It’s time to listen. Evansville Living has and always will be a platform to celebrate the good things about our city, but right now the best use of our platform is to amplify the voices that can speak directly to the black experience in our country, city, and community. Over the coming days, we will be giving our platform over to several community members who will share their experiences so that we can learn and grow together. Our role, and what we’re also asking of you, is simply to listen.
“You sound white when you talk” and “You don’t act black, though” are phrases I often heard growing up. I never quite understood what phrases like these meant exactly. Are all black people supposed to act or talk a certain way? As a black man in America, I do not get the privilege of being judged by my actions first. It makes me cringe thinking about being initially judged by the color of my skin rather than me as an individual. Constantly hearing phrases like these made me realize there is already a preconceived notion of how I am supposed to act/talk as a black man, and that is simply unjust.
Upon graduating from Harrison High School in 2015, where the student demographic was relatively diverse, I continued my education at Purdue University, a predominantly white institution (PWI). With only about three percent of the total population being made up of black students, I had to force myself to be comfortable with being uncomfortable every day for four years. In the majority of my classes, except for the ones specifically geared toward minority students, I was one of the only, if not the only, black students in the class. Being surrounded by white students and faculty almost every day, I encountered quite a few microaggressions and stereotyping, but I never let any of it alter my perception of myself and who I am. Instead, I used it as motivation. I finished my undergrad career with a bachelor’s degree in finance with a concentration in international business and was fortunate enough to land a full-time position immediately upon graduating in my field of study. Yet, even as a full-time employee in corporate America, I still have to continue to be comfortable with being uncomfortable every day and feeling pressured to limit my mistakes, so I am not seen as inferior to my colleagues.
I say all this to say, no matter how educated, qualified, or accomplished I may be, I will always first be judged by the color of my skin rather than my character as an individual, and that is not OK. I have been stereotyped one too many times and called many racial slurs throughout my life, but I have not been a victim of police brutality thus far; however, I do know the feeling of driving and becoming nervous when a police car is behind me even though I am not breaking any laws. Becoming fearful and anxious around someone who has sworn to serve and protect their community should not be an issue. Unfortunately, this is the case for not only me, but also for many others in the black community. Seeing my fellow black people fall victim to police brutality on social media may not affect me directly, but it is unsettling to know that it could always be me, or someone close to me, every time we leave the comfort of our homes.
From a young age, black children are taught unspoken rules on how to succeed in a white society. One can agree that we are all taught to be kind and treat others as we want to be treated. We are taught to give respect in order to get respect. We are taught to stand up for ourselves and for what is right. So why is it, as I continue to grow older and go through life, it seems as if those basic principles and teachings do not always pertain to the treatment of the black community? Why is it that in the year 2020, my people and I are not always treated with respect or kindness, and when we do stand up for ourselves and for what is right, it is never the “right way to do it?” One black life too many has been taken by police for people to finally open their eyes and realize that racism and police brutality is, and always has been, prevalent in this country, and justifiably, I am tired; WE are tired. The fact that I have to sit here and share my black experience in this country just goes to show we are noticeably being treated differently and seen as subhuman, yet, a lot of my white counterparts continue to remain silent on the issue.
SPEAK UP. You as a person know the difference between right and wrong. Racism is wrong and is still very prominent in our society today. If you see it happening, correct it. If you are ignorant to the facts, research and educate yourself on it; however, if you continue to remain neutral on the issues at hand, you are a part of the problem. Be the change you want to see in this world and never stop standing up for what is right. Your actions matter. Your voice matters. BLACK LIVES MATTER.
Jeremiah Patton is a native of Evansville.