Rosenthall’s Piece (below) is posted within Inside Lacrosse
Like many other African-Americans, I’ve recently found myself contacted by friends who simply wanted to check up and see how I was handling (gestures broadly) all of this.
To be honest, I’ve never been more tired yet I’ve never had more energy, and I don’t really understand how both are possible at the same time, but here we are.
Thirty minutes to the North, protesters were recently met by some sort of military faction that was transported to Washington, D.C. Not even the mayor knew who they were or where they came from. Thirty minutes to the East, and about 15 minutes from my childhood home, a gigantic confederate statue was taken down after more than a century of debate. Add the violent police encounters, the conversation returning to the National Anthem once again, and, well, the whole thing has been a lot.
I just really want to start this off by saying thank you to Trevor Baptiste, Myles Jones, Tariro Kandemiri, Kyle Harrison, Jovan Miller, Asher Nolting, Kris Alleyne, Jules Heningburg and countless others who have taken the time to document their feelings and experiences over the past week. Your contributions motivated me to sit down and add some thoughts of my own, and as someone who encountered his share of on-field slurs, police encounters and store clerk suspicions, I can’t begin to imagine how that ensemble of voices must have felt to young lacrosse players and fans who may have found themselves feeling alone at a time like this.
(Note: A common story shared by multiple players was hearing that they’re “not really Black,” or “the Whitest Black guy,” as though the person making such an assessment is basing their definition of blackness on TV/movie characters, their favorite rappers, et al. I’ve heard that comment as well, and I’ve heard it presented with an oddly complimentary tone, like my Blackness is some sort of stench that I’ve almost successfully managed to get rid of entirely. For the record, I just wanted to say:
1. Being Black is not an elective we test out of by playing lacrosse, getting nice jobs and/or speaking with proper diction; I assure you the police have never asked how many Dave Matthews songs I know.
2. Maybe just stop saying that to people. Thanks.)
Second, I understand that the topic of race, especially when it comes to matters like discrimination and police brutality, is one that many people find difficult to discuss. To those of you who successfully fought the urge to sit back during these times (and to those who just naturally jumped right in), I want to thank you, as well. Nobody expects you, or anyone, to have all the answers, it’s just a tremendous relief to feel supported.
Speaking of support, if you’re looking to support some friends who are really going through it right now, here are three important questions for you:
Are you willing to listen?
Simply put, a refusal to listen is a refusal to grow. If someone says that Black Lives Matter, if someone simply introduces the notion that Black people’s lives have at least some degree of value, are you willing to concede that, or do you find yourself already armed with a rebuttal? If it’s the latter, the rest of this “growth” thing is going to be a bit more of an uphill climb than it really needs to be. Again, nobody saying “Black Lives Matter” is accusing non-Black lives of not having value. Saying that apple juice is delicious is not an affront to all other fruit-based juices (we seriously can’t keep doing this, people).
Are you willing to learn?
Saying that one denounces systemic racism was very popular this week, but it was rarely defined. I’m sure many people don’t know what it is exactly; if you never spent much time talking about racism, you probably spent even less time categorizing it (furthermore, if your schools were anything like mine growing up, your exposure to this sort of thing was probably something like “White people got to sit there, Black people had to sit over there, MLK had a dream and there you go problem solved class dismissed”). All sorts of things from highway proximity to disparity in swimming proficiency have come down to various acts of systemic racism, and that doesn’t even begin to touch on things like public schools and prisons.
What about bias, are you familiar with some of the ways bias affects those in the real world? When a young Trevor Baptiste found himself detained by a police officer, that officer was surprised to hear that Baptiste was only 17 years old. An American Psychological Association study revealed that Black children are often perceived to be much older and less innocent by police officers than their White counterparts; the officer who shot and killed Tamir Rice in 2014 thought he was “19, maybe 20.” He was 12 years old.
Nobody’s expecting a written report on any of these things, I’m just saying you might need to add a few terms to your “Yup, that might be racist” filter. If racism is something you’ve rarely discussed, you might not realize how many different ways it can present itself, and, as a result, may inadvertently find yourself a bit skeptical when it comes to hearing that someone else has experienced it.
(Quick personal note, I once had a co-worker in his ’70s, who, when “trying to understand all this stuff that’s been going on lately,” asked me if I’d ever been pulled over by the police. He grew up in New York City, and again, the man was in his ’70s, but to him, the concept of racial profiling seemed strange and new. It’s never too late to learn, as long as you’re interested in doing so.)
Are you willing to change?
This one is the toughest to do, but it’s the easiest to explain, because it’s self-explanatory. I guess we’ll know for sure when we’re out of the moment, but it sure feels like America might be changing (at least to some degree) before our eyes. If you’re not interested in following suit, and clearly not everyone is, that’s certainly up to you, but the rest of us are going to give this whole “improving humanity” thing a shot, and that applies to the world of lacrosse, as well. If we choose to do so, this can be an incredible time to learn about ourselves and those around us, to become better coaches, parents, neighbors and friends. Let’s embrace the potential discomfort, muscle our way through a tough conversation or two and emerge from this time stronger than ever.