The Black Experience

The Black Experience

Sitting at my handed down dining room table, nestled snuggly in my cozy little Irmo, South Carolina, luxury apartment, he stood before me, pleading with me to see the injustice displayed across our television screen as yet another unarmed black man was gunned down for no logical reason. He was a dread headed, late twenty-something, Columbia, South Carolina native and when he saw the killings covered on the news, he saw himself. He saw his sons. He saw me.

His name was Rio and for a brief period of time we were colleagues. We seemed as different as can be. Me, an a ex-military, college educated, Chi-town girl, passing through South Carolina with my active duty, Marine husband and child; him, a high school educated, South Carolina native who never lived out of the state, making a way for his family of four with a hustlers spirit. I don’t know what attracted me to the friendship but we just clicked. I would let him listen to my favorite contemporary, Christian music at the time and encouraged him to explore a relationship with Christ. He would share with me current events happening in our community.

Rio always spoke about what I like to refer to as, “the black experience”and  it was commonplace for him to bemoan the plight of the Black man and point out  injustices in our law enforcement and legal systems. Since this regular monologue of his was just a part of who he was, I entertained his conversations but never thought too much about what he said after the conversations end. To me it was just small talk over Moe’s Burritos and nachos with queso. But that day, at my dining room table, I was listening. It was him, my husband and me.

For over an hour they discussed the most recent killings of unarmed Black people.  The story that stands out the most in my memory involved a young, Black woman who was killed. She was in a car accident, knocked on the door of a home to ask for help, and was shot and killed by the white homeowner. A second story involved a teenager playing loud music who was shot in his car by a White citizen.

Believe it or not, I was not biting at the “plight-of-the-black- man” bit, I did not see police officers as an enemy to be feared  nor was I sure there really was such a great tension between races . I was smack dab in the middle of my super-Christian phase of life where the only rules that mattered to me were spiritual ones and with that in mind, I glossed over things when they were only explained by natural means. I saw the world as simply Christian and non-Christian. Saved or lost. That was it. Also, as a product of segregated Chicago, the people in my urban, middle-class community were (mostly) law abiding citizens, who weren’t rich by any means but not struggling or drowning either. I didn't experience too much mixing with other races outside of school.

From middle school onward I took a bus outside my west-side, urban, neighborhood and went to A.N. Pritzker with the other “gifted kids”, high school I attended Curie Metropolitan High School on the other side of town for their performing arts program. Prior to that I was in private, Catholic school and attended the public, neighborhood school for one year. While in school, since I was always a part of the “gifted” or “magnet” classes, what connected me with my peers was our shared above-average intelligence and I therefore never saw them as different from me. I thought we were just people from different parts of the city who were just like me; smart, weird and having fun as a kid. My classmates were Lithuanian, Polish, Black, Mexican, Muslim, and Christian.

I guess another reason I was not so sure I wanted to believe  Police Officers were capable of killing unarmed citizens was that my family never had any  experiences with law enforcement. This is not to say that everything was always great in my life and there was never an opportunity for the involvement of law enforcement, but when I was growing up, my nuclear and extended family handled our own business. We didn't call the police to handle our domestic issues. And even if there was any drug or alcohol abuse or even domestic violence issues, my family handled it in-house or in our church. The police were not a constant presence in my life, all I really knew about them was what I saw about them in media.

I had never even been pulled over by the police or issued a ticket. The first time I actually recall being in a car that got pulled over, and being aware of the fact,  I was in my twenties and married. I was riding with my husband,  heading to a co-worker's house for a potluck in Beaufort, South Carolina maybe five years before that day in my living room with Rio. Being a speed demon, there were a few occasions after that over the years. After a few times, I knew the drill. The officer would approach the car ask for my husbands driving credentials and in most cases proceed to issue a warning for his speeding. Each time this happened it would be my husband, our very young son and myself in the car. All of those encounters were respectful, no one raised their voices, no weapons were drawn and everyone made it  home to be with their families that night. So all the way until that day at the dining room table, I had never even considered there were issues between the races nor I did I think there was anything to fear from the police. Call me naive or maybe just very young but  discrimination, injustice in the legal system, all of that, was just not on my radar.

I was raised in a very strict and  religious home and was quite sheltered. I spent my time either at home reading because we were not allowed to watch a lot of television, or at church, or school, or with my extended family in some other way shape or form. Get-togethers with my family members, neighbors and church friends saturated our calendars. I lived a pretty good life and my community has a lot to be proud of. They are made up of very successful entrepreneurs, educators, lovers of God, artists and executives. When I looked at my family, yes we are Black and yes we are proud, but I was not raised to see my Blackness as anything other than my ethnicity and a link to my past. Because I was surrounded by successful black people I didn't see their lives as a testament to how hard it is to be black in America, instead I saw how to be successful as a Black American.

I was raised to value education and the arts. My mother would tell me I could be anything I wanted to be and that I could do whatever I wanted to do and she also told me I could have any man I wanted when that time came! Mind you, all of this is true and I grew up on the West side, in K-town. And even though it is “the hood” people in the hood had respect and whatever criminal element was present did not make a habit of drawing attention to themselves and no one was ever gunned down on my street or the surrounding streets. There were housing projects a few blocks away, where I guess it is safe to assume the story may not have been quite the same. I didn't go there, I had no friends there and therefore that whole community is foreign to me.

On that fateful, fall evening, when Rio and my husband implored me to feel outraged over the targeting of our people and the lack of respect for our lives, I was somewhat awakened. I wasn’t affected and I wasn't sure how I felt about it at all, but I was at least aware.

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