By: Zachary Bynum
As a child, I was made aware of how to navigate this world in my black identity. Given that I grew up in a predominantly white and middle class town, you could imagine how deeply I normalized this part of my behavior. I was taught to never talk too much in places like classrooms. Never disrespect or pushback on authority. Never get in trouble in school or legally. Always address white people in a nonthreatening manner, so that they can feel comfortable; the list goes on and on and this is nothing new for many people of color. As a millennial and someone growing up in the era where we should be trying to “lean into discomfort”, I still suffer, amongst all my so-called “wokeness” to genuinely do this. I don’t mean that I can’t work across difference or genuinely welcome people who are not like me to a space. I mean that I am still uncomfortable with the fact that even though I know these issues and educate myself on them, it does not mean I am dismissed from falling victim to them or feeling the emotional effects they bring.Once again, I admit my guilt. I learn about issues. I advocate for change on these issues. I try to educate as many people as possible. I forgot however that there is a part of yourself that has to FEEL when it comes to politics.
I have had enriching conversations while in Cleveland that range anywhere from identity politics to economic policy to the simple theory of democracy, and sometimes it has been challenging hearing what the other side has to say. I find that many times I have these discussions based off of knowledge that I’ve gained both through experience and/or through study and while that is good, I am starting to see why that is not enough. Personally, I am not someone who likes to deal with problems publicly, and that is why I think in any intellectual debate or conversation about politics, rarely do I ever let what I am truly feeling be revealed. I sat through panels where people have discussed poverty in a very one dimensional way. I sat through panels where white people have been the loudest voices in a conversation on issues that affect Queer and Trans people of color most. I saw protests where people have screamed about Black men being lazy, dead-beat dads and black women needing to “close their legs.” I have sat through forums where Republicans take full credit for lowering incarceration rates in their states, while saying that the main reason women go to jail is because of futile boy troubles. I watched all of this, while inside the Quicken Loans arena a coalition of what I would say are white nationalist rallied around a man who seems to be an embodiment of all these things I keep seeing. For the most part, I only felt slightly troubled and it did not take much to unpack the things happening. On the last day of the RNC this statement was no longer true.
As we waited to enter an arena where a Trump watch-party was happening, in a suburb outside of Cleveland, two police men severely racially profiled me. They got out of the car as we were standing as a group waiting to go inside and said in a very presumptuous and authoritative manner “Hey, Devontae.” Even after one of our supervisors explained that I was in a group of almost 10 people and was not this person they were looking for, the officer proceeded to ask if I was the owner of a car that was parked across from the groups’. We all said no, and then the officers decided to leave after giving the group a long, menacing stare. Everyone else in the group seemed confused; however, I was not. In a group of almost 11 people, where only one person is a black man, I refuse to believe that this was nothing other than an act of profiling and intimidation. Who else could they have been referring to when he shouted “Hey Devontae” There was no clarity to what they were doing or why they were doing it, and there was no interest on their part to explain. Even after explaining to them that I was not the person they seemed to be interested in finding, they still seemed to act very speculative about what I was doing. I was furious. I was hurt. I was humiliated. There was something cathartic about writing that, boldening it, and then saying it aloud for several people to hear because I am now completely aware that even though what they did was wrong on a legal and moral standpoint, how they made me feel is what really hurts. Racism is a systemic, structural, and heavily politicized issue that does indeed have an effect on people in very interpersonal ways. Many of my most upsetting experiences with it, have been in my childhood. To be frank, in that situation I felt like I had become that child once again who was being told about all the things I could and couldn’t do to protect myself, and how it clearly didn’t matter whether or not I did anything wrong. They see me and think criminal without any context or assessment into the situation. People wonder why policing, police brutality, and the criminal justice system are such big topics in today’s political discourse, and it is because these things are happening all the time. There are people falling victim to state sanctioned violence, and there are people who are falling victim to extreme surveillance and policing. All I can think about is the people of color who go through this demonization and violence all the time, ending up in situations much worse than mine- I feel pain. I feel the pain of people who want to see change because we’re still putting up with this. I feel the pain of people who want to just live their lives as equally and liberated as others. And most of all, I feel my own pain- my own struggles to feel safe and respected in a world where even that is contested. Being at the RNC became a manifestation of the outright denial of the Republican Party to even try and acknowledge this. The language, the policy, the protest, the panels, and most importantly Trump’s very scary speech just seemed to solidify what I already believed; the RNC was just not meant for me. Even though I gained a great deal of information and had an enriching experience from an academic standpoint, I realize that sometimes even in the midst of all my knowing, my sentiments cannot be changed. I bid the RNC goodbye, and I do so with no hopes to relive it.