Existential Terror

There’s no need to repeat the things that have happened over the last week. You all know what happened. I’ve been debating whether I wanted to write anything related to this, but I’ve been so consumed with feelings of fear, powerlessness, sadness, and anger that it has been difficult for me to really think clearly. Now that the noise in my head has subsided to a degree, I’ve been able to more coherently gather my thoughts and contemplate.

I still have no idea what to really do. I’m still not quite sure how to react to everything and I feel very torn. It is not mutually exclusive to advocate against police brutality and mourn the lives of the Dallas officers; however, I also wonder if our (Black people) mourning of their deaths is being forced upon us. Forced upon us in the sense that we have to show that we are not violent or like the person who decided to take matters into his own hands. Or due to the fact that person’s actions would be used to discredit Black Lives Matter or any anti-police brutality movement. Or because we always have to show compassion/forgiveness towards those who treat us unfairly.

How can I reconcile feeling sadness about that event while still hating and fearing the very institution they represent. My community psychology training tells me to look at it from a systems perspective. It’s not about individuals, it’s about the systems and societal forces. When you think about mass incarceration, the prison industrial complex, and police brutality, African Americans are all too often the victims of these oppressive forces. The modern-day versions of these forces have their roots in slavery and the response to African Americans’ emancipation from it.

I feel myself slipping more and more into a sense of fear and hopelessness. I wonder how anything I’m doing right now can make any kind of a difference. I continuously wonder when time will run out for me (a preoccupation I’ve had since childhood, being a Black man from Mississippi and knowing its history from a young age). I already know my degrees won’t save me, so what good are they if they can’t improve things? I’m also tired of having the same debates with White people about these matters. Both on the macro level (institutional racism, police brutality) and on the micro level (privilege, safe spaces, being an ally). I’m just so over it. People are dying and some people’s concerns are only their damn feelings. It just feels like we will never be considered fully human, even by those who say they are our allies. Their hurt feelings always trump our humanity. How can you even talk to that person?

And I frankly don’t want to hear another “not all White people” or “not all police” comment. Yeah those statements are true, but they usually are stated to distract from the issue at hand. It is also disingenuous because they won’t ever say “not all Black people” and that is the problem. Black Lives Matter would not exist if the statement All Lives Matter was actually true and meant something to everyone. I’m just exhausted from all of these things and I just wish it would all stop because I don’t know long I or we can keep going at this rate. It just all leaves me very disheartened. I think about the phrase Black people say sometimes when we’re told to do something we don’t want to do. I ain’t gotta do nothing but stay Black and die. It’s usually said in a sarcastic or jesting manner, but after thinking about it, that’s all we’re guaranteed in this society. An identity and an inevitability. I have no control over either, just how I identify with being Black and how I cope with death. My only hope is that no one attempts to exercise control over when I die because of the fact that I am Black. Even that’s not a guarantee, history has taught us that.

To Be Young, Black, and In School

America’s education system is screwed up. For Black people, it can be an absolute shit show. I am originally from Gulfport, Mississippi and spent my whole life there until moving to Atlanta for college. As I got older, I began to notice things as I progressed through school. Being a high achieving student, I was placed in honors and advanced classes, but I noticed that fewer and fewer of my fellow African American students were in those classes. There were several instances in which I was the only African American student in the class. At times I felt isolated and alienated, particularly during that one wonderful semester when I was constantly called names by a White student every time I entered the classroom.

Those experiences are not unique to me. Various inequities are part of the educational experiences of African Americans. Discrimination and unfair treatment occurs at all stages of the education system. We get notified very quickly about our standing in schools. Messages are communicated to us about our value, intellect, and worthiness. Too often we get messages about how we are troublemakers. Messages can be sent through relationships with teachers as they tend to have less favorable views of African Americans and have more conflict with their African American students. Disciplinary actions send messages through the disproportionate punishment of African American students. Tracking disproportionately places Black students in lower tracks, while the few Black students in the higher tracks often feel a sense of isolation, not unlike that terrible feeling I remember having frequently. Studies have helped reveal how African American students are not given adequate opportunities to display their intellect and are discouraged from taking more rigorous courses. School curricula are largely characterized by an absence of Black history or culture. I don’t remember learning any significant Black history in the classroom until I went to college at Morehouse. And this is all just in primary and secondary school: it becomes more disheartening to realize that these issues continue on to higher education.

I don’t need to remind you of all the recent stories regarding the protests at several universities. Here is a good resource that gives a pretty efficient rundown of everything happening across the country. I will try to at least explain broadly a lot of issues that African American college students deal with. Studies have shown the negative effects of racial discrimination such as its relationship with negative outcomes including lower academic motivation and increased stress. African American college students too often report negative racial climates outside of the classroom. Classroom interactions too often negate their experiences, leaving them to feel self-doubt and change their educational plans. Even for graduate students, experiences with racism are related to more symptoms of depression and stress. No wonder people are protesting everywhere, look at what they have to deal with and how it affects them!

I know much of the discussion has been about what has been going on at colleges around the country, but I would like people to think about what these students have been going through both during college and before college. It’s understandable why students are frustrated and fed up; they probably have been dealing with these same things for their whole lives: elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and grad school. It’s been a part of their educational experiences for too long and they are tired of it. And so am I.