My Social Justice Saturday posts haven’t had a huge uptake, so I’ve been giving those tough topics a bit of a rest. However, watching the NBA and also young tennis player Naomi Osaka take such brave stands against racial injustice this week has compelled me to follow their inspiring lead. Every voice is needed. Time to get back on the social justice bandwagon!
I sat up and took notice on Tuesday when the Raptors and Celtics were reported to be in discussions about sitting out Game 1 of their playoff series. The players were so distraught by yet another police shooting of a Black man – 29-year old Jacob Blake – in Kenosha, Wisconsin that they couldn’t wrap their heads around just playing as if nothing had happened. They had entered the NBA bubble with reluctance as it was, having to leave behind their ability to participate in the Black Lives Matters movement, brought on by the police killing of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor and others). As I described in my blog post Professional basketball takes a lead in the fight for racial justice, the basketball players devised alternate ways to help keep Black Lives Matter on the radar screen while they played. And then, just a few weeks later, another police shooting of a Black man. A Black man with 3 small children in the back seat of his car, shot in the back 7 times. How could another tragic incident like this happen again? So soon??
As we know, the resulting decision of the NBA to postpone all their games on Thursday spread to almost all of the other professional sports. Some were less passionate about it than others, but eventually even the NHL, a mostly white sport not known for its concern with social justice, joined the action. To their credit I might add. The PGA was the outlier. The lame interviews with Tiger Woods and Tony Finau, being asked whether the PGA tour had had any discussions about taking a stand on racial injustice, sounded like speeches someone might have made at the RNC this week. I couldn’t decide whether to feel sorry for them being singled out as being two of the few players of colour and not wanting to rock the boat or whether to be disappointed that neither expressed any rage or at least frustration about the racial injustice in plain view. Disappointment won out.
Along with the NBA players – including several of their white coaches, Naomi Osaka was a true leader. For those of you who don’t follow tennis, Naomi is a phenomenal young tennis player of Haitian-Japanese parentage who plays for Japan. She was the shy young 20-year old who beat Serena Williams to win the US Open in 2018, and then quietly stayed in the background while Serena had a screaming match with the referee, completely overshadowing Naomi’s remarkable win over the tennis legend. On Wednesday this week Naomi announced that she was going to withdraw from the current match semi-finals. She said she was prepared to concede her match; she was pulling out in support of continuing racial injustice. She quietly spoke of how tired she was of racism, how it just didn’t stop. She reminded people of how much racial prejudice she and other Blacks endure in Japan, not just in the U.S. Subsequently, the tournament decided to cancel all matches for Thursday, and Naomi agreed to continue after all, pleased with the stand the WTA and APT took in cancelling the day in support of Black Lives Matter. But it was a brave statement she made, quietly making it clear how important this is to her, one of only a few players of colour.
And so we come to why fighting racism is so important for everyone. This may sound like a rant to some or maybe an overlong tedious sermon, but there is no subject about which I feel more passionate. As far as I’m concerned, racism is one of mankind’s greatest sins. And racism knows no boundaries. The current Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t just taken up by people in other countries in support of Blacks in America. It was taken up to fight the racial injustices in their own countries. Just ask Black and Indigenous people in Canada. Or people of colour in the UK. Or in France, or Germany, or anywhere in Europe. Ask the Roma in Europe. Ask about the Windrush scandal in the UK. It is one of the great shames of human beings that people choose to not just differentiate but also discriminate and subjugate based on nothing more than skin colour. And, sorry, but one of the greatest tragedies of organized religion is the hypocrisy with which in too many instances racism is excused and even promoted in (white) churches, all the while mouthing the words that we are all God’s children, all made in His image. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I wish.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised to read the many negative comments written in response to news articles about the professional sports boycott yesterday. “Sports are sports; politics is politics.” “Leave politics out of sports, just do your jobs.” “Their opinions don’t matter to me. I find political action by athletes completely unacceptable, I’ll never watch basketball again.” And then, “Why don’t they ever protest the human rights violations in China?” What? This is the U.S. administration’s response?! The reality is that the people who feel this way, obviously including many politicians, are either white supremacists or not quite but live in a bubble where racism doesn’t affect them, so they just don’t see it.
Some ways in which you can test if you are living in this bubble:
- Have you had to tell your son not to wear a hoodie, so he wouldn’t be (even more) likely to be profiled and targeted by a cop?
- Have you ever been arrested on suspicion of break and enter because you forgot your own keys and were trying to get into your own house (and the cop didn’t believe that it could be your house)?
- Have you ever had the police called on your son because he was mowing a lawn that couldn’t be his, so why was he there?
- Have you ever had the police called on you because you were bird-watching in a public park?
- Are you used to being pulled over by police several times a year because you look suspicious (Black)? Questioned as to whether this was really your car? Had a gun drawn when you reached for your wallet?
- Do you always worry, every time you leave your home, that somehow you might end up in the wrong place at the wrong time as far as someone else is concerned, someone suspicious of anyone with your skin tone, and for no other reason?
- Do you worry every single time your kid leaves your home that you will receive a call from the police that your child has been arrested for no legitimate reason? Or beat up? Or shot?
That’s the reality for most Blacks and many Indigenous people. So, for all those of you who think the athletes should just do their jobs, pick up their big paycheques, and shut up about racism, it can’t work like that any longer – and it shouldn’t. These same athletes grew up with that reality. That’s how they’re sometimes treated when they’re out of uniform. Even if they’re so well known that they’re treated like they’re “not really Black”, their kids are treated like that, as are their siblings, cousins, and friends. Racism and being profiled by cops is their world. It’s their norm. Living in the same country as whites. Supposedly with the same rights … but not really. And those of us who don’t get treated like this, and so can easily just not see it at all, have an entirely different reality. This has to change.
Sadly, racism is alive and well all over the world. Very sadly, governments around the world have not been proactive in trying to change that reality. Very, very sadly, it has resulted in continuing instances of racist-fueled police brutality, police who are public servants. People do want to trust the police, and in most instances people have good reason to do so, although people of colour would have good reason to disagree. It is important for everyone in our society to be able to trust all police, and therefore it is absolutely critical that the police association stop supporting and protecting their bad apples. Governments must work with law enforcement and social and community services to implement the changes needed to provide an environment that is safe for everyone, regardless of skin tone or socioeconomic level. A society that is equitable for all. Where everyone is treated with respect. Where everyone can trust the system.
As I described in my post of a few weeks ago, until now any Black athlete who tried to use his (usually a man) professional voice to call out racial injustice was swiftly silenced. The fact that this voice finally cannot be silenced is a huge step forward. Let’s make sure the momentum doesn’t stop.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Addendum re guns
The U.S. is virtually the only country in the world where private citizens are permitted to have guns and carry them in public (along with Mexico and Guatemala). In many states citizens can legally carry concealed weapons. No-one outside the U.S. understands this, but those are their laws. However, I can’t help but think that if everyone assumes that everyone else is carrying a gun, including police going with that assumption, then it’s that much more likely that approaching people you don’t know is going to be more frightening and therefore more prone to a gun being fired in haste. Everyone being scared of each other and everyone carrying a gun seems like a recipe for disaster. Surely this recipe plays some role in the never-ending tragic incidents of police shooting so many non-aggressive Black men and women. [There is no such “excuse” for killing a suspect by kneeling on their neck. None.]