Pretty soon you find yourself wondering if there’s more than a kernel of truth in the stereotypes about black men. Maybe we are our own worst enemy.… Maybe we aren’t trying hard enough. You strive to become so special, so unique, that the rules that apply to other black men won’t apply to you. You become an esteemed professor, world-class athlete, President of the United States. You try like hell to purchase an exemption. Time passes and while you may not contract full blown Stockholm Syndrome, you start justifying the unjust. He must’ve done something to provoke the cop.… Why was he selling cigarettes anyway? … Why didn’t he just get down on the ground when that cop told him to? You start apportioning blame like an insurance agent. Maybe the cop was 80% in the wrong, but the victim was at least 20% in the wrong. You train your mind to look at situations where race is involved in an “objective” manner because you don’t want to be perceived as an overly sensitive minority who blames everything on race, because that undermines your credibility among your colleagues and peers and threatens the rational foundation you’ve built your life on.
Accepting that Eric Garner and Michael Brown are one in the same was too much for me. The implications were too distressing. If everything I’d built could be taken away at so little cost, then what was the point? Why did I bother? My only alternative was to diminish the role that race played, look for other explanations.
As trivial as it may seem, my colleague’s brusque rebuff nudged me out of my sense of futility. Sometimes things are exactly what they appear to be. Witnessing so many white allies protesting in the name of black lives has had a similarly uplifting impact on me. Of course, the thought has crossed my mind that, on some level, the presence of whites gives the protests an aura of legitimacy in the eyes of mainstream America. But, maybe, I’ve just waited all my life to see white people as fed up with racism as I am.