Imagine being looked down upon by your society as the aggressor in every situation.
Imagine not being able to step outside of your home without feeling as if you have a target on your back, fearing that you will be shot where you stand.
Imagine that every time you walk down the street in a city you call home, you are constantly and anxiously looking over your shoulder, wondering if the next couple steps you take will be your last.
I am a 17-year-old, African American man with ambition and a determination to be heard and to stand up for his Black brothers and sisters collectively. This is our reality every day in the United States of America.
Imagine watching the news or monitoring social media and seeing somebody who looks just like you being killed. You know that could be you in a body bag.
Imagine watching your Black brothers and sisters being dehumanized in unimaginable ways, slammed onto the street by the police, covered in blood, pleading for mercy. This is your so-called protection, law enforcement, that you depend on for safety.
Imagine feeling like the whole world is against your prosperity and facing constant reminders that you will never succeed in life.
Picture the following: You’re walking down the street of your own neighborhood headed to the gas station or grocery store. You are not bothering anyone and your only focus is getting to your destination. You come across a group of Black men at a stop sign on the way to the store.
As you are walking toward them they stare you down intently. You are stopped. One of them comes forward and asks you, “Who you with, what’s yo’ set.”
You have no response. Nervousness and fear kick in. You do not have an answer to give to the man questioning you.
“I’m not with all that,” you say.
Moments like those drown your mind and consciousness in a pool of fear, scarring you emotionally. Giving the wrong answer in moments like these can cost you your human dignity, or your life.
Going to school as an African American male is a very different experience in today’s society. I come from a family in which the highest academic achievement is a high school diploma. So there was not much discussion of an educational future.
Growing up, I’ve used academic achievement and accolades, working toward success — “making it out” and using school as an outlet to escape the struggle and adversity I face every day. We are faced with the reality of our Blackness and what comes with it on many occasions.
I am grateful for the rare opportunity to attend a private high school. But, in that context, I feel very different from my peers, especially coming from the experience of poverty throughout my childhood. I have a constant feeling that I am alone and that I do not belong. I was not granted the same tools and opportunities that people who do not look like me were given. It’s made me feel very different from those around me. I’ve felt excluded from certain conversations because of the experiences that I missed out on due to the disadvantages that come with being Black and poor.
I face the constant reminder that I am not good enough to live a life in America. To be Black is emotionally and mentally draining on levels that are unexplainable. We are in a so-called “free society,” where I have never truly experienced freedom. I do not feel free. I do not know what freedom is. I am afraid of the world I live in, afraid of what will happen to me tomorrow. Every day I wake up to these thoughts and I go to sleep with them.
It angers me that I have younger cousins who have to experience constant gunshots in my North Side neighborhood. It angers me that they will have to go through the same process of experiencing the weight of their Blackness.
These are things that run through my mind constantly. These are things that are a part of me. I cannot escape. How can you ever get a break when you feel like your race is being hunted and you feel like a target is on your back every time you step out into the world?
Imagine all of these things; imagine it was your reality.
Marcus Hunter II lives in Minneapolis.