Gaining independence and realizing fear

Illustration by Steck Von.

Marlon McKay

Contributing Writer

With how many social advancements the U.S. has made from desegregation in the 1950s to the election of our first black president in 2008, it’s disappointing how much progress is still needed for everyone to feel equal.

Before, it was easy to ignore these problems, consider them one-off situations that you don’t have to worry about ever happening to you. I used to think like that, and sometimes I still do — most of the time I tend to see the world through rose-colored glasses. I wouldn’t say I ignore harsh news stories; I’ve just been lucky enough to not experience racism first-hand, so I never really considered how deeply it affected me or my community.

What began to change my naiveté was a combination of the increased reporting on police brutality against African-Americans and the independence college gave me. I wasn’t under my mother’s watchful eye anymore and I quickly realized what it meant to be a black man in America.  I had to take care of myself; and that meant taking into account the world around me.

My behavior began to change. When I went out at night I started to think twice before wearing a hoodie. I made excuses to call my mother whenever I was walking just to feel like I’m not walking alone. I can’t help but feel like there’s always a chance that I might be attacked — or worse, shot — by somebody because of the color of my skin.

It’s gotten to the point that I’m not even that shocked anymore when I see a new headline about a racist or otherwise prejudiced crime, such as the recent shootings in Kentucky and Pittsburgh.

People often say, “I thought we were past this,” whenever this type of news breaks. The truth is, we aren’t. Recent events are just a reminder about how far we are from really getting past these issues that are rooted so deep in our country’s culture.

Even here at VCU —  where I’ve come to feel safe and welcomed in a diverse campus setting — there still exists racism, including the recent allegations against a professor for calling security on a black colleague in the art school. Even though it wasn’t in my department, it took away some of the security I felt when on campus. Now there’s this added chance above my head of being persecuted while waiting for a class or simply walking across campus.

Any sense of security I had is quickly fleeting away. As people protest the presence of Confederate flags and statues because of links to slavery, white supremacists are trying to gain power.  If you aren’t a white “American” there are no safe places to turn.

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