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Being Black in America has its share of complexities. When I was writing my song “Running for My Life,” I had to remind myself of these complexities. Sitting down on my sofa in my Glenside apartment, laced with the instrumental provided to me by fellow Arcadia alumnus Isaiah Davenport, I channeled some of my experiences into words.
Upon listening to the song with no lyrics, I did something that I hadn’t done in a long time as a Black man: I let myself feel. I felt the anger and frustration inherent with growing up in a system that has always provided limits to what I can achieve or treated me like some kind of alien when I supersede such limits.
- Jon McCoy
As a student who now has a bachelor’s degree in Media and Communication, I’m tired of hearing people be surprised about how well spoken I am. I’m tired of working myself up certain ladders only to look around and be the only face that looks like mine. I’m tired of being present in spaces where the people around me don’t care to understand me or why I am so upset about some of the circumstances that have preceded events we’ve seen play out in front of our very eyes in the past few months, and for many years before.
You see, as a Black man, I have not let myself feel this anger and frustration in a long time. I count my blessings, I pay my dues, and I do my best to shine a light in every community I serve. Yet somehow, I still live in a world where that would not be enough to prevent a police officer or other prejudiced individual from harming me and getting away with it because my mere presence is threatening to them. This is the cornerstone of the movement and phrase, “Black Lives Matter.” People always want to bring up “Black on Black” crime, or allege that if Black people didn’t disproportionately commit crimes, police brutality and related matters would not be so prevalent. I vehemently beg to differ. Not only are there a plethora of resources that explain why the theory of “Black on Black” crime is flawed, but there also remains the fact that a Black person doesn’t have to be criminally minded to be targeted by racism.
Right here in Glenside, when I was just 18 years old, I was targeted for sitting outside my own house, in a car with my mom. Why? Because there had “been break-ins in the area” and the man who came up to the car asking me and my mom questions had never seen us before. If we were white, would he have had any such suspicions towards us? A devil’s advocate could make the case, but overwhelming anecdotal evidence says no. The mere presence of me and my mother in a car, in a neighborhood I had just moved into, was enough for this man to ask us questions about what apartment we lived in, why we were in the car, and more before eventually calling the police on us. I wish I could say this was an isolated incident and that nothing similar had ever happened to me, but I would be lying. I just don’t have enough time in my 24 hours to describe in detail every time I have felt unsafe just because the color of my skin made someone else feel unsafe around me.
Change is something that scares people a lot. It can be sudden, it can be turbulent, and it can be unexpected. Yet, it is a constant. In this case, necessary changes need to be made in de facto and de jure laws all around the country and the world. It’s crazy to me that it’s taken a pandemic for people around the world to be forced to dwell in the uncomfortable truth that racism is very much still alive and well, and it is still the norm.
- Jon McCoy
Running For My Life is my response to the events I see unfolding in real time. As I was writing it, I had to allow myself to feel all the emotions I have repressed for years. I have repressed these emotions in the past not only to make the White people around me comfortable, but to make myself comfortable. I have lived in the suburbs for the past 10 years of my life, and I’ve also had the chance to study abroad and meet people of different cultures, creeds, and callings. I try my best not to come across as the “angry Black man” stereotype when talking about race because I don’t want the White individuals I have come to know to think I am angry at them specifically. I have also consciously numbed myself to the systemically racist realities of the world I live in, but the realities remain and I can no longer shy away from them.
Black people, it’s time to use our voices like never before to speak up about the issues that plague us. Don’t think for a second that because of your good job, nice car, or upwardly mobile status that your Black life matters to a racist system any more than George Floyd’s, Breonna Taylor’s, or Ahmaud Arbery’s. We can’t be afraid to speak up about things that may be uncomfortable to talk about, because it is those same things that are even more uncomfortable to live through and experience. White people, when you hear something your Black friends have to say about racism, pay attention to those concepts which you take offense to. Odds are, you or someone you know exhibits the behaviors you’re being educated on, and that’s a good sign it's time for a change.
Being Black in America has its share of complexities, but I wouldn’t trade them for the world. I am proud of my heritage, my culture, and my beautiful brown skin. That is why it is up to me, and all of my other brothers and sisters who have the privilege of a large platform, to speak up about those things that matter to us. We are strong. We are courageous. We are powerful. We are running for our lives, and we can’t slow down any time soon.