On Bended Knee

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Just yesterday I was saying in conversation with a friend that I’ve been feeling hopeful that issues of race, inequality, and oppression are firmly back in the forefront enough that we as a society have no choice but to progress forward. I feel confident that there will be change for the better. I feel that the next generation is going to be smarter, stronger, and less willing to accept oppressive systems.
It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better.

The cost continues to be so high. As an adult in this society I don’t deserve to not have #tyreking, a boy only a few inches taller and a few pounds heavier than my own son, etched into my mind. I don’t want to accept the reality that my husband/father/son could have their car break down, or be waiting in their car reading, and somehow end up dead–at the hands or those trusted by the state to serve and protect.

I was scared for my significant other to leave the house last night because I know that as a black man he has an increased likelihood of interaction with the police. A personal anecdote about what that looks like: for my work I travel on a fairly regular basis. When my destination is in the Midwest I usually drive. I’ve been doing this for the past 4 years and I’ve never been stopped by police or had any interaction. Over the past year he has driven to all my events with me and we’ve been pulled over a full 60% of the time. I know this precisely because what started out as a lighthearted observation, basically turned into our own social experiment. I kept track.

The presented reason for being pulled over is always different; following too close, weaving in the lane, lights out. It’s not because he’s a worse driver than me. He’s completed professional driving training both as a police officer and a SWAT officer. But the difference between me, a light skinned Black woman, and him, a 6’3 (beautiful, amazing) dark skinned man, is 60%. Obviously this “inconvenience” is nothing compared to loss of life. But who has time in their day to day life for even this level of foolishness? It’s like a perverse vehicular stop and frisk. How dehumanizing to know that your mere presence is seen as a threat.

I’m not here for anyone who wants to dispute this reality. We all have our own normal. Not listening to people, millions of people, when they share their lived experience is a serious problem. A problem for which people need to look within themselves to unravel. Being out of touch with reality is not conducive to well-being.

I’m so grateful for the many truly brilliant, bold, and patient people who are out there who can drive forward meaningful dialogue that in turn drives progress. Frankly, I’m not always that person. I feel much responsibility falls on the shoulders of members of the white community who are lovers of justice and aren’t interested in reaping the benefits of a system built on oppression to take a stand–as many have been. This isn’t about “allies.” This isn’t a Black problem, this is an American problem. We’re all in this.

It’s unacceptable to be silent. I speak because I work in the field of fitness and health & wellness. We cannot maintain our physical, emotional, or spiritual health while upholding oppressive structures.

“and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid

so it is better to speak

remembering

we were never meant to survive”

–Audre Lorde

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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