Have you ever had a "black attack?" That's what I
call the physical reaction black people have when someone says or does
something offensive and you try to remain calm.
Your heart beats faster and harder. A ripple of heat spreads over your body. Your muscles tighten in your head, jaw, neck, shoulders and chest. You breath shallowly.
Many times you don't notice it. Sometimes you feel it much later, when you suddenly start panting or feel dizzy.
I'll never forget the day O.J. Simpson was acquited on murder charges (yes, I'm going to take it there). I hadn't followed the trial with the religious zeal many other people did. I saw the verdict on TV in my dorm room my freshman year. Frankly, I didn't care. I went to class ready to talk about The Odyssey.
When I got to class, a white student came in wearing a black ski mask, black gloves, and a white T-shirt that he wrote "I did it" on. My chest tightened and my face got hot.
My professor arrived and was about to get on with the lesson, much to my relief, when a white student put up her hand and said "Can we please talk about this?" and exhaled like she was Marcia Clark and just lost the biggest case of her life.
The prof started talking and eventually said "A lot of black people feel loyalty to O.J." Then, to my horror, he turned to me and my friends -- three other black women -- sitting in a row in the front of the class. He said our names INDIVIDUALLY and asked us if we felt loyal to OJ. Twenty pairs of eyes landed on us. Two of my friends remained silent as though they hadn't heard the question. My third friend started to speak and then, frustrated, said she wouldn't comment.
I went off.
"OJ isn't putting me through college. He ain't putting food on my family's table. No I don't feel loyalty to OJ!" And it was I that spoke for the remainder of the class on behalf of black people everywhere. It took God and every bit of home training in me not to go berserk.
Even typing about that incident caused the "black attack." I'm hot. My heart is pounding and I can't fully breathe.
And that reaction might trim precious moments from my life.
It might seem like everyone has reactions like that, regardless of race, for a host of reasons. But that's only true to a point. A University of Nebraska researcher, Dr. Rubens Pamies, explained that black people are constantly on the verge of "fight or flight." Our bodies surge with the hormones and chemicals the body releases under stress all the time.
I call it "hypervigilance."
We have more reasons to be on edge. We might not even know that we are on edge. The slights that cause these reactions might be real or imagined. But the net affect on our bodies (not to mention our minds and yes, our wallets) is the same.
It explains why college-educated black women, in good health who get prenatal care are still more likely to have low birth weight babies than white women who dropped out of high school and smoked while pregnant, Pamies said. Those black babies are also more likely to die before their first birthdays than the white babies. Sickly babies need more care and that care costs money.
Hypervigilance may help explain why the suicide rate for black boys and men increased over the last few years while it's fallen for everybody else (among many other factors). It's rage and despair that gets turned inward, because when it goes outward you get arrested or shot and killed... or you shoot and kill.
The life expectancy for a black man is six years shorter than a white man, mainly because of murder. That disparity lowers the life expectancy for everyone and everyone pays for it in higher taxes and health and life insurance premiums, according to The Tennessean.
The newspaper found that, in Tennessee at least, murder costs taxpayers $110 million each year. The victims' families and the families of the murderers also cost everyone money because the majority of them need public assitance to make up for the deceased -- or the imprisoned -- person's wages.
So, just how much is the Black Tax? It seems that black folks aren't the only ones paying it...