After giving this article the title, “It’s Not Easy Being Black,” the first thing I’d better say is, I’m white. My ancestors are from Scotland, Ireland, England, and Holland. So, I have no experience with being black. And yet, after sixty-two years on this planet, I do have a few observations about life, and one of them is this: it’s not easy being black in America.
Today I posted this observation on Facebook. “It’s not easy being black in America.”
Before I clicked to apply the post, I already knew what the reactions would be. Some posted their reactions, most didn’t – but I know what the whole range of responses was. Some people nodded their heads sadly and agreed. Some people shook their heads and said, “Why does Bob post stuff like that?” Some people said, “How would Bob know? He’s not black. Why doesn’t he stick to topics he can speak about with real knowledge and experience?” Some people said, “Oh, great. There’s a white guy who thinks he’s helping us all by expressing sympathy, but what he says doesn’t change one little thing. Maybe his conscience feels better.” Some people said, “Well, it’s not easy being me, either. What about my problems? Why single out one group? There are lots of us with problems.”
Yes. You’re right. There are lots of us with problems.
And yet, there is a reason, right now, in America, why a white person (that would be me) needs to write a public article pointing out the obvious. There is a reason to single out one group out of all the groups with problems. There is a compelling moral need, right now, to talk about the specific problem, the painful reality, of being black in America.
It’s like this.
It’s hard to be fat.
But it’s harder to be fat and black.
It’s hard to be old.
But it’s harder to be old and black.
It’s hard to be female.
But it’s harder to be female and black.
It’s hard to be autistic.
But it’s harder to be autistic and black.
It’s hard to be poor.
But it’s harder to be poor and black.
It’s hard to be LGBT.
But it’s harder to be LGBT and black.
It’s hard to be unemployed.
But it’s harder to be unemployed and black.
It’s hard to be uneducated.
But it’s harder to be uneducated and black.
It’s hard to have cancer.
But it’s harder to have cancer and be black.
Honestly, I don’t know if I would be successful as a black. And by successful, I mean doing what I’m doing now – faithfully following Jesus, my Lord. I know that I would be severely tempted to fall into one of two traps.
Trap #1: On the one hand, it’s possible that I might just give up. The struggle might be too much for me. I might become a silent failure, sinking as deeply as possible into the dark background of America, rarely seen, rarely heard. My defeat, my resignation, would have logical and predictable outcomes. If I gave up, I would spend a lot of time being unemployed, receiving whatever handouts I could get from the government or individuals. I might console myself, numb the pain, and forget my problems, by turning to alcohol, drugs, or both.
Trap #2: On the other hand, there is that part of me that has learned to stand up for myself, to fight, to flail my arms wildly against all attackers, real or imaginary. There is something in me that says, “I would rather be punished for fighting back than sit quietly and accept mistreatment that I don’t deserve. If anyone is going to hurt me, by golly, I’ll give them a reason!” I can see myself becoming violent, bitter, full of fomenting hatred, ready to explode every time the smallest spark ignites my short, fast, fuse.
I stand in awe of the sheer nobility that I see in many black people. They are the ones who avoid the two extremes that I fear would grip me. They are the blacks who are simply, plainly, kind to me. I don’t mean quietly subservient. I mean genuinely nice. These are the blacks who extend their warm friendship to me from the moment of first meeting, before they know how their friendship will be received. These are the blacks who take a chance, with every new encounter, even several times a day, choosing to initiate their interactions with every new person they meet with a positive regard and with an optimism about the relationship that might develop.
I’m not sure I’m that strong.
But I’ll do what I can. I’ll follow Jesus, and I’ll regard you as Jesus regards you, no matter who you are. And I’ll speak. I’ll speak out, because Jesus speaks out. I’ll speak, because silence in the face of evil, is evil.
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Books by Bob Young