I originally wrote this on July 16, 2013, and posted this image on my website. In light of recent events, I feel its appropriate for me to post it here.
Can't I just be Larry?
It's a simple question, and I don't think it has to be a difficult answer. In fact, its a question I haven't had to ask myself for the last 8 years. I always knew the answer, and the answer was yes. I was always myself, and around 8 years ago I just decided to be who I was and be happy about it. I was a guy who loved art, metal and punk, skateboarding, and played the guitar who loved cartoons.
What happened? Everyone in America decided that wasn't good enough.
In my life, I've rarely met racial discrimination against myself. On a whole, it didn't really exist. I had seen it happen to my Filipino friends, I saw other blacks do it to whites, and I saw whites do it to blacks. But myself? Rarely, if ever. At worst, I was called a nigger by someone in high school twice, reported him to the Dean, and that ended that. I never knew the kid, never met him before or since. It was just some random jerk.
Actually, no, I have dealt with racial discrimination. A LOT. In college, a lot of my classmates said I was "white" because I listened to metal and punk. I was called "white" by a lot of blacks in high school and grade school because I spoke well and articulately. I was called a "race traitor" by other blacks because I had a mohawk. Then, eventually, it stopped. People learned that I was just... well, me. I wasn't what they thought I was, I wasn't something and, more importantly, someone they could fit into a box. I was Larry. I was a unique person.
Then the Zimmerman verdict came in, and everyone seemed to think that wasn't good enough.
People I knew for years, people who didn't have a racist bone in their body, started to post that it was now "open season on young black men", that "young black men" needed to be "protected". Soon, everyone was telling "young black men" that they should be outraged over it, that we were all now targets and walking breathing prey for the horrible evil racist people who would want to shoot us! That now, more than anytime possible, our very lives were in constant threat!
To me, that was the most offensive part of everything. It wasn't the outcome of the trial; it was how people began to react to it.
In their effort to emphasize with the victim, in their pursuit to make themselves understand what happened, they would up going to far. Instead of making it about the victim, they began to decide that they needed to stand up for everyone like him.
Comments like the ones I relayed, of how I am now a "target"... it doesn't make my life easier. In fact, it makes it a lot harder. It paints this picture that I'm not able to stand up for myself, even though I know I can. It makes it so that I can't just be a young man in America. Instead, I HAVE to be a "young black man", and that I have to fit into your neat little box of what that means.
What does it mean to be a "young black man"? To a lot of people, it means listening to hip-hop, dressing like a thug, not speaking intelligently, being constantly tempted by drugs, and most of all struggling. For a lot of people, they think that all the rap videos are a good example of what it means to be black. Then again, I know a lot of people don't think that, and I've met a lot of them during my life. They know that, more than anything, I'm a human being, but more importantly, I'm also an American.
That's what we're missing in this. This conversation seems to be painting blacks as "the other" again, when really we haven't been for a while now. Look at the President! Look at the people in the White House for the last 10 years, look at the mayors, the governors, the way we're ok with interracial marriage and how shocked we are when someone discriminates against someone because of their skin color.
Look, for some people this verdict is some eye-opening thing where they think they not only see an injustice but also what the black community sees as a truth everyday. For other people its just a trial based on self-defense that got blown out of proportion. Myself? I think its about time we realize that it isn't open season on "young black men", but a chance to start realizing that we're all Americans and not everyone will fit into your per-conceived notions about a lot of things, especially race.
I know you may not agree, and that's OK, I'm fine with that. I spent the entire weekend freaked out and feeling unable to just be me. I just wanted to express my viewpoint.
Now... can I go back to just being Larry again?