It’s Exhausting—Being Black in America

As a Black man in the USA, I’m angry, frustrated, tired, and ready to fight for change. Like many others across the world, I cried watching George Floyd’s murder. I cried when thinking about the inequality Black folks, and other PoC face. I feel tears forming when I think about the systemic issues, and how regardless of how well a Black person dresses, how well we speak, how civil we are, how educated we become, there’s no escaping the harsh reality that some folks only see the color of our skin and/or features, nothing more.

What we’re seeing in the news and all over social media isn’t new; it’s been around for centuries. 

It’s Isaac Woodard, Emmett Till, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor. It’s George Floyd, and many others we may not have heard of.

It’s my parents—like many other Black folks in the world—having the talk with me about race at a young age. Frequently reminding me that I am not like my “White friends”, and I will be judged differently by society because I am Black.

It’s them reminding me to talk/dress/act “proper”, so I’m not viewed as a threat. 

It’s seeing more folks who look like me working security at my first job after college, than folks who worked at the building they were securing.

It’s a coworker saying, “oh, you look like (insert Black famous person’s name)” when the only thing we have in common is race.

It’s a coworker telling me after I DJ a company silent disco that though he doesn’t go to Black clubs, he liked my set because I played Black music.

It’s wondering if I’m hired based on merit, or because companies want to hit a diversity-hire quota. Note: hiring for diversity is good. Don’t stop doing that. Do stop throwing it around like it’s a favor. 

It’s a random older White man saying to me, “we don’t like your kind around here boy”, when stopping to use the bathroom at a Burger King in Louisiana.

It’s the caution I feel stopping for gas in the deep South as a Black man, when driving to my sister’s house in Texas.

It is exhausting. 

“The Black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.” — James Baldwin, A letter to my nephew 

We’re taught by society that being Black is different from what is accepted, so we conform to reduce the difference. We conform to be accepted. We conform because it’s a requirement for being Black in America. 

Conforming doesn’t seem to work, and keeps efforts one-sided. I truly think it is time we be our authentic selves regardless of context; Be unapologetically Black. Without us being ourselves, others only have to work to accept our representative, and assume they’ve done the hard work of being racially tolerant. For true change to happen, we need to remove all facades, and others will need to learn to accept our Blackness. If folks can’t accept it, they could at least seek to understand it. A deeper understanding  will hopefully lead to less fear and prejudice over time but we’ll all need to do our part to make this effort successful.

What I’m doing moving forward

Be myself regardless of setting

I’ve always admired folks who seemed to be themselves regardless of context. No mask, no code switching, no toning down to make others feel at ease. This is something I want to actively do more of. Like I mentioned earlier, conforming is strongly recommended for acceptance in America. Being “too Black” can sometimes deter folks from getting into, and succeeding in Corporate America. That shouldn’t be the case. FYI: Diversity of thought, background, gender, race, culture, and more leads to better output. 

Stand up, Speak up

It’s easy to discuss issues privately, or within a small group of folks who look like me, I’d like to adjust that. I work in tech. Since graduating from college, I’ve typically been the only, or one of a few Black folks at an entire company, or on the product team. There is a lack of diversity in tech—across all disciplines. I plan to continue being an advocate and perhaps even a guide in assisting other Black folks who are interested in getting started in tech.

Educate myself

Being Black doesn’t mean we have the answers to these issues, or have context on all Black history. Recent events have made me realize I need to learn more about the past, and present. I need to better understand and be aware of the dynamics that played out over centuries leading up to the inequities we see today. I aim to continue learning more about history and current events in hopes of using the knowledge to inform myself, and others.

Vote

Since the 2016 presidential election, my wife and I have been actively learning and participating in local, state, and national elections. We plan to continue learning more about the representatives, and how we can be catalysts for change. We realized that we couldn’t complain whilst not doing our part. It’s imperative that we all realize that voting is a privilege that many people fought for. Things are always changing but we vowed to continue learning and growing in the area of politics, the individuals who hold positions of power, and how this affects the world around us.

Donate

There are more qualified folks, and organizations working on these issues daily. Supporting financially seems like a baseline way to support, so I plan to continue doing this indefinitely. This moment isn’t an instance, it’s a constant that needs qualified folks fighting for, and maintaining the change we all want to see.

What you can do 

  1. Be more informed. Here are some great resources to check out—there are a lot more links and resources in each:
  1. Donate. In my opinion, a low effort, high impact way to assist with creating an equitable world is by donating to causes that help move us towards it. See the resources list above for more information on places to donate.
  2. Vote. If you live in the USA, and are a citizen, VOTE. If you don’t live in the USA, tell your American friends to go VOTE.
  3. Seek Understanding. Non Black folks, educate yourself (see resource list above). In my opinion, there is NO WAY you can fully contextualize the struggles Black folks face—not even if you have a Black partner, Black kids, or friends that are Black —but you can understand better/more. When and only when you seek this understanding, can you be a true ally in the fight for equality.

    Read: Dear white people, this is what we want you to do

My wife and I are expecting this year, which has prompted me to look at things from a completely new lens. My biggest fear is my daughter growing up, and as a Black woman, experiencing discrimination, prejudice, and racism. Though I’m aware that one day I’ll need to have the same discussion my parents had with me about race and her Blackness, my hope is that by then, the conversation is softer, and the discussion is more about the beauties of being Black, and not the cautions she should be privy to. My hope is that she can be herself and never have to conform. My hope is that she will never know the tears and frustrations that many of us experienced seeing George Floyd call out for his deceased mom before he took his last breath. My hope is that she will have access to the same opportunities as her White counterparts. It may be an exhausting journey forward but then and only then will I stop fighting for change. 


P.S, I’m British, American (first generation), and Nigerian, which I’m aware comes with a unique perspective. I’d like to encourage African’s in America to stop thinking we’re different from Black American’s. We are all Black to others. Though you might not fully understand the history, and Black American struggle, this doesn’t exclude you from needing to learn about it. Being able to come to America and freely enjoy the privileges is predicated on the efforts Black American’s fought hard and died often for.

To my British folks, I know race issues are more nuanced in the UK, BUT when you come to America, if you are Black, your British-ness doesn’t matter. You are also just Black in America.