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Lately I’ve been purposefully making eye contact with black men.

This might be a strange thing to read– it was a  strange thing to write– but it’s the truth.

For the last month, I’ve been deep-diving through educational books written by people of color on the problem of racism in our society. I won’t go into everything I’ve learned so far, because it’s far too vast, too deep, and too complex.

Instead I want to tell you about my experience with black men.

Like many white people, I initially learned about black men through indirect sources like rap music, movies, news, and statistics. I learned that black men were defined by their baggy outfits, unprovoked violence, loud music, and propensity for crime.

I learned that black men were inherently terrifying.

In order to maintain this belief, I made exceptions for every black man I knew personally. The black men I knew wore sweaters, or dance tights, or skinny jeans. They spoke eloquently and wisely. They went to training seminars, and held space for me when I cried, and shared their own ideas and dreams and heartbreak.

There was absolutely nothing scary about these men, so I didn’t really consider them “black.”

Which is a huge problem.

These men felt “normal” They felt just like me. And since I had been taught that “blackness” meant “otherness,” I assumed that surely I just had never met a “real” black man.

I imagined he would look different, he would look BLACK. I’m talking about the kind of young black men who seem shrouded in violence and anger, with dark clouds of violence emanating off them, their body language unnaturally fast, somehow looking guilty and threatening as they emerge from shadowy alleys.

As I unpacked the layers of my unconscious beliefs and biases around this topic, I realized that the kind of black man to which I refer is an absolute fantasy. It’s no more real than the image of a prince charming, hair combed perfectly, with a halo of soft light around him as he gallops in on a white horse to save the day.

The black man of my unconscious imagination is fantastically dangerous. Inhuman, almost, in the way my mind has painted him.

A few weeks ago, when I realized I was afraid of black men, I also realized that the black men I was afraid of didn’t actually exist. That is, the thing I’m afraid of– this hideously dangerous inhuman beast– does not, and has not ever, existed.

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