A few weeks ago, a friend of mine mentioned how uncomfortable he felt being required to wear a mask at all times in public.
Not because he felt his civil liberties were being infringed upon, or because he had read a scientific study claiming that masks were somehow making us sicker.
It was because he, as a black man, feared that he would be mistaken for a criminal and shot on sight without any chance to explain himself.
But really, the mask just brought the possibility to the forefront of his mind. In truth, he already worried about getting shot for being black.
We all do.
And I wish I could say we were being needlessly paranoid. I wish we lived in a world where just existing while being black wasn’t legitimate cause to feel uncomfortable.
But unfortunately, it is. As a black person in the United States, and especially growing up in Vermont, I’ve felt uncomfortable most of my life.
We all have.
We feel uncomfortable when you defer to us during class discussions in February, with the expectation that just being black makes an eight-year-old an expert on Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman.
We feel uncomfortable when you see us with our non-black family and ask us where our “real” parents are.
We feel uncomfortable when merely expressing that we think someone is attractive prompts a discussion about whether or not they’re “into black girls”.
We feel uncomfortable when you make fun of us for wearing “fake hair” and then come back from a trip to Jamaica with yours braided in our traditional styles.
We feel uncomfortable when you ask us to grant you “n-word privileges”.
We feel uncomfortable when you “compliment” us by expressing surprise that we can speak articulately, with the expectation that we would speak in ebonics.
We feel uncomfortable when you give us a genuine compliment only to append “for a black girl” to the end, with the expectation that we’ll be happy to hear that you think we’re better than the other niggers.
We feel uncomfortable when you vote for a political candidate who says and does racist things, all the while claiming that you don’t agree with those words or actions.
We feel uncomfortable when you turn over a new leaf and become a crusader for social justice without ever apologizing for the horrible racist things you used to say to us.
We feel uncomfortable when you argue with us over how uncomfortable we’re allowed to feel.
We feel uncomfortable when you read posts like this one and immediately comment that your race is also treated badly.
We feel uncomfortable that it’s 2020 and this still needs to be said.
The hashtag may be Black Lives Matter, but it would be nice to get a little acknowledgement that Black Feelings Matter Too.
It would also be nice to leave our houses without worrying that we’re going to be shot merely for standing in the wrong place with dark skin.
But apparently we still have to worry that we’re going to be the victims of a hate crime, just as we still have to field a dozen little micro-aggressions in every social interaction. It never goes away.
We can never be comfortable, because there’s always a target on our backs.