As a black man, living in America in 2020, it’s grueling to be hit back to back to back with numerous innocent, unjust murders. Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade, Sean Reed – all of these come through at a time where we’re all adjusting to a new way of living thanks to COVID-19. Being a black man who sees these things happen almost routinely within America, it hurts each time. But this time is something different.
When Freddie Gray had died, it hurt me because it was near me. It was in Baltimore, I probably know someone who knows him or knows the cops involved. I was militant then, I went to protests, I donated to funds, I called for action, charges, police reform. At some point, between then and now, I’ve become entirely numb to the reality I have to live in. I see the news reports of a new black person being gunned down by police and my first thought is “what harmless action will they pin against them as being aggressive?” I wonder what action would make a police officer think that the best response is “this person has to die” and then live their life perfectly fine immediately after. Every single time, I become sedentary in a reality more like the one my grandparents would tell me about. Where they wouldn’t say or do certain everyday things because they know the truth of the matter is that they may end up shot and killed. Not the fear of jail – which is real – but the fear that their life may be snatched away with no justice being served. Even if justice were to be served, that life would still be lost.
Right now, in the midst of everything, my go-to routine was to drown out the sadness of being stuck in the house and not being able to see or interact with friends by shifting my focus. I focus on things in games, I worry about my seemingly never-ending hunt for a job. I watch movies, make jokes on Twitter, anything to distract me. But now, I can’t. I can’t sit silently by and try to distract myself and others from what happens to our people. That I can make it easier for you to digest that black men are worried for their lives when they get pulled over for speeding by talking about some game on Twitter. Or that I can make it so you don’t hear it, so it’s not a worry of yours. Being complacent to the injustices is the same as enabling them. If you give someone an out and a way to distance themselves from something that’s happening, you’re allowing them to mentally remove themselves from the problem altogether.
With that, existing is hard. My existence is based off being able to make jokes, be funny, be engaging, laid back, all of those things. But I can’t be that now and I have no desire to. When I load up Facebook and see a stream of posts of people in support of Black Lives Matter, it feels good. It doesn’t feel good simply because I know people agree with me, but because it feels like change has, at the very least, started. That people can see the racism behind messages like All Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, and speak up on it. That it’s not something that me and my black friends feel and express in our actions, but something that a large group of people I simply know of agree with as well. But for me, existing and being here, being me, requires more than just a post or an action. I have to speak up, I have to awaken and shift the script to point directly at these problems. I live a life that’s very comfortable on a day to day basis. But it’s super uncomfortable to know that any time I leave the house may be my last. And that even in that, there are people who will try to paint me as a bad person, someone worthy of death, either because I did or did not break a law. The fact that one man can lose his life over what was originally believed to be a counterfeit $20 bill, and the very next day, people say “well, if he had real bills, he wouldn’t have died” is insane to me. That people can watch the video of a police officer literally resting his knee on his neck and still think the police are in the right is absolutely bizarre.
But for me, it’s about so much more than just existing in these times and calling out what problems we face or issues the community is deeply affected by. We have to be vocal, we have to be anti-racist, we have to dispel the rumor that racism is when someone outright says they hate black people or treats minorities differently. There are so many microagressions that black people face each and every day that get swept under the rug. I can guarantee you every black person knows at least one white guy who greets them with “Yo!” as opposed to saying hi or hello like every other one of their friends. Racism is so much wider than overt, obvious things. It’s the small things between the cracks as well.
Being part of the design community (while not being a designer) on Twitter, seeing a bunch of low-key racism happen, and then trying to fit in has made it easy for me to simply just try to exist. I would want to sit at the table and not draw attention to any of the other dramatics, but it shouldn’t be that way – not for me or anyone around me, white or black or any shade in between. I have a responsibility to myself to be vocal and militant in my actions. I stopped sitting by and just letting things slide long ago. I distanced myself from the design community almost entirely because I grew sick of my skin color or the way I talk be the unseen barrier between fitting in and not. Now, we all have a responsibility to stop just existing. Going silent hurts more than helps, but talking and not having any substantial weight behind your words leaves everyone at square one.