Brace, as defined by the dictionary, as a verb: prepare (someone or oneself) for something difficult or unpleasant.
Sometime last week, I saw a tweet from the Michael Slager trial where he (Slager) alleged that he never received proper training on how to de-escalate situations (Okay, I don’t have the verbatim. I’m not a journalist, so please just trust that I have the gist of things). If you are unfamiliar with Michael Slager, he is a former cop in North Charleston, SC, who was on trial for the murder of Walter Scott (Also, if you’re unfamiliar with Michael Slager, tip of the cap to ya! I consider myself a pretty connected person, but this story might have been pretty challenging to avoid, especially in South Carolina. So, I mean this when I say that it’s impressive to *not* have known about Slager or Scott in any capacity.)
Anyway, as soon as I saw the claim made by Slager, I braced myself for the really strong possibility that he would not be convicted. Come yesterday, we know what happened: the judge declared a mistrial. So, even though there’s video of Slager shooting Walter Scott in the back multiple times, the jury could not come to a consensus. I’ve been bracing myself for not only that result, but for the reactions. From disbelief to anger, to reassurances of justice being served, to “Well, it was only one juror!”
I don’t really have a good explanation on what it’s like to be black. I don’t think that it’s something that can be properly put into words. What I do know is that I’m having to brace myself all the time. All. The Time. Being black, for me, has been like having to brace myself on a daily basis for something.
I talk a lot on Facebook and Twitter about race and gender. Anytime I post something related to those topics, I brace myself for reactions. If it’s race-related, there’s the likelihood that someone will either not agree completely, or use the “What about ____?” line. I also have to make sure that my responses are measured and (mostly) respectful, because if I end up not being measured, then nothing is accomplished.
I’m always bracing myself. It’s almost as if I can never actually *be*. I’m constantly having to prepare myself for something else.
I was running outside a few years ago. I parked my car at an empty lot of a building that hadn’t been used in some time. I got back to my car to stretch before I drove home. I saw a cop car come into the parking lot and kind of hang out. I was in my ultra short shorts and a road race T-shirt, and I was wearing headphones. I knew I didn’t look imposing. Or so I thought.
I got in my car, and the cop drove right behind me so I couldn’t get out. I didn’t know what to expect. He comes, checks my ID and asks what I was doing there, even though he saw me taking my time to stretch and nonchalantly get into the car. Inside, I was furious. I was doing nothing wrong, and there were no posted signs saying that I could not park my car where it was. But, can’t get mouthy around a police officer. I had no confidence that any kind of unfavorable reaction for me would have ended well. That officer let me go. But I had to brace myself for anything for those few minutes.
Bracing yourself is exhausting, even if it’s only done once. Being in a perpetual state of “Gotta be ready for this, just in case!” is not a fun place to be. So I do get why some folks just decide to never brace. Isaiah Washington once said in an interview that he was tired of getting pulled over when driving his Mercedes, so he bought a Prius. I know, that’s a bit extreme. But I can definitely see the peace of mind that you may get in knowing that you’re much less likely to get pulled over in a hippie car (I actually love every Prius I’ve ever seen). Much better than bracing yourself each time you see a cop. Some people stay in “respectability politics” mode. No matter what, “we” have to do something in order to be respected or accepted. Deflecting is ALWAYS easier than having to brace yourself for trouble.
What does not having to brace myself look like? I don’t know. I’m not even sure I would do it if I did know. I think it would be helpful if other people would, I dunno, be better. But that may be asking too much. All I know is that it doesn’t always feel like living if you have to even think about how you’ll be reminded yet again that you live a different life than other folks.