Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The War Against Young Black Men

I feel like lately there is a war on African-American boys. I guess some would say this war has been ongoing back to slavery days, when African male slaves were seen merely as the property of white slave owners, used to do the grunt work in the fields or sire the female slaves. The present day war is a little more complex as seeing it's a war meant not to subjugate and break down the male physically, but also mentally and emotionally.

By now news of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Miami kid who was killed in a Sanford, Florida gated community has been widely circulated across the globe so I won't rehash the horrible details. What I will say is, more than ever, I fear for my life whenever I step out of my house and it's not the gang bangers I'm worried about.

I grew up in Florida as a young African-American teen who faced some of the discrimination Trayvon faced. When I got tinted windows on my older model Chevy, two cops made it a point to pull me despite my driving the speed limit. It was 11 p.m. and I was driving a "ghetto" car through an affluent mostly white neighborhood. Enough reason to pull me over.

When the officers stopped me with their lights blaring and siren whirring, I literally started shaking. I was not speeding nor was I driving under the influence. My license was legal and I was returning home from my crappy mall job, tired and hungry. I was about five minutes from my house, but that didn't matter to the cops. I probably looked suspicious to them and it was enough reason to pull me over.

Both cops made it a point to come to my car and treated me as if I was a cocaine runner for Scarface. I was forced out of the car and as they searched my vehicle, I silently prayed that I could end the night alive in my bed.

I did...with fairly little incidence, but it was enough to shake me up and feel a little wary about Florida cops and rightly so. I had two more similar situations after the first incident.

The truth of the matter is, it doesn't matter if a young black male is looking for trouble or acting "suspicious", as evidenced by another recent news story out of Northern Virginia. An African-American teen was told by his English teacher to read a Langston Hughes poem "blacker". The boy rightly refused to read the poem and was even reprimanded when he questioned his teacher's motives. Though this did not end with the young man dead or imprisioned, it did end with a very loud and silent admonition: "No matter how you dress, speak or act, you will always be seen as just another one of those blacks." I wonder if any of his teacher's Irish-American students had to read James Joyce with an Irish accent or her Anglo-Saxon students read Charles Dickens with a British accent.

The Methodist Church can definitely play a key role in stopping this injustice against otherwise well-adjusted African-American young men. Just because a young guy is wearing a hoodie, fitted cap and baggy jeans (which honestly aren't even in style or worn by much youth anymore), think twice before you automatically assume he is up to no good. Before you decide you know everything about said teen because you have watched Boyz in the Hood, listened to a few Tupac songs and heard about the plight of the urban African-American male in the news, stop and find out what else is on his mind. Chances are you'll connect with an intelligent, driven, passionate young person like any other young person you'd meet in church and in the process bridge relationships that will eradicate negative stereotypes and ease fears on both sides.

Ty is a junior, computer science major at the University of Maryland. He attends Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C.

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