Nothing to fear but… myself?

By Andrew Henry

I am a black man. Yet sometimes I notice myself walking more towards the edge of the sidewalk when another black man walks by.

Why am I afraid of members of my own race?

In addition to the media’s demonizing portrayal of black men, I experienced something when I was younger that made a lasting impact.

I grew up in Chester, Pa, a city known for its vicious murder rate. According to the news most people doing the killings were black. I was terrified of the city I lived in.

In the third grade my mother had an old “friend” move in with us. That year I got into trouble at school. The teacher said that I hit her. My word didn’t really matter at that point.

To teach me a lesson about being “big and bad” my mother’s friend took me on a ride deeper into Chester.

We pulled up to a house where two young black boys were tossing a football back and forth. My mother’s friend told me to get out of the car and go hang out with them. See how tough I was against a couple of Chester kids.

Without knowing anything about their family lives, their names, or any anything else, I thought they were “tough” because they were black and from Chester.

I cried, and screamed, and begged for him to take me home. That may have been the very moment that plunged me into the deep-rooted fear of my own people that still resonates within me, even today.

Fortunately, in high school, I was invited to join a group called the Black Students Union.

Suddenly, I was fully immersed into my own culture that for so long seemed distant from me.

I became president by my senior year. I gained a level of confidence speaking to and interacting with people of color. BSU saved me from myself.

Albert Einstein wrote: “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Black people are not thugs or monsters, but if America continues to label us as such, how can we think that we can be anything but?

Contact Andrew Henry at communitarian@mail.dccc.edu