Reflections on Being a Black Man in America

Nathaniel Hawthorne in his timeless classic, The Scarlett Letter, says in the first chapter, “In our nature, there is a provision, alike marvelous and merciful, that the sufferer should never know the intensity of the pain to which he endures by its present torture, but by the pang that rankles after it.”


But life as a Black person, particularly me as a Black man, will never be the same. This court case has reaffirmed that I cannot go alone into environments where I am the only Black person, especially at night. I must dress my best at all times, even when I go to buy candy from the store. If someone questions my presence at any location, they are now justified to be the police. They can follow me (even when the police say not to), question me, and I cannot do anything. If I become angry for being followed, if a fight for whatever reason begins, my life can be taken away without consequence.


Being Black in America means there is a consistent, negative portrayal of our culture in the media. We are dehumanized, portrayed as out of control, uneducated, dangerous menaces to society—only. Rarely positive, never accurate portrayals of the totality of Black culture. We are violent and prone to riot, but can be killed if someone…anyone feels we are in the wrong place and their lives are in danger. It means a proclivity towards higher arrests (not that Blacks commit more crimes as they make up only 11% of the US population), but because we are arrested more frequently and sentenced for lengthier terms than our white counterparts (read The New Jim Crow by: Michelle Alexander). It means changing my clothes, my walk, my very speech pattern when in cross-cultural environments to honor those around me at the sacrifice of my own culture, regardless whether that sacrifice is higher in some places and lower in others.


It is an invitation to be misunderstood at every level, in every conversation.


And it is the cross we as Black people are called to bear.


I do not believe George Zimmerman was a prejudiced man looking for trouble. I do believe there was an innocent, unarmed teenager who was followed by someone carrying a gun [feeling] it was his civic duty to protect the neighborhood where the police had failed. He bought into what the media sells, which is a kid in the hoodie has to be up to no good. Escalation, a fight, and now there’s dead teenager at the hands of a man who claimed self-defense. As one pastor said, “How cool would it be to live in a world where Zimmerman offers Trayvon a ride home to get him out of the rain that night?”


My fear is that [such a world will never come] until the return of Jesus himself.

-Sean M. Watkins


Sean M. Watkins

ImageI have been sitting at my computer screen trying to figure out how to put into words what is swimming in my head and churning in my heart. I have started, stopped, deleted and begun again several times. I don’t think there are words, but here they are nonetheless.

As a Black man, who grew up around Black people most of my life, who majored in African-American Studies in college, who works with a Christian non-profit to help reach Black college students, I must confess, I am torn:

As a Christian. My heart goes out to the Martin family. Their son is gone. Nothing will change that. Travyon’s life has been cut short. His departure for an Arizona Tea and skittles from the store would be the last time his parents would see him alive. No parent is meant to bury a child, regardless of ethnicity. Their faith remains…

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