Side Effects of Being Black in America


Edric Parker, Opinions Editor

To be Black in America is to constantly live in a paradox. It’s the feeling of being lost in the world but at the same time knowing you have a purpose. In a way, being Black in America is like living in the phrase “me against the world” daily. Sometimes it seems like all are against us. For instance, the obvious examples are the barriers and racial biases surrounding us as well as the instant critique we meet from members of our own race. One of the worst segments of the Black experience is being judged by the stereotypes associated with our race to determine just how “Black” we are. That follows with the feelings of being self-conscious all the time, judging whether we are dark enough or if our hair is too “nappy”. The only thing more irritating than that is creating styles that are originally considered “ghetto” or “urban”, only to see the same trends be popularized when a White celebrity does it. For instance, dreads and braids are usually followed by negative assumptions that might cost us a job. However, if a Kardashian tries it, the hairstyle becomes “trendy” or “expressive”. Different street styles, such as pants sagging or baggy clothes, are looked down upon and usually reflect the descriptions of a thug or hoodlum. But when a fashion designer steals the image and throws it up on a runway, they gentrify it to be “edgy” or “revolutionary”. Why are they getting fake credit for watered-down versions of stuff our culture has been doing for years? Honestly, it’s a frustrating life to live. The need to repress our raw emotions because somebody who can never relate will instantly claim that we’re playing the “race card”, like we don’t know prejudice when we see it. Or the assumption that we are usually the aggressors in a confrontation. There’s still people who praise the Confederacy and think the war isn’t over, but somehow my appearance is imitating enough for some to call the cops or clutch their bag in an elevator. Let’s also mention the discussion of “why can’t I say it” that continues to revolve around the N-word, as if history didn’t make it clear enough. “N*****” was a way to verbally dehumanize us, and over time we took the label and made it an identity of endearment between one another by replacing the “-er” with an “-a”. But it’s a term exclusive to us. When another Black person says it, we know what it means, there’s no misunderstandings. However, when someone from another race says it, there could be another meaning behind it. It’s vexing to repeatedly remind others that having a Black friend doesn’t earn them a certified N-card with all Black people. It’s these little issues that spark inner feelings of outrage that we always hold back. To be a young Black man in America is to be seen as a threatening and dangerous figure. We have to keep our composure while trying to fit in an image of hyper-masculinity, with the assumption that we are athletically gifted. Which leads to an underestimate of our academic skills and intellect. Meanwhile Black women are repeatedly degraded and seen as inferior based on how dark their complexion is, as lighter skin tones are usually favored as more desirable or “beautiful” by societal standards. In a way, that comes from the wish to be something other than Black. To them, Black is the equivalent of negative and darker equals uglier. There are Afro-Americans who try to distance themselves as much as possible from anything that seems to be “Black”, even to go as far as disowning their heritage or claiming to be “mixed” with something else. At the same time, people who are actually mixed go through an identity crisis on which side of their family is more accepting of them. Apart from our divide amongst ourselves, Black Americans have a long and complicated history with police. There’s a certain talk we have with our parents that’s a blueprint for how to act in the presence of law enforcement, and it’s a discussion that is undoubtedly present in most Black homes. You see, we can’t just demand to know why we are being pulled over or remind them of our rights. That’s too much of a risk for lives to do. Instead, we are advised to do whatever the officer demands while also slowly keeping our hands clear in sight. Be as respectful as possible, and the most important rule is “do not talk back or talk too much”. Avoid any conflict at all costs, and hopefully the best case scenario is a ticket or the ability to return home safely. Because of our paranoia surrounding police, we will do anything to end a problem ourselves before we call them. This mistrust between African-Americans and police tends to do more harm than good, but it’s understandable due to the past examples of discrimination caused by police and the issues they’ve brought to Black communities as well. With the identity of being a disenfranchised people, as well as the challenges and disadvantages that come with being Black, I honestly wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I don’t mean it as a feeling of superiority over others, as everyone should have the same amount of pride in their own background as I do in mine. There’s no feeling like seeing a fellow Black man who is a complete stranger, in a random place full of people, and have a stare down with him before we each give a head nod to one another in relief. It feels good to see the instant comradery that we show towards other Black Americans for their accomplishments, which can be for something as simple as winning a game show to an event as major as obtaining the Pulitzer Prize. I love being a part of a heritage that started its own culture out of pieces from its lost past. We literally started from scratch on slave ships and plantations. My last name isn’t the real name of my bloodline. My family has no ownership of the name “Parker”. That’s the name of the man that owned my ancestors years ago. We started out as property in this nation for centuries, and then fought for another 150 years as second-class citizens demanding our rights as people. We’ve only been considered human beings for about 70 years, while still being influenced by systematic oppression. Now look at us, we had a Black man elected as commander-in-chief in 2008 and he served two terms as President. From the importance of our flashy clothing choices and our exotic hairstyles to our unique sound in music, we tend to make a way to stick out and show positivity while struggle continues to surround us. Think of all that we have attributed to America and popular culture. We come from a spirit of creativity and perseverance which has demonstrated throughout history that we overcome obstacles that are stacked against us. Growing up, we are told to “work twice as hard to get half as far” while battling the lack of diverse representation in all aspects of media. In return, that has encouraged many in younger generations to strive for excellence in our professions and endeavors as payback for the reparations we never received. Maya Angelou once said that “Your ancestors took the lash, the branding iron, humiliations, and oppression because one day they believed you would come along to flesh out the dream”. Although we have a long way to go, we’ve come very far in starting our own legacies that we can live through and pass on. Everyday we accomplish something great that brings us closer to equity in America, because we know that equality isn’t enough. I’m proud of where we come from and I encourage all Black Americans to teach themselves and search for the history we don’t learn in the educational system. Find pride in what you are and claim the heritage you come from. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or worth hiding. To be completely genuine, being Black is dope. So in the words of Jay Z. . . “Black excellency baby, let ‘em see!”