It was 6:48 am. I had only 12 more minutes to wait until the grocery store opened its doors. It was still dark outside and I was the first and only person in line. I figured this was the perfect way to avoid a crowded store during the COVID-19 pandemic. My plan was to get there early and get in and out.
Twelve minutes later I noticed the White male store clerk’s reluctance to open the door. We had a 2 minute “face-to-face” through the glass door. No words. I could see that he was nervous. For a moment I couldn’t understand why. Then I remembered I was wearing a mask. It didn’t really matter that it was a “pandemic mask.” It didn’t really matter that half of the planet Earth now wears a face covering. What mattered was that I am a Black man in America whom society has been conditioned to criminalize no matter the circumstance.
A week earlier I’d walked into a different place of business wearing that same mask. I remembered the feeling of fearing being mistaken for a “jacker” or someone who was about to rob the place. I felt uncomfortable. “Think positive,” I told myself. It’s the same conversation that Black men and boys are having with themselves all over America. If we don’t “mask up” we risk coming in contact with a deadly virus. If we “do” mask up we risk being profiled as a criminal and being shot and/or killed. It is what it is.
Let me get straight to the point. America’s pre-existing negative stereotype of Black men did not magically disappear when the pandemic arrived. As a matter of fact, it has never been stronger. It has been made very clear that Black people are dying from the Coronavirus at higher rates in cities across America. How Black men are being impacted, in particular, is the untold story. Every day I see more and more images of Black men on ventilators on my social media timeline. A recent New York Times article referred to the pandemic as the “brother killer.” It is said that there are 1.5 million Black men missing from public life. If that’s the case, how are they being impacted by the current pandemic? Nobody knows, because they are missing. Even more frightening is the thought that nobody cares. Truth is, that is how most Black males feel.
Let me explain why what I am saying is so important. Men are the natural protectors, providers and defenders of family and community. Nothing makes a man feel like a man more than being able to fulfill these duties. When a man feels that he can’t meet his obligation to his family it affects him psychologically. Depression is not far behind. We tend to use drugs, alcohol and other vices as a way to numb the pain. Most of us are taught that any expression of pain, frustration, disappointment or personal struggle is a sign of weakness so we bottle it up inside. Too often, nobody knows anything is wrong until it’s too late.
As restrictions are slowly lifting and America begins her journey dealing with the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, know that Black people will suffer most from skyrocketing unemployment numbers, aggressive policing and racial profiling. Every budget in America will be balanced on our backs. Black men and boys, as always, will be the central targets. Good brothers who are professionals with corporate jobs who were last hired will be first fired.
As Black men we must move intelligently to minimize the impact that this will have on our families and community. If this pandemic has taught us nothing it has taught us that the most valuable thing we have is each other. Our unity is our best friend. Pride is our worst enemy. One of the reasons that Black men have such poor health is we are too prideful to go and see about ourselves when symptoms of sickness arise. We must set pride aside and realize that none of us can do it alone. I was told as a child that pressure will do one of two things. It bursts pipes and makes diamonds. As men, we are ultimately responsible for the survival of our community on the other side of this crisis. That’s a lot of pressure. If we stick together we become diamonds. If we remain divided we are simply pipes waiting to burst.
Black men are most likely to suffer and the least likely to say something. Let’s make a concerted effort to check on one another. Let’s not be afraid to have an intervention for a brother when necessary. If the Black community is to survive and succeed beyond the COVID-19 crisis Black men must lead the way. We are hurting, but we are not helpless. We have the courage of Garvey, the grace of Dr. King, the intelligence of Dubois, the militancy of the Panther party, the intelligence of Malcolm, the wealth of Mansa Musa and the wisdom of Elijah running through our veins. We must not fail the Black woman. We cannot fail our children. We cannot fail our ancestors. Most importantly, we cannot fail ourselves.