Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James’ L.A. home was vandalized with racist graffiti earlier this week. The incident prompted the NBA star to make the following statement in the video below:
For those tired of hearing about race, I suggest you try living it. The weariness on LeBron’s face is not from NBA practices or the mental preparation and game-planning necessary to take on the vaunted Golden State Warriors for the third time in the NBA Finals.
He has the same look on his face I do every time I talk about race. It’s exhausting. The burden of trying to convince your country to view you as an equal makes a person tired. One may wonder why LeBron referenced Emmett Till when talking the vandalism at his home.
Emmett Till was brutally murdered. A spray-painted slur doesn’t compare to murder, right? Murder is obviously far worse than vandalism when you evaluate the individual acts, but in the context of racism, it’s all trauma. Worse yet, it’s a collective trauma.
I don’t know how LeBron came to know the story of Emmett Till, but it’s probably similar to the way I and most black men did. When I reached a certain age and started to notice girls, my mom told me about Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy who was kidnapped and brutally murdered after allegedly flirting with a white woman in Mississippi.
From slavery to the Civil War to Black Codes to Jim Crow to the War on Drugs to mass incarceration to police brutality and every moment encapsulated within each era, black people in America share a collective trauma. We are reminded daily of who we are and where we are.
We cannot escape, transcend or rise above race. LeBron James is an NBA legend while he still plays. He does not engage in illegal activity. He’s married to his high school sweetheart. By all accounts, his kids are good kids. LeBron has made more money than he can ever spend and has fans and admirers the world over.
However, no matter how many championships he wins, points he scores or miracle comebacks he leads, he will always be black. And America will always remind him of it. That’s part of the traumatic effect of the vandalism at his home.
Racism runs the gamut of insensitive jokes to malicious action. You don’t have to be Bull Connor to be a racist. Amos ‘n’ Andy never physically hurt anyone, but their blackface portrayal of African-Americans as shiftless, lazy, bumbling buffoons used jest to reinforce the sentiments behind chains, whips and hangings.
The weariness on LeBron’s face also comes from time spent searching for the right words in the right order – the words that will finally make everyone understand. Those words are hard to come by when LeBron considers all who have tried before him.
Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and so many others have given their best to make America see the error of her ways and accept her most maligned brothers and sisters.
America’s racism is foundational and congenital. It is embedded within the founding document of this great republic. Before the framers established the office of President of the United States in the Constitution (Article II, Section 1), they established that slaves would be counted as three-fifths of a person (Article I, Section 2).
Some view racism as a virus, like the common cold. Over time, it will run its course and go away. This is why you hear people reference the year in a fit of outrage after a racist incident. They think racism should have run its course by 2017.
No, racism is in America’s DNA and must be rooted out, but not by black people alone. Bold leadership is required by those of different shades and equal humanity. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, LBJ advocated for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts and Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson.
Dr. King said it best. “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”