This Is Us

Existing Within a System That Won’t Save You

The one time you fight back could be your last

Stephonn Alcorn
Human Parts
Published in
8 min readJun 5, 2020


Left: My dad, my cousin, and a Kansas City police officer. Right: My mom and me.

I’ve always walked a fine line between whiteness and being my unapologetically Black self. The friends I keep, the work I do, and the neighborhoods I live in are, for the most part, all white. I’m rooted in Blackness though — my politics, the causes I support, the people that raised me, the shows I watch, my joy, my pain. All Black. I’ve always told myself that by navigating white spaces (and that submitting myself to the damage that comes with them), my existence will someday make it better for myself and other Black people after me. In a lot of ways, it has: At work, I am able to advocate for the hiring of Black candidates, I’ve raised money to support opportunities for Black students, I’ve mentored Black students, and my younger brothers even participate in and are able to reap the benefits of the same white fraternity system in college I worked my way through. (I wrestled with myself for the longest time — should they succumb to the same emotional and mental damage that I went through?)

As I participate in these systems, it is not lost upon me that these are places that I should not be in, and I am only here because the system has allowed me to. I have either slipped through the cracks (writing this may now give it away), or the system has decided that I am safe enough to be allowed in. The truth is that each of us lives our lives within systems, and these systems, both economic and social, were never set up for Black people to be a part of them. Think about your church, school, workplace, and where you grew up. What types of people were there? Who was missing? Did anyone slip through the cracks? Who did the system shut out and who did it let in?

In each space, he could never be his full self. His full self, his full Black existence was never allowed in any space.

When I think of systems, I often think of my dad. He grew up in inner-city Kansas City, fatherless and in poverty. I watched how hard he desperately wanted to beat the odds handed to him and the system that controlled him. I watched how he would code-switch as he navigated various places — family, friends, and…