Why Being Black In 21st Century ‘Post-Racial' America Is So Stressful
Being black in 21st century America is stressful. In order to alleviate that stress, I ignore the ideology: “[Post-racial America] is a theoretical environment where the United States is devoid of racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice.”
I reframe certain situations to mentally ignore the blatant racism in everyday life. Media outlets are a constant reminder to how much more progress is needed before this ideal version of America can exist outside of the theoretical.
Whether it is stories of other black men being arrested for legally purchasing expensive items or George Zimmerman walking this earth as a free man, the oppressive narrative is impossible to shake. In the wise words of Questlove, “I ain't sh*t as a black man in America.”
I must take a step back before delving into this subject. As a race, we have made a lot of progress and I consider myself a direct representation of that.
I grew up middle-class in the white-picket-fence suburbs of Long Island. My parents, Haitian immigrants who later went on to become American Citizens, both graduated with professional degrees. I went to a prestigious Catholic school and had more white friends than black friends.
Considering how my parents both emigrated to America and lived in the late 1970s and through 80s Brooklyn to later move out to Long Island, I am pretty lucky.
I will be the first to say that my luck was only possible through their hard work. Though, growing up with all this luck, I still cannot escape the daily stress of living in a world that demonizes, misrepresents and marginalizes my race.
In Questlove's piece for New York Mag, he talks about his struggles of being a 6'2″ 300-pound black man with an uncivilized afro. One story that stood out was when he was in his building getting into an elevator with a lady who refused to tell him what floor she lived on (he had offered to press the button for her, being courteous), for seemingly no reason.
Unless you have been in this situation (if you are black, you know what I mean), it would be easy to see it as her just being shy. Questlove is a celebrity.
However, as a fellow black man, my thoughts instantly go to her being intimidated by the visually imposing, black and “hostile” Questlove.
If his skin tone were just a few shades lighter, he could have been seen as a gentle giant. He even goes on to talk about changing the way he acts around people:
“[When asked to attend an elitist event] I'd say 'no,' mostly because it's been hammered in my DNA to not 'rock the boat,' which means not making “certain people” feel uncomfortable.” Imagine growing up knowing that in order to “not rock the boat” you must act a certain way that is not conducive to your own reality.
It's stressful. The way he copes with it is to tone himself down, smile more and be less intimidating. When I am faced with that situation, I choose to not acknowledge that feeling and just pretend I will not be looked at a certain way because I am black. It plays into my constant reframing of the mental cues that cause my daily stress.
There are stark differences between Questlove and I; Questlove towers over me (I have seen him in person), as I am 5'5″ at 158 pounds. I carry a slightly apparent, beach-like, Long Island accent.
Let's put it this way: If I were to talk on the phone and then finally meet you, it would be a twist. Taking all of this into account, these situations have still persisted in my life. My personality is lighthearted, free and undoubtedly suburban. I smile bigger, tell more jokes and always seek to put people at ease.
The most ironic aspect of my personality is being called out on acting “white.” This was the most common insult I received in high school. It would make me ask myself, “What does it actually mean to be black?” I could never win; either I am ghetto, uneducated and therefore “black,” or educated, preppy and “white.”
Another instance comes to mind. I was running through Seaford, Long Island in order to catch a train into the city. As I ran, I passed a cop, presumably on break, hanging out in the station's parking lot.
I thought nothing of it and continued to purchase my ticket. He pulled around, rolled down his window and asserted, “Where are you headed? Let me see your ID.” I know my rights and promptly tell him “no.”
Some of you are reading and wondering why I did not just give the officer my ID if I was clearly doing nothing wrong. For one, I had a train to catch, and secondly, I have heard one too many stories of false arrests coming from mistaken identities of black men.
Back to my story, the officer stepped out of his car, visibly disgruntled at my admonishment of his request, blocked the elevator and began to demand an answer as to where I parked my car, whose house it was in front of, and even going as far as to ask for my vin number.
My vin number! Who remembers that? Eventually, I caved when he said he'd arrest me (even though I knew he was bluffing) and give him my ID.
He wrote down all my info and then allowed me on my way, with the sharp reminder that he would radio in my credentials and they could stop the train to find me if I had done anything wrong.
How did this make me feel? Hostile and angry at first, but then I just brushed it off. I thought to myself, “Maybe he really liked my shoes or wants to know what car I drive because of how trendy I look.” I did not have to give him the benefit of the doubt (I mean, would you?), but I decided to do so because it was too mentally taxing to let that man's terrible racist intuition ruin my whole day.
I have lived on Long Island my whole life. Aside from speeding tickets, I have never broken the law. I vote, pay my taxes and work really hard. I know my skin color is continually marginalized (especially in Long Island) in America, but I choose not to let it get to me.
It's something I think about and have to reframe every day: “Oh, you're not going to show me the price of that watch? It's because you think there might be a cheaper and better option.” Or, “Of course security shows up the moment I walk in the store.
Maybe they just got back from break.” And finally, “That cop was really into my shoes! So much so, that he took my information to find out how to get them later!”
These “affirmations” seem comical when they're read, but they have a real impact on how I live my life. It helps take off the stress that is being black. It helps me dream of, some day, being alive for that truly post-racial American society.
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