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May 8, 2021

Kenneth L. Hardin: No more fears or tears from Black men

It’s OK for grown men to cry. I can count the minimal amount of tears I’ve shed in my adult life. I will readily admit to crying over things like the birth of my children and the death of my grandmother, but I’ve found myself having visceral reactions to the continued spate of Black men, women and children being killed at the hands of police officers.

When I see mothers stand before TV cameras trying to maintain their composure while sharing their pain, I think of my adult sons and the fear I have for them daily. If you have the luxury of not possessing this fear, dismissing it as irrational and unnecessary, or try to turn it into an erroneous indictment of law enforcement, then all I can say is to feel blessed you do have that privilege.

I hope to never see another grown Black man have to shed tears of pain on national TV again like I did during the George Floyd murder trial. After seeing Floyd cry and beg for mercy and humanity like my slave ancestors did at the end of a whip and a rope, his brother break down on the stand and another grown Black man cry at having to recount the horror he saw as many slaves did when unfair brutal punishment was being exacted, I lost my composure. As I sat in front of the TV watching the coverage of the police killing in Elizabeth City, I felt a wave of anxiety swelling up inside me again. Its not just me feeling this way because I’ve talked to other Black men from New Jersey down to Georgia, out to Arizona and Las Vegas, and all shared similar painful feelings. Black men are fighting a battle no one can understand but us. It’s hard to be a man in a country that does everything it can to strip you of your dignity and manhood daily.

Charles McMillian, who witnessed the horrific modern day lynching of Floyd, said on the witness stand for the world to hear how every Black person in this country feels about the police whether they will readily admit it: “Once you get into it with a cop, you can’t win. You’re done.” He repeated the “You can’t win man” phrase to Floyd, who even more helplessly answered him, “I’m not trying to win.” There are many others who look like them that have had encounters with the police and thrown their hands up in defeat knowing it’s pointless to reason when their fate was already decided. Comedian Chris Rock had a humorous take on it back in 2016 saying, “I had a cop pull me over the other day, scared me so bad, made me think I stole my own car. ‘Get out of the car! You stole this car!’ I was like, “Damn, maybe I did!’ ”

Instead of trying to understand why Black people feel this way, there are those who will dismiss the pain and make it appear as if there’s a hatred for all law enforcement. The mistrust is not about individual officers, but of a system that is irreparably broken and in desperate need of reform. Until that happens, the killings will continue and the divide between the police and the Black community will continue to widen.

It’s not just encounters with the Po-Po because there are Blacks who feel the same way working in jobs from the lowest rung up to the corporate level, where diversity is just a word tossed around to assuage guilt and hide unfair labor practices. I experienced it myself having worked for over 20 years in the corporate healthcare world. Back in late 2008, I was in a leadership role at a small community based rural hospital in NC. After Obama won the presidency, I received an email from the hospital’s CEO that contained a picture of President George W. Bush dressed in a pimp inspired fur coat, matching hat and cane with the caption, “President Bush dressed up heading to Obama’s Inauguration.” This racist masquerading as a CEO, whom I had only limited conversations, asked me if I thought the picture was funny. I replied no and said I was confused as to why he would send it to me. I was called into my VP’s office and nervously talked to about diversity, yadda, yadda, yadda. Fast forward a few months later, I was terminated for poor job performance although I was just given an “Exceeds Expectations” on my annual job performance evaluation that also came with a nice financial bonus.

Like so many other Blacks, I was shown how hard it is to win while WWB (Working While Black). I may not win every time, but will squeal each time I’m pinched by racism. There was no victory in the Chauvin conviction and nothing to celebrate as Congress has passed no legislation nor have the killings stopped. But, I hope the groundswell of grassroots activism will serve as a catalyst so there will be no more Black men facing fear or having to fight back tears.

Kenneth L. Hardin lives in Salisbury and is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists. Email him at hardingroupllc@gmail.com.

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