One of the most painful revelations in this life is the moment we realize that people like us as long as they do not have to know us.
Though we may attend the same schools, work for the same companies, and pray alongside each another at the same houses of worship, we are acutely aware of the fact that many, if not most, of our associations are shallow and devoid of any critical depth. We are all confronted with this reality at different stages of our lives. For some, it occurs the moment we opt to share with others the news that we have fallen in love, only to discover that those closest to us are intransigent, refusing to even remotely consider the cry of our hearts. For others, it is the moment we take full control over our careers and decide to take ownership over our own narratives. Whatever our disparate circumstances may be, one thing is for sure – we have all, at one time or another, been graced with the task of handing over the bitter cup of self-disclosure and bidding those closest to us to have a drink. Tragically, many of us know from experience that most will not elect for a refill.
My moment of clarity came this past Fall when many of my non-black colleagues and friends realized that I really am a black man. Obviously, all were aware that I was African-American. What they were not aware of, apparently, was the fact that my blackness was much more than a social construct. Ferguson, and the many senseless deaths that would follow, inflamed this reality within me. In fact, it awakened this reality within many of us. Though I would love to say that all of my non-white colleagues and friends joined me as I mourned the lives of my brothers and sisters, this is simply not the case. While I did not receive many emails, inbox messages, or text messages asking what could be done to stand beside many who grieved within the black community, I did receive many messages informing me that my anger and grief was out of line and that the system was, indeed, fine as is. I also received countless messages from individuals I have known for years expressing how deeply disappointed they were in my outcry. “You’ve changed”, many declared. “I don’t like the man you are becoming”, others echoed. I have a strong inclination that I am not the only person to be rebuked for crying out in the wilderness on behalf of our collective sorrows and history lets me know that, unfortunately, I will not be the last.
What saddens me in all of this is that, for the first time, we are realizing that many of these individuals who, at one point or another we considered close family friends, had no idea who we really were. People who I have shared tears with at the altar of God have now conveniently forgotten my number. Men, who I once considered brothers, now refuse to acknowledge that I even breathe the same air. One day their children will ask them about the black man in many of their photos and they will have to muffle together a confused and hollow reply. Truth is, we must realize that those who choose to ignore us are casualties of conscience. We must realize that these pseudo-friendships were based on nothing more than their convenience and their comfort. Though we occupied the corridors of their imagination, never once were they willing to spend an hour in ours. These empty affiliations existed as long as they possessed the authority to dictate the metrics and tempo of the relationship. The moment we decided to make our own sound, we were immediately removed and replaced with someone more ‘accommodating’.
In essence, these relationships ended because we became convicting symbols of a truth they expected us to conceal or dilute. We are sequestered from their consciences because we refuse to adopt the narrative of the dominant culture and equally refuse to be narcotized by their noxious spirit of racial docility. Though we may rightfully mourn these relationships that are no more, we must never regret the positions we have so valiantly taken. Though this cup may be bitter, we must drink from it nevertheless, knowing that it is medicine for our very souls.
If only our colleagues knew the same.