Kimanzi Constable’s mother told him to never play the “victim card.” She said that if he wanted something badly enough, it didn’t matter what color his skin was — he could make it happen.
With the recent deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner there has been a lot of talk about racism in America. Were they killed because they’re black? I don’t know if anyone can honestly answer that question. I also don’t know enough information about either situation to speak about them. It would be insulting for me to try.
What has happened, as a result, has been pure chaos. The city of Ferguson, Missouri has been turned upside down.
The question has been raised as to whether or not racism still exists in America. I think we can all agree that yes, it does. Where we might disagree is what that means.
Many in the African-American community believe that if you’re black you won’t get the same opportunities that a white person would. To be fair, I’m not the voice of the entire African-American community, I can only speak to what I’ve seen as a young black man. But, based on what I’ve seen, I call that hogwash!
The stats are pretty grim though. Black Americans are four times more likely to be murdered than the national average according to the Huffington Post. While African Americans make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned according to the Center for Progress.
Growing up, my friends preached that if you were black you wouldn’t get a fair shake in life. When my friends and I talked, I told them about all of my dreams. They told me not to even bother, because being black I couldn’t do those things. White people wouldn’t let a black man “come up” like that.
I would talk to my parents about this, but they told me just to ignore those kids. My mother ingrained in me that if you wanted something badly enough, it didn’t matter what your skin color was, you could make it happen. She said my friends needed to stop playing the victim card. That was the first time I ever heard that term.
I know what you’re thinking – what about those that don’t grow up in a good situation? Life is rough. This isn’t a movie where everything magically works out in the end. If you want something special to happen in your life you’re going to have to be the one to make it happen.
Too often in the black community we’re looking for a hand out. Yes there are situations when people need help. I get that. But there are many when someone just wants something for free.
If you grew up, or are growing up in a rough situation, you have to look inside of you for the power you’ll need to overcome your hardships. You have to figure out what you want from life, and more importantly why you want it.
You have to walk, run, crawl, roll or do whatever it takes, to create a better life for yourself. The past doesn’t have to define you. The situation or the color of your skin doesn’t have to determine what you do with your life.
Surround yourself with people who want something out of life, ignore the people who cry victim. Be willing to work harder than you ever have in your life realizing what awaits you when you do.
Others have done it and so can you
They could have accepted their circumstances and become victims but they didn’t. They decided to rise above it and create their own opportunities. What they did has paved the way for us today.
As I grew up, I heard the same old talk, but I decided to take to heart what my mother taught me. I wasn’t going to be or play the victim card. No matter what color my skin was, I was going to make every one of my dreams a reality.
Before you question my “creds” to talk about these issues, you should realize that I know more about the African part of “African-American” than most. My father is white and my mother is African, born in Mombasa, Kenya. I may have a white father, but I lived in Kenya for two years and truly understand our African heritage. I still go back to visit every year.
There are strong arguments to be made on both sides of the discussion, but something that glaringly sticks out is the fact that America now has a black president.
His words from his first inauguration speech speak truth:
“Tonight, more than 200 years after a former colony won the right to determine its own destiny, the task of perfecting our union moves forward.
It moves forward because of you. It moves forward because you reaffirmed the spirit that has triumphed over war and depression, the spirit that has lifted this country from the depths of despair to the great heights of hope, the belief that while each of us will pursue our own individual dreams, we are an American family and we rise or fall together as one nation and as one people.
To the young boy on the south side of Chicago who sees a life beyond the nearest street corner.
To the furniture worker’s child in North Carolina who wants to become a doctor or a scientist, an engineer or an entrepreneur, a diplomat or even a president — that’s the future we hope for. That’s the vision we share. That’s where we need to go — forward.
Now, we will disagree, sometimes fiercely, about how to get there. As it has for more than two centuries, progress will come in fits and starts. It’s not always a straight line. It’s not always a smooth path.
America, I believe we can build on the progress we’ve made and continue to fight for new jobs and new opportunity and new security for the middle class. I believe we can keep the promise of our founders, the idea that if you’re willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from or what you look like or where you love. It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, able, disabled, gay or straight, you can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.”
If those words weren’t powerful enough, this one paragraph from his speech in Grant Park after he won the election, will be:
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
Since the stories of these two black men being killed by white cops, one coming to us from New York, the largest city (by population) in the United States, and the other from the unlikely heartland city of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, which ranks 58th in population, have made national headlines, people are outraged.
The death of any human being, as a result of homicide, should be an outrage. That we can agree on.
But, if you have been told that because you’re black you can’t chase your dreams, you can’t get the opportunities white people get, you’re automatically a victim, you’ve been lied to.
If change is going to happen it has to start with each of us
If we are going to experience real change in this country, that change has to start with us. It has to start with us NOT looking at each other as a certain color or gender or sexual orientation.
Instead, we have to start thinking of each other as brothers and sisters of America and as fellow citizens of humanity. Does that mean all of our problems will magically disappear? Of course not, but we have to start somewhere and we have to start NOW!
You are the only one who can decide what you are and what you want to be. You are the only one who can decide to ignore all the voices and choose what’s right for your life.
You are the only one who can decide what you will allow to hold you back.
Being a victim is a mindset problem
If you buy into the belief that you’re a victim, it’s only because you allowed yourself to be one in your own mind. Those that are successful in life believe in themselves and their dreams. They don’t let their minds get polluted with the weaker thoughts of negative people no matter what color they are.
Just because you’re black doesn’t mean you can’t do amazing things. Our history is full of the amazing stories of those that came before us and fought against all odds to make incredible changes. They did this in circumstances we’ll never understand.
The way you think about yourself will become a manifesto in your life. If you believe you’re a victim, that’s exactly what you’ll be. If you believe you’re a strong person who can overcome anything, you will have an amazing life.
If you’re a victim it’s because you decided to be one
There are people who have been victims. There have been times in our history where blacks have been through unspeakable evil. The truth however, is that many blacks today won’t experience that.
There will be unacceptable violence, but not just for blacks, violence happens to all races.
There are always going to be people who choose to remain victims, don’t let them hold you down with them
No matter how much progress we make as a race there will always be people who want to spread the belief of inequality. Those people aren’t happy with their lives and they’re hoping to spread their misery.
There is inequality in all races and genders. Life isn’t a fairy tale, there are real-life challenging issues. How you respond to them will determine how successful you’ll be in life.
Don’t let them hold you back from chasing a dream liking being a black president. Don’t let them feed into your doubt and fears. Ignore them and realize that if anything amazing is going to happen in your life you can’t sit around and wait for it.
Is it harder for African-Americans? It depends on who you ask. I can’t speak to what’s going on where you live. Let’s imagine it is. SO WHAT?
We, as a people, have to look past roadblocks and keep moving forward just as our president said. Even if it’s harder, we have to. No one ever said life is going to be easy, and those that are successful push forward regardless of the roadblocks and challenges.
So what happens when you decide not to be a victim?
All my life I was told what I could, and couldn’t do in my life because of my skin color. There were times when I believed it, and didn’t even attempt to chase any of my dreams.
In 2012 my father died, and I got the wake up call I needed. I realized life was too short to be a victim, and I could die tomorrow with regret in my heart. I decided that even if it would be harder as a young African-American man I would do whatever it took.
From the time that I made that decision until today I lost 170 pounds, I quit a job I hated to write full time, something many people told me a young black man couldn’t do. I moved from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to our dream destination of Maui, Hawaii.
What happens when you refuse to be the victim? A life most people only dream of. If you can ignore the voices of hate, and chase your dream despite your circumstances, you can achieve it.
Through determination and refusal to play victim we can write our own speech that ends, “Tonight is our answer.”
Photos: Courtesy of the author