Lexington County Sheriff's Department via Getty Images
Lexington County Sheriff's Department via Getty Images

The privilege of being allowed to exist on Earth — and the experiences, the enlightenments, and the beauties associated with this privilege — comes with a couple unfavorable conditions.


1. We will die.

2. We will coexist with entities actively attempting to kill us.

These are facts every human is conscious of. But this awareness is (mostly) subconscious. While we do things to actively stave off our demise, the very real reality that we can die at literally any moment does not dominate our thoughts. Shouldn't, at least. Because we would not be able to exist if we remained hyperconscious of the fact that, one day — any day — we will not.


I say "our" here in a collective, human sense. But there are people in the world who have to be more conscious of the tenuousness of their existence than others. People who, in order to continue to survive, have to allow the reality that every moment can be their last to dominate their thoughts. People who can not relax. People who can not breathe.

When attempting to explain the psychic toll of being Black in America to a White person, there's really no way to articulate the feeling of existing in a place where you're never able to not be aware of the reality of death. Of being forced to be hyperconscious of the fact that, depending on where you happen to be that day, you're either actively thought of as a threat or actively threatened. (Or both.) Of knowing you are never safe — not at home, not walking down a street, not in a car with your friends, not while sleep, not while eight-years-old, not while in the custody of people paid to protect you, not in a swimming pool, not in a pew — and knowing this lack of safety is due to your Blackness. Of being othered, always. Of never feeling quite welcome in your own home. Of being enraged, disencouraged, and fucking exhausted by it. And of feeling all those things, separately and simultaneously.

Dylann Storm Roof — the 21-year-old suspected of murdering nine people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina — will eventually be caught. Or he will either be killed while the police attempt to apprehend him or he will kill himself. He will soon no longer be an entity actively attempting to kill us. This is progress, I guess.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a columnist for GQ.com, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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