Marlon James and Being Black in America

Marlon James, a writer, professor, and author of the Man Booker Prize winning novel A Brief History of Seven Killings, wrote a brilliant essay on Facebook in the wake of the acquittal of Philando Castille’s killer, Officer Jeronimo Yanez. Here is an excerpt:

I have a self-imposed curfew of when to ride my bike home, when to leave the park. I would rather risk my life riding late at night on the empty and mostly dark greenway, than riding on the street with Police officers looking for whoever matches a description. I go out of my way to avoid police, because I don’t know how to physically act around them. Do I hold my hands in the air and get shot, Do I kneel and get shot? Do I reach for my ID and get shot? Do I say I’m an English teacher and get shot? Do I tell them everything I am about to do, and get shot? Do I assume than seven of them will still feel threatened by one of me, and get shot? Do I simply stand and be big black guy and get shot? Do I fold my arms and squeeze myself into smaller and get shot? Do I be a smartass and get shot? Do I leave my iPhone on a clip of me on Seth Meyers, so I can play it and say, see, that’s me. I’m one of the approved black guys. And still get shot?

The essay went viral — it was liked by more than three thousand people and shared 600 plus times. I’m bringing this essay up today because I’m 103 pages into Seven Killings and came across a passage that evokes the essay’s spirit:

Like how inflation bothers me, I don’t really experience it but I know it’s affecting me. It’s not the actual crime that makes me want to leave, it’s the possibility that it can happen any time, any second now, even in the next minute. That it might ever happen at all, but I’ll think it will happen any second now for the next ten years. Even if it never comes, the point is I’ll be waiting for it and the wait is just as bad because you can’t do anything else in Jamaica but wait for something to happen to you.

James knows he’s in a position of privilege, relative to others in the African diaspora living in America. But what he also knows is that by being black in America, you can easily become a victim of the country’s entrenched racism. LeBron James, one of America’s best and richest athletes, is a recent example of this. His home in Los Angeles was vandalized with racist graffiti, and here is what he had to say:

No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough.

America, unfortunately, has a long way to go.