by Robert Earl Houston
I have been black in America since May 16, 1960. I’ve always viewed myself as American by birth because I have never lived nor desired to live outside of what I consider to be a blessed United States of America. I have worked for this government, received assistance while growing up in a single-parent household, even received assistance as i was attempting to matriculate through the halls of higher education. I pay my taxes. I follow all of the laws of the land that don’t violate conscious. And to a degree I am patriotic – my father served in World War II and I was the result of the “baby boomer” generation.
But today, I have trouble in my breathing. No, it’s not because of an Asthmatic condition or a condition of the lungs or the muscles that surround the area of my breathing apparatus. My problem is that my breathing has been affected by another black man, dead at the hands of police officers, the case being sent to a grand jury, and when you are looking for the system that you studied and honored to do right, decides to say “pass” on the possibility of indictment. The song is not changing – it happens in many of our states with the same impunity . . . I cannot exhale.
I’ve been holding my breath through the years hoping that one grand jury would at least take into consideration that in a nation where you are 20 times more likely to be shot and killed by law enforcement than other cultures. I thought, by 2014, that the vicissitudes of the creed of this nation, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” would have become engrained in our national psyche. Instead, we have learned that those who held the pen who wrote the preamble and the first laws of this nation also held the key to slaves under their subjugation. We have learned that it took well over 100 years for African-Americans to be recognized as equal citizens in a society that we helped build, construct, and laid our lives down, to create a “Christian nation.”
I’ve been holding my breath to see real change and opportunity. I would have hoped that by now college would not become the new place of privilege as it has become too burdensome and too expensive to complete a college education. I would have hoped that some state or community would have said by now that since our taxpayers paid for it, that we should allow anyone who comes, to receive an education.
I’ve been holding my breath that the great society that President Lyndon B. Johnson envision would have at least added several stories to it’s foundation. However, the nation is rattled with an obsession to allow jobs, taxes, and opportunities go to nations that in some cases, want to see our destruction or have interest in seeing us fail. Jobs are needed in Gary, Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, Louisville, Kentucky, Birmingham, Alabama, Houston, Texas, Shreveport, Louisiana, and dozens of cities that are “chocolate cities” that need infusion of jobs that will put people of color to work other than low-paid restaurant jobs. The infrastructure of our nation is crumbling while politicians of every political stripe are busy playing the politics of personal destruction.
I’ve been holding my breath that the Christian community would respond to these issues with swiftness and acumen. Instead it takes weeks if not months for some of our denominational leaders to pen a paper on the outrage of situations. I will hand it to my former denominational leader, Dr. Melvin Von Wade, Sr., he was proactive and being on his staff, he wanted me to make sure that his voice was heard among the many not weeks or months after any tragedy, but that his one of the first voices that were heard. Instead our denominational leaders remind me of a sign that I saw in my third church that spoke of financial written requests: “PLEASE EXPECT THREE WEEKS FOR PROCESSING” when there was only two offices separating the office of the Pastor and the Office of the Administrator. I would hope that the thousands of dollars we spend on getting people elected to office would at least include a computer, an internet connection, and words address situations and not attached to appeals for funds. If there was ever a time for a joint statement by our denominational leaders – it was yesterday.
I’ve been holding my breath that the other cultures, who may not agree with our anger, would at least place their feet in our shoes for a few moments. Last year (2013) in Gary, Indiana, in the suburbs returning to my hotel room after ordering some fish, I was profiled. I was a black man, in a late model year car, driving on a US Interstate Highway, at the speed limit – but my problem was i was a black man, in a late model year car, driving on a US Interstate Highway. I was pulled over and then the officer told me I had no insurance. I pulled out my insurance card and he said that didn’t mean anything. I looked at him and said, am I under arrest? He looked at me and said, no and acted as if he had another call to take. I guess that cell phone on record mode helped change his mind. If I had not had that piece of equipment, God only knows my outcome. Until you walk in the shoes of a black man of stature – to see the scared eyes of women who clutch their purses, store detectives who follow your every move, ignorance by store personnel while you’re shopping, and the asking for ID when making a purchase when someone of other color was not asked for the same, you have no idea what it’s like to be black in America. We’re celebrated for athletics and not taken serious academically.
I’m angry but I’m not stupid. I will protest as able but I will not engage myself in behavior that will destroy or burn down property and businesses of which fellow African-Americans have built with their bare hands, but conversely, I understand the anger, I understand the rage, and I optimistically, as a Christian, look forward to a better day.
And then, I will exhale . . .
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