People keep talking about being tired. An understandable emotion given the inundation of information through various mediums concerning the negative experiences of people who look like me in America. I can sympathize with the mental heaviness which can overtime, paralyze a person, creating a lethargy stifling the latent potential of creativity and productivity.
But I am tired of something else entirely. This year. This year of Covid and more importantly, what is the “Black Experience” in America. Covid will eventually go the way of its virulent predecessors. What it will leave behind are changes in societal attitudes, innovative business practices, and most importantly, human beings who will no longer be among the living. What seems to not go away is this incessant, burdensome, and demoralizing depiction of people who look like me.
I have become tired of the inundation of books, articles, tweets, and memes which depict my only way out of this traumatic “Black Experience” depends on government or one particular demographic of American citizens embracing guilt and fragility. Regarding the former, I am to believe the very institutions which create laws disproportionately impacting people who look like me will also be the solution to the problems. Regarding the latter, the flourishing of people who look like me depends on the confession, repentance, and generosity of White Americans. Once again, my life and the life of those who look like me depends on the people who are supposedly the creators, purveyors, and ignorant beneficiaries of being, well, White. I am supposed to wait for my hero to arrive and save poor me?
We are a noble group of men and women with the endurance, creativity, intelligence, and ingenuity to accomplish great feats. We are the embodiments of divine presence, similar to every last human being on this planet because we are image bearers of God. Conventional wisdom would have me believe otherwise. Thus, I am placed in this push and pull between “Say it loud! I’m Black and I’m proud,” and the narrative people who look like me just have not and cannot flourish. Conventional wisdom says I am still on a plantation. This lie masquerading as wisdom describes me as belonging to a “community” needing continual rescue because I lacked a father, resided in county corrections, my best employment was at the local trap house, and the best my presence can offer is that of a marketing material because I need a mentor. This is the Black experience, correct?
Then I have to ask myself, “Can I name one other ethnic group in America who is described of in this fashion?” Are the anecdotal negative experiences of a few individuals out of some forty-two million individuals, the defining characteristics of my “Black community,” my “Black experience?”
When you say, “black community” what do you actually mean? Are we not forty-two million individuals existing in rural areas, urban centers, suburbs, on the streets, in mansions, and at one time in the White House? I am tired of being pigeon holed into a particular experience which is not and has not been my reality.
I am the son of a couple who have been married for forty-eight years. Forty-eight! I grew up middle class. I attended college, achieved three degrees, served as an officer in the United States Army, and I have started a nonprofit. The only times I have seen the inside of the cell is because I was there to advocate on behalf of another. I am building a legacy and wealth for my family. I am building for their future once I have left off this mortal coil. The conventional wisdom would say “I am exceptional,” and “I am the outlier.”
I say in response, “No!”
In the context of economics, in 1967 45% of people who looked like me were earning an income of $25,000.00 or less. In 2018, that number was 32%. In contrast, in 1967 only 22% of people who looked like me were making between $50,000-$150,000. In 2018, that number was 36% with an additional 7% making $150,000 and more (Black Demographics). Just to offer a little more detail, American Community Survey Data reported in the metro areas with the largest populations of people who look like me, the median household income and employment of those persons exceeded the income group of White Americans. This includes metro areas such as Orlando, Atlanta, Richmond, Boston, and Charlotte (Black Household Incomes).
Maybe, the improved economic situation is unconvincing. I got it. In the age of the pandemic, everyone took a hit in some way but it does demonstrate from 1967 to our current day, people who look like me possess the intelligence, creativity, and knowledge to improve the situation. What about incarceration?
In 2001, the number of males between the ages of 25-29 who look like me was 122,500 or 10% of the total population in state or federal prisons. Fast forward to the end of 2018 that number dropped to 76,317 persons. What is more encouraging is the drop of incarceration for young men who look like me, ages 18-19. In 2017, that number was 2,858 per 100,000 residents and in 2018, that number was 811 per 100,000. Can more work be accomplished? Certainly. The United States has the highest incarceration in the world and to change this situation requires an examination of the numerous laws at the federal and state levels which are seeking to manage social behavior, beyond theft, bodily harm, and murder; demanding legislators at all levels to expand freedom for all citizens.
So I am tired because I observe so much progress. Even in the present reality and the knowledge there are people who choose to judge another individual on the basis of an arbitrary physical characteristic. So miss me with the accusation I am asserting there is no racism. My “black card” is not yours to take. What I am pressing us to examine are the facts. The economic situation was improving prior to CoVID and the decreasing number of young men and women for that matter were not residing in the small cold space of a jail cell.
Here is my call to those who look like me. We are further along than many would want you to realize. We are standing on the shoulders of others who blazed the trail for us. Resist the dangerous advice of those who come around you and say, “We should burn the whole system down!” This, what they want to burn down at the expense of your pain, is simply a pimp move. Poor and dangerous advice which in the long run will only set all of us back. It is advice meant to cast shade on all the brothers and sisters who came before, enduring dogs, segregation, tear gases, and in some cases assassinations. They put life on the line for you and me to prosper, not be pimped out of our inheritance because some “well meaning” ally wants a revolution.
It’s ok to be tired. I am tired. Just pay attention and remember how far we have come and all the possibilities ahead for all of us.