Your #BlackLivesMatter post is a good start, but I want you to mean it.
Protests and demonstrations aren’t my thing at all. You’d sooner find me playing pickup basketball or tossing a football. But the death of George Floyd hit me differently, and it hit my friends differently. Here was a grown Black man, minding his own business, killed in cold blood in broad daylight on video.
I’m a young Black man, raised in Reamstown and educated at Cocalico High School. The racism I faced from my peers in the hallways, on buses and online was overwhelming. I was called the N-word to my face. My Blackness was the punchline of jokes that reduced me to an ignorant stereotype. I’ve heard racism from co-workers who offend me on purpose because I am Black. Even today, I play football and basketball against teams with players who assume the very worst about me out loud, or use racial slurs to try and get me off my game.
Before the pandemic struck and I lost my job, I prepared and served food to usually older and usually white guests at a high-end establishment. They can afford membership dues to private clubs that cost what I make in a full calendar year. I hear things all the time from drunk white dudes I serve about what a “nice young man” I am and how they’re “proud of me.” But I also hear what they say when I walk away — and the comments don’t bother me as much as they used to —\!q but believe me I hear them, and it’s just sad.
None of the white people I regularly deal with have ever attempted to cause me physical harm because I am Black, but I live in a community that believes I am lesser and tells me so, both verbally and with their actions. My humanity is not assumed — I have to earn it every day from everyone I interact with. Regardless of how “well” I behave or how “nicely” I dress, I spend my life in spaces where it is clear I do not belong.
Before I headed out to join the demonstrations in downtown Lancaster on a recent Saturday, I scrolled through Instagram and Facebook to see what my friends were saying. The hypocrisy leapt off the phone screen and slapped me in the face. The very same classmates, teammates, co-workers and church people who made racist jokes at my expense, and who publicly humiliated me, were posting #BlackLivesMatter and sharing lectures about justice and peace. They took all the right photos with their cardboard protest signs and posted them online for clout. But I know the truth because they have shown me what they believe, so I stayed home.
My life and my humanity aren’t a prop for your social media engagement stats. This is life and death for me and my family.
I know that if the police ever pulled a trigger on me, they’d have the perfect cover story: I have a DUI on my record, so they’d paint me as “no angel.” And I’m on the muscular side and just shy of 6 feet, so they would label me a threat and call me intimidating. I’ve seen the press and public eat up these narratives my whole life, and I know they’d roll out the same tired excuses for me if they ever spontaneously executed me, too.
Please don’t post on social media without doing right in your community first. If you believe that Black lives matter, you need to apologize for your behavior to the people you hurt, whether on purpose or by accident, and repent. My community needs to know you’re with us for the long haul, not just while the hashtags are trending.
Simeon Thorpe, 23, is a resident of Lancaster city.