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Y’all Hear Us, But You Ain’t Listening

Jun 3 2020
Photo by
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Photo by
Sam Forencich/NBAE via Getty Images
Tobias Harris
Philadelphia 76ers
Jun 3 2020

I’m about dialogue, and I’m always willing to talk.

But if we gon’ talk about what happened to George Floyd, there needs to be a baseline acknowledgement of the reality: A white police officer killed an unarmed black man, and he was able to do it in broad daylight, with three other cops watching, because of the color of his skin.

And don’t reply to me with, “Oh, but this person did this.” Don’t try and make excuses, or say this isn’t about race. In a lot of my conversations with white people lately, I’m getting that statement over and over again: “Let’s stop making this about race.”

That’s easy to say when your brother or your father is not that person on the ground with someone’s knee on his neck. Your brother, son, father is not that person running away, getting shot at, in broad daylight.

I really just want to tell those people, Shut the hell up — because this IS about race.

It’s always been about race.

And if we dig really deep, this also about HUMANITY.

If you can’t acknowledge that, then I can’t really have a dialogue with you.

We been in the streets protesting for years about police brutality. But it’s like, Y’all hear us, but you ain’t listening. That’s what’s the most upsetting thing for me. And I know it is for others too, around the world.

It seems like nothing is really working to get our voices heard. We have normalized this to the point where it’s common to see videos of people on social media being bashed by officers.

For people who want to make this about anything but race, it’s like, Dang, do y’all really not understand what’s going on here?

Keep it real. Admit something’s wrong in this country, admit that this is about race, and let’s build a way forward.

Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images; Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Last month, armed men took over the steps of Michigan’s capitol building. To protest the QUARANTINE.

And what did the President call them?

“Good people.”

But we go out and protest that another black life has been taken senselessly, and we’re “THUGS.”

Come on.

This is why black Americans are angry.

For police officers who commit this violence, there has been no accountability. Cops are supposed to be held to a standard of conduct, but they always get the benefit of the doubt, inherently. They act like we ain’t supposed to question nothing.

Those four officers should have been arrested immediately. But when you try to throw out excuses, saying you need to “see more evidence” and that type of thing … who do y’all think you’re fooling?? We got a VIDEO!! The whole world’s seen it! Be straight up with the people, man.

To tell you the truth, the killing of Trayvon Martin was a turning point for me, personally.

When he was killed, all because he looked “suspicious” for wearing a black hoodie at night in his own neighborhood, I realized that that could have been my brother. Once you really sit with that, it’s a really scary feeling. I had to get out of my own NBA bubble, and understand that there’s a different world out there. Not everybody can get in a nice car every day, drive to work, come home, work out, and be O.K. People go through different shit. Every. Single. Day. I had to come to grips with that.

And luckily I did, because it was one of the most impactful things that ever happened in my life.

When I heard there was gonna be a march in Philadelphia last weekend, all I could think about was 17-year-old Trayvon.

I was playing in Orlando about a year after he was killed. There was a march downtown while I was there, in 2013. By that time, it had gained a lot of steam on social media and whatnot with people wearing hoodies and everything. But I missed out on going to that march, and I’ve always regretted not being a part of that.

It wasn’t even that I didn’t want to go. I was angry then, too. I’d had conversations about it with my teammates and friends. But if I’m being truthful, protesting just wasn’t at the forefront of my mind at the time. It seemed like, what could I add? It made me realize that I needed to educate myself a lot more. You have to be knowledgeable to be able to talk about this stuff and have a productive dialogue — especially being a person of influence and a role model to people, you got to be O.K. with talking. And you’ll only get to that point if you’re O.K. with yourself.

I’ve educated myself on the world in the years since. I’m able to take myself out of the celebrity bubble and the profile that I’m at, and look at what black people are going through around the country.

That’s why I’m saying my piece now. And I already know that some people won’t like it. There is still a stigma around talking openly about race. A hundred percent. But at this point, I don’t care.

I’m pushing people in my circle!! We gotta hold friends accountable, too. I’m pushing myself, my family, friends, and people around me — people that follow me, people that look up to me — to get uncomfortable. You have to. Ain’t no both sides.

And SILENCE is UNACCEPTABLE.

The way I look at it? If people in my community are oppressed, then so am I. Shout out to Muhammad Ali, one of the biggest role models in my life, for showing the way. He was never scared to take a stand against INJUSTICE.

I’ve also had to get uncomfortable in knowing who I am — knowing that, yeah, I made it to the NBA, and that’s changed some things for me in terms of how I’m treated. I don’t have it the same as the next person. I’ve come to grips with the fact that yes, I’m black, but that dude that’s getting pulled over by a cop in his car, he don’t have the luxury of that officer recognizing him.

That’s the problem. The difference between a cop recognizing you or not shouldn’t be life or death.

Courtesy of Tobias Harris

I grew up on Long Island. I went to a predominantly white elementary school, a predominantly white middle school, and a predominantly white high school. I was always the athlete, the all-American.

Everywhere I went, people knew who I was. They didn’t necessarily look at me like, Look at that black kid. Even if they did in their head, I never got that kind of treatment. They looked at me like, Oh, that’s Tobias Harris over there. He plays this, and this, and that. When I went to college, same exact thing.

So to be honest, I always knew about the racism in this country, but in my personal life, things were a little sugar-coated in a way. I can admit that — because of the privilege I had growing up — I did not truly experience the worst of what black people go through.

And if I had to do this all over again, I would change in a lot of ways — mainly in terms of educating myself on black history, and everything that went on in the early movements that gave us the rights we have now.

But that’s me now at 27 years old saying this. It took me a long time — maybe too long — to realize that things are different. Some people might want to think, Fame can’t change me. The NBA won’t change me. But if they’re being honest with themselves, they’ll acknowledge that being at that level puts a protective bubble around you. You have to ACTIVELY be going outside of that, actively be seeking knowledge and educating yourself, to be fully hip to everything going on in the world.

We as celebrities and athletes have to do our part, too, to hold ourselves accountable. Period.

The schools don’t tell you the whole story. This is why I’m so big on educating and mentoring the youth. When I was coming up, in our school we basically only learned about three African-American heroes. We learned about Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X. And when did we learn about them? During Black History Month. For 28 days. I know y’all can relate.

I knew about Christopher Columbus, about George Washington, all the presidents, but only a handful of black leaders. That’s what I was taught.

It wasn’t until my first year in the league when I had all this free time to educate myself, that I began learning about black pioneers in the world, learning about what really goes on in America. And I needed that period of learning to get to where I’m at now, where I’m educated enough to speak out.

I mentor a lot of kids. I go into these schools. I see the difference between a school in North Philly out here, and a school in the Main Line of Lower Merion. I see the difference. So I’ve been able to grow in my understanding of how different things are.

Because when I was younger, I didn’t really grasp that.

When I was a kid, my father used to take me and my brothers into the city, and we’d play basketball with this AAU team called the Riverside Hawks. He took us to Harlem, and we’d play outside every weekend.

I’mma keep it one hundred: We were living totally different lives than some of the kids we played with.

It was like having water thrown in your face, seeing how they lived compared to my life in the suburbs. Every kid has to grow up and learn, and for me it was like, Wow, I’m black, but I’m privileged to have what I have. That truly, truly humbled me. But it didn’t mean I knew everything there is to know about race.

That was my life coming up, my learning process. That’s what’s brought me to where I’m at now. I can really say that I understand, and I know. But it takes time.

It takes knowing your self-identity, and who you are.


Courtesy of Tobias Harris

Last Saturday, I wasn’t gonna miss this opportunity to turn my knowledge into action.

When I was out there at the march, it was something that I was so happy to be a part of because it was about unity. People were holding signs talking about police brutality, signs stating how black lives are important. How being quiet is just as bad as being on the wrong side. Signs everywhere, with messages matching everybody’s pain in the black community. And some of the people out there were white people, preaching out, “Black Lives Matter.” It was awesome to be around that interconnectedness and unity. It was really special. We walked for about an hour and a half, and it was just awesome to be in that moment.

I’m 6′ 9″, so I knew I would stand out, but I really wasn’t worried. I think I knew things could escalate (I saw a couple people who were spray-painting and whatnot), but I think, all in all, a protest, a march — it’s what you come into it with. It’s your intentions about it.

And it’s what you take out of it.

It’s about preaching this message of how you feel about what’s going on in the world. You see a lot of stuff that’s going on with the riots, but many people are out there protesting PEACEFULLY because we want CHANGE.

On Saturday in Philly, it was about a togetherness of people pushing out a message. And that message was really about respect. It was about people respecting others, and understanding their hurt and their pain.

And we gotta keep it going — if not out in the street, then in our own circles. We gotta talk about what’s really going on. We gotta use our platforms to the fullest.

We gotta make it so you might not want to hear us … but you damn sure gon’ listen.

Tobias Harris
Philadelphia 76ers