Recently I have taken an extra second when I am looking in the mirror. I take this extra second to notice my blackness. This is something I had never done before. The conversation in my head goes something like this: “ you are black, you are beautiful, you are strong. You do not look like most of the people you surround yourself with but that does not make you different in a bad way.”
Growing up in a predominantly white community I have never felt in touch with my blackness. The only times in school that I remember having the overwhelming sense that I was different from everyone else was when we talked about The Civil rights movement or slavery. Most of these conversations were not about empowering Black people and most teachers assumed that we knew slavery, racism, and segregation were wrong and an institution of the past. In light of recent events, a teacher’s discomfort or negligence to tell their students that racism is alive and well and the civil rights movement should not have seen its end in 1968, has proved to be deadly.
Academics do not see race, they see a GPA. Rowing recruitment sees a 2k test score and has the ability to disregard race entirely. This is both the beauty and downfall of being a student athlete who rows. My blackness does not decide how fast I am or how well I do on a test. I am grateful for academics and rowing but the very things I love have also neglected to teach me that my race is important.
As a student athlete your life revolves around your academics and your sport. I chose this path in life and I am proud that I did, however those two things in my life have had only a handful of Black people. I was the only African-American on my soccer team for four years, I am currently the only African-American in my rowing club, and routinely was the only African American in my classroom. Being “the only” is something that I am accustomed to and did not notice all the time. I am ashamed that I did not celebrate my blackness and subconsciously filed it away as something unimportant. Is that my fault? Is that my coach’s faults? Is that my teammates’ faults? Is that the sports fault? Is that society’s fault?
Blame is unimportant. The most important thought moving forward is how we are going to reach a place in time where we do not need signs and hashtags explaining that it is wrong to kill someone because of their skin color?. To get to this place people need experience and exposure. Knowledge is powerful and the more information people have, the more understanding and accepting they will be in future situations.
I ask my fellow student athletes to have conversations with all types of people: young, old, Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Latinx, Japanese, Vietnamese and every other race, color and creed. The Black Lives Matter movement is about basic human rights, it will require everyone to be successful. Let’s use our conversations and the gratifying and unifying power of the sports we love and strive to expose young athletes of all races to every sport.