When the stay-at-home order went into effect, I began regularly running around the Capitol, and occasionally there were others doing the same. Every time I ran by someone, I’d go out of my way to distance myself for the health of both parties.
One day, after seeing a familiar, wary look on a woman’s face as I approached, it hit me: I’ve been socially and physically distancing my entire adult life. Sidestepping to appear less threatening is nothing new; Black people could give a Ted Talk on it. At the time, I laughed, shook my head, and kept moving. This woman (and most “concerned” passersby on any given day) don’t know my diverse family and friend network, that I own my home and two businesses, or that I help to lead a thriving organization — not that they need to know anything about me to justify that I am drawing breath. They don’t see me. They just see a Black man, a trigger to be concerned.
All of us understandably have heightened fears about our well-being during this uncertain time. If I’m being generous, maybe that’s what was behind the woman’s fear-filled eyes that day. But what about all the other days? And certainly nothing justifies the disgusting murder of Ahmaud Arbery or the seemingly weekly, unaccounted-for violences against persons of color.
My family regularly gave me and my cousins “the talk” growing up and, to this day, I’m extra concerned about everything when I leave my home:
“I wonder if I’ll be on Nextdoor today because some ignorant neighbor doesn’t know I live here.”
“I can’t wear a bandanna outside lest someone assume I’m in a gang.”
“Make sure you wave at neighbors so you appear approachable.”
I am constantly code-switching and shape-shifting; I’m good at it because my life depends on it. I tell myself it’s necessary, but really, I’m making excuses for others’ racism and fragility. Even when we are perfect, we are hunted. Even when we are hunted, we are ignored. While I’m choosing not to live in perpetual fear, I’d be lying if I said I will proceed normally. I will once again change my exercise regimen. These are the taken-for-granted life routines that we as Black people must plan for, and even then there are no guarantees. I will be even more cautious than I already am. I’ll continue to love near and far and help my students navigate and change this unjust world. And I will continue to run. Not from the truth, though.
Today and every day, the BRYC Community sends love to Ahmaud Arbery, his family and friends, and all those who are suffering by extension from this heinous, maddening act. We stand with you: in love, in agonizing pain, in wrathful anger, and in action.