Finding the right words for this piece was difficult for me, as I am still figuring out a method to write about race in a form that is eloquent and understandable for all. Or perhaps I mean politically correct? Easily digestible? Funny, I’m doing exactly what I aim to argue against in this essay — apologizing for my opinions and my blackness.
It’s so easy to offend someone or a group of people when trying to express the harsh reality of what my group of people endure in this country. Or, quite frankly, it’s so easy for trolls to dissect and misinterpret articles on race and run after the author. The ability to write, intelligently and effectively, is both a brilliance and a burden.
Plus, in light of recent events, I hope I don’t read as a redundant reiteration of what most writers are saying. But quite frankly, this occurrence is redundant and should have ended decades ago. Black men and women must stop being killed at the hands of police officers striving to “protect and serve.”
I’ve been in the presence of a police officer before. I think most people can say that.
My parents commute to work daily, during the earliest hours of the mourning, at the crack of dawn. One morning while we were on our way to the city, an officer stopped us on the road. It didn’t go astray; after checking my dad’s license and registration and asking each of us where we were headed to, he let us go with some simple car advice.
My parents were antsy about it, although I’m sure the officer was only following protocol. Yet, my dad was annoyed by the questions he asked. For example, the officer seemed incredulous to find that we live in a small suburban town and was surprised to find that, after checking my dad’s license, he has a clean record.
What stood out in this experience is that my mom looked over at me in the backseat and said, with an accusing yet anxious tone, “Alisha, why in the world would you have your hood on?”
Of course this comment was fueled by the Trayvon Martin incident. I understood what she meant. But it bothered me that she had to say that, as if hoods are now symbolism of threat, anxiety, or possible death.
It made me wonder about other things she has said to my two brothers and I about how to present ourselves in this world.
She’s told us not to walk outside late at night (her eyes lingered on me as she said this, accentuating the idea that at night, unpleasant things often happen to women), she’s told my 13-year-old brother not to walk outside with his hands in his pockets. She’s told us all to be polite, compliant, and docile in the presence of police officers.
It’s absolutely normal for mothers to try to pamper and perfect the public presence their children evoke. What’s not normal is that my mother, and other black mothers, I presume, feel they have to warn and coach us on how to be and act in America, to ensure we don’t garner negative attention, feed into stereotypes, and make sure we stay alive.
I asked my friends if they too have experienced this from their parents or someone close to them.
My friend Jackie commented on a recent experience she had in the Bronx with her boyfriend. While walking outside, she got into a dispute with a presumably Hispanic man. She got entangled with the wire from his Beats headphones, causing them to fall to the ground.
“Yo, are you kidding me?” he said, angry and annoyed about the fall of his expensive electronics.
This led to them arguing about how the Beats hit the ground; Jackie believing she was not the cause of it and the owner thinking the opposite. The man began yelling at her, which naturally made my friend defensive and uneasy.
There were some officers posted nearby, but this verbal altercation didn’t catch their attention until Jackie said, “Watch your tone. I know they’re Beats, but I didn’t do s***.”
According to Jackie — I adore this line, by the way — “And the magical word ‘s***’ brought life to the cops like color to a coloring book.” She said that after that profane ignition, the officers walked over to them and told her that she needed to calm down, that she was the one causing a commotion.
Her boyfriend jumped in and tried appeasing the situation. His reasoning? He didn’t want them both to go to jail because of them verbally defending themselves. That, paired with them being black, are the perfect ingredients to complete a recipe for arrest.
But back to mothers and their cautioning advice about blackness in America. Naturally, her mom was upset that Jackie was unintentionally involved in this situation, and condemned her for talking back to white authority. She said to her — another comment worth expressing — “You better watch your a**!”
And I can’t help but think, isn’t that the message that recent events with black men and women and white officers have taught us? Don’t wear a hood outside. Don’t keep your hands in your pockets. Don’t dress a certain way. Don’t talk back. Don’t walk in a particular neighborhood.
For the black community, it translates to: you better watch your a**! You’re black, so you’re already at a great disadvantage in America. Don’t make it worse by perpetuating stereotypes. And definitely don’t take for granted the unfortunate deaths that other black men and women have fallen to at the hands of police officers, whether by being themselves or by making costly decisions.
Another good friend of mine, Sasha, has natural hair, and so do her two brothers. Yet, she said that her mom worries about her brothers’ choice of hairstyle. Personally, I’ve always thought they are all stylish and chic, their natural hair only enhancing their individual style. But the natural hair movement means something different for our generation, and due to cultural and generational gaps, some parents won’t understand this.
“Basically, my mom thinks my brothers’ hairstyles will cause other people to characterize them as bums or uneducated,” she said. She went on to say that her mom thinks people won’t find them professional because of their hair, and “they (her brothers) will be more susceptible to getting shot or taken in as a suspect by the cops”.
These examples only cover up the truth of the matter, which is that being black in America doesn’t feel secure or comfortable right now. And the one thing that we wear that we can’t take off is our skin color.
At some point, the history of and the media coverage of black deaths has left a psychological imprint on the black community, causing us to be apologetic about our existence in this country, excusing ourselves through our behavior, speech and appearance.
Well, that’s what these protests are about, right? We have had enough of the ridiculous deaths experienced within our community. We won’t be made an example of any longer. We won’t continue to die because we are dark.