Your Silence Is a Knee on My Neck

RICH VON BIBERSTEIN/ICON SPORTSWIRE

To tell you the truth, I was planning on writing about something else. Had a whole other article mapped out, about this upcoming WNBA season, and what this moment means for the W — and stay on the lookout for that. Coming soon.

But not right now.

Because right now……. there’s only one thing that’s on my mind. Right now, if we’re being really real? As a black person in America, there’s only one thing that could possibly BE on my mind.

And that’s fearing for my life.

It’s fearing for my life, and for the life of every other person who is guilty of nothing more than belonging to a race that this country has been built on oppressing. It’s wanting to stay alive — in a time where the reality for a lot of people is that my staying alive doesn’t matter.

It’s 2020, man. That was supposed to be the future, you know what I mean? Growing up, if you said “the year 2020,” that felt like some Star Trek shit. It felt like this endless possibility. But what you realize as you get older is that if you’re a black kid in America, the future….. it just isn’t about possibility like that. You start to notice how many forces there are in place to make sure that 2020 isn’t really all that much different from 2010. Or 2000. Or 1990. Or 1920. You start to understand how the systems of power in this country, they’re not built to create possibility or opportunity for black people — they’re built to lock them out.

America’s systems of power exist to lock in the white status quo.

America’s systems of power exist so that, in 2020, George Floyd can have a knee forced on his neck by a white police officer, by someone whose job it was to serve and protect him, for almost nine minutes in broad daylight — nine minutes in broad daylight — even after he had become unresponsive. America’s systems of power exist so that an acceptable response to a cop killing George Floyd is to make excuses for the cop. America’s systems of power exist so that George Floyd, a black murder victim, can be blamed for his own damn murder.

But you know what crushes me most of all?? It’s how the systems of power in this country are built so strong, and with such prejudice, that in order for white supremacy to flourish — people don’t even have to actively be about white supremacy. They don’t have to carry the burden of being openly racist, or waste their energy on being loudly oppressive. It’s not like that at all.

All they have to do is be silent.

Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images

That’s what’s so scary about it to me. That’s what’s so crazy about it, and so frustrating. And if I’m being honest, that’s what pisses me off. Because it’s like — those racist cops who keep killing us? There’s way too many of them, that’s for sure. But we’re going to keep on speaking out, keep on shining a light at their behavior….. and eventually we’re going to get them the hell out of the paint. Relatively speaking, that one’s easy. But you know what’s not as easy?? You know what’s harder to shine a light on? The millions of people who are helping to protect those racist cops, and who are helping to insulate those in power, by staying “neutral.” That right there is what’s exhausting to me. It’s all the people who think that — in 2020!! — they can still somehow just politely opt out of this shit.

And those are the people who I wanted to write this for.

Because those are the people with the ability to really change things. And to me the first step in getting those people to change their behavior — it’s getting them to understand the meaning of their behavior. It’s getting them to see that this “both sides” wave they think they’re riding….. it doesn’t exist. It never existed, of course — but especially not now. Not in this moment. Not with these deaths so fresh and so raw.

I’m writing this because I have a platform. It may not be the biggest platform in the world….. but it’s bigger than a lot of people have. It’s what I’ve got. And the only thing I feel like using that platform for right now is to send a message to the so-called “neutral” people out there. It’s to tell them that we’re changing up the definitions of some of these words they’ve been hiding behind.

It’s to tell them that “seeing both sides” means having blood on their hands – and “opting out” means leaving innocent people to die.

It’s to tell them that neutrality about black lives might as well be murder.

It’s to tell them that their silence is the knee on George Floyd’s neck.

If you’re silent, I don’t fuck with you, period.

And by the way — I’m so proud to be an athlete right now. I’m so unbelievably proud to be a part of this community. The way that so many different athletes from so many different sports (and so many different backgrounds) have been finding their voices through all of this, and standing up against racial injustice, and making a real impact….. it’s a beautiful thing.

When I see Jaylen Brown organizing a walk to the MLK memorial. When I see Amanda Zahui B speaking out and INSPIRING people. When I see Stephen Jackson mourning the loss of his “twin” with this combination of anger and grace. That’s powerful to me.

But it’s like I said: what’s really going to move the needle here is everyone getting involved — and by that I mean all athletes. Because there’s no room for any of that silence or “neutrality” in the athlete community either. Those old excuses about not wanting to lose sponsorships, or not wanting to alienate certain types of fans, or how “racists buy sneakers too” or whatever?? We don’t have time for that. Not when lives are being lost.

We need to meet this moment with accountability, and solidarity, and leadership.

And I know it can be done.

Man — like, when I see Elena Delle Donne posting on her IG story the other day?? You have no idea what that does to my spirits, or what that means to me. I saw Elena’s post, and I was just like….. Ahhh, I fucking KNEW my teammate would have my back. I knew it. And that felt so good. That’s the MVP of our league, one of the most famous white basketball players alive, and now everyone is seeing how real she is. How she didn’t hesitate — she got in there. And it was like, even that ONE post on its own, it took just a little bit of the weight off my shoulders. It made me feel just a little less powerless in this world.

It also laid down the gauntlet, I think, for other athletes.

And if it didn’t? Then I hope this article does.

Because there’s no new information to wait for. There’s no other side to hear from. There’s no safe space, no neutral territory to chill in and sit these issues out. Athletes, if you’re reading this….. know that we see you. I’ll repeat that: WE SEE YOU. I love y’all — and like I said, I’m so proud to be one of y’all. But you’re being judged right now the same as everyone else — and if you’re silent, you are part of the problem.

If you’re silent, I don’t fuck with you, period.

Because I’m just out here trying to stay alive.

And your knee is on my neck.

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