A friend and I were talking about recent events and I started talking about how other of my friends were worried about me; a friend had texted from Atlanta and another from California wrote a text to ask me to be safe and so on. I mused on how they were right to be concerned although I don’t want them to be.
This friend stopped my musings with “That’s kinda making it personal. Like, I could understand where your friends are coming from, but that’s not you. The job you have, the money you make, the way you dress and articulate are not really of those that end up in these situations…”
This is where we talk about assumptions for a moment.
I explained that all of these things she observed came with years of practice. Years. When I came to GA, I lived in a low-income neighborhood. My mom encouraged me to read, make friends with white people, and avoid these kids in the hood. Read everything I can.
For her, these were the means I had at my disposal to get just far enough ahead to get out of the situation we were in. So I did. I read encyclopedias, I joined a big brother program and hung out with successful people as much as I could. Most of which were… well, you know…
Listen: just because I don’t smell like smoke doesn’t mean I haven’t been in a fire. That I haven’t burned. Nah. That’s how how it works
The result? My mom gettings into arguments over how articulate I was in 7th grade. With my teachers.
People assume I come from some middle-class family like the Huxtables because I shop at H&M. No. I worked and practiced for that, homie. I couldn’t sleep for the first few months I lived in GA when I was a kid because there were no police or ambulance trucks making noises. I saw someone get beat up for no reason in my front yard. I lived through every low-income stereotype there is or will be likely. But people see me and assume that my job, my clothing, my speech means I’m somehow removed from all of that.
Or that I never experienced. Listen: just because I don’t smell like smoke doesn’t mean I haven’t been in a fire. That I haven’t burned. Nah. That’s how how it works. I have two sisters and a brother within minutes to hours from my home living in low-income areas.
That trouble – and the people who are near it – are right in front me and I’m only two steps away from that at any time. And further, I’d only have to wear a hoodie once at the right time. Wearing saggy pants makes me a suspect.
This conversation is important because thinking that you can buy yourself out of oppression or out of your race is dangerous.
I will never have a job so good that I won’t be black anymore.
There’s no way to articulate myself out of my melanin-kissed DNA. But then again, I don’t want to. I’m black and normal and successful and that is as it should be. All together. All intact.
TL;DR: Be careful about these assumptions you make about who is connected to this struggle and who isn’t. Being black (or anything) is a lot bigger than speech and clothing. It is who I am. No return receipt and certainly not a reason to kill me, but maybe that’s what it will take.