To be Black means to know sadness

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Instead of marveling at our ability to weather every storm thrown at us, use that energy to stop creating conditions for those storms, whether physical, mental, emotional or legislative.

There’s something I need to get out because it’s always rubbed me the wrong way. In the past few months, most of this country has gotten a glimpse into the nightmare of what it can be like to be Black.

You’ve seen us die, and you’ve seen us react to that death with widespread protest. You’ve seen us put our lives on the line because we want to have lives to live at all. We largely survive. We do not live. There is a difference.

As always, when the Black experience is thrust into the spotlight in any way, our resilience and our pride always come with it. Our unbreakable nature — it’s always marveled at.

Most essential component

I remember when Botham Jean’s brother hugged the woman who murdered a member of his family, and many of you remarked on the strength that took. After that, you moved on, with this image of enduring Black strength to make you feel good.

No.

Stop moving on. Stop feeling good. We don’t move on, and we certainly don’t feel good. As someone with a little over two decades of experience as a Black person in this world, I thoroughly believe that the most essential component of the Black experience is sadness.

That’s not to say this is the only component, of course. The complexities and nuances of the Black experience are too vast to boil down to a single word.

Other Black components

Exhaust: to drain of strength or energy, wear out, or fatigue greatly, as a person. Consider an Auburn University study of nearly 400 African Americans from around the country, which shows that encountering racism can lead to higher levels of stress, which in turn causes cells to age more rapidly, adding to evidence that racism is not only a social and moral dilemma but also a public health issue.

Confusion: perplexity or bewilderment; or when you hear white people say they’re “tired of hearing about race” when their inherent built-into-the-founding-documents-of-the United-States-of-America privilege ensures they face none of the effects that mass incarceration, job and housing discrimination and white nationalism have on your people (but they’re the tired ones).

Disappoint: to fail to fulfill the expectations or wishes of; or when you see people who claim that they love you vote a man who vehemently pushed for the execution of five innocent boys (four who look just like you) into the White House, and when you see your former hero Kanye West support that same White House resident.

Rage: angry fury; violent anger; or when you hear stories of what the New York Police Department has done to people like you, such as Abner Louima (beaten, kicked in the testicles and sodomized with a broomstick), Amadou Diallo (shot 19 times out of 41 total shots for reaching to pull out his wallet), and Sean Bell (50 rounds shot into his vehicle, killing him and severely injuring his friends).

The sad reality

Hearing that people are tired of talking about racism induces a sadness bordering on pity that certain people completely lack self-awareness. Sadness stemming from disappointment watching those you love make decision after decision that puts your well being in danger is self-explanatory.

Rage is a feeling that gives way to sadness eventually, when you realize that your humanity will rarely be a factor to the people that are there to protect you — in theory, of course.

Sadness applies to everything: the fear that comes from countless court decisions acquitting state-sanctioned murderers in uniform, the revelation and subsequent displeasure that your true history was never taught to you (or anyone else), and even to the pride that you cling to so tightly because you really have nothing else to hold on to.

#ForTheCulture sadness

Sadness shows in our cuisine, where things like pig intestines are now considered delicacies for the world to try but only because it’s all we were given to eat, and we had to make do.

It shows in our sports stories, in which athlete after athlete endures hardship and lesser means before flipping it into millions of dollars because of their dreams. Most prominently, it shows in our music, as decades of oppression have been turned into cinematic pieces of art, unflinching songs of protest and chart-topping successes.

We have been the economic and cultural backbone of this country from cotton and tobacco to the Boston Celtics and A Tribe Called Quest, and the collective sadness of the community has given us a never-ending well of inspiration providing the fuel to go first overall in the draft and be first above all on the charts.

Then there’s pride

Do you know why we have so much pride? It’s because we have nothing else. You took us from our land, broke our bodies in a land you also stole, removed our traditions and commercialized them for profit, left us with dust, and then got angry at us when we made that dust dance.

Black pride comes from Black endurance of pain, Black endurance of prison and Black endurance of poison, from constant enforcement of Eurocentric standards (both conscious and subconscious) to being told you’re the lazy ones by people who couldn’t tend their own fields or write their own songs.

And who can’t even bring themselves to document history properly because mythologizing their inhumanity is easier to swallow. So, do me a favor.

Instead of marveling at our ability to weather every storm thrown at us, use that energy to stop creating conditions for those storms, whether physical, mental, emotional or legislative. Stop forming clouds of oppression that get so large and so massive that it rains hell down on us.

Because I can’t remember the last time, I truly saw the sun.

Bryce Harris is a 21-year-old senior at the University of Hartford, where he is majoring in
marketing. He lives in Bristol, Connecticut.

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