If you and your friends are witnesses to cultural biases, microaggressions, subtle acts of racism, actual racism, and you don’t speak up on it or do something about it, you are part of the problem. Jaylen Brown.
Two months after Jaylen Brown played an NBA game, he drove 15 hours to Atlanta to participate in a peaceful protest he organized. The Georgia native who grew up north of Atlanta in Marietta was motivated to make a stand against police violence in both theory and practice. Theory as in police strategy to subdue and marginalize communities of color is corrosive. Practice as in the obvious. The virulent behavior that led to George Floyd’s death needs to be criminalized and changed.
Not that it was necessary to explain the why of his road trip, Brown offered “I’m a black man and I’m a member of this community. We’re raising awareness of the injustices that we’ve been seeing. It’s not OK…I’m 23 years old. I don’t know all of the answers. But I feel how everybody else is feeling for sure.”
Wearing a mask, he carried an I Can’t Breathe sign, referencing both George Floyd and Eric Garner, two victims of police violence who, upon detainment, yelled out that they couldn’t breathe. In both instances the police just stood by as witnesses, participating in their deaths.
Brown had NBA company with him as he carried a megaphone. Malcolm Brogdon of the Indiana Pacers was also in attendance.
“This is a moment. We have leverage right now. We have a moment in time. People are going to look back, our kids are going to look back at this and say ‘You were a part of that.’ I’ve got a grandfather that marched next to Martin Luther King Jr in the 60’s. He would be proud of us all here. Jaylen has led this charge and I’m proud of him.” Malcolm Brogdon
Aware that the peaceful protesters were going to be infiltrated by more violent agitators Brown warned the crowd to be aware of their surroundings; don’t be fooled. I was struck by the irony. Because it was a little over two weeks ago that there was a debate about why Michael Jordan, during the height of his NBA career, didn’t stand up for marginalized people. Jordan has repeatedly opined that he’s not an activist. Jaylen Brown and retired NBA player Stephen Jackson and Malcolm Brogdon and Josh Okogie and Karl-Anthony Towns, and many, many more had no such conflicts of interest, nor reservations. They couldn’t look away.
While Brown and his NBA peers were marching in protest, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was explaining. In an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times, Abdul-Jabbar dug out the pus from the wound and answered the question that a lot of white folk have: what’s all this anger about?
Abdul-Jabaar wrote “What you should see when you see black protestors in the age of Trump and coronavirus is people pushed to the edge, not because they want bars and nail salons open but because they want to live. To breathe…And today, despite the impassioned speeches of well-meaning leaders, white and black, they want to silence our voice, steal our breath. So what you see when you see black protesters depends on whether you’re living in that burning building or watching it on TV with a bowl of corn chips in your lap waiting for NCIS to start.”
Perspective is always fluid. Depending on your zip code or skin color, the aesthetics change. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill once said, “all politics is local.” You are affected by what affects you. The subtle and not so subtle racism that black people have to live with every day doesn’t affect white people as a collective. In fact, they don’t acknowledge its existence until a video of a cop sitting on a man’s neck when he has no pulse surfaces. Often, white people weaponize their privilege which creates deathly consequences, particularly for black men.
But, sadly, the playbook is the playbook. We protest and march, and a violent minority ruins neighborhoods after someone is brutally killed, and then time marches on. It takes communities a decade to rebuild, and then it starts all over again. What has really been accomplished?
In Minnesota where all of this started, a native of the state, former Los Angeles Laker Devean George who played on the Kobe-Shaq teams, post-retirement, went back to his hometown to invest in the black community of his childhood. He is president and CEO of George Group North; he builds affordable housing, including a 45 unit building near where he grew up.
Interviewed by Marc Spears of The Undefeated (ESPN), George said the saddest part about Lloyd’s death is that no one is talking about his death anymore. They are talking about the riots. Good intentions often go awry. As the poet Langston Hughes reminded us, a raisin in the sun does explode.
Devean George is a star in Minneapolis for all he accomplished in the NBA. The local kid who made his city proud. It wasn’t just that he played for the Lakers. It was that he was drafted in the NBA from tiny Augsburg College, a Division III school, and when all was said and done George had three NBA titles. But what he saw in his hometown over the past few days hurt.
“It hurt me because I understand the hard work it takes to put things in our communities. And now for them to be destroyed, who knows how long it will take for them to come back? People who destroyed them don’t know how hard it is to put amenities and homes, living situations in these communities.” Devean George
George’s buildings haven’t been burned down so far and perhaps he has protection from the heavens above. He papered his buildings with pamphlets. The pamphlets show photos of George and Kobe Bryant embracing. It’s a reminder to the people of Minnesota that a local left town, was successful on the largest stage, returned, devoted himself to the community. George built a terrific career. And then he built a company and rebuilt a community. He has powerful friends. Even the wildest of the looters are going to think twice about burning a building with Kobe Bryant’s picture on it.
This is a new normal for America. Blood is on the flag, as Fannie Lou Hamer once remarked. The images of Jaylen Brown’s activism, opportunistic looters, grieving marchers, riot cops lobbing tear gas, and shooting rubber bullets remain in our social media feed. Reminders are everywhere. And yet. The heart of the matter will get buried in peripheral nonsense. The meaning gets skipped over once we return to our narcissistic lives. And the truth isn’t examined as we muddle through, just trying to survive it. Murder. Cry. Protest. Riot. Loot. Repeat. Murder. Cry. Protest. Riot. Loot. Repeat.
LeBron James answered the question- why are you protesting?- with a question that makes everyone pause. Why Doesn’t America Love Us!!!!????Too