I don’t have anything to say about what’s happening right now. I’m spent. All I can say, on behalf of myself and the men and women I represent, we love you. We need you. We respect you. We honor you. We love you.
I’ve been at LEVEL since last summer when this publication was preparing to launch. I thought about making sure we covered fashion. I thought about how to cover politics and entertainment through the right lens. I wanted to make sure we covered what it means not only to be a queer Black man but to be a Black trans man in this world. I wanted grown men of color from all walks of life to see themselves represented. On launch day, we had essays about LEVEL men like Jay-Z and Jordan Peele who exemplify what it means to age with dignity and vulnerability.
The world we all live in is closer to Minneapolis than makes any of us comfortable. In Brooklyn, in Philadelphia, in Oakland, there is no escape. The men I love are always in danger.
But I’m ashamed to say that I forgot about this part of the job.
I forgot there would be a George Floyd. I forgot I’d be in Slack channels with my co-workers just dumbfounded. What is there to say? How am I at home, assigning a story, when I want to go to Minneapolis and fuck shit up?
I forgot my actual job would be to help synthesize it all. As one of two women of color on staff, I forgot what it would be like to deal with men of color writing out their feelings and needing to edit them.
We have a small and tight-knit staff at LEVEL. Even before the pandemic, I worked from home, so I’ve only spent limited in-person time with most of them. Aside from some meetings and team dinners, I’ve learned their personalities and emotions via Slack and Zoom. These are Black men of all ages. Men I worry about just like the men in my personal life. And they’re all — we’re all — completely invested in properly amplifying the voices of men of color.
Over a decade ago, I spoke at Howard University to a group of journalism students; afterward, I met a young man named John Kennedy. Within minutes, after the briefest of talks, I knew he was going far — and sure enough, he’s now my sharp-as-a-tack editor on my weekly column, Dear Level. After a single early team dinner, I fell in love with our staff writer Tirhakah Love’s rapier wit. And now I love that he brings his whole full self to every single piece he writes — sometimes before he’s even ready to process it. Jada Gomez, our senior platform editor, is on the frontlines, working with men of color to amplify their voices on some very difficult pieces (including one from my partner). Our executive editor Peter Rubin is the best kind of ally — one who listens and distills and perfects all of our writing and ideas with respect and aplomb. And Jermaine Hall, LEVEL’s founding editor in chief, has worked in spaces like this for decades. He and I have often put our heads together and tried to work out how to communicate to and for our people. I’ve also watched him raise two young Black men with the same love and intention I hope to have with my own.
My point is, LEVEL is not just a publication. It’s a place made of flesh and blood people. These are men of color and the allies who support them. And the world we all live in is closer to Minneapolis than makes any of us comfortable. In Brooklyn, in Philadelphia, in Oakland, there is no escape. I live in a liberal New Jersey enclave outside of Manhattan. It doesn’t matter. The men I love are always in danger.
A few months ago, I was driving in my partner’s new car, with him in the passenger seat. His temporary plates had recently expired, and we hadn’t yet gone to the DMV to get the new plates. We were riding dirty and we knew it was a risk. Sure enough, I got pulled over after dropping my daughter off at school.
I slowed to a stop. I kept my hands on the steering wheel, on 10 and two. I didn’t move.
My partner sighed and said, “I might as well get my documents out.”
“No,” I said, out of the side of my mouth. “Keep your hands on the dashboard!”
“It’s fine,” he said. “Let me just get the insurance card out of the —
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I screamed. “Keep your hands on the fucking dashboard and don’t move!”
He gave me a look that said, we’ll have a conversation about this later. But he stopped moving in just enough time for the officer to get up to my window.
We gave him the docs, he reminded us to get the new plates, and let us go. I was shaking and sweaty. My partner didn’t approve that I yelled at him that way. I was angry that he didn’t follow the unwritten rules of what to do when being stopped by police.
He told me he handled things his way and was fine doing so. He said he prefers to have all his paperwork out so he doesn’t make any movements when the police come up. All I could think about was how that could turn out with the wrong cop on the wrong night. We actually debated which policy is better to prevent getting killed by a cop with an itchy trigger finger. That never gets normal. Ever. Why should it? But how could it not?
This past weekend, months after that encounter, my partner asked me to marry him. It wasn’t a complete surprise; I knew from our first date that we’d end up here. But it was still an amazing feeling to know that this man wants to support me and be with me for the rest of our lives together.
But when the reality of the ring on my finger settled in, it turned into fear. The day after I said yes, the death of George Floyd reminded me of life married to a Black man.
I remembered that when my partner leaves the house, I’ll say a silent prayer that he won’t go in the glove compartment too early. I remembered that if he decides to go for a jog, I’ll hope no one decides that he must be breaking into houses. These will be a constant, now and after he becomes my husband — a constant fear that he won’t make it home for any number of innocuous reasons. Innocuous doesn’t matter when a cop’s knee is on your neck.
To add insult to injury, my partner brings along his sweet, adorable seven-year-old son, a boy with an infectious laugh and eyes almost too wide to be real. He refuses to teach me how to play Fortnite, but he helped his dad pick out the ring for his soon-to-be stepmom. (And told him the stone should be bigger. Thanks, kiddo.) I have two daughters, and I’ve worried about them plenty — but God help me, I am about to assist with raising a young Black man.
As his new parent, I’ll have to have conversations with him that I never had with my girls. In a few years, we’ll have to let him go out with his friends, navigate life and all that it means for young Black men. When his dad was just a few years older than he is now, he had guns pointed in his face by rogue cops in the Bronx who thought the bookish and laid-back young man was a drug dealer.
It’s not just my new husband and stepson I’ll worry about. There’s my 23-year-old nephew, a DJ, who often ends up in risky spaces. There’s my first husband, who had his own dealings with racist cops growing up in the ’80s. He has always maintained that if he ever finds the cop who abused him and his friends as teenagers, it’s on sight — 30 years later. We still co-parent together and he’s my friend. I need him alive. But will he put his hands on the dashboard and just wait? Will he ask one too many questions when a cop is being a jerk?
I can’t figure any of this out. I can only be present. I can only tell you that I love you. That we love you.
We love you for dealing with this pandemic and making us feel loved and protected.
We love you for raising our babies.
We love you for looking straight ahead when we cover our eyes.
We love you for looking toward the future and seeing us in it.
We love you for loving us.
When incidents like George Floyd’s murder happen, we often proclaim say his name — as we should. But we should also lift the names of the Black men in our lives, the ones still here and the ones passed on, who do the daily heavy lifting in our lives.
Before I sat down to write this, I asked my Facebook friends a very simple question: Why do you love the Black men in your life? Messages poured in, too many to print. One woman said she’d never had an opportunity to publicly proclaim her love for her dad and her husband; another praised her father for teaching her how to love, and be loved by, a Black man. And time and time again, these women sang your praises. You are strong, you are empathetic, you are resilient, you are loving. You lift us up.
And for many of us, all we can do in this moment is profess what we’re feeling. For you. For all of you. For us.
We love you. Now and forever.