I do not know what it is like to be afraid because of the color of my skin.
For all intents and purposes, I grew up privileged: white, middle class family; both parents present; chance and ability to go to college; always with food, shelter, safety, and love. Some might say this has made me naïve, and I would have a hard time disagreeing with them. How could I when I have never had to struggle for anything in my life? When my privilege has made me willfully ignorant of the plight of too many people? When the color of my skin has never deterred me from accomplishing anything, from getting home safely?
I do know what it is like to be afraid, though.
I have been afraid walking home late at night, looking over my shoulder, cell phone in my hand, keychain mace gripped in the other. I have been afraid that some invisible threat will choose that moment to take advantage of me, will choose that moment to say, “I want her, and nothing can stop me from taking what I want.” And all too often, our laws and our prejudices and our preconceived notions allow people that want to take whatever that want may be without consequence. All too often we censure and blame women who are attacked and raped for their own assaults: don’t dress provocatively, don’t go out late at night by yourself, use common sense. Most rapes are not reported, and most rapists walk free.
All too often we let preconceived notions get in the way of justice.
I do not know what it is like to be a young, black male. I do not know what it is like to be many things, and I especially do not know what it was like to be Trayvon Martin. I do know what it is like to be seventeen: young, brave, naïve. I do know what it is like to be going home to your family, looking forward to sitting on the couch together enjoying junk food and watching television. I do know what it is like to have a family and to be loved. I don’t know what it is like to have that taken away from me, to be stopped on the threshold of young life, of young expectation and ability, and to be made no more. To be dead.
Many of us don’t know what that is like. But too many people do.
Too many people know what it is to be afraid.
Sometimes I find myself in a wormhole of hatred: that spiraling, unstoppable naïve greed that is digging further into the Internet, digging further into ignorance and “I’m not racist, but…” comments. I can’t stop myself. It’s almost masochistic, that feeling of complete unbelief and sorrow and what the fuck-ness that wants to feel something other than numb. I read random comments on news articles, Twitter feeds of the hateful and the ignorant, hashtags that delve further and further into never-ending animosity. I can’t stop. Maybe it is some sort of sick desire to see what other people are feeling, to see how other people are dealing, to see what other people are saying. Maybe it is my own sick sense of naïveté that leads me to believe I will find some sort of comfort or solace in the fact that hate cannot be changed, that racism persists, that prejudices will seemingly never end. That there is nothing I can do.
I don’t understand what it is like. I don’t know how it is to be stared at, to be moved away from, to have someone be afraid of me. I don’t know what it is like to be persecuted, oppressed, or killed. I wish no one had to know those things, but too many people do and too many people become the victims of a society that allows those things to persist.
I am a part of a society that too often blames the victim.
I wish we lived in a world where everyone understood, where everyone loved each other and where violence and hatred were words and actions no one had ever heard of. How naïve of me, right? How naïve of me to imagine a utopia, rather than to do something to actually make a change.
But I don’t know what else to do.
All I can do is hug my family and my friends and wish upon everyone the ability to do the same thing – wish upon everyone an ability to love and to understand and to see people, not labels or preconceived notions or stereotypes. Is it childish of me? Is it wishful and stupid and completely out of touch? Yes.
And I am naïve enough to believe it.