LeRon Barton has experience navigating the world as a Black man, but the Jordan Davis killing has him asking why that needs to be a challenge.
When I received the news of the Jordan Davis verdict, I was on the San Francisco BART on my way back from a good friend’s wedding. All the joy and happiness of that day was clouded with the news of the trial. While Dunn was found guilty of three out of four charges, the most serious one, first degree murder resulted in a mistrial. When I told my girlfriend of this, she shook her head in disbelief. I told her, “Jordan Davis was killed because society has been made to fear the Black man.”
Being a Black man in America, you are one of the most envied and despised people alive. People want to be like you. They want to emulate your style, the way you walk, talk, sing, dance, cook, etc, word to Norman Mailer. But, people also want to see you punished, imprisoned, or worse, killed. In Studs Terkel’s masterful work, “Race,” a Black man said, “Being Black is like wearing a shoe with a pebble in it. You get used to it, but never forget that it is there.” Couple that with the media stoking the fire of the uncontrollable Black man and years and years of the “brutal Negro narrative,” there is this sense of when you see people that look like me coming your way, be afraid. Be very afraid.
Sometimes I have to ask myself, “Am I scary?” I look in the mirror and do not see any fangs or claws. I don’t howl at the moon or have a hunger for human flesh and I don’t spit fire, so I don’t understand why I am feared. Besides the large head and fondness for wearing colorful scarves, I can’t for the life of me figure out why I am so feared. I think that every Black man has asked himself that question a time or two, because it feels like people are always thinking, “Is he gonna rob/rape/attack/kill me? “Get away from me scary Black man!”
I remember when I started realizing this. I was twenty-two years old and was walking to the bus stop, getting ready to go home. I was tired, so when I got to the bus stop and plopped down on the bench, this older White lady saw me and clutched her purse and clung to it as if she was holding on for dear life. I looked at her and all I could think was “Wow.” Later I would experience similar circumstances, i.e. being alone in an elevator, a dark parking lot, and of course, walking on a sidewalk next to them. I would internalize this until one day while in downtown SD, I was on my way to a job interview. Wearing a suit with briefcase on my shoulder, I had started walking up a street when a White woman, who was a couple steps in front of me, saw me and clutched her purse. Seeing this, I darn near flipped my lid. I asked the lady, “Why did you clutch your purse?” Before she was able to formulate an answer, I quickly said, “I don’t want to rob you. I am a college graduate!!” I then walked off, pissed. Couldn’t she see that I had a suit on? Damn! I am not threatening!! I then realized that no matter what I had on, I was still the scary Black man. Sigh.
When cases like Jordan Davis or Trayvon Martin are mishandled and justice is not served, as a Black man you are reminded that you are still feared and can be killed because you are feared. It is not just about “racism being alive and well” but that you are looked at as a monster, a creature that must be put in it’s place. If you are deemed as arrogant or a troublemaker (Muhammad Ali, Richard Sherman), you are slandered and if you are a threat (Malcolm X, MLK) you will be neutralized.
I was talking to a friend and she had asked me, ‘Is it always about race?” Without a pause I said, “Yes.” Now I am not saying that because I did not get a certain job or someone did not like me, or even why you may not like this article is because I am Black, that would be silly. But, there is not a day that goes by that I do not think about race or if it is not in the equation. This is America. I know who I am and how I am perceived. And no matter how many suits, degrees, money, accomplishments, etc, etc, I am a Black man, and that elicits a certain response, a certain feeling. From marijuana, guns, and interracial relationships, laws have been created due to fear of us. It is just something that we have to deal with. It is our life.