I Pray for Murder (Sometimes)

I’ve learned how to dodge a bullet. But how do you dodge a stroke?

Comments: 87

  1. Death, like the rest of life, can be cruel and arbitrary. We do what we can to stay healthy and safe, but there are no guarantees. The only thing we can control is how we live our lives, for however long that ultimately proves to last.

  2. In the never-ending struggle for me to shed the coatings of racism that I developed growing up, I find this essay to be most helpful in coming to an understanding of just how tone-deaf I have always been. Hope to change!

  3. @Caroline VanTrease Amen.

  4. I'm still reading at the article, but had to stop for a moment to say: I love the animation! Kudos to the animator/illustrator!

  5. @Leaving Quick follow up to say: I appreciate the quality of the illustration and animation. To say that "I love it" given the context of the article, now that I'm half way through it, was not appropriate. My sincere apologies.

  6. @Leaving i was also looking for the credits for the motion piece.

  7. @Leaving Disagree. The animation is cool, yes, but illustrates nothing that I drew from the story. Just my opinion. Whiz bang animation. Even better words. Can't see how the two knit together. Maybe it is because I am old.

  8. What a powerful and eye-opening piece - thank you for sharing this...all of us struggle with our mortality and our lack of control over how we die...but this is a perspective I have never considered. It make sense and it makes me sad.

  9. Obsessing over one's death is hardly a black thing. However it is a common byproduct of a writer's existence - a kind of mental quick sand that takes hold of one, for the most part stealthily, on account of its irresistible gravitational pull. Saul Bellow once remarked that love and death comprise the only proper subject matter for a true artist. Many others have been making the case for millennia that any true work is art is, above all else, a winning argument against suicide. The writer of this op end, Damon Young, is grappling freely and honestly with an issue lesser thinkers wouldn't touch with a ten foot poll; his effort truly made this reader's weekend.

  10. What an excellent, moving column! Thank you.

  11. I worked for over 30 years in the criminal justice system, nearly 25 years in the state prison system. I live in a rural area, mostly small towns and cities. For years I've told everyone who would listen that crime isn't just a big city problem (those people), that if, for no other reason than self interest in protecting the pocket book, crime is everyone's problem, because everyone has to pay for it...That kids aren't responsible for the conditions in which they grow up, and that we, as a society, have to spend money on kids now, because if we don't we will have to spend more on them later as they enter the criminal justice system. Many US citizens have little idea of what some of our kids and population experience. This article is an excellent introduction and illustrates, additionally, the long term impacts of often traumatic youth experiences on individuals. Thank you for the effort in writing it, and I wish you and your family health and the comfort of a sense of security.

  12. @Nancy The most amazing part of the racism in our country is that some of the most racist people I know, deny it's existence, while spouting racist commentary. It makes me ashamed to be an American.

  13. This is insanely good writing. I was prepared to think otherwise, near the beginning, when I got to "V.R. simulation"--I had no idea what that meant, but, after a minute or so, I concluded it probably means "virtual reality simulation." C'mon, NYT--don't allow head-scratchers like that to slip past the copy desk. There are, still, old fogies in the world. But I'm glad I stayed with it. I'm not black, have never gone through what the writer describes. Nonetheless, views of mortality change as one ages, no matter one's race or circumstances. It's universal. And the way that Mr. Young approached this was the most unifying statement about humanity in this country, through the prism of color and discrimination, that I can recall reading for a very long time. Breaking down color lines while making those lines real and beyond dispute, for anyone, is a hard feat to accomplish. I hope this makes sense, not sure that it does. But, thank you for this. NYT has plenty of issues and flaws, but stuff like this is why I subscribe.

  14. @August West Certainly the content of the Young article is of considerable merit, however I was even more stunned by the absolute eloquence of the piece. I am with you on this one, Mr. West.

  15. Death sure does get in the way of life. Three years after seven weeks of intensive radiation and chemo, the gift continues: every moment of every day. The gift of death is the fresh and precious urgency to embrace life. I pray for life.

  16. What an extraordinary way of seeing. What an extraordinary way to teach us to see. Brilliant.

  17. Oh my goodness. You've moved from a world that I never knew, to one I've known since I was a small child. I'm white; I grew up in the midwest. My father had his first heart attack when I was 9 (I spent days in the waiting room alone, watching over my 5 year old brother and wondering what was going on), and died almost exactly a decade later of a ruptured aneurism, after a decade of debilitating heart disease. I spent my childhood terrified of upsetting him (he might have a heart attack and die because of me), and even more terrified of accidentally hearing the beating of my own heart, in case I heard something odd about my heartbeat. I might die because of it. I didn't want to know that I was going to die, and somehow, if I didn't hear my heart beat, I wouldn't die. You had the illusion of control. I had the illusion that I had no control. We were both right, and both wrong. There is no safe. Only different kinds of danger,.

  18. In my last Air Force tour of my career, I was the most senior officer (colonel) in the extreme NW region of the state of Washington. As such, I became the Notification Officer as an additional duty. When a member of the military dies, we don’t want the parents to find out via the news media. One day I received a phone call from the Pentagon that told me to notify the parents that their son had died, and told me call back when I done so. No ifs, ands or buts. The information was sketchy, but I was to tell them that they would receive a visit the next day from specialists who would inform them of details and meet their needs for funeral arrangements. I followed orders, and it was heartbreaking. I am thankful that to never had that duty again. I served a tour in Vietnam as a techno geek weather satellite specialist, and never felt danger. But when my son served as a young Army Officer in Iraq, my wife and I had many sleepless nights. I am 83, and I’ll never get over my wife’s death or two of my younger brothers, all due to natural causes. I can’t say I enjoyed this essay, but it was well written.

  19. Through your crisply worded essay I see the mirror image of myself --a petite white woman in my 60s who survived stage 4 cancer to continue on living with increasingly crippling pain-- who frequently considers taking a stroll around the South Side of Chicago until a stray, fatal bullet finds me.

  20. @Lone Poster / That won't happen or worse but I'm sorry for your predicament. In Europe there is also a growing recognintion of the option to end your own life in a controlled manner. It's legal in some countries here. Don't take this as an advice but I am avare of that option myself if the circumstances may warrant it.

  21. @Roger Holmquist-As far as I know, a new voice from Sweden. Welcome. Since I have just been studying the details of my latest examination given me free by Swedish UHC, I will mention here that it would be of great interest to see a comparison of some selected group of American males with a comparable Swedish group. As you know, the data available to you and me at 1177.se convey an important message, that Swedish epidemiologists have access to remarkable databases that make studies possible that may or may not be possible in specific regions in the USA, for me New England or even New York State. There are no such records for me there, even though I lived the first 70+ years there, and now 23 continuous in little Sweden. And yes availability of the option of choosing to end one's life is important. There is also as you probably know, Framtidsfulmakter law that allows us to create a legal document specifiying how we would like designated people to deal with our situation if we should be incapacitated via stroke or other illness. I was out early very soon after I learned about that law and my nearest and dearest all have a copy. Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com Citizen US SE

  22. @ Lone Poster: I get your post, but have you considered a walk through the big and small relationships in your life and your invaluable role in them? And what about that hike you chose even with your pain, to help find or be part of the solution to gun violence? I am very acquainted with pain, but doing and caring break my self focus, and shows me that while being diminished, I am not finished.

  23. Death is the ultimate equalizer. We cannot avoid it and are resolved to watch it walk towards us.

  24. When Elvis died, a Hollywood mogul allegedly said, "...A good career move." Whenever I contemplate death, mine or others, I ask,"Was it, or is it, a good career move?" Often I think, "Yes."

  25. You have my deepest sympathies in many ways. What you are experiencing is not just a black experience but an experience of neglect and lack of perceived value by those around you. This feeling is disseminated by the people who feel superior social status is not just whites but around the world local leaders of any color. It’s a systematic problem with human societies and the arrangement of caste like classes that are not legal but accepted unless challenged. We have a long way to go to undoing the horrors of our past history and practice and it’s affect on society. We could start by understanding them.

  26. Sudden death is agony for family and friends who never have a chance to say goodbye. Life is precious and too many of us sleepwalk through it.

  27. Every time I find out someone I know has died, whether suddenly or expectedly, I feel like a winner. I think about how surprised they must have been at the moment of death. How I get another day but they do not. That I’m luckier than they. That no matter how old we get we’re still 9 years old on the inside.

  28. @ABaron I'm trying to think like I did at age nine. I was in third grade, in love with my 20 something female teacher, dreaming about her and wondering what that was when I was mad at her for embarrassing me, singling me out for something I don't remember, just the retribution. I'm sure I hated lima beans and I would be forced to sit at the table looking at them for what seemed like hours when they really made me gag. Canned beans still do. In short I have the same likes and dislikes and the same vulnerabilities today as I did at age nine. But I have grown to reach out to people instead of shy away from them. Perhaps that opportunity for growth is all we get and this day our greatest reward.

  29. So any mixed themes and emotions weave through Mr. Young's essay. The first is that we have some control over our fate, which of course leads to the second which is that we only think we have control over our fate. Most of us, looking at the death of a younger adult, want to find the blame. "He shouldn't have been walking in the park at night;" "He shouldn't have resisted;" "He should have eaten more vegetables." That is a basic emotional response that distances us from the person and the tragedy, making us feel comfortable that we will survive because we act differently. Add that soupcon of racism, and the guy was out looking for his own demise, which makes us even safer from fate: we believe that we are in control. But the reality that we force young black people - mostly men - to hunt down situations where they spit in the eye of fate is - what? what words work? - beyond depressing, beyond infuriating, beyond infinitely sad. I see so many kids daily, elementary school aged, shining with possibility, funny and so incredibly charming and loveable - and worry about them, for them. Not as much as their mothers do. I wish I knew how we could actually force change.

  30. In my white suburban neighborhood I would walk out my front door and stand on the front porch. The only dilemma I had was: Do I go to the left or to the right? There were a number of friends I had in either direction. There was no fear that one way was more dangerous than another. For many non-white kids - especially Black, such a quotidian choice for me can be a matter of life or death. Racism is the ultimate trauma in that it terrorizes people of color no matter how cleverly they adapt to it. That dissociated fear, grief and anger over their loss of human worth constantly resonates out from the locked compartment in which they have to sequester it only to wreak havoc on the mind/body, ultimately wearing it out way before its time. We must make this nation a psychologically and physically safe place for African Americans to thrive. Period.

  31. @Anam Cara Well said. But "We must make this nation a psychologically and physically safe place for African Americans to thrive" doesn't acknowledge that most of the dangers black Americans face come from those of their own race.

  32. Thank you Mr. Young. I will be thinking about your piece all day.

  33. Death may be your Santa Claus', as the saying goes. Having reached a certain age, and having watched those I knew who I loved, who I didn't love, and in a few cases actively dislike be removed from life, the causesvary while the result is the same. Sometimes the manner and circumstances of those who have died range from senseless brutality to a removal from the worst misery and pain. And the chances go 'round.

  34. @Musician In My City Whoa! I hear you.

  35. Damon Young - your writing and insight are a gift. This 60 something white guy grew up in a safe Boston suburb and later moved to very safe rural Vermont. My experience of what is dangerous in the world was, and is, so different from yours. I’m not so naive as to believe the world at large is a totally safe place, but my default assumption is that my immediate environment is safe and my default posture is one of openness. Your powerful essay allowed me for a few moments to see the world through a completely different lens, and it gives me a great deal to think about. Now every time I park my car nose in I will, for a moment, pause and consider.

  36. I also grew up near Pittsburgh and seem to be around the author's age, and I have no shortage of stories that would be shocking to many readers. Not because I frequently experienced racism directed at me, but because two of my best friends at the time were African Americans from reasonably wealthy families. One lived at the edge of the city and went to a private high school, the other grew up in an upper middle class suburb and attended one of the best public schools around. What my friends had to put up with to navigate the day was shocking to me at the time, and they both had health problems growing up. Living in an environment of constant stress, even if this does not include any economic stress, can take a serious toll.

  37. I have worked with a man who came from this world. As with Mr. Young, he escaped it and made a very good middle class life for himself and his family. I often wondered how his very different experiences from mine effected how he lived his life. I never got close enough to him to have these very personal discussions but, thanks to this excellent writing I got a bit of insight.

  38. Mr. Young has written an incredibly powerful piece. Wondering if he's ever the subject of "inquiries" to management or just uncomfortable stares as he looks at his phone in the Whole Foods parking lot. The BBQBeckys and PermitPattys patrolling Trump's America don't seem to discriminate by age.

  39. Thank you for this- an excellent, insightful piece of writing. I hope to read more from this author in future . Thoughtful and enlightening.

  40. I found this article both painful to read and sad that anyone has to live in such a mind set. I'm old now, my funeral is planned and paid for, my legal papers all together and ship-shape. My family slowing being prepared to face the day I will leave. And I sit and pray, too. Pray for the young cousin who died needlessly at 19, the last friend I had who died in a fall, for the vast number of people who have died who touched my life in one way or another. And now, although this author lives and, it is to be hoped for, lives a long life, I will pray for him also.

  41. A good definition of white privilege: parking your car nose in and never having to think about it. In the white world drug deaths now play a role similar to violent deaths in this piece. Young people have seen their friends disappear in a shocking way. But there the context is relatively privileged care-free lives. Somehow this piece is reminiscent, in a dark way, of the genre of jokes that compare concerns of youth (usually relationship-oriented) with those of advanced adult life (usually health oriented). Example (though not on those topics) - the old Woody Allen joke "When I was young I used to worry about making money, now I have to worry about my money making money." Maybe something like, "I used to worry about cred on the streets, now I worry about crud in my arteries."

  42. "It felt less like I was living and more like I was controlling a V.R. simulation with a joystick. And any situation, regardless of how deadly, could be escaped with an up-up, down-down, left-right, left-right, select-start. I was good as long as my fingers didn’t slip." Don't tell me violent video games and films don't cause violence in real life. This is a casual comment in another context but look at what it says and recognize what it's saying. How many of the young men with automatic weapons that mow down innocents have this exact same feeling?

  43. As a white man wholly unfamiliar with much of what you describe, I ask that you continue to work through it publicly whenever it feels right to you. I suspect we will all benefit from it if we can face it with compassion for one another.

  44. Brilliant! What a tragedy that our country insists on depriving itself of the contributions such minds can make. How insane it is that small white people remain invested in the Jim Crow mentality. I know it’s a complex gnar;y issue and there’s more to it than than but “the fine people on that side” are our enemy on the inside. Make America Decent For A Change.

  45. This was poetic.

  46. I grew up in the Lillian Wald housing projects in Manhattan. I come from a broken home. My mother became addicted to barbiturates and amphetamine when I was very young. She either purposively or accidentally tried to commit suicide when I was twelve. L. and I began committing petty crimes. I bought a zip gun from Jose and brought it to school. I was arrested. I failed every subject in high school including gym. I was a permanent truant. On my seventeenth birthday I joined the US Army. I am white.

  47. @George R. Maclarty and kerri Why can black people never talk about their lives and the fact that they are black without some people saying, "White people suffer, too.?" I hope you also feel compassion for what Mr. Young experienced. I think if you have awareness of the disparity of fairness on so many levels that have been felt by black people, you would not feel the need to say, "I have suffered too." It does not suggest that your suffering was not painful, too. I do feel compassion for anyone who has scars from childhood neglect and abuse. I am white and I think, in order to make ourselves and our country less racist, we have to exercise some empathy.

  48. At certain economic levels all people regardless of color experience this.

  49. Dear NYTimes, The headline of this column is dangerous given the charged, partisan political climate we live in (and our president's recent allusion to how the whistleblower ought to be dealt with); please consider changing it. Regards

  50. There isn't a white person alive who can personally understand the stress and fear that black people experience everyday of their lives, particularly men and boys. And, very few who want to. This is the essence of racism, and why white people, arrogantly and erroneously, believe they are not racists.

  51. this headline "I Pray for Murder Sometimes" is TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE for these times laden with hatred and violence! I cannot believe the Times would publish such a head caption on the same page that talks about anger and impeachment of the President. Republican sense that Dems are involved in some grand Clintonite conspiracy, and that has recently carried pieces about mass shootings and violence. The Times should never highlight in a headline a positive spin on murder, even though the content of the piece focuses in a different way. As someone who has personal connections to both the Newtown and Parkland dead, I am distressed that you would use this lead in...

  52. I'll be the sole dissenting voice (if this is allowed to be published). First, a word of sympathy, sympathy with the writer. There's no gainsaying his anxiety nor denying its many social roots (which he correctly lists). We must eradicate all that. However, his central rhetorical device is terribly flawed. I looked in this piece for black humor or irony in his 'prayer for murder', but I see none: its earnestness is underlined over and over, so he seems to mean it. But that's appalling. If he's writing a poem, he's allowed the liberty of viscerality and murderous desire. But he's not, he's writing an essay on life. Praying for murder (by any person, oppressed or privileged) is like praying for a nuclear holocaust or an asteroid collision with the Earth. Not funny.

  53. @Tara People who are expressing their own feelings, and to a generally intelligent readership, also have poetic license. And for Deborah A. I am sorry if the headline triggered you, but the rest of the news may do that too. I think Mr. Young was giving us the privilege of, more or less, walking in his shoes for a minute. I found it very moving.

  54. That was excellent. What the op-ed of a major newspaper such as the NYT should be doing. Am a doctor and work amongst a inner city population of patients that can be 20-60% African American -- and when I get such a man in his 60s it's rarer and you got ask what he must have missed to get there. On a side note, more of such guest columnists. Some of your regular ones are good (some are near useless and esoteric -- won't say who :) -- but for the last year or so I gain so much more from such columns as Mr. Young's.

  55. Mr. Young's anxiety represents only a tiny fraction of the damage done by the continuing PC silence on violent crime in African-American inner cities. It is a shameful reticence toward devastating neglect and injustice. It is a national disgrace. I'm not much affected. I live in a safe part of my city. Too strong?

  56. It is outrageous that violence is so common in black people's lives. I am white and I am ashamed that racism continues to permeate our country and distorts the lives of so many of my fellow citizens.

  57. @David Liebtag The violence he is referring to is black on black street crime.

  58. The best antidote for dangerous ignorance is a good education for all young people. This enlightenment leads to better life decisions about higher education and career choices. America’s only salvation must be a decent public education system attended by interested students who want a good life! Otherwise, America will be doomed to fester in bad judgment and corrupt politicians.

  59. A well-written, wrong-headed essay if there ever was one. A normal death, however early it occurs, is nature's way. It just had to occur. A murder is craziness on steroids; it's totally unnecessary and exceedingly traumatic for the survivors, even strangers. No, I don't look forward to my heart disease taking me out, but I certainly don't want my family to have to deal with the trauma of murder; it deeply wounds their life and happiness. Yes, racial prejudice is disgusting and unacceptable, but to jump from that fact to the nutty idea that murder is better than a natural death is ridiculous. It's a mental act of despair, an abuse of logic, and a bad path to follow. It's of a piece with the efilists, who disdain life.

  60. Young considers Black people and White people separate and different rather than all humans battling their own trials and tribulations and fearing eventual death. Young has selective concern for individuals based on their race which is not a virtue.

  61. I love Damon Young's writing. Thank you for publishing him.

  62. Dear Mr. Young, I hope you live a long, happy, healthy life.

  63. I didn't grow up on the mean streets, (nor am I a black man) but I can relate to the way you describe your path to your 40's. Sounds just like mine except I didn't get a gun in my face until I was 19 and wasn't surrounded by a gang with butterfly knives in the Phillipines until I was 20. Like you I lead by life up to my 30's looking for violence and not always focusing on defensive tactics. Luckily, I ended up rather unwell. So unwell that I reached out to others to get support (ie; broken). I learned some good ways to keep my head from amping up on the adrenaline (and rage) from my past and I learned how to meditate. That really helped being able to completely shut down all the thoughts in my head. I always thought that this was impossible by the way. But then I hit my 50's and existential angst hit me hard when my dad died. First born, named after him yada yada. I don't know many (any) people who talk about the inevitability of death so I read about other's experiences (like your article f.e.) and I bought an app called "We Croak" that reminds me 5 times a day that I'm gonna die. LOL. If anything it keeps me focused on remembering that the topic isn't resolved yet. But I feel a lot better about it and now I'm 62 and (for the most part) the chillest I've been my entire life. That's been my experience for what it's worth but I hope you find your way too. Good luck. God Bless and all that.

  64. As I read your article I thought about those little black toddlers in my mom's old neighborhood, found shot dead in their backyards by young black men doing the drug thing. All we can do is be good to our bodies and live as though we were going to live. When I was in my 40s, people around me died right and left of cancer. People only lived for a year or so with it back then; cancer of the pancreas was very swift, a matter of weeks for some I knew.

  65. Developmental Trauma (sometimes called Complex Trauma) is Trauma inflicted upon a child by a primary caregiver. Its devastating, putting the child at risk for a wide range of mental and physical problems down the road. But any adverse childhood experience can put the child at risk for similar outcomes, the more that a child experiences, the higher their risks. Growing up in a disadvantaged neighborhood inflicts trauma, having a disadvantaged identity, like being African-American inflicts trauma. In both cases, the trauma is constant, routine, chronic. It changes the brain, it changes the body. One of the most comprehensive studies on this phenomenon is a longitudinal study, one of the most rigorous kinds of study there is, particularly with high numbers of participants. The CDC conducted the ACES study and its results were incontrovertible: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverse_Childhood_Experiences_Study

  66. While the child is growing up, these ACES can be countered, while genetic protection factors such as resilience and by excellent parenting, the occasional phenomenal teacher, or some other extra-positive adult influence somewhere. However, in that environment, excellent parenting can be hard to find as most adults in a disadvantaged neighborhood grew up in the same one they are currently living. Which means that they were high-ACES kids too and likely have mental and physical health issues. Given schools are based on property taxes, in disadvantaged neighborhoods, the odds of exceptional teachers drops as well, as does the chances of other phenomenal adults because they all too likely live in disadvantaged neighborhoods. So, what you have are generations of high-ACES concentrated in one place.

  67. At some point in late 1944, my father was transferred to San Diego. A beach north of the city served as a practice ground for the invasion of Japan. Every day my dad would take his DUKW off a ship, steer it through the water and land it on a beach. Then he would take it apart, reassemble it and motor it back to the ship. He was told, that he was going to be in the first wave of the invasion, and he would probably not live. A buddy and a WWII buff, confirmed this and mentioned that his life expectancy was 7 seconds. I once asked him what he was thinking at the time. He said, "You just hope, that if you go, you go quick. You don't suffer." Several hundred thousand Americans and several million Japanese, (including civilians) were going to die. Truman tried fire bombing Tokyo. Then he dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. Nagasaki brought the end. He was my son's hero. Now an MD my son mentioned how poor people, especially African Americans suffer poor health in this country. He mentioned that Glomerular filtration rates for African Americans are different than for Caucasians. Renal disease causes great suffering.

  68. Dwelling on mortality is not a healthy habit. You are going to die eventually. You and everyone you've ever known. We can manage the risk but we can't eliminate it. Human agency will only take you so far. Better to accept that principle up front. You'll live longer. At this point, I joke "weddings and funerals." The only time I see most people I've known is either at weddings or funerals. Both are an excuse to catch up with people you haven't seen in a long time. Celebrate the life more than you mourn the death. You'd be surprised. An Irish wake is often a lot more fun than a Mormon wedding. Just saying.

  69. While I do believe that what doesn't kill you often makes you stronger, thank you for this personal exploration of the price, distortions, scarring, and limits of that platitude.

  70. Damon Young’s beautifully written, cogent and disturbing essay provides a personal view into the public health costs of gun violence. Exposure to threats and trauma early in childhood predispose all individuals to disease and disability in adulthood, but it’s especially notable in black people, both male and female. Lobbying by the NRA has ensured that the National Institutes of Health is prohibited from funding public health studies on gun violence. We have huge data sets confirming the health disparities in the black community. Damon provides anecdotal evidence from his own life that the long term health effects are very real. We need to study gun violence to better understand what works to avoid preventable health outcomes, and we need to create safe and inclusive communities for all children. Thank you for telling your story Damon Young.

  71. @Kathleen Craig Kathleen: In the 1930s Hans Selye investigated the effects of stress on well-being and identified the General Adaptation Syndrome. The effects of extreme/chronic stress on health are devastating, and reflect what you have written. The comment by Alan above reveals that even the well-to-do in the black community will experience this stress and its sequelae. The problem is our racist society's reaction to blackness. Reparations? So you aren't responsible for the sins of our Founders? So your ancestors didn't have anything to do with slavery and you don't have any responsibility for its long term effects on our society or the black community? Okay. Then instead of reparations how about if we just insure good health care for all of our citizens; eliminate the educational disparities in wealthy and poorer communities; support taxpayer funded projects (infrastructure anyone?) and tax policies that benefit all of society and not just a wealthy few. This won't eliminate racism, but it would benefit all of society, and if some of that benefit fell disproportionately to our black brothers and sisters, then so be it.

  72. This is beautifully written and covers so many aspects of being human, being black and male, growing up, aging. Required reading in America, for those who know what it's like to grow up in danger of dying young (made more possible by perceptions of race), and also for those who have never had to give it a thought. That shield of toughness and invincibility can also make a person vulnerable to a fearful or suspicious person (or cop). How young, black males must navigate this is something that has disturbed me since I worked with kids in what used to be called the ghetto in the 60s. Taking those kids into the library was even a challenge. How much has changed, I wonder? Other factors like the apartheid of public education, the hollowing out of cities, the way schooling is funded (or not) is getting worse. One thing we all face though: as we age, the mystery of friends suddenly not being. For sure, Mr. Young has seen more of the struggle that we call life than most.

  73. @Karen DeVito Overwhelmingly, Black women have family responsibilities, while Black men do not. So Black men no longer are motivated to labor at hard jobs, which, thanks to the shrunken minimum wage, provide even less reward. No longer essential - the great majority of unmarried Black men need not work to feed, clothe or shelter families. They need never face their hungry child or suffer tender emotions. They need not be deterred by a prison term, nor fear the drug lifestyle - nor cling to a job. These men are irresponsible because they have no responsibilities. Judith Rich Harris showed that children’s socialization is controlled by their peers, not their parents. Teen survival depends on their peer group, and their peer group is older and more anti-social now because there are no more “wedding bells breaking up that old gang of mine.” Boys’ parents may value academic achievement and preparation for a future family, but in most Black communities with few men with family responsibility, their peers do not. If low-wage fathers stay inessential, we will continue routing whole communities of women and children into poverty - and great masses of unmarried, unmotivated men into rootless, antisocial, violent criminality.

  74. A moving and beautiful essay. I just recently had a friend 54 years old who told me that she had cancer and there's no cure for it. Another friend died while on vacation with her family in New Orleans from a heart attack while dancing in one of the nightclubs as her family watched her die. A shock to all of us. It opened my eyes and changed my attitude toward living in the present. In other words, I am learning to appreciate the joy of just being me, the sounds of chirping birds in the morning that would just annoy me and spending the little change I have on things I enjoy while also helping others. These sudden deaths have made me appreciate the brevity of life and the importance of just enjoying each moment God extends to me.

  75. You said it, B, there's no clean way of getting away from fear of taking that last breath. I was reminded of it again last week when I heard that Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter had died. I'd never met him, but his words so reflected my journey in this cruel, beautiful world that I felt he knew me. After nearly eight decades here now, everyone's death seems like my own. Hunter wrote that his favorite line was "let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men," from "Ripple (in Still Water)." That's finally comfort along the way, but there's no denying that day in and day out his words from "The Wheel": "The wheel is turning and you can't slow down, You can't let go and you can't hold on, You can't go back and you can't stand still, If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will." That's us, alas, brother.

  76. I'm blown away reading this essay. Nothing I have ever read has spoken so clearly before of the very real life-long physical consequences of growing up surrounded by violence and the threat of violent death. And also, I assume, of the physical consequences of living your life in the midst of a society that in many ways both subtle and not-so-subtle is hostile to you, that at any moment can turn against you in forms ranging from getting pulled over in your car by a police officer for the sixtieth time, to overhearing a racist joke by a co-worker, to getting killed by nervous, inexperienced cop who thought you were reaching for a gun. I'm 64. Had I been gay I suspect I would have been dead or seen many friends and lovers die in the AIDS epidemic from 1990-2000. But since I'm not, I've been able to assume, as a white middle-class professional, a long and healthy life. I never worried about dying young from hypertension or heart disease. I picture you, Damon, at Whole Foods, looking like the young black father and professional man you are, with your adorable little girl who's innocent of the dangers you experienced. I see all the white customers like me near you, in all of their sympathetic and benign obliviousness. And I think of how that must be, to live with that double-faced-ness, to have to pretend to these people that they understand who you are and what you lived through and still live through, and yet to know that most don't, and can't, and probably don't want to.

  77. The difference in longevity between African-Americans and white Americans in the (only) study I read seems to be about 6 years. In youth, the causes are shocking differences in homicide for men and perhaps even more shocking and shameful differences in childbirth mortality for women. In middle age and up, higher death rates are caused most by higher mortality from cancer and heart disease. What strikes me is that all these contributors to earlier death, including homicide by gun, represent failures and inequities in our healthcare system. Sad to say, most Americans have long been aware of this. Disparities are, apparently, improving. What very few Americans are aware of, however, is that our country is 43rd among the world's nations in longevity. Just as African-Americans (at least in some states) live 6 fewer years on average than white Americans, ALL Americans average 6 fewer years of life than Spaniards. Our healthcare system is a corrupt mess. To repeat: in the USA of today, we average 6 fewer years of life than Spain. Like Mr. Young, I ran some stupid risks as a kid, though most were voluntary. As an old man of 68, I continued what most of my friends thought to be risky behavior, traveling alone in SE Asia, trekking in the Himalayas, riding on motorbikes in crazy-traffic cities. What's killing me, however, is a drug that was pushed on me here in the US. Not a pain-killer: a pill that 1/3 of Americans take. Prescribed drugs kill more than illeg StatinStories.com

  78. Yes, black men are conditioned to believe that an early death is in alignment with nature. The rest of us accept this truth because the wealthy powers-that-be tell us that this is the way of nature. The only way to counteract this trend is for black people (especially men) to insist upon their humanity. The more they demand that the rest of us acknowledge their humanity, the closer they get to “winning.” If they win, we all win,

  79. Minorities live in a constant world of physical, emotional stress. For many of us, never being able to fulfill our potential because the white wall of racism is always in your face. Looking over, your shoulder not because you did anything but because white people will always be believed before you when it comes to justice. Whole Foods has stores in minority zip codes but they dont have the produce that they have in the white zip codes. I wonder why? Till we have a constant daily discussion why white people feel superiority and acknowledge there privilege's nothing will ever change. Once we move from racism and the fall out We will continue to die well before we should and always look over our shoulders. Till we all face our demons we will never live a life that is full

  80. Racial health disparities are among the less talked-about improvements available in a national system like Medicare for All. It won't solve them all, but it's illuminating that such disparities nearly disappear in military and prison populations, where everyone gets the same care. Thank you, Mr. Young, for a great essay. I wish you well.

  81. A compelling piece, Mr. Damon, and I'm glad you chose to share your story publicly. But if you are continually "scared to death of death. So scared that the fear has funneled me into the absurd," then maybe it's time to consider psychotherapy.

  82. I wish the author went deeper into this issue, and talked with honesty about the causes of this increased violence against blacks, and what can be done about it. As a European in NYC, I noticed that American blacks are more aggressive than the new black immigrants coming from Africa, who seem milder and more gracious. I spoke with some of these newly arrived blacks who sell hats in downtown Manhattan or bikinis at Victoria Secret and they said they too noticed the difference and they believe it comes down with the education people receive at home and in school. America is very much an everything goes land, with no patience for constraints and no respect for tradition. Hence, many social problems.

  83. The article makes a big point that “Black men and boys die from violence more often than anyone else in America,” and that black women also have a much higher rate than the US average. However, the article fails to note that most of this violence against and murders of black people are black-on-black crimes committed in inner cities. When will the politicians final pay serious attention to and take steps to reduce such rates of violence and murder in the inner cities? From the author’s account it is clear that such problems are nothing new, but have existed for many decades.

  84. Overwhelmingly, Black women have family responsibilities, while Black men do not. So Black men no longer are motivated to labor at hard jobs, which, thanks to the shrunken minimum wage, provide even less reward. No longer essential - the great majority of unmarried Black men need not work to feed, clothe or shelter families. They need never face their hungry child or suffer tender emotions. They need not be deterred by a prison term, nor fear the drug lifestyle - nor cling to a job. These men are irresponsible because they have no responsibilities. Judith Rich Harris showed that children’s socialization is controlled by their peers, not their parents. Teen survival depends on their peer group, and their peer group is older and more anti-social now because there are no more “wedding bells breaking up that old gang of mine.” Boys’ parents may value academic achievement and preparation for a future family, but in most Black communities with few men with family responsibility, their peers do not. If low-wage fathers stay inessential, we will continue routing whole communities of women and children into poverty - and great masses of unmarried, unmotivated men into rootless, antisocial, violent criminality.

  85. Fascinating column. Thank you.

  86. We use the feeling of self efficacy ( I got this ) to ward off fear of death by any cause. Truth is that even the toughest, strongest, smartest, most virtuous die. Life is not fair. Death is fair because it really doesn't care how rich young or beautiful you are. We think God is in control as a way of coping with our shortcomings or powerlessness. So the all powerful gives and takes on a master plan. That's a belief shared across the world no matter which book anyone references. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terror_management_theory

  87. Very sobering read Damon, excellent. Just bought your book, "What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker” The best to you and your family.