“I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
When’s it gonna get me?
In my sleep? Seven feet ahead of me?
If I see it comin’, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody?
See, I never thought I’d live past twenty
Where I come from some get half as many
Ask anybody why we livin’ fast and we laugh, reach for a flask”
– Alexander Hamilton from “Hamilton: An American Musical” song “My Shot”
I remember the first time I thought about my own death. I was around eight years old and it felt so real.
I was walking to the corner store to get some soda, I hear a loud commotion at the front. Three guys walk in with ski-mask on and rob the cashier then shoot him… I try to keep quiet, but I let out a yelp. One of the guys looks back and starts walking down the aisle with a shotgun… he sees me and laughs. Then points the gun at my head…. BOOM.
I woke up immediately, had the craziest headache, the side where he placed the gun was numb. I cried. It seems that this scenario has played out even more often as I grew older.
“See, I never thought I’d live past twenty
Where I come from some get half as many”
To be a young black man in America feels like living a life on borrowed time. Growing up in Levister Towers during the 90’s was a troublesome time. Death, poverty, crime were kings. 215 So. 9th Avenue is where I was raised, a two bedroom apartment on the 2nd floor with my mother and aunt. They did their best to protect me from the outside forces, but there’s only so much you can shield from the eyes of a young child growing up in the belly of beast.
A sense of paranoia as if I’ll be the next victim. A 1000 ways to die is the beginner’s course for black people. I often wonder, will it be at the hands of a cop? Will I die at a cookout trying to get the last piece of jerk chicken? (I really love jerk chicken.) Will I die because of mistaken identity? Will I die because I am black? What if I get hit with a stray bullet while driving down the street?
“When’s it gonna get me?’’
As I journey through my 20’s I’ve become aware of my own mortality, how things are final, there aren’t any second chances in this game of life and death.
Media platforms have not made it easy, we consume death, violence and sex like air in our lungs, each breath we take more in until we have become desensitized to it. We watch as black bodies drop in the streets and become motionless, a million plus views of a murder and there is no suspect. That’s madness. Who needs Viola Davis when you can watch How to Get Away with Murder in dashboard cameras?
At the end of it…. Death is final and as a black man it scares me… it affects my emotions, my mood, my lifestyle. I hope it gets better, but realistically it won’t… not for a long time.
Note: This is part one in a series of columns around Hamilton: An American Musical and issues in Black America. Hamilton: An American Musical is a sung-through musical about the life of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The show, inspired by the 2004 biography Alexander Hamilton by historian Ron Chernow, achieved both critical acclaim and box office success.