The Backbreaking Reality of Living While Black

I finish my weekly blog posts on Sunday nights, but this is Monday night and I find myself too distraught to go to a bookclub meeting tonight because of a flashback. About 10 years ago, I missed a book club meeting. I found the street, but it was too dark to read the house numbers. I tried to call the host, but, her phone went to voice mail. I tried calling another member, I got no answer, so, I left a message. “I’m not sure which house it is, I’m going home.” The next get together, I was asked, well you drove all that way, why didn’t you just ring a doorbell. When I answered, I am black, this is how we get shot. Everyone looked dumbfounded and kind of brushed it off with nervous laughter.1

Ralph Yarl, a 16 year old went to the wrong house to pick up his twin siblings and was shot on Thursday night. So, I sit here, gazing out my window at the calm waters of the bay, and an unbelievable view of both the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge, deeply troubled. That could have been me. My anxiety is not misplaced.

I lived in Louisville KY in 1989 when Joseph Wesbecker killed 8 and injured 12 in a mass shooting at Standard Gravure. As I drove to work, there were a lot of sirens which was unusual. When I got into the office, everyone was in the bullpen, my manager was on the phone with his wife who worked in the building where the shooting was occurring. I ushered for the memorial for the shooting victims and saw reporters go after a griever who left the service. I give this as background of my experience with mass shootings. My friend Reginald stumbled off the sidewalk into someone’s yard and was shot and killed in Memphis Tennessee, that was 1983. I give this as background a having a friend killed.

These are very different situations as mass shootings that capture the headlines. Mass shootings bring calls for gun control whilst shooting a black kid brings excuses. My friend Reggie was a black college student.  Reginald’s killer was white and nothing happened. Reggie fell in the man’s yard, even though he was 50 yards or more away from the front door. White man shoots a black teenager and nothing. Andrew Lester shot sixteen year old Ralph Yarl through a glass door in the head and in the arm. Mr Lester was held in custody for 24 hours and then released without charges. Public protest ensued over the weekend and Mr Andrews was jailed today. Ahmaud Arbery, a black man in his 20s was shot by a white father and son in February of 2020. No arrests were made until three months later after public protest. Alas, Dylan Roof, kills 9 African Americans in a church and is arrested without incident.

The US allows guns. For the moment, take gun control laws off the table. Take changing amendments and rights and all that out of the discussion. Skip talks about bans on assault weapons. Let’s shift the conversation, because right now, it is open season2 to shoot black people. Between misrepresentations of stand your ground, trigger happy policing3, I was scared and I thought I saw a weapon, people including police are going amuck.

Apply the law equally. It is not OK to shoot someone standing in front of your house. That’s the law. You can’t claim self defense because my black face makes you nervous.  Apply the laws the same. The United States and District of Columbia criminal codes prohibit firearms on the the US Capital grounds. This is whereas an African American, I see the laws continue to work differently. I

Separate but equal was a ruse to legitimize segregation. The guise of “decorum” is a ruse to enable racism. Yes, you Tennessee4, expelling the two black legislators who joined a gun control protest over “decorum,” is a low point. For the moment, drop the “gun control” discussion. What would it look like if the laws were applied equally? What would have to happen for someone like Mr Andrews to reconsider shooting an innocent 16 year old looking for his siblings? Therein are the more complex issues that have to be addressed before there is a solution because right now, black lives do not matter.

1At a latter date, we did have a meaningful discussion and one member clearly “got it” and the concept of what privilege means. In context. It was an example of something she never has to think about.

2 Open Season – a period when restrictions on the hunting of certain types of wildlife are lifted.

3 to quote Marvin Gaye

4The Justins Follow a Legacy of Resistance in Tennessee


  1. Sheila,
    That’s an amazing story about backbreaking realities of living whilst black! I am sure each of us can surely relate to a story such as this! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

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