When will people understand that it’s difficult to have conversations or think about equity, when your race is being undermined and ignored? We are currently experiencing the unearthing of racial disparities and social gaps perpetuated by COVID-19. Black people are being ignored, even after countless race conversations and pleading to community leaders to be understood and recognized. We inch toward progress only to be knocked back miles by more prejudice.
It’s agonizing to constantly juggle with losing hope and having to find new ways to regain strength. This uncanny sense of hope that Black people must retain is a requisite trait to live in America. The hope of a Black mother calling her son, trembling with anxiety and waiting for the call to be answered. The hope that my 15-year-old son, soon to be driving the streets of Indianapolis, won’t get pulled over and indicted with driving-while-black. The hope that walks or jogs aren’t contemplations of life or death excursions.
We seek out and hold on to this hope that everything will be just fine, but then we are forced to painfully watch our people suffer, yet again. The cycle continues — we hope, then hurt, and hope some more, hurt again, and smile (more and more).
Below is an excerpt of a Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem titled “We Wear the Mask”:
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
Indianapolis, masks off — we are hurt — and it’s not OK.
In Georgia, we watched in horror as Ahmaud Arbery was gunned down in broad daylight while jogging in a residential neighborhood. Only after the video surfaced of the crime months later, two white men — a father and a son — have been charged.
In Indianapolis, another young Black male lost his life so tragically and on live feed last week. Mayor Joe Hogsett has called for outside law enforcement help to aid in the investigations in a fair, thorough way. While details of this horrifying event remain difficult to comprehend, but the tragedy is still certain, and we are all in mourning — again.
The loss of young Black men to violence in the U.S. continues to shake our nation. My hope, one day, is that maybe events like these will actually shape our nation.
Emil Ekiyor, former Indianapolis Colts player and co-founder of Innopower, fears that if drastic measures aren’t taken in this moment to change a system engulfed with biases, then we will be further left behind. “If we don’t act swiftly to put an end to injustices and institutionalized racism, then society will return to the status quo,” Ekiyor said. There is so much conversation regarding when the economy will open back up, and not enough dialogue addressing how we will open or what things will look like in the aftermath of COVID-19.
So, while the country waits to return to normal, to the status quo, Black people cringe because our “normal” is ravaged with code-switching and being inauthentic in the workplace. Our normal is working hard prior to becoming essential. Our normal is having to face conscious and unconscious biases daily. Our normal is health disparities, prisons and poverty. Our normal is brutality and Black Lives Matter chants. And for our vibrant and beautiful community, our normal is still of mourning, crying mothers, daughters, and sisters fearing for the lives of their fathers, sons, and brothers.
That is our normal. This is America.
Paul Lawrence Dunbar continues:
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
Therefore, we must wear the mask because Black people don’t get breaks. We don’t get moments to exhale, only brief moments to inhale and brace ourselves for yet another tragedy. The mask that we wear is required. It’s how we cope. It’s how we continue. We hide our inner pain to show our outward strength, it’s how we survive.
Alan Bacon is a humanity advocate, community leader, musician and innovator. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.