By Ahtiya Liles
Disclaimer: By saying “being black in this country is hard” I am not, in any way, invalidating the hardships and issues other minorities have in this country. I am black, so I can only speak on my experience as a black person. And also, this is MY experience, which means it is not the experience of EVERY black person in the United States.
Double Disclaimer: If you are a racist or a white supremacist or one of those people who believe they aren’t racist but will chant #AllLivesMatter at a #BlackLivesMatter rally, please stop reading. … Actually, continue to read. Maybe I can enlighten you or give you a new perspective. And if you’re stubborn, set in your ways, and/or still a #AllLivesMatter protester (which is really just anti-#BlackLivesMatter person in disguise) by the end of this post, then I at least hope I can anger you in some way. Because, hey, that’s always fun, too! 🙂
Now, enough with the disclaimers.
I don’t even know where to begin. I really don’t. Being black in this country is hard. Too hard.
Even if I’m not the one personally being murdered by cops or having to bury my brother or my father or my boyfriend or my friend or my cousin or my niece or someone, it’s still exhausting. I know that at any moment a black person in my life can be unjustly killed by a police officer or a security guard or a night watchmen, and the media, instead of focusing on the details of their death, will dig up these irrelevant facts that are supposedly negative, along with the worst picture of them out there, and try to victim shame them. And you can sit there and say that this isn’t true, but case and point: Trayvon Martin. When Trayvon Martin died, the media tried to label him as a thug and aggressive, and racists eagerly joined in to smear his image. It’s too convenient that every time a black person is killed they are labeled these racially-charged terms, such as “thug” or “aggressive.” The same can be said for Michael Brown. Everyone wanted to focus on the fact that he was a suspect in a convenience store robbery. CNN describing Freddie Gray as the son of “an illiterate heroin addict” is another example of ways the media tries to justify the unjust deaths of black people. Plain and simple: these “facts” or details don’t matter! Being a “thug” or a robber or having a parent who is supposedly illiterate and does drugs in no way justifies an execution by cop (or neighborhood watchmen) in the middle of the street.
I could go on for days about the way black people are portrayed in the media, but this article isn’t about that. This article is about how I stay emotionally and mentally sane when there is an open season on my race.
I equate being black in America to being in a wrestling match. The wrestler I identify with is the underdog – we never win a match, but we really believe we can, so we keep on fighting. There’s this sense of hope we have that’s admirable, almost saddening because, after some time, you realize that our hope and our fighting is not wielding any noticeable results. We just keep getting punched in the face and in the head and in the heart and in the back by the undefeated winner.
We are the equivalent of a punching bag. We are target practice for our opponents practiced punches. Our body has been built to take these punches – all our life we’ve been prepped (emotionally and mentally) to constantly be beat down. We’re always ready for a fight, but it seems as if there is no break between these fights. The moment we think the fight is over and we’ve been declared the loser, we are thrown right back into the ring with the same opponent. There’s no time to heal, no time to recuperate, no time to prep ourselves again. We have reached a time and age where we can no longer be blissfully ignorant and safe. Our hands will forever be stuffed into gloves that we didn’t want to wear. Our skin will never heal completely. Our black and swollen eye will always be black and swollen, but it is open enough so that we can see the swings coming for our face. We’ve been hit in the head so many times that our response time is too slow to even respond, so we end up on the mat, face down and able to taste the mix of our sweat and blood.
But we’re still supposed to fight. We are in no shape to continue, but we are expected to keep fighting. We have to keep fighting. To not fight, to be knocked down and stay down, is to be killed…
Unless we tap out. Unless we slam our hand on the mat fast enough for the corrupt referee to see us and blow the whistle. We run out of the mat, our blood trailing behind us, the crowd booing us and throwing trash at our broken bodies.
The locker room is bright and cold, slightly foreign. We’re never in the locker room long enough to really take it in, but we should be. Our time in the locker room is our time to take a step back and not think about it, to think happy thoughts and drag ourself out of the depressing cavern that tells us our bodies aren’t worth anything. We NEED to go to the locker room sometimes, and this is okay. It is okay to TAP OUT of the fight. If we never tap out, we won’t even stand a chance of winning, or even surviving, for that matter. So, we tap out and we run to the locker room, to our sanctuary.
The crowd is muffled through the closed door, but we can hear the roar of the crowd as another underdog takes to the mat. There is always another underdog, always another battle, and always an audience to watch that underdog get pummeled without helping at all. Not everyone in this audience condones the fight, but they won’t saying, so we look at them as if they’re all the same: here to watch us bleed and suffer and fail. They know and we know that there is always a fight, and it’s times like these, as we sit in the safety and blissfulness of the locker room, that we wonder whether or not we will ever stop being the underdog and be able to fight an equal match.