The Beloved Community That Mugged Me

"The Beloved Community," Chris Barret

One week ago, almost to the minute, I was mugged. (I’m fine. Life happens.) What stands out the most about the incident is not my newfound inconvenience of being phoneless; it is that I was mugged by people who looked like me. Yes, this Black boi was jumped and robbed by Black boys.

It’s ironic, really.

I recently engaged in a discussion about the way people have been socialized to fear groups of men—specifically those who are Black and Brown—despite sometimes being of a similar identity. Following that conversation, I promised to make a conscious effort to do away with that irrational discomfort. In practicing this, I found that Black men are generally quite friendly. Say ‘hello’ to them and they will say ‘hello’ (or ‘sup,’ ‘what’s good,’ etcetera) to you. Slowly but surely, I worked on dissolving internalized prejudices and crossing paths with Black men caused less and less discomfort.

Black youth, however, were a completely different case.

During an early evening walk home from work via my usual 11-minute route, I spotted a group of Black teens. Remembering my promise but also feeling notably uneasy, I decided to cross the street sooner than I usually would in order to avoid passing them in close proximity. A few blocks later, the boys of the group circled me and demanded my phone. My refusal resulted in a blow to the jaw. Further refusal resulted in fists to the back of the head. Recognizing that phones are replaceable but life is not, I gave them the phone and walked away…not only with my life, but with an increased fear of future generations.

I am bothered by the implications of my feelings.

I grew up a child of middle-class military America. I have had the experience of living a relatively sheltered life and, until now, have never been the victim of non-domestic violence. As a constantly growing individual, I made it a point to do away with the self-loathing I had been taught. I tried to assume the best of my people. I tried to assume Black youth weren’t as bad as the world makes them out to be. But in light of recent events I can’t help but second guess my stance. I feel let down, but not for the reasons one might expect.

I do not blame my assailants for their behavior. While I certainly hold the individuals (and their guardians) accountable, as they made the conscious decision to mug a small Black boi who was doing nothing but minding his own business, I also recognize the larger game at play. My experience is but a small taste of what the disenfranchisement of Black America has done to our community. The love of objects has been placed above the love of self. Self-destruction is more popular than self-preservation. Our youth are willing to sacrifice their lives and freedom for a chunk of metal and glass. Their parents are willing to allow the behavior to continue instead of allow a cop-free justice. Physically harming someone is done for amusement; shooting someone is seen as the best way to solve an issue. Sadly, there seems to be no sign of change.

But I knew all of this. While I had never experienced it, given my class-privileged background, I was fully aware of what took place on the other side of the highway. What I didn’t realize, however, is how traumatic such a lifestyle must be. There are people who live this daily. A two-minute robbery is nothing.

Understanding that there are people who endure experiences of a much worse magnitude on a regular basis is terrifying. Every day, there are people who look over their shoulder every five seconds while walking down a main street in broad daylight. Every day, there are people who discover that a friend, friend of a friend, or relative was the victim of a violent crime. Every day, there are people who don’t even think to call the police because they know the police are more likely to work against them than for them. I can’t imagine the psychological trauma one must go through when raised in an environment where muggings are as common as cracks in the sidewalk. I remain aware of my privilege and how it ties into my experience.

As a Black queer man I have learned distrust of a specific type. Those trapped in these environments have learned distrust of a similar type. Do instances such as these act as validation? Some might argue ‘yes.’ I am not convinced.

For each act of validation there are dozens of acts of invalidation. Other Black boys and men I have crossed did not mug me. Many Black boys and men inquired about my safety upon hearing what had occurred  Some Black boys and men offered to escort me home after work so that I would not feel alone. One Black man offered to punch my assailants in the face as was done to me. (I convinced him that this would not be necessary.) I was not mugged by my community. I was mugged by the distrust of society that my class-underprivileged “cousins” have learned. I was mugged by what disenfranchisement has done to some members of my community. And I am being healed by what disenfranchisement has not done to other members. I am thankful for my support system: the friends who have crossed town to walk me home and sat on the phone as I spoke of doomsday and revenge scenarios. Having such a caring clique has certainly helped in the healing process.

While I am still skittish and steer clear of anyone who reminds me of my attackers, I have not lost hope. I will not lose hope. I refuse to let one incident alter my mission. All families have a “problem child.” Some have six. It takes a village to raise a child, and in that lies the responsibility to not ignore those who do not meet our standard of goodness. The Black community needs more than a caring clique. We need a caring culture. We need a culture that encourages honesty, not “stop snitchin.” We need adults committed to providing constructive outlets for underserved youth. We need to lessen the impact of materialism and heighten the value of education. We, as a community, need to heal. Until we do, innocent pedestrians will continue to be attacked by neighbors. Babies will continue to be shot. Aspiring musicians will continue to be caught in the crossfire of rival gangs who have long forgotten what their beef is about. We will continue to be our own destruction.

I am grateful to be alive, yet my heart is heavy. I had the option/ability to walk away and have the financial means to replace the phone. Many lives have been lost through the denial of this option. Hadiya Pendleton did not have this option. Kevin Ambrose did not have this option. Jonylah Watkins did not have this option. Evon Young did not have this option. Daniel Gardner did not have this option. I did, however, and I will not take that for granted.

To know me is to know I  love my people. I do not hate my assailants. I hate what has been done to them to cause them to hate me. Because of this, I must continue to love. I must continue to work toward my dreams. I must continue to give back to my communities. I must continue educating others about the reality of Black America; we are not all hellbent on terrorizing whoever comes our way, and those who are often do so because they have been terrorized. I must continue to call attention to marginalization. I must continue to promote accountability while also looking at the bigger picture. I must continue to heal and help heal. I must continue to love my people, even when they do not love themselves.

What must you do?

(Photo: “The Beloved Community,” Chris Barret of Long Island, New York)

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