It was 9:09 on Tuesday night and he said he needed to get gas. ‘Easier to get it tonight than early tomorrow.’ I understood; he leaves for work early and just wants to get to the office and start his day. But I did not like it. Immediately my mind raced. I noted the exact time. Is it too late to safely go to the gas station (less than one mile away)? What is he wearing? What time should he reasonably be back (read: when do I start to worry)? He left and I played it casual. I was on a late call for work and couldn’t dwell too long while trying to focus.
I paid attention, chimed in on the discussion, but I was distracted. Time? Where would he be now? At one point I even wondered if I heard sirens. If I did, would they be going to an incident at the gas station? Mind you, we hear sirens not infrequently given the location of our house.
He was home, safely, 17 minutes later. Maybe even fewer — sometimes he sits in the car finishing a song or listening to the news. But he was home, in the driveway. In theory he was back safely.
But was he safe? More so in the driveway than at the gas station, I think. But where, exactly, is a black man safe today? Where, exactly, can my husband, my black husband, go and be safe? The list is short and certainly does not include the gas station at 9pm. To attempt a feeble, pathetic sense of control, I make mental notes: I check the time, note his clothes, and hope the car seats in the back of a SUV scream ‘family man’ and not ‘threatening black man.’
Because this is the reality of America. This is the world he navigates daily, constantly thinking about the risks and how he exists, careful that his presence is non-threatening, un-intimidating, lived on a quiet sideline. Each time he steps foot outside our front door, I do a quick mental note of him that day. His reality is different and scarier than mine. But I am scared for him. I am terrified for him. He tells me he is used to it; it is just part of his ‘normal.’ But how, HOW, is it ‘normal’ to always navigate life with one eye over your shoulder? With a target on your back each day? This cannot — should not — be normal. Not at all.
But it is the reality for my husband, our boys, and millions of other black men (and black women and children, too) in America. They are not safe. Not at the gas station, not driving, not at even home. We must stop saying this isn’t ‘us.’ The hand wringing about how this isn’t “really” our country must end. This is America. This is reality. This really is us. Our black husbands, fathers, uncles, cousins, friends, and neighbors are not safe. And it is not okay. They are not okay. They are really not okay.