Race, Social Justice

This is the real reason why I’m terrified to be a Black woman in America

No one teaches you how to live through these things. They just happen, and we've just had to learn to cope.

I’m not going to shy away from the fact that being a person of color in America is hard. Being black in America can be dangerous, so keeping our guards up is normal for us.

I know that I can be disrespected day after day because of my skin color, and I won’t be able to fight back without being seen as the aggressor.

Like when I had bottle caps thrown at me at a local country bar (that I didn’t even want to go to), or getting violent stares thrown my way at the same bar.

Or when I’ve done an amazing job at work, and am still met with disrespect because I don’t look like everyone else or act like they expected you to.

I find that when racist people can’t use me for their personal benefit, they actively partake in tearing you down and making you feel like you don’t belong. This is nothing new to black people in America. We just learn to shrug it off, be confident, and love ourselves even more.

But when it comes to police violence, we can’t just shrug it off.

So, how does it feel to me, as a young black woman, watching police violence happen in America?

I feel angry and confused and often helpless. I feel angry at a system that equates the worth of our lives with how we dress.

I feel embarrassed having to watch how I present myself to the world because if I don’t, I could literally lose my life.

Hearing verdict after verdict in favor of a cop who has killed an unarmed Black person gives me constant anxiety that I don’t know how to deal with. No one teaches you how to live through these things. They just happen, so you just have to cope.

For the longest time, I internalized all that fear and anger until I began to lash out at people who tried to argue with me about it. No loss of life is ever okay, especially at the hands of those who are meant to protect us. How hard is that to understand?

I’ve been taught throughout my life that if someone in a position of power harasses you, your best option is to be quiet and wait it out politely so that you can make it out alive. For a while, I thought this made sense; why escalate a bad situation when you can just fight it out in court? But the court system is not built to help us.

We saw it clearly in the case of Philando Castille; you can be the kindest, polite, and law-abiding person in the world, and still be met with disrespect and eventually shot. You will still have every bad thing you’ve ever done displayed under a distorted microscope, and you will still be labeled as an aggressor.

This is why the idea of “color blindness” is bullshit; people of color can’t afford to be color blind in a world where we have to address our skin color every time we walk outside. We are forced to wonder how someone might treat us because of the way we look.

We do not have the luxury of being colorblind because that is not how people actually view us.

I, for one, am done with pretending that these negative encounters with the police have nothing to with negative racial stereotypes. When I’m driving and come to a stop next to a police officer, I refuse to make eye contact. Because I know there is a chance of being immediately seen as a criminal that is potentially breaking the law.

As a young black woman, this has caused serious damage to my psyche.

Living in Milwaukee, one of the most segregated cities in America, I cannot afford to walk around without my guard up.

Two weeks ago, on my way home from work, I discovered flashing lights and blocked streets all around me. 

Terry Williams, during an attempt to evade the police, was killed two blocks away from my home in broad daylight. Later, I came across an interview with two young women who witnessed the harrowing event.

Yes, Terry Williams did try to get away from the police because he knew he’d be arrested. And yes, he potentially could have put people in danger. But none of that justified the cop’s actions. The officer in question put people in danger by shooting indiscriminately at a car on the busiest street in Milwaukee.

These witnesses were quickly labeled as “cop haters” just for speaking their truth. 

The pair just saw officers drag two injured and unarmed women out of William’s car by the hair and into the street. Their only crime was being friends with the victim. How could anyone defend this? What had they done to deserve being shot at, attacked, and detained in the street for hours? 

What makes me any different from these women? Nothing. 

And when I think about that, I can’t breathe. 

Trump supporters talk about their biggest fear in life being ISIS terror attacks. Well, the biggest fear in my life iracist non-Black individuals in the police force. These shootings have jaded my ability to trust; I take everyone I meet with a grain of salt and I find it safer to keep to myself. I know not everyone around me is a racist, but I can’t afford to take that chance anymore. I can’t trust you unless you show me that you are actively trying to help.

After all, what is safe to do while being Black in America? Current events show that answer is nothing.

Police violence brings out a hypervigilance in me that I didn’t even know I had. Moving to a different city isn’t an option, because what city is really safe from any of this? Racial injustices happen everywhere.

Any city in America could be the next Ferguson, so where am I truly safe?

Expressing our voices is the best way to deal with our tribulations, so whatever you choose to do, make sure that you choose to hear us.

Because we won’t keep quiet for anyone.

  • Jennifer Njoku

    Jennifer Njoku is an enthusiast of all things entertainment. Lover of live music and standup comedy. Deep regard for kind people, team work, and captivating storytelling.