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What It's Like To Be Black In America: I'm 'Angry And Tired'

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

And finally today, a special story that would not be possible without you, our listeners. In response to recent events, NPR put a call out to hear from African American listeners about what it's like to be black in America today. Hundreds of responses have poured in. Here are a few.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEARY")

SOLANGE: (Singing) I'm weary at the ways of the world.

TERRY MILLER: My name is Terry Miller (ph), and I live in Jacksonville, Fla. I'm becoming more and more angry and tired at every time one of these stories comes to light. Camera footage means little to nothing in chasing justice since we are asking the police that kill and injure us to protect us from people in their own tribe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEARY")

SOLANGE: (Singing) ...That a king is only a man with flesh...

CUYLAR JENKINS: My name is Cuylar Jenkins (ph). I live in Illinois. I know that I've been lucky enough to have a certain privilege. As a biracial man, I was raised in the Chicago suburbs, which is in and of itself already a privilege that many don't have. I have a good education. I've never been arrested. And thanks to have been raised in suburbs, I talk straight white.

I've learned a lot of strange tics and habits from my father. And thinking on it, it's his own way of diffusing situations. I've learned to be charming from my father - a way of saying, I'm not a threat. I'm just a funny guy. See? I made you laugh. And I know that despite these lessons, none of them explicitly taught all of it could change if a police officer suddenly decides that they fear for their lives or because I fit the description.

A year and a half ago at a stoplight, I saw that there were two cop cars ahead of me. Then I noticed there were two cop cars behind me. And a third one pulled out a block ahead and moved towards me. My heart sank as I realized, oh [expletive], this could be it. Sure enough, when the light turned green, the lights came on, and the sirens blared. I pulled over, and I saw that six cops had pulled me over. So I did what my father would have done - parked, turned off my car, rolled the windows down and kept my hands on the wheel.

Officers slowly surrounded my car, and I did what my father had done when meeting a stranger - smiled and politely asked how the officer was doing. Seeing a black man in a nice car speaking with a white accent might have thrown the officer off. Pleasantries were exchanged. I smiled and nodded. And I thought that maybe I did enough to tell these officers that I'm not a threat.

The privileges I had received proved to be enough. I had matched the description, and they were following up. I chatted with some officers as my license was ran. I got a few more laughs, and then they let me go. If I had not had the privileges I have, if I didn't talk in such a manner, if I didn't learn how to be charming from my father, if I hadn't been the perfect level of respectful, I don't need to speculate on what might have happened.

(SOUNDBITE OF DONNY HATHAWAY'S "SOMEDAY WE'LL ALL BE FREE")

KEVIN SIMON: My name is Dr. Kevin Simon (ph). I live in Boston, Mass. I am a board-certified psychiatrist completing fellowship training in child and adolescent psychiatry at one of the nation's best children's hospitals.

Caring for black boys and their families is becoming more challenging in this environment. I am often asked by parents, colleagues and friends, how should I talk to my black son, or how do I talk to my black parents? And while I have clinically found answers to these questions based on the best evidence, my own experiences, compounded by the nearly daily barrage of disheartening news, health statistics and deaths related to black lives, and men in particular, is beginning to weigh heavy on me as I too am a black man.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WISH I KNEW HOW IT WOULD FEEL TO BE FREE")

NINA SIMONE: (Singing) I wish I knew how it would feel to be free.

CHRISTINA TAYLOR: My name is Christina Taylor (ph). I live in Dallas, Texas. Being black in America - well, it's one of the bravest things I've ever had to be and wouldn't want to be anything but black and a woman. But just George Floyd's death - oh, this has hurt me to the bottom of my soul. In America in 2020, we witnessed a white cop put his knee on the neck of a black man. And it's bad enough black people are disproportionately affected by coronavirus. We're also significantly impacted by the economic downturn. And on top of that, we have to worry about our lives being in danger.

And as much as you'd like to know my experience of some black person in America, you would never understand it. You would never understand the trauma, the real trauma produced by institutional racism - never. But I do believe you now see the fruit from its tree, and it has very deep roots.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WISH I KNEW HOW IT WOULD FEEL TO BE FREE")

SIMONE: (Singing) I wish I could give all I'm longing to give.

MCCAMMON: We want to hear from you. Head to our website, npr.org, to tell us about your experience as a black person in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WISH I KNEW HOW IT WOULD FEEL TO BE FREE")

SIMONE: (Singing) I wish that I could do all the things that I can do. Though I'm way overdue, I'd be starting anew. Well, I wish I could be like a bird in the sky. How sweet it would be if I found I could fly. Oh, I'd soar to the sun and look down... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.