My Turn, Kenneth L. Hardin: Being Black is dangerous, exhausting

Published 7:56 am Thursday, December 2, 2021

By Kenneth L. Hardin

The Ahmaud Arbery murder trial made me think hard and deep.

I’ve never been in trouble with the law, and neither have my three sons. I don’t smoke, drink and have never put an illegal drug into my body. My middle son admitted to me as a senior in high school that he experimented once with marijuana, but I can safely say none of them have ever used drugs.

I cuss, but the last time I checked, that wasn’t an arrestable offense. I was actually a church acolyte as a kid, but I’m not saying I was Boy Scout material either. I’m sure my sons engaged in some spirited but lawful youthful shenanigans too. So, why am I trying to paint such a perfect rosy picture?

I’m not.

I prefaced it because no matter what your background and accomplishments you’re always one bullet away as a Black man, one interaction with good and bad cops, and one negative encounter from becoming a hashtag. Neither I nor my sons check any of the boxes that would put us in danger of being a breaking news segment on CNN, but I have that fear every day of my life. When I’m driving and pass a good or bad cop, I tense up, grab the steering wheel tighter and begin to rehearse my entire interaction.

I just assume it’s going to go wrong from the jump. I’ve had that required rite of passage, po-po survival, informational discussion that all Black parents unfortunately have with their children.

I used to say Black men were an endangered species, but I don’t believe that anymore. Back in 1973, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act, which assured protection for certain animals and the areas where they live. It also created a detailed plan for how those animals would be brought back from the brink of extinction. Oh how I wish we could get that level of concern.

I’m a pet owner and love my dog more than I do most people. He has a great life, and I spoil him with comforts in food and shelter. But I would never put his needs over that of a human being who’s suffering disproportionately.

I’m always amazed at how man is more concerned with his inhumanity against an animal than his inhumanity against another man. I’ve seen videos where people will work for hours to get a stranded whale back in the water, climb down in a sewer to rescue a dog and scale dangerous heights to get a cat off the top of a telephone pole. But when it comes to a poor person, they fall back on the ridiculous bootstrap logic. When it comes to an unarmed Black person being shot by the po-po, it’s always he should’ve complied or the officer was scared.

My two oldest sons live about two hours away from Salisbury. Last weekend, as I woke from a nap, CNN was talking about a shooting at a mall near where they live. I knew they were out Christmas tree shopping, but I wasn’t sure where exactly. I hit the panic button before I could get fully awake and took the house from a state of continued readiness to defcon one. I started calling and texting them to see if they were anywhere near the mass shooting. Fortunately they were on the other side of the city, so I could exhale and return to readiness mode. Dangerous and exhausting, right?

It was the same fear I experienced several times a week 10 years ago when my son was an undergraduate at an
HBCU. We would routinely get automated crime notification calls late at night telling us our son was sheltering in place due to a shooting on or near campus. Panic would set in until we could get in touch with him to ensure he was OK. I’m not sure if I was happier when he graduated to move to the next phase of life or just a sense of relief.

If you think my concerns are irrational or you don’t have this constant thought or fear, then consider yourself fortunate to have that freedom. Instead of criticizing those who do, or if you feel a need to minimize my reality, try to understand why I and other skinfolk feel this way.

After you listen objectively, do something real and tangible to help assuage this fear. If your first response is “well what about Blacks killing other Blacks” or “the police have a difficult job, but they don’t get the respect they deserve,” then you’re part of the problem and contribute to the fear.

We don’t need your judgment or misguided advice. We need legislation and policy change.

Kenneth L. Hardin is a writer, former Salisbury City Council member and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.