Yesterday was a day to be celebrated by Black Americans. It was the day that the last slaves experienced emancipation over 150 years ago. Freedom may have come through the Thirteenth Amendment, and the symbol of liberty for Blacks was given through this action on this day, but are Black Americans really free? I am not Black, so I cannot express my thoughts as a Black individual. I can only write from what I have done, seen, and learned throughout my life. If the past few weeks have shown us anything, it is that we still have a long way to go to find unity in diversity in this country and provide total liberation for our Black neighbors.
In commemoration of Juneteenth, Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell posted a compelling statement on his Instagram.
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I was pointed to this image from thoughts of disappointment that he shared on Twitter last night. I immediately pulled up his post on Instagram. Empathetically I felt his pain. Comments of support were many, but many comments were ignorant. These were white people telling a Black man that he is free by saying, “no ish,” “You are free. There is not ish”, “fully free,” “You’re more free than 99% of us,” and those were the softer comments. For me, this is hard to read.
Yes, Donovan is paid a lot of money to use his talents and hard work to play a game that he loves. Yes, he grew up in a home that was better than many Black kids, and even White kids. Yes, he got to attend some of the best schools while growing up. But in his home town of Elmsford, there are only 20% Black residents. With all of his seeming privilege, Donovan showed us what he, a Black Man with a Black sister and Black parents, still has to deal with probably daily. There is still injustice that occurs in this country, and we cannot hide from it any longer.
I could dive into the numbers of Black incarcerations, Blacks killed, Black suicides, and Black History, but I won’t. I want this to be about what I see. It is easy for us, White folk, to condemn Black people for protesting, for voicing their discomfort, and for expressing the pain that they feel through being an oppressed minority. It is easy for us, with our White privilege, to condemn them for thinking that they are not free because our ancestors granted those freedoms to their ancestors over 150 years ago. But if we dive into history, then we can see that Black Americans have been fighting for their independence ever since they were drug here unwillingly 400 years ago. It is an ongoing battle. Yes, 1865 was a banner year, but how many were robbed as sharecroppers, lynched, segregated, evicted from their homes, beat and battered, and still incarcerated, judged, turned down for the jobs, and told just to be quiet and play sports?
This issue continues to come up for me. I grew up in the whitest neighborhood in one of the whitest states in the country. My upbringing was not diverse at all. With that, my parents raised me to love and respect all. People may call that raising their children to be color blind. I wish I weren’t. I heard my share of racist comments growing up. Most were of pure ignorance. Unfortunately, I probably echoed a few myself. Being color blind did not teach me that we all have our identities. It did not teach me to embrace differences in the quest for unity. Unity does not mean that we all have to be the same. I wish I learned to embrace diversity earlier on in my life. I have sought to change that in the lives of my children.
At nineteen, like so many others around me, I left Utah for two years to serve my church. I was called to labor in St. Louis, Missouri. Even before getting to St. Louis, I was enlightened to work around a Black Elder in the training center. He became a very close friend. I never saw him as different. I never really saw him as Black. He didn’t need my pity but maybe deserved me to recognize better his identity and the struggles that he has because of that identity.
“In order to get beyond racism, we must first take account of race. There is no other way. And in order to treat some persons equally, we must treat them differently.”
– Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist
Early on, I heard racial comments from other missionaries. Most of these were said behind closed doors, but that doesn’t make them any more okay. But amidst the ignorance of others, it was in the St. Louis area that I came to love my Black friends. I learned of their constant struggle, their faith, their compassion, their families, their culture, and their beauty. I spent time in Ferguson and loved it there. So often, my companion and I were the minority. We were regularly the only White people in restaurants, grocery stores, and on buses. I love my Black family.
I do not believe that the way that I was raised, or my faith, contribute to ignorance or even racial disposition, though they could have done more. I do think that lacking diversity does not help to understand those who are different. Diversity is something that needs to be embraced. It is okay to recognize that we are different. I acknowledge that my daughters are different than my son, and that is a good thing. They need to be treated differently. I am okay with that. That does not mean that they do not get the same opportunities. I still challenge them as much as I challenge my son. I push them. I encourage them. I believe that they can be and do anything that they want to. We are inherently different. It is okay, but it is when we allow our policies and procedures and words to affect someone else, because of their difference, in a negative way that we have made it about them being different. We all deserve the same opportunities.
Over the years, I see the struggle to be free. Yes, in 1865, the last official slaves were freed in Galveston, Texas, but Blacks are still not entirely free. They have been continually wrongfully accused, targeted, and pushed down. We still have precedent and policies that allow prosecutors to oppress and circumvent racial protections. We try to ignore color instead of embracing it. We praise White people for standing out, but if a Black man kneels for reform in front of a sizeable White fan base, then we say he is not patriotic and out of order. We have a dirty history with race. Many policies are reflective of that. We need to do better. We need to make a change.
Over a year ago, one of Donovan’s former teammates, Kyle Korver, shared his thoughts on race and his White Privilege in a Player’s Tribune article. I quote two paragraphs from that article here.
And we all have to be accountable — period. Not just for our own actions, but also for the ways that our inaction can create a “safe” space for toxic behavior.
And I think the standard that we have to hold ourselves to, in this crucial moment….. it’s higher than it’s ever been. We have to be active. We have to be actively supporting the causes of those who’ve been marginalized — precisely because they’ve been marginalized.
Revisiting his words a year later shows that we all have work to do.
These thoughts come from my intent to voice that it is time to change. Again, I am not a Black man and cannot tell a Black woman or Black man how they feel. I have worked hard to educate myself and find ways not to be “not racist” but to be antiracist. It is not enough for us to ignore the issue and think that it will fix itself.
“But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of ‘racist’ isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘antiracist.’ What’s the difference? One endorsed either the idea of a racial hierarchy as a racist, or racial equality as an antiracist. One either believes problems are rooted in groups of people, as a racist, or locates the roots of problems in power and policies, as an antiracist. There is no in-between safe space of ‘not racist.’ The claim of ‘not racist’ neutrality is a mask for racism.” Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist
– Ibram X. Kendi, How to be an Antiracist
Thank you again, Donovan Mitchell, for standing up and daring to say the hard thing. I hope that I can do something to help you and all Blacks in this country to finally feel as free as Whites. We need equity and unity in diversity. I am grateful for the conversation that is happening. It is benefiting me to see that I can do more. I hope that we all understand what more we can do.