The Burden

Have you ever felt the weight of representation? The awareness that you are not just a person living life the best you can? But rather, in the minds of far too many, you are a symbol of everyone in your group? I have. And I know that many others have as well. The question is, how do we move beyond this method of categorization into authentic relating so that we can meet people as they are and not as symbols for whatever idea of their group we hold?

Well, without positive intent, practice, correction, and refinement, we will find that this tendency is going to limit our capacity to truly relate to one another. And thereby, it will limit our ability to create systems and processes that maximize our collective human potential. Now let me say that, if you are a person who wants to prove to me that you have had it as rough as anyone else, I have no interest in winning any prizes in the competition for who is more oppressed. But, I do value candor. So let me share from my own experience how the burden of being a symbol creates a challenge to authentic relating and you can tell me in the comments if you have felt a similar burden for your group.

While I haven’t done an official poll, I can tell you that almost every Black person I know who has grown up in America knows what it’s like to feel the existential burden placed upon us that says, “You represent your entire race.” I remember getting in a conversation with a military buddy who happens to be White about this a couple of decades ago. He was honest enough to admit that he had observed this too. And being a straight forward man and not very politically correct, he indignantly said, “Dang man that’s messed up. It’s not like I have to think about how every serial killer makes me look. And you know most of the serial killers are some crazy White guy.”

Because we are good friends, we could have an irreverent laugh about the absurdity of it all. And in the context of our friendship, he and I have dismantled most of that systemic garbage so that it isn’t between us. But, at the same time, things like what went down between Will Smith and Chris Rock shows that the larger culture is still entangled in this tendency to place the burden of all of us on everyone of us. Even many of us Black folks are wrestling with this, calling the incident “Black on Black” crime, because we have been enculturated into this mindset and don’t think of questioning the cultures that create such misnomers and agreeing that what happened puts Black people back instead of just the person who made the decision.

As someone who has wrestled with this burden most of my own life, while always questioning its validity ever since a teacher told me I was a “credit to my race”, I can say this is unfair and needs to be deconstructed. When my teacher said it to me, I let him know that I didn’t take it as a compliment even though I knew that was how he meant it. It hurt his feelings. But not as much as him essentially saying to me, “Your race is so messed up, they are lucky to have you.”

If you are someone who doesn’t have the social obligation to represent your entire community to the world, I invite you to meditate on that for a moment. What does it feel like to think that the next thing some one from your group does that is unwelcomed reflects on you directly? Imagine someone coming up to you at your job and asking you, why someone did something as if you all have some kind of group telepathy. That’s what a large segment of society is asking of us everyday. So, if you want to lighten that burden, don’t participate in this tendency. Be part of a better way. Get to know people as individuals. Listen to and share personal stories from folks who differ from you. And don’t rely on biases to determine your relational capacity.

If you’re looking for opportunities to relate beyond biases, check out events such as America Talks and the National Week of Conversation.

Below is a a poem that appears on my poetry site that reflects the weigh of:

The Burden
“How on earth are you hoping right now?”
I really want to quit.
No more coping right now?
My demons got demons.
No more glowing light now.
I have become my own shadow.
Whys consuming my how.
We’ve all heard the stories
Of who we’re supposed to be
But I wrote my own story
When yours was opposed to me
Became a default leader
They’re drawing close to me
Now my failures are their failures
Supposedly.
When I’m not “myself”,
No one knows it me.
Hiding in plain sight
Until you let go of me.
This is the burden
That none of us has asked for
But if one falls from grace
We’re all put on blast for
They say we credit our race
Or we bring them down
Then when “I’m” not there
I am finally found

©️ Copyright 2021 Pedro S. Silva II

8 replies »

  1. Pedro,

    Thanx for posting this. I hope you speak for your race in this post. I surely don’t mean that as an insult, but as one trying to be sensitive and listening, I recognize that across racial divides there are various filters messages go through both for good or ill. I might THINK I am hearing you and getting it, when I am not.

    As a white person, I know that THAT can come across as insensitive, and frequently is a sign of insensitivity alright. But it can betray the desire of the white person to connect too, and then the sensitivity effort gets burned.

    That is a bad thing to happen.

    At the risk of talking too much when I should just like and shut up, let me say that I already think modern Americans approach much of the Bible this way. I like to propose a scenario in which two thousand years from now, archaeologists dig up a baseball field with some of the equipment, but also the rule book for a football game. They also find a newspaper report about a particular game, a football game where the final score was 100 to 0. The reporter called it an earthshattering defeat!

    So they get to examining the findings, and amazingly they come pretty close to ironing out a lot of it. However, they don’t know how to get a touchdown with third base or a bat. But they are able to stage something they decide is pretty fun to play alright. Still they look back at us ancient ones and think we were pretty stupid to ever think playing this game might shatter the earth.

    So much room for miscommunication.

    Do I have misplaced contempt in me? Yes. No doubt. Is some of it racial in nature? Well, I don’t think so, but I sure might laugh at the wrong joke and a jury might think otherwise.

    But unlike the archaeologist scenario, it’s amazing how devastatingly accurate I can communicate contempt if I want to do so. WE all pretty well understand the F word. So, among those who wish to communicate contempt, the pipeline is open, ready, and no need for filters.

    At any rate, I just want to say I am trying. Sincerely trying to be sensitive about such matters. I am a work in progress. I was not born in a vacuum, not raised in one, but I still think what happened to Rodney King was clearly a crime on the face of it. Even if policy and junk science clouded good people’s judgment, these cops knew they were against the wall the moment that video aired, and they didn’t need it explained.

    Even before that happened, I cared, but I have made a lot of changes in my life on account of that time, that event. And I still am.

    Your post helps.

    Thanx

    Like

    • Thanks for your comment. I didn’t track all of it. But, what I got out of it is that you are listening and learning and trying to apply what you learn. I guess that is all actions can ask. I think I get your sports analogy and joke confusion comes about even with legitimate good intent. I wish you the best. Thanks for reading it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, your point about the teacher calling you “a credit to your race” (Did I quote that right?) was insulting even though he thought he was complimenting. He obviously didn’t think it through all the way. Also, you point out the BURDEN. You represent, and this “compliment” hit the wrong note.

        That phenom of representing is unique. It’s not one white people tend to recognize. I see that. Especially since you pointed it out here.

        I realize that I don’t automatically represent all white people. That burden is not automatic for me. I get your point.

        But I am trying to lift that burden with my comment (in part). I cannot, nor do I want to, speak for literally ALL white people. I certainly do not wish to spew contempt. But I recognize that any white person who sorta wakes up to the issue on a given Wednesday morning and decides, I want to do better, does not simply do better.

        It becomes a process.

        The decision is the big step – in fact a giant leap. But not the whole journey.

        There are still habits of thought, speech, and actions that need to be curbed, eliminated, challenged.

        I am in that process myself.

        At the risk of bogging down in explanation, I nonetheless want to speak FOR those white people who are trying to make changes. I have relatives who do not think of themselves as racist, but who will use language and labels, will express ideas and political ideals, which are racist. Some are just ignorantly insensitive. Others more covertly and willfully mean. Some of us are in the process of making change.

        This white man meant to be nice, but his comment actually was not.

        I think I am guilty of that sometimes too. And to the extent that happens, I want to lay down a marker and say, I am trying. Sincerely.

        Not all people of my race are, or ever were, actively involved in denigrating other races of people, but we nonetheless have a share in the guilt of those who do/did. I think there is a process to the healing of it. I sense over the years that I find more ways to make change than I did on the first day I decided to make change.

        I personally find the Rodney King beating to be a moment where that really came to a head for me, many years ago. The dragging death of James Byrd Jr was another event that brought fresh focus on these things into my life personally. In fact, I have gone back on Youtube and watched some very powerful documentaries on that story. One film crew made up of both black and white filmmakers split up to talk to black and white residents of Jasper, then came back to edit one video out of their experience and show the differences in the reactions of people from both races.

        It’s quite a study in insensitivity. Practically no white people in that video were in favor of what happened, but the extensive insensitivity and the protectionist, reactionary way they talk proves to exacerbate the problem rather than heal it. I totally see myself and my kin in that! It is eye opening for me.

        I hope there are others – other white people – looking at that and seeing ourselves in the mirror it holds up. I hope we can learn to make changes where it counts. There is a privilege opposite the burden that is not fair and needs to be rooted out.

        Like

        • Thanks again for taking the time to write and unpack this. This race thing is definitely giving us a lot of work to do as a species on this planet. Because of my choice to believe in God, I have decided to assume that there is a path to healing and that I have to surrender my limited pov to a higher one that makes room for all. So, I wrestle with this like Jacob. BTW, did you see the link to that America Talks event? Did you check it out? I think events like this offer opportunities to plant healing seeds. Would you register and share it with others?

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh no… Pedro

    I’m sorry. I failed to follow up on this. I was trying to register and got interrupted, then failed to come back.

    As for the other link… NO. I did not see it. I will look for it now.

    Like

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