After learning of George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict, I immediately felt I was found guilty of existing on this earth as a Black man.
No matter how educated I become, I feel I am viewed by one too many Whites as a predator or a criminal, be it through their justice system, their corporate structure or overall exotic perceptions of Blacks in general. I earned two masters degrees, a Fulbright and learned to speak several languages, hoping those skills would make me a highly qualified professional. But, I’ve been told that those qualities make me a threat, not an asset.
A friend recently told me that I must remain humble about my accomplishments, for such an attitude “will take me far in life.” It hasn’t, really. At least not as far as I’ve seen Whites with half of my qualifications go in their careers. And then there is the issue of my “seriousness,” coupled with my heavy voice; I’ve been told it comes off as “threatening.”
No matter how much I smile to show warmth, I’ve been told the deepness of my voice evokes scorching fear. As a pre-teen, I had bass in my voice and it took years for me to be OK with it. I was constantly teased, but soon grew to be content with sounding like a man before I began experiencing puberty. But as an adult, I have been confronted with my worse fears; whenever I open my mouth, someone ends up feeling afraid. A confidant on an interview committee for a job I was seeking told me one woman with decision-making power felt I was “so in her face” and too “forward.”
(Of course, I did not get the job)
It’s like I’m being charged with multiple counts of having too much baritone in the first degree.
Professionally, I notice that White colleagues have viewed me with suspicion, while the Blacks seeking memberships to their country clubs and access to their boardrooms act as spies, looking to collect intelligence on the “threatening nature of my blackness.” Some of my friends have even told me my facial features are so strong that smiling and laughing is a must.
(To me, that suggests I need to act like Stepin Fetchit).
Over the years, I have heard over and over again about how my disposition and girth can make people feel uncomfortable (I guess being bald, 6-foot-0 and 180 lbs is the new Incredible Hulk).
Even abroad, I am stopped and frisked. When I lived in Ukraine, I was stopped and harassed by cops nearly thirty times because they believed I was a drug dealer. Here in America, many Whites with whom I speak are shocked that I have never used drugs at all.
Ironically, during a small gathering with White friends a few years ago, the conversation turned to discussions about “our” first experience with drugs. When my turn came, I had nothing to say. (I have never used any drugs—including marijuana) The room was filled with shock. What they did not glean from my reaction, however, was that I was equally shocked that White kids with privilege (I know, White and privilege go hand and hand in America) would poison their bodies with substances that I personally observed destroy my community where I grew up in Detroit, Michigan.
To me, its almost like White kids are free to “experiment,” while Blacks are expected to be born with his or her lips around a blunt instead of a baby bottle.
Like Trayvon, if Black men are not shot down in the streets like dogs, we are shot down in the boardroom and any other place where we want to live, work and perform with dignity. I have been feeling discouraged about my progress in life for a longtime. I am very embarrassed to admit it, but sometimes wished I were “a non-offensive Black man.” I even tried to be like the non-threatening Black man that Whites could learn to get along with. I hated my voice, my face and all of the other aspects of my Blackness that put fear in the White hearts.
(And yes: I was actually told by confidants that I made very important White people feel “afraid”)
I feel like Nathan McCall 2.0: This being a Black man in 2013 “Makes Me Wanna Holler.” But I can’t, so for a long time, I continued trying to adjust to a White male structure that seemed like it would never accept me.
I have spent years training myself how to speak in a very low whisper. It has worked so far. My colleagues say I am the best whisperer they know. None of them have ever heard me speak in my natural voice; I still fear I’ll be too loud and make certain people feel like “I’m their face.” Believe me, I’ve noticed the arches rise in people’s brow when my pitch shoots one decibel too high.
And I know it was harder for Blacks to live in the 1960s, but that still didn’t make me feel any more comfortable with myself. For a while, my spirit felt tortured. African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote about wearing the mask in 1896, but I feel like Black men are forced wear that same mask today—even as we have a Black man occupying the White House.
But, I have come to the conclusion that I am the Black man that I am and no matter how hard I have tried to reverse God’s creation, I have grown to be fine with myself: my bone structure, deep voice, broad shoulders, disposition. Everything that makes me feel good when I look into the mirror. I cannot fear myself because others do. When women clutch their purses as I walk by, it is their own fear they have to rid themselves of. Not me.
Whether this White society will learn to accept me for who I am or not is no longer my concern. In times like this, I have to remind myself that God made me in his image and that my existence, my life is not a mistake. God has a plan for me, even is people with power on this earth do not. I am not to be feared. I am to be loved. I am ready to love back. And most importantly, I am not guilty of being a Black man.
And neither was #TrayvonMartin.