Why simply living as a black man in America is exhausting.

I’m so tired. You really don’t know what I mean.

I live in a neighborhood filled with beautiful homes, but I don't feel safe admiring the architecture for too long or too obviously because eventually someone will think I’m casing the property.

I keep my hands clasped behind my back when I’m browsing in stores so employees might feel less inclined to follow me quite as closely.


I slow down when I’m walking behind someone or cross the street if it’s at night because nothing good happens when my fellow pedestrians start with the nervous over-the-shoulder glances.

I make sure to wear Columbia University gear if I have to travel, whether I’m feeling some school pride or not. I do my best not to get any bigger, not just to be healthy or feel good, but because the only thing scarier than a black man is a large black man. I know this.

Me and my parents at my 2012 graduation. Photo courtesy of Khalil Romain.

I smile and laugh, even when I’m miserable or angry, because these pinchable cheeks might save me some headaches down the line. I never raise my voice, and I never ever lose my temper in public — even when I’d be in the right to do so. I know how to manufacture joy and charm as a defense mechanism and survival tool.

I do all of this extra work, these constant calculations in the back of my head, fully aware that it’s bullshit.

It’s all bullshit because respectability politics have and always will be bullshit. If the police can gun down a 12-year-old boy in under two seconds of arriving on the scene, of course I don’t stand a chance. Body cameras and smartphone evidence still don’t get an indictment, much less a conviction, so of course what I say, how I dress, or what I do doesn’t matter. Who I am doesn’t matter. It never will, not until my life does.

I do all of these little things for the placebo effect — to feel like I have some control over what does or does not happen to me when I walk out the door. It’s not real.

In every single direct interaction I have had with a police officer, their weapon has been unholstered. I know for a fact that those conversations often begin with a gun pointed in your face. I know they’re not supposed to, and for the majority of Americans, they don’t. I know that knowing that doesn’t matter. This is the way it works.

So I’m tired. I’m tired because the nonstop mental math, which runs in the background like a computer program every single waking moment of the day, is exhausting.

The futility of turning every single one those precautions into a habit is fucking exhausting. Watching people die again and again and again for being black in public is exhausting.

Knowing that one day it will be you or the people you love — that it will be someone else’s loved ones until then — is exhausting. Knowing there will still be people who respond with "but all lives..." is exhausting.

Figuring out how to be a functional adult is hard enough. Against all odds, I have managed to carve out a teeny tiny slice of life for myself in which I’m actually happy.

Friends and me in Brazil. Photo courtesy of Khalil Romain.

I have, miraculously, made a home with a person I love with a depth and sincerity I never imagined I’d be so lucky as to share. I’m increasingly certain my cat, Langston, is getting fluffier every day. I have incredible friends and family that I adore. It would be an unimaginable privilege to give my whole heart to living these parts of my life and not always chain a portion of my mind to simply trying to survive.

I am very, very tired.

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