I work for a local mental health agency where I serve clients living with severe and persistent mental illness. I work on a multidisciplinary team that consists primarily of White women. I read the newspaper. I watch TV. I am inundated with reports that tell me my life as a Black man in America does not matter. I witness reports of men who look like me being brutally murdered, vehemently accused, and viciously assaulted by members of the White race. This is due to White people’s inherent belief in their own superiority coupled with the erroneous perception of Black inferiority. Despite my degrees, despite my many years of schooling, despite my credentials, one thing has become clear: At any given moment, I could be dead.
I go to work, where every morning I sit amongst a team of predominately White women. Lately, I sit in silence at these meetings, as I am in mourning. I wear black clothes to work often. This is not a coincidence. Truth be told, it is very difficult to be around my White co-workers right now, as it seems that they are at a loss for words and therefore err on the side of caution by pretending not to notice I am Black and male and that we are dying. My team goes about the business of a different kind of silence, one that renders my Black life invisible. Prior to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd, prior to the false accusations hurled against Christian Cooper, there was a different kind of death I grieved. It was the death that comes from not being heard or seen but rather hidden in plain sight. It was the death of my thoughts, my opinions, my insights constantly dismissed and diminished in favor of White ideas. White voices. White ways. Every day, I sit and watch my ideas come to the table and gradually disintegrate under intense scrutiny and suspicion. This is a table I now refer to as “a place where ideas come to die”. It is a table that resembles Black American life.
As I drift in and out of these meetings, I realize that we, as Black people in America, are killed way before we are pronounced dead. Our ideas are hacked at, dismembered, and murdered way before we reach our final demise. We are seen as inferior and deemed America’s prime suspects and therefore are not to be trusted or believed. Our thoughts are routinely dismissed, devalued, and seen as subpar by comparison. White people listening to people of color is still seen as a charitable act of kindness, something akin to a diversity training where White people claim woke status simply by attending. Somehow, they feel proud of themselves for attempting to understand the “Black struggle” while Black bodies keep being racked up, slaughtered, and denied justice by the White imagination, which only sees being woke as a status symbol as opposed to a call to action.
As I sit at these morning meetings, surrounded by nothing but White faces, I feel uneasy. Every day I am under constant surveillance and my ideas are scrutinized intensely. I find that I have to repeat myself often. I do so in Black and White voices. My White voice gets me partially noticed. My Black voice provides raw entertainment. Call it shapeshifting, call it code-switching, call it whatever you like, but it’s what keeps me alive in this shark tank or at the very least what amuses me until quitting time. Once the entertainment is over and I move from pet to threat, I am psychically murdered and crammed into the shadows of obscurity as they smile, proud of their ability to dominate someone. A part of me knows that if I were to open my mouth, I wouldn’t have a job. A part of me fears that these White women, who I once trusted with my professional safety, will one day turn on me and architect my professional demise. History has proven this fact many times before.
I know that I am supposed to trust my team as we supposedly share the common goal of providing supportive services to those in need, but how can I trust people who don’t see me? Every day I want to scream. Every day is a new drowning. Like my brothers who died before me, “I can’t breathe.” Every day feels like a different kind of suffering. I pray for justice, but I know what the outcome of all my prayers will be and that is a pending answer as I am told in God’s word to display a waiting attitude, knowing He will correct the injustices in His own due time. Meanwhile, I sit and wait for when it’s my turn to die.
As I write this, I am in my apartment, sitting on my living room floor. I left my office and decided to come home. I needed to take a sick day because I couldn’t be around the sound of White voices anymore. I couldn’t be around people who pretended that my color didn’t exist at all. I couldn’t stomach being seen as the “safe negro”, not at all like what the media tells them we are.
I can’t help but think how this affects the clients I serve. I know me being home is not good for them, as they need me. My team serves predominantly Black and Brown men, and yet sometimes I feel like my team is tone deaf. I wonder often how they can serve people who they really don’t care to see. This professional long-handled spoon that is moderately being offered up as a remedy for Black grief is not enough to deliver services effectively. Me being the only Black and Puerto Rican male on this team has offered some representation and hope for these men, as some of them have never seen a Black or Brown clinician. But here I am, in my apartment, banished in the shadows of cultural annihilation, hiding for the sake of my own mental well-being.
I wonder how many other Black professionals have opted to leave their jobs for the sake of their own cultural survival. A Black flight, if you will? I assume many. As for me, I will go back to my job eventually. I will manage my grief after 4:30 p.m. I will sit through the morning meetings and continue to pray for relief as I navigate the tenets of White fragility and implicit biases. I will also pray for a resurrection of motivation, as well as the ability to be present, because my brothers need me. We need each other more now than ever. I just hope I live long enough to make a difference. I just hope I do not surrender to this different kind of murder, because sadly, if I do, the work will suffer.