The First Pieces of Calculus


There is no one way to be Black in America, but there is one way we live while Black in America. No matter our gender, age or socioeconomic status, we are viewed as threats. As a result, we live under siege.

Oh, we do a good job of hiding the stress of it all. But know this: Every Black person you know goes through some form of mental calculus before they start their day. And then that calculus is adjusted depending on the locations and circumstances in which we find ourselves at any given time.

My mother taught me the first few pieces of this calculus when I was a kid. Don’t run in public. Don’t run in public with anything in your hands. Don’t talk back to the police. As I got older, that calculus grew in length and psychological weight. In 1999, Amadou Diallo was killed by plainclothes New York City police officers in a hail of 41 bullets. They thought he had a gun. Instead, it was his wallet. I switched from a silver money clip to a regular wallet after that for fear of the reaction to a glint of metal by police.

My cellphone cover is always a vibrant color so no one thinks I’m carrying a gun. I never pull out my keys in public until I absolutely have to. Someone might think I’m carrying a knife. At night, I always walk down well-lit streets with lots of foot traffic. Far too many automatically deem Black people in dark spaces as suspicious.

Even before covid-19, I maintained a social distance, never walking directly behind anyone, especially a White woman. Before I pass at my brisk pace, I always do a shuffle step to alert them to my presence. That’s assuming I don’t cross the street or take a different route to avoid that whole thing altogether. I do the same when having to pass by an open-air bar featuring large groups of White men and alcohol.

via WSJ

No one deserves to have to do this much mental gymnastics before they get out of their house; the only reason I can understand this sentiment in the slightest is because I do similarly but for different reasons.