Shame on You for Making Me Hide My Blackness

For a single day, I needed that sense of security

A multiple exposure photo of a Black man.

I’m Black and 6'4" every day, and I’m 210 pounds most days.

Today I awoke with the single objective. Today I would not be Black. As proud as I am and as ironic as it may be, I needed, if only for this day, to be free of the burden I wear that can often be damn near enslaving.

I woke up in the comfort of my safe bed, and I worked in the comfort of my safe home. I exercised in the comfort of my garage and cooked in the comfort of my kitchen. I ate in the comfort of my own chair. And it felt great.

Yet, every time I leave my home, I am Black — and my comfort escapes me.

A closeup photo of the author smiling.
A closeup photo of the author smiling.

When I left my house yesterday morning, for a fleeting moment I almost forgot I was Black. I wanted to go for a jog in my new neighborhood, when I realized I probably shouldn’t. Instead, I went to a local park and ran on its empty track, where I felt safe — because there was no one there I could possibly make feel unsafe. My Blackness anchored me, kept me from moving freely.

Who am I to have the unmitigated gall to believe I can jog mere steps from my front door? That right is not reserved for me. My life may depend on “others” feeling safe around me — on me not diminishing their serenity with my Black presence. Sometimes I smile more broadly or walk more slowly in parking lots. When stopped by the police, I keep my hands on the steering wheel and humbly say “Yes, sir,” and “No, sir” to those in blue.

Who am I to have the unmitigated gall to believe I can jog mere steps from my front door? That right is not reserved for me.

Yesterday evening, my wife and I went for a walk, and for another fleeting moment, I almost forgot I was Black. She is 5'3", so I felt safe; surely with her I could not be mistaken as threatening. As we strolled, she wanted to venture into the common area behind our new neighbors’ homes so I could see how they decorated their yards — but again, my Blackness anchored me in place.

Who am I to get decorating tips for my backyard? That right is not reserved for me, because I’m 6'4" every day, and I’m 210 pounds most days.

Some days, it’s exhausting. On other days, it’s infuriating. And it’s often frightening. Many days, it’s all three, and I feel helpless.

There’s no more I can do: I went to college. I went to law school. I’ve had one wife, two daughters, and three dogs. Aren’t those the rules? But who am I to have the unmitigated gall to believe the standards for others are the same for me? So I continue to live by the only rule that matters: My life may depend on others feeling safe around me.

Call it the Emmett Till rule, or the Ahmaud Arbery rule, or the countless others in between. But you won’t call it the Arnold Ragas rule. At least not today.

I often say it to myself because I’m afraid that if I forget, others will remind me. And since they so seldom seem to feel safe, who am I to wear a hoodie or allow my child to play with toy guns or, if wounded, knock on a door?

That’s why I chose to wake in the comfort of my own safe bed and work in the comfort of my home and exercise in the comfort of my garage and cook in the comfort of my kitchen and eat in the comfort of my chair.

And it felt great.

A husband. A father. A former member of the Georgia House of Representatives. A former judge. Now, an indigent defense attorney winning unwinnable trials.

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