“The ultimate measure of a person is not where one stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where one stands in times of challenge and controversy.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When you see me, what do you see? Who do you see?
A BLACK MAN LIVING IN DURHAM
By Tyrone T. Irby
I am a 55-year-old black man living in Durham North Carolina. I am scared. I wake up scared. I drive to work scared. And I go to bed at night scared. But fear is not new to me because I am a 55 years old black man living in America.
I am not a “THUG.” I own a business in Durham. I am a business owner, who happens to be black. Every morning I leave my wife and drive 13.4 miles to my business at 3 in the morning on the Durham Freeway. Every morning, I wonder if I will be able to come home to my family. Every morning, I wonder if an officer will stop me on the side of the road. Will that officer feel threatened by a black man driving a large car at three in the morning on 147? Will he/she feel there is no way I am driving to a legitimate place of employment before daylight on a weekday? Will I be labeled a “THUG?”
When I am inside my business, there is no color. I do not see color, nor do my clients. For over five years, I have owned a business that is as diverse as any in the city. But I understand once I step out of that building, the world immediately changes, as do I. No longer am I in control of my environment or how I am perceived.
I was born and raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York in the 1970’s. I attended elementary and junior high school in Flatbush. I learned early in life how to run, while being chased twelve blocks by two white teenagers from South Shore High School on a moped. Racial tension and riots were a norm in my junior high school and that was 40 years ago.
Some people are amazed at what happened to George Floyd. I am not amazed, I am numb. African Americans understand for every 1 incident like this that is filmed, there are at least 20 that are not. For every incident that another black person is humiliated, detained, assaulted, and killed, you do not hear about many more. Why did it take the killers of Ahmaud Arbery 3 months to be arrested when the evidence via videotape was readily available? Arbery was shot and killed on February 23, 2020 and Travis and Gregory McMichael were finally arrested on May 7, 2020. It took almost a week for Minnesota to decide to issue a warrant for the arrest of Minneapolis officer Derek Chavin, who had his knee on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd on the concrete for almost 9 minutes. Why did it take several days to charge the officer with the murder of Floyd when there were dozens of witnesses? And why weren’t the officers that STOOD BY and ALLOWED it to happen also not charged as accessories to murder?
In 1986, the seminal rap group Public Enemy created their iconic logo that is as prevalent today and it was when the group’s first album hit the streets in 1987. The logo is a silhouette of a black man in crosshairs. “The crosshairs logo symbolized the black man in America,” Public Enemy founder and chief lyricist Chuck D. says. “A lot of people thought it was a state trooper because of the hat, but the hat is one of the ones that Run-DMC wore. The B-Boy stance and the silhouette was more like the black man on the target.”
What does being a black man in America mean? It means that when you are in a department store, you are ignored by the salespeople, but accosted by the security. It means that people will cross the street, hold their purses tighter, and lock their cars when you are nearby. It means that the quality of your service in a restaurant will likely be dependent on the quality of your attire and the color of your skin. It means that in any conflict, you will NOT be given the benefit of doubt. Yes, you can learn quite a bit in 55 years. It means that you are judged by the color of your skin rather than the content of your character.
Amy Cooper in NYC Central Park? Really? How easy was it for that to happen? How fortunate that it was recorded? Because if not, there could have easily been another Eric Garner in Central Park last week. Do people not understand the power of words and the damage, whether right or wrong, they can cause? Cooper lost her job, her reputation, and her dog in less than 10 minutes of her life. Again, why was she not CHARGED with filing a false report?
I am a 55-year-old black man in Durham, North Carolina. I am 5’10” and 185lb. Not too big, not too small. But that is my perspective. Is my size threatening to you? As a small business owner in a pandemic, stress is a part of my everyday life. Fear is also a part of my everyday life. I fear for my life and the lives of every young black person that I know.
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for black males in America? The 6th leading cause of death for young black men is “use of police force.”
On May 29, 2020, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, in the death of George Floyd. On June 3, 2020, the charge against Chauvin was upgraded to second-degree murder, and the three other officers (Tou Thao, Alexander Kueng, and Thomas Kiernan) were charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder.