While I was growing up, a voice would pop up in my head sometimes. A voice that would say, “That’s not gonna happen to me.”
I remember having discussions about racism at a very young age. My family knew it was vital to talk about it, but as a kid I thought, “That’s not gonna happen to me.” I was a nice kid. I wasn’t like those other black kids, the ones who misbehaved and talked back.
Then I’d see those TV episodes—you know the ones. The ones with the white protagonist who looked like the hero because he, gasp, dared to talk to a black kid. Then there were the “We’re being followed around the store” episodes, the “Not being hired for a job” specials, and the “Why are we being pulled over?” moments. I remember being particularly fond of that episode of Smart Guy where the older sister, Yvette, calls the black higher-up on her racist boss. But even if I enjoyed seeing that problematic white woman getting her comeuppance, the voice was still in my head: “That’s not gonna happen to me.” This was television. These things didn’t really happen.
That’s not gonna happen to me. I’m a nice person. I smile so much. I get along with people. I’m not like those other black people. I’m not ghetto. I don’t wear baggy clothes, and I enunciate my words.
That’s not gonna happen to me. I don’t do drugs. I don’t drink much. I always comply with authority.
That’s not gonna happen to me. I don’t carry weapons, even if I can take the proper steps to do so.
That’s not gonna happen to me. I’d make sure my hands were up. I wouldn’t reach into my pockets. I’d breathe.
That’s not gonna happen to me . . . right?
When you hear the story of a wrongfully killed person of color, think about that person of color. Really, truly think about them. Because people of color are told to “be careful” out here. We’re told to play by the rules, and we’re given lectures at a young age on how to avoid being killed. Even with all of this knowledge, we all have that little voice that desperately whispers, “That’s not gonna happen to me.”
And it won’t. Until it does.