This Is Keith

– a black man living in America

By James Dustin

This is Keith. He’s my partner, the man I love. He has the most beautiful, toothy smile of any man I know, and it literally lights up the room. Keith is 39 years old, and he’s hilarious! We laugh so much together; I mean constantly cracking each other up. He is an amazing cook, and he cooks for me quite often. His shrimp and pesto pasta is out of this world. He even actually cleans the kitchen afterward! He treats me really well and genuinely wants to see me happy, and he goes above and beyond to make that happen. Keith has a degree in psychology, works for a non-profit organization, and devotes his life to helping homeless, mentally ill men and woman live their lives with dignity and hope. He doesn’t do this work to get rich, as he is woefully underpaid. He does it because he’s a kind, thoughtful, compassionate, and caring human being. Keith is also a black man living in America.

A while back, Keith came over to my place for dinner and some TV. He said he’d had a stressful week, and I could see it on his face and that he was a little drained. I assumed he was mostly talking about work because working in the field he is in, with almost 500 clients and the circumstances they are in, is emotionally exhausting sometimes. We ate dinner and were watching TV. I can’t remember what we were watching (maybe the news), but he looked at me and said, “people fucking suck.” I said something like, “aww, don’t be so negative. Not everyone sucks,” and to be completely honest, I was a little annoyed at his negativity. He began to tell me a story about something that happened to him a few days earlier. I began to cringe and become heartbroken for him. I was ashamed for feeling annoyed.

He is the Director of Operations for the non-profit he works for and was driving from one property to another. He was driving through a white, affluent neighborhood when he sees a man lying on the ground next to a bicycle. Keith immediately pulled over and got out of his car and ran over to see if the man was ok. The man was white and older and said thank you for stopping. He said he had fallen off of his bike and felt pretty banged up. Still lying on the ground with Keith kneeling over him, he began to ask him some questions about how he was feeling, he offered to call an ambulance and if he didn’t want an ambulance did he want help getting up? The man did not want an ambulance but wanted to get up. Just as Keith was beginning to help the man up another car pulled over, and a white woman got out with a phone in her hand, it was unclear if she was filming them, but she was yelling and asking Keith what he was doing. Another car pulls up, and two white men got out and started yelling what are you doing and for Keith not to touch him. Ignoring what the others were saying, Keith asked the man again if he wanted help getting up, and the man recoiled his arm away from Keith and said, “no, don’t touch me.” Keith told me that what immediately ran through his head was the song from Sesame Street, “One of these things is not like the other,” being that Keith is black and they were all white. Without saying a word, Keith let go of the man, got back into his car, and drove away. Who knows what could have happened if he stayed. He wanted to cry, to fight, to scream. He was a kind-hearted human who could not just drive by an injured man lying on the ground and was treated like he was inhuman and was doing harm.

Two days ago, Keith challenged a white, gay man in Facebook private messenger for the way he used the word thug in describing the protests. I won’t post the entire thread because it is very long but will mention some of the things the man said, and even without posting the entire thread, his comments CANNOT be taken out of context because each one stands on its own. The man was somehow justifying his points by sending an unrelated video (had nothing to do with current events) of a young black man punching an older white man. Keith asked him what the video had to do with anything. His grammar makes some of the responses difficult to understand, but here are some of his DIRECT QUOTES to being challenged:

“You sound like an angry black man”

“Have you looked at any statistics how many African-Americans have killed white people by robbing down and raping them by shooting them way more”

“Do you see the white community going out and destroying their stuff no we don’t do that and the majority of my black friends would never do that because they’re rich and educated”

“I’m not white privileged at all! 70% of my friends are black”

“White privilege is usually attached to being a racist”

“You don’t even know me and you’re very upset right now and I don’t think you’re thinking clearly because I wouldn’t hurt you and that way I wouldn’t do anything to you to hurt you”

Followed by….

“and there is nothing in this conversation that I am ashamed of I said nothing wrong so there you have a nice life to because it sounds like you’re having a pretty shitty one”

Every one of those comments is disgusting to me.

Now, keep in mind, this is one side of the conversation. Keith mentioned ways he should teach himself about racism, perhaps some books. He told him he was passively racist (although it looks like very overt racism to me), told him he might just post the thread so his black friends could see this. All in all, Keith did what I could not have done. Keith didn’t tell the man to seriously go fuck himself or worse.

After being treated this way, day in and day out for your entire life, with having legitimate fear of going for a jog by yourself without taking a firearm, living with the fear that if you get pulled over for not wearing a seatbelt, you could end up DEAD, when the color of your skin is being weaponized, how is it possible to not be angry, resentful and fed up?! How is it possible to not live with individual and collective trauma-induced anxiety?

You are willfully ignorant when you dismiss the anger and despair of black men and women in American with “You’re just an angry black man!”. Your white privilege allows you to not even LISTEN to the constant fear of being black in America without getting defensive or your panties in a wad and making it all about you! Black Americans don’t get to ignore what’s happening to them and their communities.

Hey white people, please open your hearts, minds, ears, and eyes. Allow yourself to be teachable and LEARN about racism and its subtle and not so subtle systems that continue to oppress black America. There are dozens of books on this topic. All white people benefit from the systems of racism that have been set up by WHITE PEOPLE. We all need to take a really good look at ourselves and ask am I a racist or an anti-racist. There is no in-between.

I love you, Keith, and I’m sorry you have to live these types of things on a daily basis. I promise I will never stop using my white privilege to make other white people hear what’s happening to you and every other black person in America.

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