Let’s start with the facts: Charlottesville was not only a sign that racism is still alive, but also a showing of the lack of love and respect humanity has for each other.
Over the last week or two, I refreshed Twitter like crazy thinking if I just read enough I’d be able to make sense of it all, know what I mean? Maybe you’ve been doing the same thing. This week I’m back in Lexington to play in our annual alumni game and it’s still on my mind.
I’ve even been talking about Charlottesville with strangers. Last Wednesday, in a car on the way to LAX, my driver and I got to talking. He was an older black man, maybe in his 60s or 70s, and I was pretty sure he had a Southern accent. My grandmother was born in Georgia, and his accent sounded the same. Anyway, the man told me that he had grown up in Louisiana in the 1960s, and I told him I was from New Jersey, with a Dominican mom and a dad who’s black. Next thing, we got into Charlottesville and what it meant. He talked about growing up in the South in the ’60s. He saw the bathroom signs that said “white” and “colored.” He remembers how he and his friends crossed the street because they knew that the wrong stare at someone could get them in trouble.
Before he dropped me off, he said that even though Charlottesville enraged him, it bothered him way more that this is the norm that I know. When a man from Louisiana, which has one of the most racist histories in the country, says that he feels 2017 reminds him of the 1960s, that’s a problem and it’s disheartening.
For a lot of Americans, Charlottesville wasn’t just a news event that we watched. It was an emotional event that was deeply felt by communities of all races. It was like seeing things we learned in fifth grade history class and realizing how important and relevant our history is.
Personally, I’ve been disappointed. Not sad, but disappointed. I’ve even been kind of … defeated. Not hopeless — I’ve got hope. But just exhausted. If you’re a minority in America, just watching the news can be exhausting. Normally, I’m an optimistic guy. What you see is what you get. But I guess these emotions can creep up on you.
It’s crazy because one year ago, I felt some of these same feelings. It was after I saw the video of Philando Castile being killed.
Right in broad daylight. For doing nothing wrong. Right on Facebook.
Right in St. Paul … my city.
My Timberwolves teammates and I talked about Philando after that tragedy and his name came up now and then over the last season — because, with that incident, it felt personal. It was a Twin Cities thing. It hit close to home. I don’t remember exactly what we said, but it was kind of like this: We’re all sitting there, as minorities in a league that’s mostly minority, and we’re wondering, What if I didn’t play in the NBA … would that be me?
There was one thing I didn’t feel about Charlottesville.
I didn’t feel shocked by it.
Yeah, I was disappointed but not shocked. It’s not a surprise to me that racism is alive and kicking in 2017.
In Charlottesville, I think we saw a more visible form of racism. We don’t see it so public very often, but that kind of hate is sadly … kind of normal. Obviously I don’t mean normal as in acceptable. It’s not. It’s evil. I mean normal as in this is nothing new in our country. It’s something we experience or hear about growing up. America has been struggling with racism since Day One. Our country is built on this. It’s our history.
Over time we have been trying to progress from those early days, but it doesn’t happen overnight. I’m 21 — even during my lifetime I’ve seen some major progress. It’s crazy to think about the man who drove me to the airport last week — the amount of change he’s experienced. But again, there’s been a lot of stagnation, too. Just turn on the news to see all the ways we’re going backward sometimes and forward other times.
So that’s why I’m saying I wasn’t shocked. But I take back one part of that … I was shocked by one thing.
I was shocked by how our President responded to Charlottesville.
Our President was given a layup: Denounce white supremacists.
And he couldn’t … and wouldn’t.
He missed … he missed badly.
I think about it like this: The President’s response, in basketball terms … ’cause you may know I know a little about the sport … was just like catching the ball on a fast break — no one else is even past half court — and then tripping on your own feet inside the paint as the ball flies out of bounds.
Should’ve been pretty easy.
It’s disheartening when our President doesn’t understand his words carry a tremendous amount of weight. It’s really hard to see our President refuse to stand up for what’s right — at a time when the country needs it. Especially for minorities. It’s not like we’re talking about taxes or something. We’re talking about the big issue that has divided the country since its birth.
Like I said before, I’m a positive, optimistic person. I really, truly try to live my life with love. I try my hardest to treat everyone the same way, no matter what. I hope my friends would tell you that about me, too.
And here’s how I try to look at what happened in Charlottesville:
First, there are more of us than there are of them.
There are more Americans who want to understand other people — people who look past pigmentation … people who talk with love that can shiver a person’s mind and soul … and people who live to improve not only their families’ lives, but the lives of every family in this beautiful country. There are more of those people than there are people who want to divide, degrade and corrupt us.
I’m not so naive that I think it’s easy. It makes me think of this quote by Albert Einstein that I read: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.” I think he means that, yeah, there are more good people than bad people, but it only matters if the good people act on their values.
Second, I know that some people will downplay what I’m saying because I play in the NBA. They’ll say “stick to sports” and woo-woo-woo. But I believe the culture is changing when it comes to athletes speaking out on the things that really matter.
Basketball is what I do for a living, not who I am as a man. So as athletes we have a huge opportunity to support what we think is right and to speak up about what we think is wrong.
And to anyone who says, “Stick to sports” … let’s be real: Our President used to host a reality TV show. You’re telling me I can’t voice a political opinion?
Finally, I believe that Charlottesville is not just about one event. It can be a big opportunity to talk to each other more honestly. It’s like the man I met on the way to the airport last week — we only had a short conversation, but it was honest and real. I learned a little bit about what his life has been like, the good and the bad. I’m thankful for that. To me, that’s where everything has to start — standing in someone else’s shoes.
This week, I’m back in Lexington, back to this place that I feel I can call home. Like we say here, we “bleed blue.” We come together over basketball. Lexington is not perfect … it is part of our country’s history as well … but the sense of community gives me hope. My hope is that everyone of all races can feel this way about where they call home.
I want to live my life with love but also with action. I hope to have more conversations and discussions about how to celebrate love and reject the type of hate we saw in Charlottesville.
We have to love each other more, and we have to show it more. I know that for sure.
Thank you for reading. With love,