I’m an Angry Black Man

I’ve broken many bones in my life, some of which required a hospital visit, and several months of physical therapy. My scars are like badges of honor and each tells a story about my life. To say that I was a reckless kid is an understatement.

I didn’t fear much when it came to physical harm, and I pushed myself to experience any thrill that I could. With age, my need for thrill-seeking has taken a backseat to maturity and responsibility. I have bills to pay and people who depend on me, so injuries are to be avoided. Although, I do still have some fears.

I’m afraid of walking through mostly white neighborhoods, driving through the south, and extended conversations in groups where I’m the only person of color.

I’m afraid of being accused of wrongdoing, and presumed guilty because of the melanin in my skin.

And, I’m afraid of the police because I know that most institutions in this nation, including law enforcement, were not created for my benefit.

My fears are justified despite being told that I’m “overreacting,” “too preoccupied with race,” and “too sensitive.” The denial of racial injustice and any accountability for the trauma that I and so many others feel is palpable. These statements only serve to invalidate our experiences and I’ve tried everything to surpass them, including minimization, justification, and even escaping to other countries, falsely believing that things may be different.

On vacation, a Canadian man took a moment to set his drink down beside the pool, and inserted himself into our conversation between my partner and I. He wanted to know how Americans deal with Trump. We exchanged uneasy laughs and explained that we don’t support him and feel like we’re living through an episode of the Twilight Zone. He nodded, bragged about Justin Trudeau (pre-blackface), and then proudly informed us that Canada was different.

“In Canada, we don’t have a nigger problem.”

Noticing the shock in our eyes, he continued “Don’t get me wrong — we have issues, but that’s not one of them.” Then he floated away, blissfully sipping his beer and basking in his privilege. Nigger-problem free.

That was just another reminder that racism is a global phenomenon, one that I cannot escape. For me, the best approach is to deal with it head on. So I read, I engage in uncomfortable conversations, and encourage others, especially my white friends to do the same. Still, I know too well how discussing race can alienate friends and make enemies. White fragility has burdened me with the fear of coming off as angry. I analyze what I say before I say it, and even more, how I say it and how I’m perceived. I know that a white man can use the same words and tone, and be applauded for his passion, while I am handcuffed for my aggression. So, my words are measured. This comes from years of experience and wise elders. I have been trained in docility and polite discourse. I know that “thank you” and “yes, sir,” are the only words that are accepted from me. But this week, the only two words that I want to say don’t fit neatly in civil conversation. This week, we mourned the loss of George Floyd, we somberly celebrated what would have been the 27th birthday of Breonna Taylor, and we learned of more details regarding the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery.

It’s been a lot and we’re feeling it.

Yet, it came as a shock when my friends began checking in. A few “how are you doing?” texts are expected, but this was an onslaught. Messages of support and “Hey, I’m just checking in,” came in from family, friends, and acquaintances. My phone wouldn’t stop buzzing. I appreciated it, but joked to my partner, “All of my white friends keep texting me to see if I’m okay. Am I the angry black man?”

Looking up from her phone, as if I asked her if the sky is blue, she replied, “Yeah, you kind of are.”

I’ve tried to avoid that label for years and there it was. The angry black man.

A good friend further explained, “It’s just that you think really deeply about these things. I think that a lot of people know that and support it.”

It’s true. I do think deeply about racism, how I’m perceived and about all of my interactions with someone of a different race. I take out my racial lens and analyze every conversation, not because I want to; because it’s impossible not to. I question the meaning of each compliment that I receive, and despite everything that I’ve accomplished I wonder if anyone sees me for my merit or views my success as an exercise in diversity and inclusion. Above all, I carefully crafted a mask to wear in white spaces to get as close to acceptance as allowed. Still, I’m the angry black man.

They’re not wrong.

I am angry. I’m angry because despite so much change, so much remains the same. I’m angry because when those who are younger than me seek justice, all I can offer is hope. I’m angry because my mother fears for my life every time I walk out the door, and my partner’s worst fear is that I’ll die at the hands of the police.

I’m very angry, but that’s not all I am. I’m deflated, defeated, sad, traumatized, and somber. At times, I’m even numb because to navigate the world with my skin, you need to not feel. At the same time, I’m hopeful because I see a world championing our cause, a movement that’s much more than a hashtag, and a resistance that won’t be silenced. I see an overwhelming show of support from allies of all shades, seats at the table taken by the marginalized, and cracks in the foundation of racist institutions that will only grow deeper.

I see progress.

So, when my friends ask how I’m feeling, I remove the mask, and I tell them.

I’m an angry black man. At least now you can see why.

Hopefully, it makes a difference.

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