A Black Man’s Burden

When I first thought of this, I was going to call it, My Birthday Gift from Don Lemon because it came to me during the very first media coverage of the Michael Brown shooting; Don Lemon was providing coverage on what had occurred, what possibly could’ve led up to it.  You know the drill.

As reports of the first night of rioting reached the airwaves, the anchor urged the citizens of Ferguson to remain calm.  And then, he said something that both took me aback yet made me very happy.  He said that while he didn’t condone the violence, he understood how people could feel as they do.  And while I can’t quote him, he went on to speak of the country- wide marginalization of African-American men that’s been going on for quite a while.

It surprised me because it came at a time when the civil rights of such men seem to take a back seat to illegal immigration, gay rights, the upward mobility of all women and other social agendas.  I thought it was a welcome and long overdue comment.

Now, as a tenuous peace seems to ebb and flow in the city of Ferguson, there’s still so much left to do; least of all providing the Brown family closure.   There’s still the matter of disseminating further the cause of Michael’s death; what happened, who’s responsible, how will his shooting be resolved.  And most importantly, there’s the other duty that must be accomplished, the duty of prevention.

If we leave this situation-let it die-without having in place something, some tool or strategy that averts the shooting death of another black teen by the police then we’re as guilty as the ones doing the shooting.

It’s in that light that I changed the title to what you see at the top of the page.

There’s a little known, much ignored and well-disputed fact out there that’s basically an 800-pound gorilla in the room.  And that fact is that being a black man in America, even today, comes with its own set of particulars.  It occurred to me that Michael Brown was hampered with such a condition.  Moreover, while it’s a condition that affected Michael and many others, it wasn’t his nor is it their problem.

Black men come affixed with their own sets of qualifiers; and watch out if you’re a good-sized guy.   All you have to do as a large black man is walk through a door for the adjectives and assumptions to start flying: frightening, dangerous, threatening, ominous, scary.  It’s a problem of perception but unlike other issues of perception where the burden of change lies squarely on the “perceived” party, this problem must also be addressed by those with the mistaken views.

And make no mistake; these misguided assessments permeate themselves into all walks of life; in schools, on the streets and in the workplace.  And such emotional, infusions of human error have a real and detrimental effect.   The unemployment rate for blacks has been consistently twice that of whites for the past six decades.  College enrollment for low-income students still trail behind their wealthy counterparts.

And as affirmative action policies are challenged in more and more institutions across the country, in spite of favorable public opinion, those two necessary components for a successful life, a good job and a good education, will potentially continue to elude young African-American men as that one hand will continue to wash the other in the sink of American discrimination.

My wish is that young black men come to recognize this weight they carry on their shoulders and understand that surviving, even thriving, under it requires a particular set of skills.  Problem is that when you say that, people automatically assume acquiescence or submission; two notions that fly smack in the face of having respect and what it means to be a man.  The truth is that the skill comes in surviving while sacrificing neither.

Embed from Getty Images


Moving forward, there will be those out there who will have none of what I’m saying; feeling that this is a bed made hard by individual’s actions and now those same people are bitching because they have to lie in it.   I would caution them on making so easy an assumption.  While one bad apple can spoil a bunch, if you cull it in time, you might save the barrel.  And you wouldn’t disparage an entire barrel of apples just because a few were rotten, would you?

As America struggles with defining this latest workplace atrocity perpetrated by a young black male, questions and conjectures about his affiliations are being bandied about.  Was this a case of workplace violence or an act of terrorism?  Do all Muslims espouse tenets of radical Islam?  Are all Muslims terrorists?  If not, is there a danger that they will become such some day?

Listening as Muslims are called on to sooth public perception, I wonder what would happen if the tides were changed and it were Christians behaving badly.  Or what if it were Jews or Episcopalians?  The problem is that this weigh that black men now carry, this freight of assumption, is a cargo that’s easily shifted.  And it settles onto any number of backs in this country.  All it takes, it seems, are a few bad apples.

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Filed under Opinion, Race

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