We welcome guest essayist Nathaniel Sheppard. We are greatly appreciative of this piece!
Black men are not a monolith; however, by all other societal demographic populations they are viewed as dangerous, lazy, hypersexual, irresponsible or dishonest. The reasoning for these stereotypes is subject matter for a much more detailed and comprehensive history lesson. That being said; predisposed negative views cause suspicious and discriminatory treatment of black men which place black men in a unique social position. This unique social position is one in which black men must constantly prove they have benign intentions is all situations.
The headlines these days are full of black men having the police called on them for the most ridiculous things, from bar-b-queuing while black, to attempting to enter one’s own upscale apartment while black. These incidents seem silly but can have devastating consequences for a black man in Trump’s America. According to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health, black men are over three times more likely to be killed by police than white men. Moreover, black police are just as likely as white police to kill black suspects. This study offers a grim assessment of the adversarial relationship between black men and law enforcement.
This weekend I was at a family function and it just so happens that I was seated with a black female police officer. The conversation was light at first but quickly turned to politics and policing. I noticed the police officer was struggling with a double consciousness much like the one described by W. E. B. DuBois in the book, The Souls of Black Folks. When she spoke about her brother and husband she spoke with compassion and concern, but when she spoke about a group of unruly young black men known to the group at the table she spoke unempathetically. I am sure she is unaware of the double consciousness that plagues her, as most black police are unaware.
At the beginning of this blog I mentioned the fact that black men are not a monolith, yet society definitely put us in one big category until we prove individually, we are different. You might ask, what I mean by different? What I have come to understand as different is when a person outside of Black male society does not fear my maleness or my blackness; then, and only then we attain the label different, “unlike the rest”. For the black female police officer that I spoke about earlier, her brother and husband are different.
During the family function, the police officer at my table told a story about how offended she was when her husband was harassed by a white police officer. Though she made her status as an active duty police officer known to the white police officer, she was unable to convince him that her husband was different, as her husband had not proven himself different to the white officer. This refusal by the white police officer to accept her word that her husband was different made her visibly upset. For me it simply reaffirmed the unique social position held by black men. The moral of the story is twofold; first, it is very important for us to police ourselves in our own communities; and second, even if we do not think we are alike the world views us as such until we prove ourselves different. STAY WOKE!