It pains me to write this. But even more to the point, I write this knowing the people who need to hear this probably never will. But this missive is directed at you, Mr. Young Black Male in Flint. No sugar coating: I’m sick of you. I hate everything you stand for. You embarrass me. You embarrass your people. I know I shouldn’t speak in generalities, and I try my hardest not to. But it’s too late in the game for me to be polite at this point.
First, I’m sick of looking at your underwear. What could have possibly possessed you to think that it’s sexy to have your pants hanging half way (or in some cases all the way) down? As a side note, ladies, if you actually find that attractive, then you’re a part of the problem. Anyway, why walk around with the need to yank your pants up after every fourth step? Exactly how hard is it to buy a belt? Believe me, I’ll be the first one to say that respectability politics is laughable. MLK was shot wearing a suit and tie. But does that mean you should strip away your own dignity by having your pants pulled all the way down? C’mon, man. Just, come on.
Next, I’m sick of how you somehow feel justified in terrorizing and assaulting people just because you can. Thing is: the people you are targeting – far more often than not – are not that different than you. You’re not victimizing millionaires who can recoup their losses with no problem. You’re attacking people who get up every day to work for a living, who struggle to pay bills, who have dreams and aspirations, and who have families to care for. What I need you to understand is that when you steal from us, we don’t get our goods back by some stroke of magic or by wishful thinking. We have to pay good money (which we probably needed for something else) to fix the damage, replace what was stolen, AND usually to brace for the increase in our insurance premiums. Congratulations. I hope the TV you stole and pawned off was worth it.
Also, I’m tired of you being the opposite of intelligence and civility. At what point in our existence did it become ‘the thing’ to not be able to form complete sentences, use terms like “please” and “thank you”, or shake a person’s hand? I’m not sure why you decided to leave school – where some of these educational and social values are taught. But judging by what I see you doing every day, it certainly wasn’t so you could jump into the job market. Being intelligent and civilized is NOT “acting white.”
Finally, I’m sick of being afraid of you. I hate that you have negatively changed who I am with your never-ending attacks on my community. In my earlier years – high school, college, and such – I was an unapologetic idealist, volunteering as much as I could; helping wherever I can. But now? I avoid people like you. And it shames me. But how can I effectively advocate for someone I’m afraid of? Perhaps the better question is: why should I even bother? Why go to the mat for a person who will turn around and break into my car in appreciation? Why defend a person who will senselessly snatch a life without losing any sleep? How can I declare that #BlackLivesMatter when the description of the people who invaded our home was “black men in dark clothes…”?
Perhaps you didn’t have a father around or a man you could consider a father figure. Perhaps your mother didn’t establish ground rules for the house. Perhaps nobody held you accountable for your actions. Maybe your mother thought you were a precious gem who could do no wrong. Maybe your family thought it was cute when you were cussing by the time you were three years old. Frankly, I don’t care. Most of us grew up poor in Flint. Most of us weren’t afforded the finer things in life. And, yet, we’re not all out there victimizing our brothers and sisters. Later for all that “product of my environment” stuff.
Then again, even those are just excuses. Some of you DID have at least one parent who cared. You had at least one person in this world looking out for your best interest. A person who taught you the importance of education, or the value of hard day’s work. But leave it up to you to ignore them, because you were so sure you knew everything. Maybe it was because you glommed onto the words of some rapper you don’t know instead of the advice you got from people who know you and love you (which reminds me: Please turn your radios down. Just because you love a song, doesn’t mean the entire neighborhood wants to hear it).
Do young men or other races and ethnicities commit crimes? Absolutely they do. But in my world? In my city? In my neighborhood? No. It’s you. You’re the terrorist. Maybe things are different in other parts of the country. I can only hope. But I’m talking about what I know, what I see, and what I personally experience.
What angers me most – maybe hurt is a better term – is that when I look at you, I see endless potential. I look at you and I see potential husbands and fathers to our women and children; scientists, college professors, advanced technicians, musicians, athletes, entertainers. I see you as the protectors of our women, the guardians of our community, the hope of our race. I see you as a person worth fighting for against injustice, and worth giving back to. But what I get in return is some thoughtless person responsible for violating our home to steal things you should be working as hard as we are to earn. Instead of being the person going around the neighborhood shoveling driveways, raking yards, or coordinating beautification projects, you’re are out casing the next house to rob. Instead of adding aesthetic value to our neighborhoods, you’re tagging public property with crap nobody can even read. Instead of using your God-given time and talent to make the world a better place, you’re wasting your life away in front of party stores smoking and drinking. Please stop it.
It saddens me to know that I can’t look at your generation with a sense of pride. I just can’t. In trying to accentuate the positive, I’m fully aware of all the amazing things many of our young people are doing. But their accomplishments – impressive as they are – aren’t stopping you from creating dark clouds hovering over your generation. I’m asking you – hell, BEGGING YOU – to step up to the plate. Not just your own sake, but for the sake of your people. You may not feel connected to the rest of us, but you are. Trust me when I say: I’m not some grumpy 80 year old Republican rich guy who is out of touch with the common folk. I’m a 30’s – something black man born, raised, and raising a family of my own in Flint. Trust me when I say, I’m not too far removed from you.
I’m not completely callous here. I’m sorry if you had a rough life and you’re trying to make do. I’m sorry if nobody cared about you enough to show you the right way to live. I truly am. But that doesn’t give you the right to make the world a miserable place for people who don’t deserve being subjected to your anger, selfishness, or whatever motivates you to do what you.
You may not be aware, but black people around the world are accomplishing monumental feats with all kinds of odds stacked against them. Every day. I’d really like to believe that one day, we’ll be celebrating some of your accomplishments. It’s a wonderful thought to have. But unfortunately, my thoughts are usually interrupted by the sound of me locking my doors.
Please, brothas. Do better. We need you.