I first learned that I was Black in kindergarten. More importantly, I learned of the negative connotations that come with identifying with my own skin color.
During my younger years, I attended a predominantly white elementary school. One day on the playground, I was playing with my friend, and we eventually decided to recreate a game of “cops and robbers.” Within a blink of an eye, I was called into the principal’s office, along with my mother, and the principal made it abundantly clear that “we don’t promote gang violence here.”
I often wondered why playing a game with my friend was associated with a gang. Just because my skin tone was different, I can recall being told that I “didn’t act Black.” It was meant to understand that I was different from the rest.
Sometimes I wonder if people understand how difficult it is to exist while being an African-American young man. I have to worry about my whereabouts constantly. For example, I have to worry that if I ever come across someone at the mall that I may not associate with, will a police officer hurt me if we get into an altercation?
On May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Caucasian officers arrested George Floyd after a store employee called 911 and told the police that he bought cigarettes with a counterfeit $20 bill. All I keep remembering is 8:46. 8:46 is a symbol of police brutality. A Caucasian officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds while he was clearly in pain, suffocating, all while yelling out for his mother. More than two officers at the scene watched officer Derek Chauvin kneel on Floyd’s neck for almost 10 minutes. As a middle class browned-skinned African American young man, I suffer along with others who look like me. I understand that people with darker skin completion are under constant threat by not only police officers but also others who judge us by our skin color.
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” These famous words were spoken by the honorable Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He had a dream that people of color would be free. With some effort, he helped that dream come true. In addition to being one of the fathers of the modern civil rights movement, King is also one of the world’s best known symbols of peace as well as freedom.
The civil rights movement is one of the most critical in the United States of America. Dr. King saw the injustices first increasing in the deep south. He had a vision of living in a society in which race was not an issue and where everyone could be treated equally, regardless of their skin color. King’s efforts have changed the country and the world, for the better, in many noticeable ways. His vision of equality and nonviolence has had an enormous impact, making the world a more equal place for everyone, including myself. I have always known that I had brown skin, but I did not realize what having brown or black skin meant in this society.
It’s not a secret that law enforcement officers use their authority against people — especially African Americans. Thousands of scenarios have been reported where people have been abused by a law enforcement officer unexplainably: Dontre Hamilton, Eric Garner, John Crawford III, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Brianna Taylor, and George Floyd. The list goes on. These are all African Americans who have lost their lives due to unnecessary police brutality.
After carefully evaluating, I have come to the realization that people of color are not equal nor will ever be if we keep progressing at this rate. Much like Dr. King, I too have a dream. My dream is to live in an America where “the land of the free” is meant and being practiced by everyone.
Eugene Z. Bertrand is an Elementary Education and History major at Eastern Connecticut State University.