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How to Be Black During the Age of Zimmerman, Deen, and Obama

Welcome to the impossible future. White people are talking about race. Sometimes, they’ll even talk about racism. Some will say the word “racism” hesitantly, tentatively, as though it’s the name of an exotic food they’re not sure how to pronounce and are even less sure they’d like to taste. But they’ll say it. They’ll talk about it. And if you’re Black, chances are they’ll be talking about it to you. Some tips to note:

Racism will make you angry. You knew this already—you know the heat that claims your ears and forehead when a conversation takes its first racist turns. You have learned by now to recognize the warning signs—to monitor your breathing as soon as someone says “I don’t mean to be racist but…” and prepare for the worst. If you have ever been one of few Black people in any situation—in a class, at an office, at a dinner party, in a country—this is a familiar heat. But this summer’s heat feels different. It is unrelenting, self-renewing. It blares from all your life’s screens—your television, your Facebook feed, your email inbox, your iphone. It compromises your health. You feel, by turns, stressed, depressed, powerless, aimless, irate. You notice your heart rate surge and fall. You miss at least one workout. If you smoke, drink, or indulge in comfort food, you find yourself doing so more than usual. If you don’t, you feel a fleeting temptation to start.

Remember: Take care of yourself. And, as you do, scour yourself for internalized anti-blackness. Have you harbored quiet judgment of other Black folks for being lazy, obese, indolent, addicted? Think about the anger you feel now. Multiply it by generations. This heat is historic. It’s not that different at all.

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