Art by Kiki Bagley
Editors’ Note: The article below “Why they kneel” was originally published in the November 2018 edition of The Lancer Spirit magazine. The editorial board felt it should be republished in light of the recent Black Lives Matter protests, which started after a police officer knelt on a black man’s neck, allegedly killing him.
The author of “Why they kneel” reflects on how little things have changed since she wrote that article a year-and-a-half ago.
Today, I am tired.
Tired because it’s been over a year since I’ve written the article “Why they kneel” (see below), and my sentiments remain the same because little has changed.
Tired because we have to protest, petition, and fight just for a chance at life.
Tired because we are screaming, begging and pleading for our lives and those of our fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters to be spared, and our calls continue to fall on deaf ears.
So, I ask of you, beg of you, if nothing else, to listen.
Now, more than ever, we need you to hear our pain. Hear the cries for change. Hear our demands for black lives to be seen as worthy.
For black lives to matter.
Listen before you undermine our message. Before you minimize our anger. Before you criticize our behavior and diminish our struggle.
Please just listen.
Why they kneel
As the professional football season progresses, many players have continued the movement started in 2016 by ex pro football player Colin Kaepernick; kneeling before and during the National Anthem in protest of social injustice and police brutality in America.
Many people are outraged by the movement, and players have been warned about possible penalties, including losing their spot on the team.
So why do they continue to kneel?
Because we live in a country where it’s dangerous to be a certain color. Where the color of your skin determines whether or not you’re pulled aside by security at the airport. Where the concentration of melanin you have determines your likelihood to survive a routine traffic stop.
Because we know that the majority of police officers are good people, but because of a long history of police brutality in this country, makes it safer to assume this as a way to protect yourself.
Because I don’t know if when I tell my dad goodbye before he leaves for work, it’ll be the last time I ever get to tell him I love him because he forgot to change his tail light before he left and got pulled over and ended up dead because the hairbrush he kept in the driver side door of his car looked like a gun.
Because for some reason, the lady in the makeup store felt the need to say that people had been stealing a lot of the tester products recently, while I was standing right there trying out a lipstick.
Because when I’m in the car with my siblings and we drive by a cop car, the music gets a little quieter and we sit up a little straighter until we no longer pose as a “threat”.
Because I find myself changing the way I talk when I’m speaking to a teacher or an adult so that they don’t think I’m too “ghetto” and assume the worst about me.
Because my dad is not a criminal. He helps me with my math homework when I get stuck and always says yes when I ask for twenty dollars to spend at the mall.
Because my brother is not a “thug”. He’s a child. He loves to play football and he asks me if I want an apple before we leave for school in the morning so I won’t be hungry during the day.
Because my grandmother shouldn’t have to learn English to be welcome here. The rich culture and language that she took from the soil of her country is just as beautiful and worthy as any we have here.
Because I’m crying as I write this because I’m filled with so much anger and passion and emotion and pain and hurt. But when I try to express those emotions, I’m just an “angry black girl”.
Because my heart aches when I think about all the black mothers who cry over pictures of their baby boys, gone too soon.
Because you make a racist joke and I force myself to laugh at it, no matter how badly I don’t want to, because you’ll tell me I need to “lighten up” if I don’t.
Because black people are asking for their fathers and sons lives to be spared and there are still people who are saying “But.”
Because we live amongst a broken system where you can have your hands up, begging for mercy, and still be shot.
Because being black in America means fearing those whose one job is to “protect and serve.”
Because we live in a country where an accused rapist can be appointed to the Supreme Court but a black man with no prior record gets turned down for jobs every day.
Because an 11-year-old boy was killed while standing in the doorway of his home with a Wii remote in his hand that an officer thought was a pistol.
Because reaching for your license and registration is reason enough to believe that you’re dangerous and need to be subdued. Seven times with a gun.
Because we live in a country where a 29-year-old white male can kill four people at a Waffle House in Tennessee and be arrested without incident, while a black man is shot seven times in his car for attempting to follow an order given by the officer who took his life.
Because when Kylie Jenner sports “boxer braids,”,she’s a trend-setter, but when a black girl wears the cornrows that her grandmother learned from her mother, and her mother from hers, she’s “ghetto.”
Because young black children are taught how to act when pulled over by a police officer before they are taught how to ride a bike.
Because black boys are treated like problems before they are treated like people.
Because “she’s pretty, for a black girl.”
Because no, you can’t touch my hair. It took me three hours and I’m not about to let you ruin it.
Because our heritage isn’t a costume for you to wear and our music wasn’t made for you to “get lit” to and our culture isn’t for you to borrow without really asking for permission and our fathers and brothers aren’t for your target practice.
You can’t adopt our culture and neglect to acknowledge our suffering.
Using the “n word” is not acceptable. It’s a derogatory term created by white men to degrade black people.
How many of our fathers, sons, and daughters have to die before people realize that this movement is more than just what you see on the surface. This isn’t an attempt to disrespect the flag; It’s an attempt to call attention to the systemic oppression and violence against people of color everywhere.
They aren’t protesting America. They are protesting the broken system that is so American that many people in this country don’t even realize it’s taking place.
So what can we do?
Open your eyes. Stop saying you “don’t see color.” You need to see our color to know that we are suffering. You need to see the color of the boys whose blood has stained the concrete of these black neighborhoods. The color of the young girls who are told that their natural hair is a “distraction”. The color of the men, women, and children who fear for their lives every day simply because of a trait they were born with.
See the beautiful color that contributes to who we are. Black is beautiful. Learn to celebrate this beauty rather than appropriate it.
See beyond the features that you were taught to hate, beyond the languages you don’t care to learn and the cultures that you steal from. Open your eyes to what we all truly are: human beings.
We all breathe the same air, bleed the same blood, see the same sky. We’re all the same beneath the surface.
So next time you hear someone being singled out, discriminated against, oppressed: speak up.
When you hear someone use the n word, even if it’s “just a joke,” even if it’s your friend, tell them they’re being disrespectful.
You may not believe that you alone can make a difference, but in the eyes of someone who is suffering, all it takes is one voice. One person who isn’t afraid to speak against those who believe that this type of discriminatory treatment is okay.
Because in a world where we are surrounded by such an abundance of injustice, violence, and hatred, the last thing you should choose to be, is silent.
So take a stand against this broken system and speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves.