Growing up black in America comes with a healthy dose of fear.
Looking back I don’t know exactly at what age the veil of innocence was lifted, and I became aware that I was different from other people around me. The most vivid memory was when I was in the Third Grade.
We were playing this paper fortune telling game. In the game, you would pick a series of numbers and then letters. Once that was complete, the paper fortune-teller would reveal your true love. What the heck, I was game. Let fate decide who my heart was swooning after. It landed on a young lady named Cindy. She was quite a looker. Fate had done a pretty decent job. Cindy was a very sweet little blonde cutie. So I asked Cindy to be my girl, and she agreed. Fate had picked correctly. I was on cloud nine. I could not wait to get home and share the news with mom. When I did my mother, she seemed less than, pleased. As a matter of fact looking back on it the color sort of went out of her cheeks. She did not say much. I thought she would be as happy as I was, but that was not the case.
Maybe mom just did understand what a monumental event it was to have your first girlfriend. I knew my dad would understand? So when dad came home, I repeated this story and again, he seemed more excited. Then mom calls him into a closed door meeting to discuss this situation. When he comes out from this executive session, his spirit looked downcast. What could Mom have said to change his mood so quickly? He came out knelt down and looked me straight in the eye and man to man he said, “Son, are you trying to get us killed?” I didn’t get it. I didn’t know that some girls were off limits. My heart was shaken, but Cindy was unique enough that I was willing to buck the system. When she came back to school the next day her parents also had a similar response. Our young romance was short-lived. I discovered that day that color does matter. It was a hard lesson, a painful awakening. My innocent little world was shocked to the very core. It was the beginning of many lessons I would learn.
This event took place in the early seventies. Now some of you might be thinking; this should not have been an issue. On July 2, 1964, the Civil Right Amendment was passed. That landmark piece of legislation granted these new provisions. It outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It ended unfair practices in voter registration requirements. Racial segregation in schools, at the workplace that served the general public. So why was this a problem? I was just trying to advance race relations. It was too soon I guess; the law does not change hearts I suppose. That event opened my eyes that day. The veil of innocence ripped off my eyes.
To be honest, at some point in our lives, the mask comes off of all of our eyes. For some races, that unveiling accompanies some stronger realities. Once that veil comes off, I started to notice how many of my people live their lives daily in fear. Fear is a strange emotion to have to fight on a daily basis.
I have included a link to an article on 10 Things Black people fear. Here is the opening of that section:
“When black people wake up and begin the day, we have a broad range of issues we have to think about before leaving our homes. Will a police officer kill us today? Or, will some George Zimmerman vigilante see us as a threat in our neighborhoods and kill us? We brace ourselves for those white colleagues who are pissed Barack Obama won both elections and took out their racist rage on us. When we drive our cars, we have to wonder if we’ll be pulled over because our cars look too expensive for a black person to be driving. If we’re poor and sick, we wonder if we’ll be able to be treated for our illness. We have a lot on our minds, and sometimes it’s overwhelming.”
My eyes became open to the reality that people don’t see me as I see myself, a hard working honest man, who like everyone else wants the best for my family. I have learned what it feels like to live every day of my life with a healthy dose of fear. I would encourage you to read the article by Terrell Star. You may want to argue with his points or his stats or just dismiss all this as ridiculous.
Let me share with you a typical experience I have when I walk into a department store. When I walk into a department store, I get a lot of attention. The sales people are too attentive to my needs. They come over every few minutes and ask if I need help. They are never more than an arm’s length away just in case I have a need. If it appears as though I am struggling to decide on a sale they are Johnnie-on-the-spot to offer help. Just to make sure my I can get in and out of their store before they are the ones who have to close. Coincidence? I think not. My wife, who is of German descent never noticed this until we went shopping together. I said to her, “You go over there, and watch this” What I just described happens time and time again. Is it any wonder, black people are fearful? People just assume we are up to no good. They are waiting to catch us doing something.
Imagine living every day with that burden, that lack of trust, that degree of suspension. It is enough to make anyone crazy. Every day I discovered life for me on this plant were going to twice as hard as my white counterpart the dance began. I know I have to work twice as hard. In my vocation, I serve in one of 35 districts in my tribe. Those districts oversee 6,105 member congregations around the United States. I am the only African American pastor serving full-time on one of the 35 district staffs. This position while a huge blessing also comes at a huge price. It places a tremendous burden on me daily to prove I deserve it. I have to perform at twice the level of my counterparts to prove I am worthy of that position. That I did not receive it, nor I am keeping it based on the color of my skin. I live in daily with the fear of losing my job and having to try and find employment again. There are few opportunities to serve my tribe, for a person of color. My family spent the last 13 years in cramped housing in some of the toughest urban areas. I served many congregations that were five deaths away from closing their doors. I did so without complaint and gave them everything I had. But my family lived in fear of the crime around us, the influences around us. In fear that there was a higher probability, that one of my teenage sons would not come home one night. That kind of fear makes you unhealthy.
When everywhere you go people follow you, suspect you, are afraid of you, it wears on you. I remember going to a church in my tribe one Sunday. I have been to this church many times during the week, but never on a Sunday. So I knew my way around. I got up to go the bathroom, and two older white elders followed me out the door and asked me, “Do you need help?” My sarcastic response was, “No, I got this. I have done it many times before.” I would love to claim this was the exception but it happens to black people so often we are just used to it. But is that the way is should be? Should we live in a country afraid of the fact that our lives, families lives could destroy in the blink of an eye?
One traffic stop gone wrong. One case of mistaken identity. One wrong turn in the wrong neighborhood. One job loss. We live life always on the edge, always in fear. It makes people jumpy. Nervous people look dangerous, dangerous looking black people get hurt. This culture that we live in daily can be difficult to navigate if you are black.
Until we as a united society can create an atmosphere of trust and safety, we will have an entire race of people living in constant fear. We can change that. We can make this country a welcoming place for all Americans, but it takes us coming together as a people. Not to point blame or ignoring the realities, but we need to get together, to work together, to problem-solve together. We are so much stronger together that living in fear of each other. God made us all fearfully yet wonderfully made. Can’t we celebrate that fact that God made all the little children of the world? Red, yellow, black and white, they are indeed beauty in HIS site. Because God made all the children, He sees no difference. We need to look at each other through God’s eyes. Then and only then can we not see color!
Someone asked me so how do we fix this? So, this series has now been turned into a Bible Study has been released.
Here is the link:
Other posts in this series can be found on the blog under the category of Caught Between Two Worlds:
Resources used for this post.