Why I am the way I am

The day after the Millions March in New York City, I was out having dinner with a nice young lady. I was telling her about the march and the protest and the fight for social equality and justice for the marginalized. I guess the way I was speaking was really passionate (I get like that sometimes) because she asked me an interesting question. She asked, “Why are you like this?” At first I didn’t know what to make of the question, so I asked what she meant. She said, “I’m just interested in what makes the way you are or made you this passionate or militant about this. Did something happen to you?” I wasn’t really able to give a clear answer because to be honest, I had never really sat down and thoroughly processed my motives in an in-depth way. I’ve never been in jail. I’ve never even been in handcuffs. In all my years, I can probably count only two times that I’ve actually been stopped by the police. So when I finally got home I decided to really think about my motives for why I am the way I am.

I realized that the fact that what happened to Brown or Garner could happen to me was enough to make me the way that I am. It’s a frightful thought to know that if I leave my home in the morning and make it back alive in the evening, it is only by God’s grace. What is even more disturbing is that it’s not so much because of the criminals anymore, but for those who have sworn an oath to protect me from criminals. The fact that I live in a country, where I can be discriminated against from getting a job, living in a particular community, voting, being able to read or shot down by a trigger-happy policeman because of something as simple as pigmentation! Well, that’s enough to make me angry. I am the way I am because I protested this issue when I was 15 years old. Yet, over two decades later, I am still protesting this same issue at the age of 37. If that’s not enough to make someone angry, I don’t know what is. I am the way I am because with every wrongful death of a black man at the hands of the police, that’s one step closer to my doorstep!

At some level, I realized that I am the way I am because at some level, I am Amadou Diallo, the man who has worked tirelessly throughout the years to support his family and just wanted to go inside his home to get some sleep, I am Sean Bell, the guy who just went out to have a good time with some friends and not looking for trouble, I am Trayvon Martin, the kid who used to leave his girlfriend’s house late at night and walk through different neighborhoods and may stop off just to by some Skittles and an Arizona ice tea, I am Mike Brown, who didn’t always walk on the sidewalk and who sometimes could be intimidating because of my size and appearance, I am Eric Garner who sometimes just wants you to “please, leave me alone” and with each wrongful death that goes unpunished, a part of me dies as well and my spirit still mourns.

My question to those of you who have not been in those situations, personally, but have seen or even heard of them happening, is why aren’t you angry? Why aren’t you outraged? Why can’t you see that injustice against one is injustice against all, including you, your children and their children? I was with some protesters about a week ago and they were marching to Times Square. There were many signs with different phrases and expressions, but there was one that stood out for me. There was this young woman holding up a sign and it read, “I’m Tired, Goddamit!” It wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t catchy or fancy. It was just real. It expressed a real feeling and emotion at that moment. And I would dare say that it described and summed up the feeling of many people, not only in this city, but in this country as a whole.

People are tired, Goddamit! They’re tired and angry! People are tired and angry about the structural violence and institutional discrimination that continues to imprison our communities either in a life of poverty and/or one behind bars. People are tired and angry at the fact that every 28 hours a black person in the United States is killed by someone employed or protected by the government of the United States. People are tired and angry with the inability to access employment and fair pay which continues to marginalize our communities, ready people of color for imprisonment, and deny them of their right to a life with dignity. People are tired and angry at paying an arm and a leg for less than quality housing that does not protect their families and children from harm. And finally, people are tired and angry at policies that criminalize our young people as well as discriminatory discipline practices that bar access to quality education.

I guess, as I write this and think about it all, I realize that’s what it is. That’s why I am the way I am. What it finally boils down to is that I’m tired and I’m angry. I’m tired of the sore and swollen feet and the aching lower back and the nearly gone voice due to marching and shouting in protest; all of which is done for things that should be considered God-given rights. Yet, I still continue to do it; because I’m too tired and I’m too angry to stop. I’m tired and I’m angry and I want change. This is why I am the way I am.

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