Before she died in 2011, my Aunt Sarah often told me that there was one thing that she liked most about my writing. “I like your humor,” she would say. It didn’t matter if I thought a particular post stunk like a wet mop, as long as Aunt Sarah thought it was funny my day was made. My aunt enjoyed humor, and she had an unwavering sense of it. She would crack me up with some of the jokes she told. More importantly, she focused on the bright side of life even in her darkest hour. Oh, how I miss her.
If my aunt were alive she would understand when I say that it’s getting difficult to maintain a sense of humor. The political and social climate we live in leaves little to laugh about or even smile.
In her speech before the 1964 Democratic National Convention civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She might not have imagined that fifty years later, her words would become a mantra for people praying for relief in a society that appears to be stepping back in the past toward racial injustice as it steps forward to a resurgence of senseless and criminal acts against black and brown people.
If we are to believe the words of the Preamble to the Constitution, aren’t we (too among) the people entitled to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity?”
Like Fannie Lou was in her day, generations of us today are sick and tired of feeling that we must constantly justify our existence and demand our human rights to life and liberty. We are sick and tired of being inherently suspect and perceived as threatening by people who look for reasons, no matter how irrational, to call the police. We are sick and tired of being stereotyped and presumed guilty until proven innocent. We are damned sick and tired.
We parents and grandparents feel compelled to reiterate the self-preservation talk with our black youths. “I recall a few occasions when one of my grandsons was younger and naïve, his response to “the talk” would be, “But I don’t bother anyone.” And my immediate reply was, “You don’t have to be bothering anyone for someone to bother you. It’s the world we live in.” They are grown men now and have come to understand. I think they get it.
It doesn’t help me to read disturbing articles like the one recently published by the Los Angeles Times. It discloses the findings of a study that reveals that Getting killed by police is a leading cause of death for young black men in America.
I have never forgotten an incident that happened years ago when my son was about 15. I took him and his male friend of the same age shopping. Nordstrom was one of many stores along the shopping strip in a high-rent district in Washington, DC. I knew that prices inside could make a hog squeal, but for the heck of it, I decided to go inside to see if I could find anything I wanted. Within moments after we entered the store, I noticed that an inconspicuous store employee pretending to be a shopper was trailing a short distance behind us. When we stopped to look at something, so would she. After a few minutes of cat and mouse, I was tempted to disregard her unspoken indication that you don’t belong here and continue browsing for the hell of it. Instead, because I was getting pissed off I told the boys, “Let’s go.” We left that store and I have never gone back there. That was over 30 years ago and every time I think about the experience, I get angry all over again.
Whether it is being followed in a department store or pulled over for driving while black, there is no justification for racial profiling and racist behavior. One bad choice or miscalculated move on our part could be a matter of life or death. That is our grim reality, and it is no laughing matter.
I prefer to write about lighthearted topics and would rather not write about my frustrations regarding racism. But I usually express what is weighing heavily on my heart and mind and right now, today, this is it. The subject of racism is exhausting, but we must keep talking about it.
One commonality shared by my Aunt Sarah and Fannie Lou Hamer is that both were proponents of civil rights. My aunt who participated in the 1963 March on Washington, would see no humor in this post, but she would certainly understand it. So would Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who in 2009 was arrested at his Cambridge, Massachusetts home after someone placed a 911 call about someone breaking and entering a residence. Gates was suspected of breaking into his own home. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson would also understand it. The two African American men were arrested in 2018 at a Philadelphia Starbucks while peacefully waiting for a friend to join them.
I am not implying that Black people don’t commit crimes, but so do whites.
I am sure that Aunt Sarah would understand why there is no humor in this post. She would also understand why I am not smiling as I write this, but I’ll smile again. Maybe tomorrow. I may even write something lighthearted – tomorrow.
In the meantime, if any of you readers have doubts about the absurdities perpetrated against Black people every day read The Root’s list of 100 Things Not To Do #While Black. Some of the things on the list are so ridiculous they might even make you smile as you shake your head at the idiocy.