Can I Switch Off My Brain? Being Black in America Is Tiring, Even During a Pandemic

I’ve never received a speeding ticket in my life. I have been pulled over 15+ times in my life for looking “nervous” or “suspicious” to a police officer while driving.

I’ve never been arrested, but I have been questioned by law enforcement when sitting on a park bench, minding my business on a nice day, and taking in the good weather.

Though I’ve never stolen a single thing in my life, I have been singled out and accused of it without any proof, had my reputation tarnished, and been threatened/pressured to admit guilt where I had none.

I am a college-educated, law-abiding, and successful contributing member of society who also happens to be a black man living in America. Though it is frustrating to need to preface this to illustrate a point, I know from personal experience that even possessing these qualities is simply not enough to avoid the suspicious eyes of those who look at you in fear, distrust, or disgust.

This weekend, thousands of people of all races gathered in major cities throughout the US as well as many other countries, to passionately protest the bigotry, lost lives, and inequity experienced by black people in the US. Demonstrations ranged from peaceful kneeling in solidarity to outraged cries for justice, violent altercations with the police, and imposed curfews in many cities.

George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. Christian Cooper. These are but a sampling of black Americans who have tragically lost their lives or been threatened by a pervasive mindset in America, which still views black people as out of place, out of line, or guilty until proven innocent. On top of all of this, it is becoming increasingly factually evident that black people are disproportionately dying from Coronavirus. To many, it feels like a never-ending battle.

In 2020, 157 years since slavery ended and 66 years since the end of segregation, we still live in a world where black people and people of color are, whether consciously or subconsciously, still viewed and treated by so many in this nation as an “other” to be feared.


At a time when we as a human race should unite the most, with each passing day, many black people live in fear of the next headline in which we will yet again see our faces in the memorialized victims of the senseless violence or targeted discrimination.

The saddest part of all of this? For many of us, this comes as no surprise and is nothing new.

I have “complied” or “followed the rules” most of my life. Yet, even I am not exempt from the same similarly rooted prejudices and discriminations many people of color feel on a regular basis. And what I’ve experienced is very mild in comparison to stories from other black people I know. Black people across America realize early in life that if it could happen to them, it could certainly happen to any person of color.

The most infuriating part of all of this is that it is happening at an alarming rate, and with fatal consequences.

Whether you want to go for a jog, bird-watch in the park, or sit in the comfort of your home, imagine living in constant fear that someone might take it upon themselves to decide whether you “belong.” Now imagine losing your freedom, or worse yet, your life because of it.

Imagine fearing for your loved ones, whom you can’t be around 24/7 to protect.

I could go on, but the simple fact of the matter is black people are being targeted and dying. Whether you are a person of color, an ally, or a bystander, this likely is having an impact in some way or another, even on you. So how do you cope?

How do you remain focused when you’re mentally exhausted from reading the seemingly never-ending news headlines about the pandemic and next #hashtag to “never forget”? How do you stay in good spirits, when you’re emotionally heartbroken for the men and women who have lost their loved ones to injustice?

In 2020, 157 years since slavery ended and 66 years since the end of segregation, we still live in a world where black people and people of color are, whether consciously or subconsciously, still viewed and treated by so many in this nation as an “other” to be feared.

As much as I want to, I don’t have the answer. However, what helps me is surrounding myself with those who can empathize and understand my pain and frustration, be a listening ear, and a compassionate ally. In times where my emotions feel as though they are running too high to maintain, I allow myself time to disengage and find ways to rest my mind, so I do not fall into an endless spiral of negative thought.

Most importantly, though, when I see injustice, I use my voice, my energy, and my resources to ensure that things such as these don’t continue to happen unchecked, and hope for a better world.

    Jay Leaf-Clark

    Head of IT at Dashlane and self-described “gadget nerd” with over 16 years experience building, innovating, and leading IT organizations.

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