What’s going on in America right now hurts my heart. Hurts my mind. And makes me hurt for people. All people. Because this kind of unrest will inevitably touch you, one way or another. I’m not one to speak out publicly on issues of social injustice, but I feel compelled to say something on this one. Because it is real. More real than I ever believed. And it is here. All around us.
Even if we try to ignore it.
Denver is in the midst of the fifth day of protests. I about jumped out of my skin last night when one of those Amber Alert notices went off on my cell phone. Notifying myself and the other fine citizens of Denver that we had 15 minutes until our 8pm curfew. Curfew. And not because of the ‘Rona, but because of the protests. Today, a coworker told me he was going to try and find more ammo because he heard the looters are now targeting predominantly white neighborhoods. And we were told to take precautions today to make sure our buildings and properties were secure. What kind of messed up world do we live in that we need to be concerned about these things? Wake up, people! This is not some story or issue coming out of another country. This is now. This is America.
We need to say something. That is literally what I am doing here. But there is a way to protest, a way to get your voice heard. We have more platforms than ever before. But the “poisoned well that is social media” (credit Dan Le Batard) is one of the main problems. More than enough has been said about the people taking advantage and rioting and breaking the law in the name of protest because it is wrong. Just that. Wrong. I drove through a town yesterday and I noticed a young lady on the sidewalk holding a sign. She was calmly standing there by herself, wearing her mask and holding a sign saying, “Black Lives Matter”. She was brave enough to stand there and make her voice heard. Oh, and another thing. She wasn’t black. She was white.
I grew up in Philadelphia, in a racially diverse school, but in a predominantly white neighborhood and family. Many of our friends were black and we never really saw any difference. We were just all kids. Until other voices made themselves heard and we heard things that were not so pleasant. It changed some people, but not everyone. I learned that racism was real, but it didn’t really affect me. Because I was white. But I liked my black friends and thought they were cool, so I thought that made up for the opinions of others around me. Wrong.
Fast forward years later and I started experiencing prejudice of another kind. And, *gasp*, this was towards me. I was good at my job, and I was going to get promoted. But guess what? I wasn’t going to get the same salary or the same benefits that my peers were getting. Why? Because I was female. Call it entitlement, call it the Boy’s Club, call it whatever. It took years for it to be made right and to become almost equal to those of my male counterparts. And how did it happen? You guessed it. Because I spoke up and said something. No one was going to do it for me, I had to stand up and ask for what I was entitled to, because the people who should have done something, didn’t. They just let it happen. Then it finally started to sink in. This only scratches the surface of what people of color deal with, but it became even more real because it actually happened to me. Conversely, some of the people who made a huge impact on me in my college years were black – they didn’t see me as a white girl, I was a sister. I was a friend. And I was all the better for it.
Some time after that I realized something else that some people have other prejudices – towards those with a different life status than their own. Some because of rich people, some towards those less fortunate than themselves, and some because of relationship status. Even towards single people. And guess what? I had to be all those things before I experienced those types of prejudices that people have. Again, this is totally low-grade, but it made me think deeper of how people treat people and how messed up it could be.
Then, two years ago I moved to Denver and experienced something even more disturbing. There is a lot more racism in this part of the country than I even knew or imagined. Remember I said I’m from Philly, right? There, the white population is 34.9% and the black population is 41.3%. Not Denver. The white population is a whopping 53.6% here and the black population is only 9.2%. I had no idea what I was going to run into. Here, a lot more things were said directly to me about black people in a less than friendly manner. At one point, my team was made up of 16 people and four of them were black. My Philly mind didn’t think anything of it. Then, someone made this comment to me, “You hire a lot of black people, don’t you”? I can’t make this up. I just looked at them and said, “Yes. Why, is that weird?” They kind of sputtered. Others made comments like, “Tell him to pull his pants up” or “tell him not to wear his hoodie up” and various other comments I don’t even want to write. Then there is the Hispanic population prejudice here – black or brown – people see what they want to see.
Obviously, not all white people in Denver are prejudiced. I know plenty of people who are just as upset and saddened by all of this hatred as I am. But the very real fact is that this is not a popular place for black people. I’m not sure why, but I am trying to do my part here and show people that it is not the color of skin, that makes all of us different, it’s the heart. We all bleed the same. The same blood was shed for all of us. It’s our hearts that need to be changed.
So, why did I decide to speak up now? Mainly because I was motivated by people who I listen to often and who I’ve known to make a difference. Most of you know I am a huge sports fan. So I listen to ESPN Radio a lot. This morning driving to work, I heard Stephen A. Smith talking about George Floyd’s death On Get Up and he said this was actually an American issue, not just a George Floyd issue. He also said that part of the issue is the imagery of how black men are depicted and portrayed. He said it was so important that white people speak up. That white silence was compliance. and that is what this is what everything has come down to and why we need to say something. It made such an impact on me and I was thinking about it when I went into work. Where one of my best employees was talking about the riots. He’s black and is one of the ones who taught me what it was like here. Again, being from Philly, I had no idea.
Then, my favorite radio show came on. I faithfully listen to the Dan Le Batard show on ESPN Radio almost every day. Mainly because I am intensely attracted to passionate people and Dan is one of the most passionate sports people I know. He is an award-winning journalist and I have heard him break down on radio more than once. He came on this morning and the passion and the feeling in his voice was palpable. You could feel it through the speakers. Because I cannot even begin to paraphrase his monolog, here is what he said.
“You can’t believe anything you see and read because you see bricks in the street and you don’t know who put them there,” said Le Batard, speaking from his knowledge of life under a communist regime in Cuba to the unrest manifesting itself around America over the previous five days. “You don’t know whether the people protesting really are protesting, or if they just want to start more violence. That’s propaganda. That’s Cuba. You can’t believe the things that you’re watching. You don’t know what’s real and what’s not real. It just… It’s heartbreaking. We’ll play all sorts of sounds for you today from people who are more eloquent than I am, and more qualified to speak on this than I am. Because I’m just an observer. Latin or not, minority or not, I come from privilege… I hope we can just laugh today, that there can be some medicine somewhere in this, because I’m telling you, Stugotz, I have been alive for 51 years and I have not had as heart-breaking a weekend for something that didn’t really directly impact me as I did this weekend. Where my fear kept me in a place, I gotta think it’s happening to a lot of people. I gotta think this bone weariness, this heavy feeling you have in your heart, in your stomach, it feels like a disease.
“America and its vibrant economy had to close down because of a disease that attacked the lungs for a few months. Now that disease has been engulfed and swallowed by a disease that has ravaged the heart for centuries.“
See what I mean? The man has passion. Normally, ESPN tries to keep political talk at bay, but this is too big and no one was holding Dan back this time.
Jalen Rose made a comment the other day on ESPN that slapped me in the face, “I wish America loved black people as much as they love black culture”. I have been guilty of this in the past and please God, let me never be guilty of that again.
Think about a mere four months ago – when the whole world, and ALL of America, was mourning the death of Kobe Bryant. Oh, and he was black man. Who played college ball in Philly. And we all loved him. It doesn’t make sense.
So, after hearing and reading things over the weekend, then listening to these two very respected, passionate people talking about what is real, I felt I needed to say something. Even if it is very simply to say that I see black people as real people who think and eat and bleed the same as I do. The same thing with the Mexican people I have come to know and respect. I have never experienced a more loving, sharing culture. These people are people who live and breathe and love just the same as anyone else. And we need to recognize and acknowledge that .
So, don’t think you need to go to a protest, or get a spot on TV or radio, all you need to do is speak up if you see something. Or hear something. What that officer did to George Floyd was inexcusable. But what the other ones standing by did was almost worse. They stood by and did nothing. They didn’t have to do everything, but they had the power to do something.
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke
So, go do something. Something good. Something that matters. It can make a difference in the life of another human. Even if it is yourself.
Original Painting by Alexa Johnson (my cousin!)