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Black People Are Tired

The Players’ Tribune logo The Players’ Tribune 6/1/2020 Dawn Staley
© Sean Rayford/AP Images

We saw someone get the life choked out of them on social media

Pause and think about that.

A lifeless body.

How could you not release your knee to allow this man to breathe? He’s on his stomach. His hands are behind his back. And you just continue, despite his pleas for air.

I can’t explain it. I can’t.

Some of these killings you only hear about. You hear about them, and you can only imagine. But you don’t see someone actually lying there. Gasping for air. Taking their last breath. A mother’s son. A brother.

What do you say to young people who’ve seen that video?

What do I say to my nieces and nephews?

What do I say to my players? They’re like my kids.

I want to give them at least some hope that what happened to George Floyd will never happen to them, but I don’t have the words. Because the truth is: That very well could happen to any of us.

It’s sad. It’s sad. It’s sad. 

My heart is breaking. We’ve been down this road before, and we continue to go down this road. I mean, it’s 2020, and we still have to see this. Just watch, when that police officer goes to trial, watch how they can flip it. Now they’re going to go through George’s autopsy and see if there were drugs in his system. They’re already talking about previous health complications. Come on now.

If that officer had just put him in the back of his car, he would not be dead.

Black people are tired.

I mean, it wears on you. It gets worse, and worse, and worse, and worse.

It’s like, What do I do now? 

What can I do now? 

What can I do?

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Jason Connolly/AFP/Getty Images

I’m watching people who are protesting and the riots that are going on. I mean, a part of me feels like I really understand why they’re rioting. Then the other part thinks, That’s our neighborhoods that are being burned down. But I know the place it’s coming from. I know the frustration. I know the deep-rooted anger that it’s coming from.

People are mad because NOTHING HAS CHANGED.

Let me just give you a little bit of history about myself. A lot of people don’t know this about me. 

Both my parents were born and raised in South Carolina, but my mother had to leave when she was 13 years old because my grandmother was afraid she might get lynched.

It was about 60 years ago, on a normal day. My grandma sent my mom out for meat from the store. The store owner gave my mom a hard time, trying to make her take some old meat from the back, instead of the fresh cuts in the refrigerator out front. My mom ended up telling him that she wasn’t gonna take bad meat home, and he ran her out the store. Told her don’t come back. My grandma was so scared of what that store owner might do after my mom told her what had happened that she packed my mom’s bags and sent her to live with family up north. 

I was real young when my mom told me that story. We didn’t have to have the “sit down at the table” talk about racism in my house when I was growing up. I always knew what it was.

I grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood. My high school and my junior high school were both predominantly black. So it wasn’t like I was constantly dealing with discrimination growing up.

But when I started playing with my AAU team, that’s when I really got a sense of the divide in this country. The tale of two cities. At one point, my team had to join with another, which made the team half black and half white. My white friends grew up in the suburbs, and I used to go over to their houses. They lived in these huge houses in the suburbs. I’m like, Oh, this how they live?

The funny thing about it is, they would want to come over where I lived. It was exciting for them to see where I lived, in the projects. But their parents wouldn’t let them come over to my house if it was dark — shoot if it was even close to dark.

We were just living in two different worlds.

And that’s part of how we got here.

Dawn Staley holding a baseball bat © Provided by The Players’ Tribune

I went to a peaceful protest on Saturday at the State House in South Carolina, and I just listened to the speakers who got up and spoke about what we can do. 

If you’re upset, I say keep that anger. Let it fuel you at the ballot box in November. Let it drive you toward registering to vote.

That’s where our power is.

And no, I’m not afraid to be speaking out. I’m a black woman first. I coach young black people. I coach young white people, as well. But this is on my heart. It’s heavy on my heart. 

I’m just going to do my best to raise awareness and get people to vote. 

If you don’t like something, if you don’t like the laws that we have to live by, you gotta get out and VOTE.

I feel like I have to do something to save the next person.

There are a lot of allies out there. But there are too many white people who still don’t get it. Honestly, they don’t know. They can’t relate. There are some great people in this world that really sympathize with what’s going on. And then there are all the other people….

They won’t get it, no matter how many black bodies they see under the knees of the police.

When you are privileged — when you are the privileged race, you don’t have to think about what we think about daily.

You just see the world through your own eyes. And it’s a lot different than it is through a black person’s eyes. A lot different. Say what you wanna say, but it’s a lot different. I’m talking to you as somebody that has been very successful in my profession. I’ve made a lot of money in my profession. My individual situation does not compare to what’s going on in the real world. But that doesn’t put blinders on my eyes.

That’s why I have to constantly ask myself: Am I doing right by our players?

Are they learning? Are they understanding? Are they being equipped to navigate the world as a black woman in our society?

If they feel prepared in that way, that’s what I’m most proud of as a coach.

And that’s not to divide our team by race. It’s just a statement of reality that as human beings, we see color. Yes, we see color. We feel color. Without a doubt. And it’s a shame, but that’s how we have to navigate the world.

Our teammates can learn from each other through communication. There are conversations that we have to be able to have in our locker rooms. They have to be had. They’re necessary for all of us to grow socially and culturally. White players and coaches can expose us to how they look at things, how they see the world, how they feel about things. And black players and coaches can expose them to what’s happening in our world.

I mean, that’s the way the world’s supposed to operate. That’s how we build unity and collective power. I hope we use our power to affect our politics locally and also use it to change our entire nation.

Trump is the president of the United States, and if he’s not unifying, he’s not helping.

Him saying, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts” … that type of statement is not helping anybody. That’s not unifying this country. We need a unifier in the position of the most powerful person in the world.

If you can’t be the president for every American, then we as the VOTERS need to change that.

You want something different?

Then we as the VOTERS need to do something different. 

And I hope, if anything good can come out of George Floyd’s senseless death, it is people going out to vote to change what’s happening in our country.

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