Can I Switch Off My Brain? Being Black In America is Tiring, Even During a Pandemic

By Jay Leaf-Clark 

For everyone in the world right now, 2020 has become a living nightmare of calamity, isolation, and fear of the unknown.

If you’re guessing I’m talking about the impact of Coronavirus, you’d be half-correct. However, for black people across the globe, the senseless killings, profiling, and injustices during COVID-19 are an additional painful reminder that even during a pandemic, racism and inequality remain deep-rooted within our societies.

George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Christian Cooper. These are but a sampling of black Americans who have tragically lost their lives or been threatened by a pervasive mindset in America which still views black people as out of place, out of line, or guilty until proven innocent. On top of all of this, it is becoming increasingly factually evident that black people are disproportionately dying from Coronavirus. To many, it feels like a never-ending battle.

At a time when we as a human race should unite the most, with each passing day many black people live in fear of the next headline in which we will yet again see our faces in the memorialized victims of the senseless violence or targeted discrimination.

The saddest part of all of this? To many of us, this comes as no surprise and is nothing new.

I am a college-educated, law-abiding, and successful contributing member of society who also happens to be a black man living in America. Though it is frustrating to need to preface this in order to illustrate a point, I know from personal experience that even possessing these qualities is simply not enough to avoid the suspicious eyes of those who look at you in fear, distrust, or disgust.

How do I know this to be true? Well, like many black people or people of color, I’ve experienced first-hand treatment in which I’ve felt singled out, seemingly only because of the color of my skin. 

Though I’ve never received a speeding ticket in my life, I have been pulled over 15+ times in my life for looking “nervous” or “suspicious” to a police officer while driving 

I’ve never been arrested, but I have been questioned by law enforcement when sitting on a park bench minding my business on a nice day and taking in the good weather.

Though I’ve never stolen a single thing in my life, I have been singled out and accused of it without any proof, had my reputation tarnished, and been threatened/pressured to admit guilt where I had none.

I have “complied” or “followed the rules” most of my life, yet even I am not exempt from the same similarly rooted prejudices and discriminations many people of color feel on a regular basis. And what I’ve experienced is very mild in comparison to stories from other black people I know. Black people across America realize early in life that If it could happen to them, it could certainly happen to any person of color. 

The most infuriating part of all of this is that it is happening, at an alarming rate, and with fatal consequences. 

Whether you want to go for a jog, bird-watch in the park, or sit in the comfort of your home, imagine living in constant fear that someone might take it upon themselves to decide whether you “belong”. Now imagine losing your freedom, or worse yet, your life because of it. Imagine fearing for your loved ones, who you can’t be around 24/7 to protect. I could go on, but the simple fact of the matter is black people are being targeted and dying. Whether you are a person of color, an ally, or a bystander, this likely is having an impact in some way or another even on you. So how do you cope?

How do you remain focused, when you’re mentally exhausted from reading the seemingly never-ending news headlines about the pandemic and next #hashtag to “never forget”? How do you remain in good spirits, when you’re emotionally heartbroken for the men and women who have lost their loved ones to injustice? In 2020, 157 years since slavery ended and 66 years since the end of segregation, we still live in a world where black people and people of color are, whether consciously or subconsciously, still viewed and treated by so many in this nation as an “other” to be feared.

As much as I want to, I simply don’t have the answer. However, what helps me is surrounding myself with those who can empathize and understand my pain and frustration I feel, be a listening ear, and a compassionate ally. In times where my emotions feel as though they are running too high to maintain, I allow myself time to disengage and find ways to rest my mind so I do not fall down an endless spiral of negative thought.

Most importantly though, when I see injustice I use my voice, my energy, and my resources to ensure that things such as these don’t continue to happen unchecked, and hope for a better world. 

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