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What's It Like to be a Young Black Man?

I’m not black.
But I am starting to identify with the fear and hopelessness and despair of being black, and male.
It all came home to me when I realized that a friend, the mother of two young black sons, would have to have “the talk” with them. Imagine. Not the one telling your son to make sure he wears a condom, but the one that says, don’t move too quickly when you’re out in public.
What is it like to have to tell your kids to, as Don Lemon put it on CNN, “Comply, comply, comply,” when a cop approaches you?
And what is it like to have a cop shoot you anyway, when you are complying and reaching for your license as the cop told you to do?
The prescience of that little 4-year-old in the back seat, soothing her mother, live-streaming the encounter between the cop and her boyfriend, comforting her that, somehow, some way, it would be OK. But how?
I know I sound like a bleeding heart liberal but how can it be OK when a young black man can’t feel free to run at night, asNew York Times writer Charles Blow has advised his sons?
I have a teenage son at home and the thought of my telling him to change his behavior, to never feel free to run down the street, or not ever forget to call a policeman “sir,” as Diamond Reynolds did over and over after her boyfriend was shot in the car, makes me a little sick.
Yet that’s what black men have been taught to do. That’s what life is, for so many black people.
It was terribly wrong, to shoot and kill five police officers who were only doing their jobs, as the man who wanted to “kill white people, especially white police officers,” did. Cops have a hard life and when you’re in a quick, potentially life-threatening situation, it’s not always easy to know when and when not to draw your gun.
Cops are good people and they’re just doing their job. I don’t know what I would do, faced with a situation like Diamond Reynolds’ boyfriend did. He was trying to do the right thing but somehow it didn’t work out that way, for him or the cop.
I don’t know what the answer is. But it isn’t making young black men afraid to live their lives. My son is lucky. He is white and he can run down any street any time he wants, without having to worry someone will think he just committed a crime. He will never have to face what a young black man does just about every day in his life. Where’s the fairness, in that?
Writer Deborah DiSesa Hirsch lives in Stamford. Her blog is


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