It’s hard to describe with open vulnerability what it feels like to witness one of your worst fears on television. Having conversations with close friends and family helps, but still, I’m a black man, and I need to be careful. Racial tension is nothing new for me and has been a part of my entire life. A friend and I realized recently on a phone call that through the depths of conversations we’ve had over 15 years, covering college heartache and divorce, the loss of my mother, and many stressful situations, that we had never spoken about race. I’m aware I don’t talk about it often because to talk about it is to focus on a lifetime of uncalled for random moments of hate and pain, and the one thing I can’t control, my potential death at the hands of someone I don’t know, and for reasons unrelated to who I am. Seeing protesters on their knees with their hands in the air, saying, “Don’t Shoot!” is what I perceive as an actual last line of defense in a tense law-enforcement encounter. Black unarmed citizens die, and that is my reality.
One Story of Many
Racism is real across America, and it’s hard to convey your life purpose during a tense encounter with law-enforcement. I’d describe encounters as a gut-wrenching feeling that whatever you’re given, you have to take. For example, the day I got the news that my mother had cancer, I was in Kansas City but lived three hours north in Des Moines. My ex-wife and I we’re traveling home from our “honeymoon,” and about an hour in, I got pulled over. A different car following too closely to my rear bumper was his reasoning for pulling me over. As if I knew them? When the officer asked where I was going, I explained to him that I just found out my mother had cancer, and I was trying to get home to figure out what next steps I needed to take and felt an urgency to start contacting family members. Whether it is the protocol, or he didn’t believe me, he asked me to step out of the vehicle and to get into his. Still, I felt that whatever happened, I would have to take, even though I wasn’t the offending party in question. When he asked me to explain to him again my situation, I broke down in tears, describing in detail the weight I felt in that moment. I told him that I’d been married for less than a month, and my mother, who thought I was at home, called me when I was about to end my honeymoon to tell me that she had cancer. Full-on snot and tears, I babbled. He consoled me and did his best to calm me down, letting me go with a warning and suggesting making my ex-wife drive, as I’d turned to an emotional wreck. Imagine my ex-wife’s response when I returned to the car in tears and a sobbing mess. My reality is that I don’t know who is who, and to find out who’s a bad apple too late means I may die. I see any resistance can quickly turn to misunderstanding, especially if I’m scared and in survival mode trying to protect myself.
Terror Management Theory
Recently I learned of something called the “terror management theory,” discussed in the book titled, “The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life.” It “proposes that a basic psychological conflict results from having a self-preservation instinct while realizing that death is inevitable and to some extent unpredictable. This conflict produces terror end terror is managed by embracing cultural believes or symbolic systems that act to counter biological reality with more durable forms of meaning and value. The most obvious examples of cultural values that assuage death anxiety are those that purport to offer literal immortality (e.g. Believe in afterlife, religion).” That’s interesting and resonates with me. Every decision, based on survival instinct and “symbolic immortality,” yet still knowing that death is random and inevitable. It’s true for everyone, even those committing harm to others. For me, it’s unfortunately likely sooner to occur because of the color of my skin. Still, my decision-making process makes sense following this theory. My safety concerns are always existent. Whether I represent my employer on a job site in a particular neighborhood or if I’m going for a jog, which I love to do. Incidents of African Americans being detained in gated communities or being shot while exercising their physical fitness strikes a chord because those are the things I do myself.
The World You See is Not the One I Live In
Stephen Covey says in The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, “Each of us tends to think we see things as they are, that we are objective. But this is not the case. We see the world, not as it is, but as we are-or, as we are conditioned to see it. When we open our mouths to describe what we see, we in effect describe ourselves, our perceptions, our paradigms. When other people disagree with us, we immediately think something is wrong with them. But, as the demonstration shows, sincere, clearheaded people see things differently, each looking through the unique lens of experience.” At first, I found it took some effort to separate my responses from understanding that people will always see the world from a different perspective than I do and would try to argue my point. As I’m working on myself, I believe those differences are an opportunity to learn and understand a different perspective. I am willing to take responsibility for my responses and the actions I take. I’m willing to admit that I could be wrong about an issue. How others show up is a reflection of values that I may have no time to take personally.
“If you don’t let the teacher know at what level you are-by asking a question, or revealing your ignorance-you will not learn or grow. You cannot pretend for long, for you will eventually be found out. Admission of ignorance is often the first step in our education.” Marilyn Ferguson
Every morning I recite 20 affirmations I’ve written, the first two saying,
- My actions reflect love, respect, and empathy.
- I choose to live a life of integrity.
By stating my intentions for the day before I leave home, I find that the consistency of reminding myself of my values and the behaviors I want to focus on creates more opportunity to be the results of those actions in every interaction I have. Committing to my subconscious and long-term memory, who I want to show up as.
This blog also serves as voice along my journey to share my character and intention to pursue a life of purpose and integrity, and just in case someone hears my name on the news and thinks, who was Jeremy Stegall and why did they do him like that?
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post or find a useful idea, please share it with your friends and family. Your referral is greatly appreciated. I look forward to discovering where the change happens with you.