The Burden

“How on earth are you hoping right now?”
I really want to quit.
No more coping right now?
My demons got demons.
No more glowing light now.
I have become my own shadow.
Whys consuming my how.
We’ve all heard the stories
Of who we’re supposed to be
But I wrote my own story
When yours was opposed to me
Became a default leader
They’re drawing close to me
Now my failures are their failures
Supposedly.
When I’m not “myself”,
No one knows it me.
Hiding in plain sight
Until you let go of me.
This is the burden
That none of us has asked for
But if one falls from grace
We’re all put on blast for
They say we credit our race
Or we bring them down
Then when “I’m” not there
I am finally found

©️ Copyright 2021 Pedro S. Silva II

Almost every Black person I know who has grown up in America knows what it’s like to feel the existential burden placed upon us that says, “You represent your entire race.” I remember getting in a conversation with a military buddy who happens to be White about this a couple of decades ago. He was honest enough to admit that he had observed this too. And being a straight forward man and not very politically correct, he indignantly said, “Dang man that’s messed up. It’s not like I have to think about how every serial killer makes me look. And you know most of the serial killers are some crazy White guy.”

Because we are good friends, we could have an irreverent laugh about the absurdity of it all. And in the context of our friendship, he and I have dismantled most of that systemic garbage so that it isn’t between us. But, at the same time, things like what went down between Will Smith and Chris Rock shows that the larger culture is still entangled in this tendency to place the burden of all of us on everyone of us. Even many of us Black folks are wrestling with this, calling the incident “Black on Black” crime, because we have been enculturated into this mindset and don’t think of questioning the culture that create such misnomers and agreeing that what happened puts Black people back instead of just the person who made the decision.

As someone who has wrestled with this burden most of my own life, while always questioning its validity ever since a teacher told me I was a “credit to my race”, I can say this is unfair and needs to be deconstructed. When my teacher said it to me, I let him know that I didn’t take it as a compliment even though I knew that was how he meant it. It hurt his feelings. But not as much as him essentially saying to me, “Your race is so messed up, they are lucky to have you.”

If you are someone who doesn’t have the social obligation to represent your entire community to the world, I invite you to meditate on that for a moment. What does it feel like to think that the next thing some one from your group does that is unwelcomed reflects on you directly? Imagine someone coming up to you at your job and asking you, why someone did something as if you all have some kind of group telepathy. That’s what a large segment of society is asking of us everyday. So, if you want to lighten that burden, don’t participate in this tendency. Be part of a better way. Get to know people as individuals. Listen to and share personal stories from folks who differ from you. And don’t rely on biases to determine your relational capacity.

If you’re looking for opportunities to relate beyond biases, check out events such as America Talks and the National Week of Conversation.

Thanks to @anas_alhajj_ for making the cover photo available freely on @unsplash