In Their Words – What It Means to be Black in Durham

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Community members share what it means to be Black in Durham today and messages for change

TYRONE T. IRBY IS THE OWNER OF TRAINING FACILITY THE CHOICE PERFORMANCE CENTER. HE RECENTLY HELPED FOUND THE TOGETHER WE STAND NC GRASSROOTS MOVEMENT, “INSPIRED BY THE SENSELESS VIOLENCE AGAINST THE BLACK COMMUNITY IN AMERICA.” ITS VISION IS TO CREATE PEACEFUL DEMONSTRATIONS TO EDUCATE, COMMUNICATE AND CREATE AWARENESS OF RACIAL INJUSTICE AS IT RELATES TO BLACK LIVES IN AMERICA. FOLLOW ON INSTAGRAM AT @TOGETHERWESTANDNC

“I am a 55-year-old black man living in fear every day in America”

I am a 55-year-old Black man living in Durham, North Carolina. I am scared. I wake up scared. I drive to work scared. And I go to bed at night scared. But fear is not new to me, because I am a 55-year-old Black man living in America.

I am not a “thug.” I am a business owner, who happens to be Black. Every morning, I leave my wife and drive 13.4 miles to my business at 3 in the morning on the Durham Freeway. Every morning, I wonder if I will be able to come home to my family. Every morning, I wonder if an officer will stop me on the side of the road. Will that officer feel threatened by a Black man driving a large car at 3 in the morning on 147? Will he/she feel there is no way I am driving to a legitimate place of employment before daylight on a weekday? Will I be labeled a “thug”?

When I am inside my business, there is no color. I do not see color, nor do my clients. For more than five years, I have owned a business that is as diverse as any in the city. But I understand once I step out of that building, the world immediately changes, as do I. No longer am I in control of my environment or how I am perceived.

I was born and raised in the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, in the 1970s. I attended elementary and junior high school in Flatbush. I learned early in life how to run while being chased 12 blocks by two white teenagers from South Shore High School on a moped. Racial tension and riots were a norm in my junior high school, and that was 40 years ago.

Some people are amazed at what happened to George Floyd. I am not amazed; I am numb. African Americans understand for every one incident like this that is filmed, there are [many] that are not. For every incident that another Black person is humiliated, detained, assaulted and killed, you do not hear about many more. Why did it take the killers of Ahmaud Arbery three months to be arrested when the evidence via videotape was readily available? Arbery was shot and killed on Feb. 23, 2020, and Travis and Gregory McMichael were finally arrested on May 7, 2020. It took almost a week for Minnesota to decide to issue a warrant for the arrest of Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin, who had his knee on the neck of a handcuffed George Floyd on the concrete for almost nine minutes. Why did it take several days to charge the officer with the murder of Floyd when there were dozens of witnesses? And why weren’t the officers who stood by and allowed it to happen also not [quickly] charged as accessories to murder?

In 1986, the seminal rap group Public Enemy created their iconic logo that is as prevalent today as it was when the group’s first album hit the streets in 1987. The logo is a silhouette of a Black man in crosshairs. “The crosshairs logo symbolized the Black man in America,” Public Enemy co-founder and chief lyricist Chuck D says. “A lot of people thought it was a state trooper because of the hat, but the hat is one of the ones that Run-DMC wore. The B-Boy stance and the silhouette was more like the Black man on the target.”

What does being a Black man in America mean? It means that when you are in a department store, you are ignored by the salespeople, but accosted by the security. It means that people will cross the street, hold their purses tighter and lock their cars when you are nearby. It means that the quality of your service in a restaurant will likely be dependent on the quality of your attire and the color of your skin. It means that, in any conflict, you will not be given the benefit of doubt. Yes, you can learn quite a bit in 55 years. It means that you are judged by the color of your skin rather than the content of your character.

Amy Cooper in Central Park? Really? How easy was it for that to happen? How fortunate that it was recorded? Because if not, there could have easily been another Eric Garner in Central Park. Do people not understand the power of words and the damage, whether right or wrong, they can cause? Cooper lost her job, her reputation and her dog in fewer than 10 minutes of her life. Again, why was she not [immediately] charged with filing a false report?

I am a 55-year-old black man in Durham, North Carolina. I am 5’10” and 185 pounds. Not too big, not too small. But that is my perspective. Is my size threatening to you? As a small business owner in a pandemic, stress is a part of my everyday life. Fear is community members share what it means to be Black in Durham today and messages for change also a part of my everyday life. I fear for my life and the lives of every young Black person who I know.

Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death for Black males in America? [According to a study from the University of Michigan, Rutgers University and Washington University], the sixth leading cause of death for young black men is “use of police force.”

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