Anxiety is fear of one’s selfWilheln Stekel
In the past I have been very candid about my struggles with anxiety due to my body image. I have also talked openly about my social anxiety in terms of feeling not wanted by my own friends and family. Both examples were purposeful because I wanted my audience to believe that I am an open book when it comes to my writing. Both of the mentioned posts were met with positivity and support from the readers. Hopefully, today’s post will have that same effect.
In the last three weeks I have bore witness to the killings of two different black men in the United States of America via social media: Ahmaud Aubrey from Georgia and George Floyd from Minnesota. Both cases have clearly shown me the severe disregard for the lives of black people in this country. I am not in the mood to try to paint this in a light other than what I see it: a declaration of “Open Season” on black people with little to no consequences for these actions. The Floyd case is especially troubling given the lack of concern on the faces of the two officers in the video. Given the motto of many police officers, to protect and serve, I struggle with the idea that there is very little protection and even less service going on in that instance. The narrative replays over and over again about the lack of a threat these victims are to their killers. Whether in handcuffs on the ground, running away or any situation similar where there’s clearly a lack of danger made to the one(s) applying unneeded force.
“I can’t breathe. Don’t kill me.”George Floyd’s last recored words
Please try to understand where I am coming from: as a tax paying, college educated black man with no criminal history, I am scared. There’s a certain level of anxiety and fear that grips me whenever I decide to ride my bike along the Hank Aaron trail in Milwaukee, go out to Walmart or Target or any other mundane activity any adult should do. My heart beats a little bit faster every time I drive past a patrol car while running errands. Since the Trayvon Martin case of 2015, I have been pulled over four times by police officers. The thought races the back of my head “Is this it? Is this going to be the one? Is #kylerobinson going to be all over Twitter and Facebook for a few hours and then forgotten about like yesterday’s news? Am I never going to know the joys of marriage, fatherhood, obtaining my masters or any plans similar to that all because of one chance encounter?” These thoughts are just about me. However, what of my three younger adult brothers? What of my father and uncles? What of my cousins? What of my black friends and colleagues? What of my black students? What of my future children or nephews? Is this my “post racial” America I am destined to live in? If it is, then I have to say I am not a fan at all.
Let me make one aspect of my thinking clear before going forward: I am not personally for violence against police. Like many people in this country I realize that the call to serve country/community is one of the most noble jobs someone can undertake. I cannot begin to understand the pressure of knowing that any day doing your beat could potentially be your last on this earth. I will not pretend to grasp the proper protocol when making an arrest or using a weapon to defend yourself. I do have an idea what it is like to know and talk with those people who are great at their jobs as officers of the law. I personally know a handful men and women who do outstanding jobs as cops. I also regularly read stories about police officers who live in other cities who make excellent role models for their community while upholding the oath they took upon swearing in.
The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach itFlannery O’Connor
But the question remains: when something of this magnitude happens, why are the good police officers quiet? Where is the outcry that comes from within their own ranks? Where is the public chastisement from those who do not want an already damaged image made to look worse? You know the same accountability that many Americans demanded from citizens who are Middle Eastern decent after the September 11, 2001 attack. The same level of responsibility that black people are expected to have when the subject of black on black crime is mentioned in retort to pieces like this? Personally: people demand it from teachers anytime we talk about our jobs being difficult (the JJA argument is old and tired by the way). People also demand it from actual survivors of sexual assault crimes when there’s an instance of a false accusal made. It’s time to call those who are quiet on these topics to task. Whether people are aware or not: your quietness is what speaks the loudest.
Silence is Compliance
“If I mattered that much to you, I want you to raise hell”
I have a fear of dying at the hands of a pissed off cop or a citizen who doesn’t particularly like the cut of my jib. I have a fear as my legacy just being a hashtag and a trending topic on Twitter for a few days. As real as these fears are to me, staticitcally speaking: it’s relatviely uncommon. Part of the blame can be assessed to our access to news as quickly as we are. Some can be attributed to the “media always looking for hot button topics and never reporting on the ‘good guys'”. My heaviest and therefore most terrifying fear is that of silence. Often when something like these two instances happen, there’s a great deal of silence from certain citizens. There’s a myriad of reasons why that is the case: personal comfort, lack of “knowing” the victim, lack of information surrounding the incident and therefore not wanting to play the role of judge and jury, etc. I would hope and pray that with the people I have developed strong relationships with, that there would be some level of outcry from them. Theres is little doubt that to some people I know I am just Kyle, and that is it. In contrast, those who know me, like really know me: I want you to be loud. I want you to demand justice. If I mattered that much to you, I want you to raise hell. I want you to advocate for me when I am no longer here. No I did not personally know Ahmaud or George. I also did not know: Trayvon, Tamir, Jordan, Philando, Michael, Eric, Sandra or any other victim of police brutality. But I still talk, march, tweet in their memory because this legalized slaughter of black people needs to end. I have a theory that that those who wait to talk about these issues do so until it is someone they know personally that becomes another hashtag. To those people I ask this: does the fact that that person experienced injustice not mean enough? If all lives do indeed matter, shouldn’t you be outraged by someone else determining that their life didn’t?
Generally speaking, I try to keep myself even keel when it comes to hot button topics. Life is stressful enough without the added pressure of getting involved with business that does not concern to yourself. Nevertheless, in recent years I have decided to get involved more with social justice and issues like racism. I want to leave you with these thoughts if you think events like these are an insult to what it means to be an American citizen:
Talk about race, specifically racial identity
- First of all: do you even interact with people who have a different racial identity from yourself? This notion can skew your perception of race relations in the USA. Not everyone experiences their “racial awakening” at the same time or in the same manner. Those who say that “they’re color blind” or “race doesn’t matter to me” are the people who you need to talk with the most. These ideologies do more harm than good, especially mentally.
Listen to other people who have a different racial identity from yourself. Especially persons of color (POC) when they talk about their hardships they have experienced
- If someone who is Black, Latinx (latino/a), Asian, Middle Eastern, Native American tells you that “This is what I experienced…” listen with a purpose. If they feel comfortable disclosing this to you, you’re already making a bigger impact than you realize. The last thing you want to is dismiss their experience because it challenges what you have known as normal.
Talk to other people who have the same racial identity as yourself and talk about race, because it does matter
- Start small, with people that you trust (i.e. sibling or parents) and ask what is their opinion. Understand there is no guarantee that feelings will be mutual, but just getting a healthy conversation going is a good first step.
Challenge those who see no harm in perpetuating stereotypes or see no issue of race in the USA
- I don’t know who needs to hear this but: stereotypes about POC (yes even positive ones like Asians being good at math) hurt everyone. I cannot count how many times I got “so you must love fried chicken and Kool-aid right?” in my life. There isn’t right way to be a POC. I am just as black for enjoying rap music as I am for vacationing to Door County. People who continually enforce those stereotypes on POC put a mental block not only in their minds but in the minds of the person they are interacting with.
Unquestionably, these events of racial crimes against black citizens in the USA have taken a toll on me. There is something inherently wrong with a man fearing for his life whenever he tries going about his regular business. I fervently implore you who is reading this, to use the influence you have to generate positive change. Yes, I am aware that the lives of all citizens matter, but right now I am scared for the citizens who look like me. Challenge the status quo in regards to racism in this country. Raise hell for those who cannot do so theirselves. Be the change you want to see in the world. I guarantee, if you’re tired of hearing about these reports, the people who experience them are tired of living through them. Protect your mental health. Show up for those you care about.
Take Care Now
Emotionally poignant, essential, and you quoted O’Connor! Fantabulous! 🙂
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Very powerful words. Thank you for sharing. #blacklivesmatter
Kyle, I sent you an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If that is not your handle anymore, let me know! Paul