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RAINBOW CLOUD STORY: My Personal Codes of Survival as a black man in America

Updated: Dec 23, 2020

July 2016, Alton Sterling, a 36-year-old black man, was shot dead at close range in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Multiple witnesses posted videos of the incident and eventually, police footage was released. I watched it in full.

July 2016, Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black man, was pulled over and shot seven times in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. His partner, Diamond Reynolds, went to Facebook live and filmed the aftermath. I watched it in full.

These incidents were days apart.

In the fall of 2016, I began my sophomore semester in college. Several instances occurred:

  1. On a late-night (around midnight) I was walking to my apartment from the local Walmart. I was followed and harassed by a group of white males (possibly my age) through their truck door. Waving on the back of their truck was a confederate flag.

  2. While shopping in a Barnes & Nobles, a white woman (unknown to me) followed me through the store and told a worker she thought I might be stealing. The worker proceeded to scold me until management intervened. They watched the whole thing on surveillance cameras. After they watched and realized what had actually happened, they asked the woman to leave the store. Only the manager apologized to me for what had happened.

  3. At 3 a.m. in the morning, while walking home to my apartment from the store, a big black pickup truck tailed me. Not knowing what to do, I began to run. The truck followed me until I reached my apartment complex. Hiding in bushes, I watched the person driving the truck circle around the complex looking for me. As they left, I noticed a confederate flag on their truck. It was the same truck from the first incident.

February 2020, Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black man, was hunted down and murdered while he was out for a jog by white residents of a neighborhood in Glynn Country, Georgia. A video was released of his final moments by one of the people possibly involved in his murder. I did not watch it in full.

March 2020, Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman, was shot eight times by police officers within her own home while she was fast asleep during a "no-knock warrant" breach by the officers in Louisville, Kentucky. There was no video of the incident.

May 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was suffocated by Derek Chauvin, as four other offices watched in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Several videos have been released. I did not watch in full.

These instances, coupled with personal loss, caused me a lot of trauma, to say the least. This lead me to my first real encounter with intense anxiety. I went through most of the first semester with an absolutely depleted mental state. When trying to discuss this with my peers and mentors from college, I was not believed about the incidents and was told by staff that I needed to make life changes (i.e. listen to more positive music, associate myself with different people). Due to their reaction, I never shared the experiences with peers and spoke seldomly about the injustices. I felt hopeless, defenseless, and on the edge of absolute fear. This only dissipated with distractions and more so when I left the country during my second semester.

There is a pressure in my chest. There are tears in my eyes. This is the kind of fear I feel. These are the anxieties I have. There is all this anger that I can recall and recognize, but I cannot truly understand and process. This feels so familiar and I can't stand it. I loathe it, actually. I thought that by now, I would never have to feel this way again. But here we are. And, of course, this reckoning manifested to its tipping point in the middle of a global pandemic. I want to be outside protesting. I want to be fighting these issues side by side with my people. But, I am doing what is best for the health of others and for myself.

But now the president, the man who was selected to run this country, someone who is possible other circumstances some would look towards, has now basically given the green light to take aim at protestors. To take aim at people who were trying to be peaceful. Take aim at people who in their peace, got pepper-sprayed and tear-gassed and rubber bulleted. Take aim at people who now are beyond peace and are gonna find any way to matter and be heard and seen. Take aim at people who, before these moments, were never taught how to deal with pain and frustration and exhaustion and were pushed past their limit. People who are doing what a lot of us wish we could do, but don’t have that same strength. I have in this time felt once again defenseless and unable to fight back for some reason. But even in that, I’ll be damned if I’ll be silenced right now. I’ll be damned.

When is enough, actually enough?

My Personal Codes of Survival as a black man:

One code of survival to being a black man is to embrace the fact that you are going to work for everything you will ever have in life. Your road will be much harder than most. And, on that road, you are not expected to succeed within the eyes of racists and oppressors. In your own community, however, you are not only to succeed but surpass the expectancy. All the while that you choose to do this and it is provided to you.

One code of survival is to embrace the idea that opportunity is lessened for you and you cannot control that. Nothing for you is "in the bag" (unless you plan to portray stereotypes of you on tv for a living). You will be criticized harder and examined more thoroughly, put in corners, and put into boxes more times than you can count. In that, though, integrity and wisdom are heightened. Gratitude is mastered. Skin is thickened. Your psyche becomes stronger.

One code of survival is having to be hyper-aware at all times. Having to live your life like your head is on a swivel. Having to know your surroundings almost instantaneously. Carrying a target on your back everywhere you go. A target that cannot be removed. Knowing that your movement could take your life, but not necessarily knowing which ones will because they seem to change all of the time. One time it is because you were wearing a hoodie and walking down the street. Then another time it was checking for an ID in your glove compartment. Then it was selling CDs at your local gas station. Then it was going for a run. Then it was living and sleeping in your own home. Now, it's being compliant to an officer's demands.

It is quite impossible to put an exact finger on it or to point a finger in a specific direction. My hope would be that we can all point a finger in the direction of the future. A more just and equitable future, that is.

My voice was shut out so many times about the feelings that I was faced by people's skin who is fairer than mine and by people who will never understand. I will never, for the rest of my life, let it happen again.

I leave you with this today:

"A riot is the language of the unheard. What is it that America has failed to hear?"

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

My name is Justin Daxt Bobbs and these are my codes of survival as a black man living in America.

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