El Dorado Hills, Oak Ridge, Politics, Sports, United States

A Letter to My High School Classmates

By Eryn Anderson.  

Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem (New York Times)

El Dorado Hills is a bubble that shields us from the more brutal and dangerous parts of American life and society. Many of you are not part of the black community, so you may not understand, or care to understand the true focal point of Colin Kaepernick’s, and other black athletes’ choice to kneel during the National Anthem. It was not out of disrespect or malice toward the military. It was not out of disrespect or malice toward the flag. These men felt that the Anthem preaching freedom and liberty contradicted the grievances that had been plaguing the black community since the United States was founded. A few in particular are police brutality and discrimination.

    A common argument to the protests I hear a lot is “There are more appropriate times than during the National Anthem to protest. It’s disrespectful. It’s unpatriotic”. Tell me then, when is it appropriate? When has being complacent and quiet solved any sort of ethical, social, moral, or racial problem we as a nation faced in the past? Protests are meant to be uncomfortable, and controversial, and spark debate, like what we’re doing right now. Patriotism was founded off of protest: when Americans rebelled against Britain for independence in 1765; when black and white people alike protested for, and were brutalized during the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s; when black Olympic winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in protest against oppression on the podium in Mexico City, during the National Anthem in 1968. All of these were controversial events of the past, but are now viewed as heroic achievements. Soldiers of all colors and religions fought to preserve our natural rights protected under the constitution. And now, the men who try to exercise those freedoms by kneel during the National Anthem for social justice are being criticized and harassed by their fans and president for doing the same thing?

(mappingpoliceviolence.org)

    Keep in mind that black people only make up about 12% of the United States population, while white people make up about 63% of the population. According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, statistically speaking, black people are three times more likely to be killed by police officers than white people. In 2015, 30% of black victims were unarmed compared to 21% of white victims. In 2014, fewer than one in three black people killed by police were suspected of a violent crime or allegedly armed. In 2015, 99% of cases had not resulted in an officer being convicted. In 2016, at least 309 black people have been killed by police. In 2017, at least 207 black people have been killed by police. After hearing these heart wrenching details, do the deaths of young black men by the hands of police officers seem like a few isolated instances to you? If it’s too difficult to sympathize with people you haven’t met before, I’ll use myself as an example and share a few stories with you.

    I was about thirteen years old at the time; my little brother was twelve, and my little sister was seven. We were on our way back home after checking out some books from the library. As we reached the stoplight, a young man in the passenger seat of a car–possibly a high schooler–was staring at me. He then shouted out the words “Go home niggers!” as he and his friend drove past us. At that moment, I was initially stunned at how easily those hateful words tumbled out of his mouth, then horrified at how I couldn’t protect my little brother and sister from their bittersweet world, their home, that both loved and despised them for what made them different. All of which happened in El Dorado Hills, a bubble that shields most of us from the more brutal and dangerous parts of American life and society.

    About three or four years ago, the son of my mother’s friend and a friend of his were driving home after curfew because they had car trouble. Both of them black, both of them in separate cars. It was late at night. The friend was pulled over by a police officer for an unknown reason. Worried about his friend, the son of my mother’s friend pulled over as well to check on him. When he got out of his car, the police officer looked at him, put his hand on his gun, and told him to get back in his car. After some discussion ensued, the officer’s final comment was “we’re keeping an eye on all of you people”. All of which happened in El Dorado Hills, a bubble that shields many of us from the more brutal and dangerous parts of American life and society.

    That same year, my mother decided to drive my little brother, little sister, and me to Town Center to buy ice cream. I was in the passenger seat, and was wearing a bandana to protect my hair from the elements. I was about fourteen years old at the time. It was dark outside. In the lane next to us was a police car. I didn’t really take notice of it until I found him staring at me for a long period of time. When the light turned green, my mother turned into the entrance of Town Center, with the police officer following us. After going through about four or five stop signs, he finally pulled my mother over. As it turned out, he had been scanning my mother’s licence plates and found that her plates had expired. Why was he staring at me for so long? Why did he leave his lane to follow us? Was it all a coincident? All of these thoughts scared my fourteen year old self. I didn’t want to recognize that the bandana I had innocently chosen to wear that night perpetuated a stereotype of ominousity and suspicion associated with the black community. As a result, my family had been singled out and penalized. All of which happened in El Dorado Hills, a bubble that shields some of us from the more brutal and dangerous parts of American life and society.

    My last story is about my mother and brother. On her way to Promontory Community Park to drop off my little brother to his soccer practice, she was pulled over by a police officer for not coming to a complete stop at a stop sign. It was dark outside. While the officer sorted things out with my mother, my brother decided to leave, with my mother’s approval, so that he wouldn’t be late to practice. As he was putting his phone away and zipping up his backpack, the officer then put her hand on her gun and demanded to know what he was going. My brother answered, saying that he was just going to soccer practice. The officer then responded saying “okay, just making sure you’re not coming over to shoot me”. My sweet, skinny, fifteen year old brother; a boy dressed head to toe in soccer gear, adored by the mothers of his friends, and always finding a way to make me laugh when I’m sad– how could she assume someone like him would want to take her life? At that moment, all I could think of was how the situation could have been so much worse. What if she had seen him putting his hand in his backpack? Would she had claimed that he was reaching for a gun? What if she had shot first and asked questions later? My little brother could have died that night. He would have been another Philando Castile, another Tamir Rice, another Trayvon Martin, another statistic. This is what makes my mother, and many other black mothers afraid to let their sons walk at night. All of which happened in El Dorado Hills, a bubble that shields a few of us from the more brutal and dangerous parts of American life and society.

   My goal here today isn’t to shame the police. They have a job so much more difficult, more stressful, more dangerous than I can ever imagine, and I respect them so much for carrying that burden for us. However, they knew what the job description was. Being a police officer requires a level of calmness and sensibility in critical situations above that of a normal citizen, and that’s not what I see as the number of innocent black men and boys dying through police violence increase as the years go by.

    You may not care about my opinions, or my past, or this speech that I wrote for you, but I needed to do this in order to spread some insight as to why Kaepernick first sat during the National Anthem, and why his statement is so important to members of the black community. Please, explain to me why our nation doesn’t show the same type of outrage and concern for a segment of its population pleading for help, as it does for the flag and Anthem that are suppose to represent them?

4 Comments

  1. Thank you, Eryn, for sharing your story.

  2. Thoughtful, earnest, well-articulated and brave. Thank you Eryn for sharing your experience with our community.

  3. Powerful stuff Eryn. Thanks for sharing. Your challenge is to recognize these incidents for what they are, residual racism, and not let affect you negatively. It was never about you. Its about us, and its about fear.
    Fear is the most powerfully toxic, corrosive emotion IMO. It can take on a life of its own, fueled by judgement and negativity.
    As a white guy in his 60s raised in the midwest with a lot of family from the south, I can tell you that a lot of us came from families and cultures that were, to some degree, racist. We don’t think we’re racist now, but we were exposed to racist messaging early in our lives, and that stuff is hard to shake.
    The strongest of us can recognize that crap and bring it to the forefront of our consciousness 2B evaluated in the light of day for what it is.
    But not everyone is that strong or that observant… or that willing. And sadly, some of us remain just plain racists. And some of those are otherwise very good people.
    On behalf of my entire disaffected, over indulged, over-entitled race, I apologize for the experiences you described, and thank you again for sharing them. Your experience helps me better understand what lies beneath my surface, and what I need to work on.

  4. Wow-my eyes were glued to every word of your article. I hope you reach many, many people in your community. It has been extremely frustrating to me to have to watch day after day as the President, Vice President and others around them try to crush this valiant cause by wrongly turning into an anti-patriotic stance. Long live democracy Eryn!