When They See Us

“No change can come if those who are impacted the most by discrimination are not willing to stand up for themselves.” — Zainab Salbi, women's rights activist

Keith Allison Inspired by Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco 49ers kneel during the national anthem.

Growing up one of my favorite television shows was “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The b-ball-shooting city boy from West Philadelphia, who’d found himself living with his rich aunt and uncle in Bel-Air after a small fight had my attention every night at 9. I enjoyed every aspect of the show from Carlton’s hilarious dance to Uncle Phil’s sagacious words and to seeing Jazz getting thrown out after every episode. Even though the show made me laugh, it also served as an eye-opener.

In this one particular episode, an officer pulled over Will and Carlton for driving 2 mph after taking several wrong turns. In the episode, you see Will trying to guide a young-minded Carlton through the brutal steps of being black in America, but Carlton’s disposition on the matter resulted in the two being detained. Growing up in a sheltered environment, Carlton had never been victim to America’s wrath of discrimination. “The officers were just doing their job,” he stated.

Watching that episode that night moved something in me. Not fully understanding the system of oppression, I initially agreed with Carlton — the police were doing their job. I later questioned whether the police were just doing their job and how I would react if I was in their position. I even questioned if the system works. If it does, would it work in my favor?

Were officers just doing their job when Darren Wilson, a white police officer, fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen? Were officers just doing their job when they arrested 28-year-old Sandra Bland, an unarmed black woman, after a traffic stop while she was making her way to work and was later found dead in her cell? Were officers just doing their job when they entered the homes of Atatiana Jefferson and Botham Jean and shot them dead?

Police brutality has an extensive line for violence towards blacks, and blacks across the nation have said enough is enough.

Black Lives Matter was created in response to the merciless slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, who’s currently free. Motivated towards abolishing the systematic and intentional demise of blacks, the organization has more than 40 chapters.

“This Is America” by Childish Gambino has several metaphors about gun and race violence. The visual and lyrical message that Gambino portrays to the public is that America is brutal and vicious to African Americans. In Gambino’s visual, he pinpoints the 2015 Charleston shooting by showing a massacre of several cheerful choir members to evoke white supremacist Dylann Roof’s murder of nine African Americans attending Bible study.

While Gambino sings and dances to the chorus of “This Is America,” it can be related to the dialectic poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar and Frederick Douglass’ slave narrative, both of which liken songs and signs of joy as facades. Gambino draws from his roots and displays the ugly truth of what African Americans have and continue to bear while being citizens of a “liberated” nation.

Similarly, Colin Kaepernick used his sports platform to bring awareness to the oppressive state of blacks and minorities. Kaepernick refused to stand and honor his country during the American anthem. Ever since Kaepernick took a knee, American football has never been the same.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people,” Kaepernick said in an NFL media interview. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick’s statement sparked controversy across America on whether his gesture was just or unjust.

Four hundred years later and blacks are still fighting for liberation. It is disheartening to continue to hear and see stories of minorities suffering.