Chris Rock once joked that the poorest, most down-and-out white man would rather stay that way than be rich and black.
We have to prove that we are not going to snatch your purse, ask for spare change or sit by idly while surviving on welfare. It’s exhausting having to explain yourself everyday.
I have a law degree from Tulane University. My mother had her master’s in education; my father, a former college president, his PhD. My grandmother had a master’s when most black people didn’t even attend college. Being highly educated and prepared runs in the family.
As I walk down the street, however, I look like any other sister on the continent. At a drug store on a Saturday morning, no makeup, my naturally curly fro and Tulane Law Alum hoodie, I was asked if I got it at Goodwill. What other explanation could there be?
Black folks must always show that we are on the same level as whites. Put the most suspect-looking white person next to a well-dressed black man and there is still a millisecond of doubt about the brother. It’s the reason that the Trayvon Martin case has shaken so many black Americans, no matter their age, economic status or gender.
But raising the issue comes across as whining to people who only see your outward success. On Facebook, one of my white friends asked in regard to the Trayvon Martin case: “Shannan, why is the black community so quick to blame everything on race?”
Trayvon Martin’s death has awakened black folks, at least temporarily, from a decades-long malaise. I am 41. I grew up in integrated schools and have always interacted with and had friends of other races.
It’s easy to forget that 50 years ago, I would never be able to have an LSU alum license plate.
Until the day she died in 1996, there were certain stores that my grandmother would not “trade” in because of the way she had been treated. It’s easy to forget that Emmitt Till was tortured and killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. He should be a grandfather now. Instead, his is the picture that our parents showed us to point how far we’ve come and the dangers still present for us.
It becomes easy, 20 years later, to forget the Rodney King and Yusef Hawkins cases. But racism is not over.
And it’s exhausting. At 4, my teacher wanted me tested for special education because I was bored. She didn’t know — until my mother straightened her out — that I was already reading.
I have been followed around stores by saleswomen who thought I was there to steal. I have had a woman who asked in horrible grammar why I wanted to purchase LSU ribbons to make a wreath and let me know that they didn’t sell Southern University ribbons.
Then there was the waiter who, after I asked for the wine list, informed me that they didn’t have Alize. I wanted Riesling, you idiot.
At a deposition, a lawyer wouldn’t start the deposition until his opposing counsel, Shannan Hicks, arrived. I was there, well dressed with fly shoes but had to be the court reporter, even though I had no court reporting equipment and I was carrying a briefcase.
It gets old. No matter how far we’ve come, in some people’s eyes, we are still no good, less than, deficient and not worthy. It’s a heavy burden.
I also realize it’s difficult for the white people in our lives who love us and who don’t look at us so jaded. I have homegirls and homeboys from Bucharest to Bossier City. They know and love me and I love them.
But being black for a day, I promise you, can give you a nervous breakdown if you’re not strong. This is daily pain that we swallow, the price we pay for being black in America. And we swallow it and swallow it until our psyches become engorged with long-simmering anger.
So, please stop telling me I am a credit to my race, not like other black folks or different from other black folks you know.
I don’t need a hoodie. I wear this brown skin everyday.
I am Trayvon Martin.
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