Race

Elbert Starks III: I am a Black Man, a Human, Like You

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Elbert Starks III posted this essay on Facebook. He is a journalist who lives in Indiana, where he attended public schools. A friend in Indiana was so moved by his words that she forwarded the essay to me.

He writes:

Over the years, I’ve posted a lot of things — I’ve acknowledged that some use Facebook for things like family accomplishments and achievements, understood that not everyone has wanted or appreciated my posts about politics and public policy and poverty and race.

I’m black, male. During my time on FB, I’ve posted multiple times about how those two things have resulted in odd treatment — students in parking decks veering away from me, hiding their eyes, tensing up.

Sitting in classrooms with not a single person in a desk next to me — in classes that have a few dozen other students, some complete strangers, who sat next to each other automatically.

Walking into public meetings and getting the look of “are you sure, and we sure, you are supposed to be here.”

Stopped while attempting to enter a voting place while on assignment, while people filtered in around me.

Living in this country as a black male means stuff like that is going to happen. Change doesn’t happen overnight. It was only five years before my birth that segregation was legally abolished, and it’s going to take a long time, apparently, for some to stop fighting the Civil War and treating black people as subhumans.

I get that.

But here’s my point. Here’s why I post the stuff I do:

There’s a price being paid for that. By all people in this country, no matter what skin color you have.

Being human, being a part of society, requires all of us to give and receive from a place of empathy and understanding. You don’t have to love every person. But understanding the world in which they live, even if you disagree with the fundamental choices they make, is crucial for growth and advancement.

When we hate and fear those who are different, we make them less than human. We take away from them the basic tenets of decency. We reduce them to little more than animals, beasts to be put down and destroyed.

We do this at a cost to our souls, our own humanity. We become numb to injustice, numb to the suffering, of people we don’t know and have never met, because they aren’t like “us.” They aren’t “normal.” Whatever happened to them…they must have done something to deserve it, right?

I’m posting this because I’m tired, people. I’m tired. I’m tired of having to explain, over and over, how fear and hatred leads to the minimization of minority suffering, to the degree where systemic violence takes place and it’s just another statistic.

Racism is a real thing. It leads the majority to grow to believe that minorities are less than human.

It leads politicians to reduce benefits to needy families so little kids struggle to eat. It leads average people to believe immigrants are rapists and terrorists.

It leads police officers to believe that black people they run across are not humans. Instead, they are animals, super predators, poised to rampage and rape and pillage and murder.

Even when sitting in a car with your girlfriend and a kid, at a traffic stop that you initiated.

Philando Castile should be alive today. He isn’t because he is black.

There’s no more to it. There’s nothing more to that. He is dead because he is black.

But that didn’t happen last night. Because this country refuses to openly acknowledge racism, refuses to have the ugly conversations about racism is and what racism does in the open, Philando Castile was killed a long time ago. Because he had already been reduced to less than human in the eyes of some and wasn’t worthy of the one life we all get.

I don’t know how to explain it any differently than this, or any better. I don’t know what else to say to make people understand that this country is not what it says it is.

I see it consistently — not constantly, but consistently — in the eyes of strangers who see me, an aging black male who sucks at math and can’t get my biking over 10 miles, as a threat to their existence. A threat to their very lives. And we’ve never met.

I want to believe that people can change. That this country can be better than this. I have always believed that people can overcome their worst aspects and be better.

I’m just tired today. Because it shouldn’t take yet yet another person being murdered for being black to make people stop and think and listen to those of us who are begging, pleading…we are just asking for people to stop reducing people who look like me to less than humans.

You don’t have to like me or love me. Just start with assuming that I am a human being who doesn’t mean you any harm.
Start there.

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