. Martin’s crime of walking through a suburban neighborhood led to him being stalked, attacked, assaulted, and murdered as if he were a prized deer.
So, the question lain before us is a rather simple query of what has changed in regards to how the nation addresses African-American males during their nearly 400 year existence on the North American continent. I must answer ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAS CHANGED.
As a young African American male I deal with the normal range of emotions that my white contemporaries experience. However, there are many things I have to worry about that they simply do not. My father once told me that every morning he wakes up terrified of what might happen to me as I walk out the front door of our suburban home. My skin color forces me to strategize and ponder mundane things such as taking a leisurely jog through my neighborhood, I, as well as those that love me, fear that local whites may perceive my running through the neighborhood not as a desperate attempt to remain physically fit, rather as if I am fleeing the scene of a crime; one that I committed nonetheless. I have learned through experience that I cannot walk around my neighborhood late at night without being stopped and questioned by local law enforcement officers; I will not even mention my inability to don a ‘hoodie’ when the weather calls for it. The Trayvon Martin murder has made such clothing taboo for the wisest among us. Today’s aggressive form of policing Black males, regardless of geographical realities, means that my friends and I cannot walk in a large group without being viewed as thugs or hoodlums by members of preceding generations, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Yes, many Black people have brought into the paranoia that every African-American male, including their own offspring, should be looked at skeptically, if not feared.
I readily admit that there are some African American males that commit crimes. However, the majority of whites would be shocked to learn that these brothers are the exception, not the rule as the vast majority of African American males are law-abiding, dutiful, educated, goal centered young people who pose no threat to anyone or anything beyond a pizza or video game console. However, the actions of a few, meaning both African-American male criminals and the irresponsible news outlets that have given a naïve public the impression that criminality runs through all of our hearts has infringed upon the rights of law-abiding citizens.
So I beg the nation, if you see a group of African-American males in the throes of enjoying relatively mundane activities such as walking down the street, playing loud rap music, or buying gum at a convenience store, rest assured that we are neither planning to nor in the midst of violating any laws that would pose an imminent threat to your life; so, please LEAVE US THE HELL ALONE. It has always been said that you should treat others the way that you wish to be treated, so if we are not harassing you as you go through your day, do us a favor and give us the same respect.