Being A Black Man In America Means Never Feeling Safe

Photo: The familes of Trayvon Martin/Ahmaud Arbery/Tamir Rice/Botham Jeaan/Philando Castile 
For Black Men In America, Racism Means Never Feeling Safe
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When I wake up in the morning, I tend to toss and turn and try to grab another 30 minutes of sleep. It feels like I never get enough.

Today was different. I woke up, looked around at the sunlight finding its way into the apartment, and headed to the bathroom.

As I looked at myself, I smiled.

LeRon, you are getting old, kid! I thought, as I turned my head and saw the greys in my beard and goatee.

As it occurred to me that I've actually made it to an age to see grey hair, I stopped smiling.

It hit me hard because I realized that many Black men in America won’t live to see their greys — like Ahmaud Arbery.

Black men have a shorter life expectancy in general (70 years for Black men vs 75 years for White men, based on the last U.S. Census) because of factors like inequality in health care and education. We are also at a greater risk of being jailed, executed, and victims of violent crime due to America’s racist criminal justice system and wealth inequality.

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When I learned of the Ahmaud Arbery killing, I stopped moving for a moment and took a deep breath.

Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood of southern Glynn County, Georgia when he was killed.

Despite the fact that Arbery is not a suspect in any crime, a former police officer named Gregory McMichaels and his son, Travis McMichaels chased him in a pickup truck, cornered him, shot, and killed him. They claimed they were trying to make a citizen's arrest for a previous alleged break-ins.

William “Roddie” Bryan sat in his own car, filming the entire horrific encounter. More than two months after the crime, the two men were finally arrested and the third one is being investigated.

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Being a Black man in America is to know that life is not promised.

Not just life, but an existence without fear that you could be killed by law enforcement because you have a darker pigment. Dread is part of the daily lives of Black men in America, because society will justify your death no matter what you do or who you are, due to you being a threat.

You carry with you hatred due to white supremacy and live with depression because deep down you know that there is absolutely no justice to be found.

There ain't no get-backs in this world; we just have to deal with it.

Imagine carrying that around as you attempt to function in the world; attempting to go to school, maintain relationships, advance in your career, pursue passions, and try to find happiness, all the while in the back of your head knowing that at any time you could be accused of a crime and arrested because you "fit the description".

Imagine carrying the knowledge that, as a Black man, you are more likely to be imprisoned for years — guilty or not — because the system thinks you are a criminal ... or shot dead by police or racist white vigilantes because they think you are dangerous.

That weight we carry on our shoulders every day as we attempt to make through another day is so heavy, it is amazing we don’t fall over.

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When I was younger, I used to think to myself, will I make it to be an older man?

It wasn’t because I was actively putting my life in danger. I wasn’t a bad child. I didn’t gang-bang or sell drugs, but I knew that in some degree, my life wasn’t in my control.

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I am African-American, and therefore it didn’t matter if I was committing a crime. Being who I am means I didn't have a fair shot at a growing old. The police had always been an adversarial force growing up and sometimes I didn’t know when I was stopped or pulled over, if this would be my last day alive.

When I was about 15, my mother gave me “The Talk”, a conversation many Black parents have with their children about race and how to interact with law enforcement when—not if—but when you come in contact with them. I remember that day because my mother was preparing me for what is to come.

Years later, I gave that talk to a young man I was mentoring, because it is my duty to let him know what kind of world he lives in.

At 41 years old, I am happy to have lived as long as I have. To be honest with you, part of that “success” could be due to my lack of contact with the police.

I live in a city where I don’t need to drive, so being stopped by police is heavily reduced.

However, I am still not out of the woods. Ahmaud Arbrey was jogging when he was cornered and killed.

Look, I am a 6’2 dark-skinned muscular Black man with a bald head. No matter how I dress, act, walk, or talk, I know how I am perceived. Purses are clutched and people quickly move to the other side of the street.

Everyday when I walk out of my house, I could find myself in a situation that causes a white person to be afraid of me. That fear could make them call 911 or attempt to “defend themselves.”

Any Black person could be Ahmaud Arbery. I am just glad that today I am able to look at my gray hairs and say, “You made it.”

RELATED: Why I'm Thankful I Didn't Have A Black Son

LeRon L. Barton is a writer from Kansas City, Mo. His essays have appeared in Salon, The Good Men Project, Eastbay Express, Those People, AlterNet, Buzzfeed, Gorilla Convict, and Elephant Journal.

During times of change, it's easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed but there are things we can all do today  right now  to help fight racism. Here are some ideas: 

-Check out Black Lives Matter's website. Sign petitions, donate, learn about on-the-ground anti-racism action & more. 

-Join Color Of Change where you can be connected with online and in-person activities to help fight racism. 

-Learn how you can help the National Urban League who enable African Americans to secure economic self-reliance, power & civil rights.

-Support Black-owned businesses. Apps like EatOkra and BlackWallet help you locate them. 

-Visit the NAACP website to find ways to take action and donate. 

-Donate to organizations like the ACLU and the United Negro College Fund.

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