Some Earth Fed Athletes have elected to share their experiences with race in America at our request. This one is from NCAA Discus Champ, USATF National Discus Champ, 2019 11th Place Finisher at IAAF Discus Worlds, with a BS in Economics from University of Pennsylvania, and avid piano player, Sam Mattis. This article was originally written in June of 2020.
Racism is exhausting. Fighting it is exhausting; witnessing it is exhausting; living your day-to-day life knowing how deeply unjust the foundations of our society are is exhausting. But unless you’re black or brown, you don’t have to live with this fatigue. You can go about your life, commuting to and from work, scrolling past posts on social media that try to force you to confront the problem, ignoring movie suggestions on Netflix about topics that make you uncomfortable. Our history classes spend some time on the Civil War, but even in classes that specify that the Civil War was fought over slavery (my high school history teacher in suburban New Jersey called it a matter of states’ rights), we’re taught that the war ended, the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments were signed, yada-yada-yada, Martin Luther King Jr and hooray! We solved racism by holding hands! Sure MLK was assassinated, the country went up in flames and slavery just continued under Jim Crow and then through our FUBAR criminal justice system, but that’s far away. Those are bad people who do that. We in 21st century America are better than those problems.
But we aren’t.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this at first. Sure, I’ve endured racism in some of its many insidious forms throughout my life, but what I’ve endured pales in comparison to what most black men in this country endure. What I’ve endured pales in comparison to what my dad - who was stopped and frisked 50 times his senior year at William and Mary - or my brother - who looks exactly like me but wears his hair in dreadlocks, and was arrested and charged for a crime he did not commit - have endured. And without a doubt, I can never begin to understand the violence and hatred LGBTQ people of color have to endure. As a mixed-race-but-too-dark-to-be-called-anything-other-than-black male from a middle class family, I have privilege that many other people of color do not. But I’m exhausted. And it is time for everyone to speak up.
When I was 12, my friends and I (two of them being other people of color) were walking to get pizza when a cop stopped us and called for backup for allegedly breaking and entering to gain access to a pool three miles away. When I was 14, the after-school bus was pulled over on the side of the road when a cop stepped onto the bus and asked the bus driver if I was causing trouble. When I was 15, my dad and I were pulled over for asking for directions. When I was 17, my neighbors told me I only got into college because I was black. This past year, a doorman refused to let me into my friend’s apartment building in Chicago and called the cops on me. I could go on about my personal experiences with overt racism, but I would rather talk about the root causes of these experiences. These experiences - of having to excuse white friends when they slip up and say “nigga” but apparently in a non-racist way, of being followed by security, of being bullied by cops - are experiences every single black person alive in America today has faced. (Seriously. Every single one. I challenge you to find a black person who has not experienced every single one of these violations of their dignity). They are exhausting. And we are fed up.
The foundational documents of this country were written by slave owners. No matter how much you hold them in high regard, they held people who looked like me as slaves. Many of them raped their slaves. And this violence and dehumanization has continued in different forms throughout our country’s history. The 13th Amendment didn’t end slavery, it just moved it into our criminal justice system. Reconstruction was violently put down by the forces of white supremacy. The New Deal programs and post-World War Two economy didn’t create housing and jobs for everyone; rather, they often created new barriers for black people, who were barred from participating in and benefiting from these programs. And police brutality along with legal forms of segregation and discrimination - via housing, educational, voting rights and labor policies - continue to this day. These policies compounded pain over the entire history of our country to put up impossibly high hurdles for black people to clamber over. And even when we do manage to succeed, we’re still judged as less-than. Even when we’re doing nothing more than jogging, we can still be murdered and our murderers can still get away. Justice doesn’t exist in America. And we’re tired of asking for it.
It shouldn’t have taken four hundred years of oppression, rape, dehumanization and murder, and hundreds of cell phone videos of black people being abused by cops for this moment of reckoning. And I’m not so sure it’s a moment of reckoning. If all you do is post on social media, read an article, and feel bad for a few days, you have done nothing. If you think that individual cop was a “bad apple” but refuse to recognize that the police state in this country is designed to oppress black people, you have learned nothing. If you express sympathy for the cause of the protestors but are more concerned about the looting, you aren’t trying. And if you say you believe Black Lives Matter but continue to vote for Donald Trump, or any politician committed to the forces of racism - may that be the overt racism of Donald Trump or the quiet racism of other politicians- you are part of the problem. If you don’t believe in and vote for affordable housing, affordable health care, quality public schools and true equality, dignity and justice for all, stop saying you aren’t racist. It’s exhausting.
Most of us want to believe we’re good people: we treat our friends well; we love our family. This is our time to prove it. Every one of us has a choice to make. Either we can witness this moment in complicit silence, or we can stand up for what is right, and finally begin to address the problems that have plagued America since its founding. But don’t just ask your black friends how they’re feeling (that is...exhausting to say the least). Donate. Fight your racist uncle at Thanksgiving (or ideally, sooner). Speak up. Vote for people who understand the structural problems depriving people of color of the dignity that our nation’s leaders promise. Get involved and stay involved. It may be exhausting, but we all have work to do.