I am unwell. As I sit and consider the life of Duante Wright, the latest young Black man murdered by police during a routine traffic stop, I struggle to separate his life from mine. I did not know him, nor did we have many of the same life experiences. But we are connected by a shared plight, an invisible burden. Since this year began, 262 people have been shot by police. Of those, 52 have been Black. About half of those have been between the ages of 18 and 29. I turned 29 in early March.
Each and every time that this situation occurs, I am faced with a crippling tidal wave of raw emotion. I feel anger that they had to lose their life when I know that there was a better way. I feel sadness for their family. But mostly, I feel complete and unbridled fear. The color of my skin, something that I did not choose, something that I cannot control, something that should give me pride, is the same thing that makes me a target. It makes me more likely to walk away from an encounter with police as a corpse, rather than with a citation.
As a Black man, this is my invisible burden, the cross that I bear. I am no longer afraid to acknowledge it. I am no longer afraid to say that carrying it is overwhelming at times.
Those were not easy words for me to write. Usually, I am a very resilient individual. I pride myself on suffering in silence and not being a burden to my friends. But over the past year, I have had to take an honest look at my plight and that of Black people across this country, and I am terrified by what I see.
Since I was born, my mother has been grooming me in order to protect myself in America. She made sure that I always dressed well for school so I would be taken seriously by my mostly white teachers. As I grew older, she made sure I didn’t drive in certain neighborhoods at night because of the car that I drove. She made sure that I knew what to do if I was ever pulled over by the police. I cannot imagine her predicament, sending her teenage Black son into a world that she knew did not respect the color of his skin, but also trying to preserve his hope in that world; she wanted me to dream of a better life while also grounding me in the reality of my situation. These lessons are not singular in nature. They are not unique to me. They are multiplied and played out in Black households across the nation; thousands of children are groomed and prepped to shoulder that burden. They are prepared for their unusual plight.
When I tell my mostly White friends that I am unwell, they look at me incredulously, and I have to give them credit. They don’t see what the rest of the world sees. They don’t see simply a Black man standing before them. They see a friend, someone that they trust and believe in. They see someone who went to law school and who has a good job. They see someone who loves watching Bravo and drinking far too much rosé. But that is not what the police see. The police don’t know any of those things if they pull me over. All they see is the color of my skin. And that is what makes me feel worthless at times, a person undervalued in his own country. That is why I live in fear every single day. I never forget my burden, not once. Because if I ever forget, I might lose my life.
You might be reading this and wonder, what’s the point? What does he want me to do with this? Why is he telling me all of this? What I don’t want you to do is pity me. I don’t pity myself.
I accept the things I cannot change. What I want you to do is understand. Understand the invisible burden carried by every Black person that you see in your life or on TV. That burden is carried by every Black person you hear on the radio and that designs the clothes that you wear. Every Black person that has a hand in creating the culture you love carries that burden.
So, ease it. Ease their burden. Check in on them and ask them how they are. Not in the superficial way that we do when we’re passing someone in the hallway of our apartment building or on the street. Clear your schedule, make the time, and ask them how they’re doing. Because I can tell you that they don’t feel well right now. Ask them about their invisible burden. Ask them what their parents taught them to help them survive. Then ask yourself how you can help erase it. How can you help to permanently lift that burden so that no other children need to carry it again? How can you educate yourself to make choices that will help to lift that burden? Although that burden rests on Black backs, it holds all of us down. It makes this country a place of fear and anger, instead of a place of hope and joy.
Black people can’t lift that burden alone—we need help. And all of that starts with a simple check in.